Climategatekeeping: Wikipedia

Originally posted on Climate Audit:

Lawrence Solomon has an interesting column in the National Post today on William Connolley’s climategatekeeping role at Wikipedia. See also an article last year.

Connolley was one of the nine realclimate founders, but posted little at realclimate. This has notoriously not been the case at Wikipedia. Solomon reports that Connolley “created or rewrote 5,428 unique Wikipedia articles” and that Connolley was granted a senior editorial and administrative status at Wikipedia that enabled him to delete “over 500 articles” and “barred” more than 2000 Wikipedia contributors who “ran afoul of him”.

Particular areas of interest for Connolley were the Hockey Stick debate e.g. here,

Check it out

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In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas

KATHERINE BYRON, a senior atBrown University and a member of its Sexual Assault Task Force, considers it her duty to make Brown a safe place for rape victims, free from anything that might prompt memories of trauma.

So when she heard last fall that a student group had organized a debate about campus sexual assault between Jessica Valenti, the founder offeministing.com, and Wendy McElroy, a libertarian, and that Ms. McElroy was likely to criticize the term “rape culture,” Ms. Byron was alarmed. “Bringing in a speaker like that could serve to invalidate people’s experiences,” she told me. It could be “damaging.”

Ms. Byron and some fellow task force members secured a meeting with administrators. Not long after, Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, announced that the university would hold a simultaneous, competing talk to provide “research and facts” about “the role of culture in sexual assault.” Meanwhile, student volunteers put up posters advertising that a “safe space” would be available for anyone who found the debate too upsetting.

The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.

Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being “bombarded” by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints. Think of the safe space as the live-action version of the better-known trigger warning, a notice put on top of a syllabus or an assigned reading to alert students to the presence of potentially disturbing material.

Some people trace safe spaces back to the feminist consciousness-raising groups of the 1960s and 1970s, others to the gay and lesbian movement of the early 1990s. In most cases, safe spaces are innocuous gatherings of like-minded people who agree to refrain from ridicule, criticism or what they term microaggressions — subtle displays of racial or sexual bias — so that everyone can relax enough to explore the nuances of, say, a fluid gender identity. As long as all parties consent to such restrictions, these little islands of self-restraint seem like a perfectly fine idea.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/opinion/sunday/judith-shulevitz-hiding-from-scary-ideas.html?_r=0

How Google broke its ‘don’t be evil’ pledge algorithmically

A previously undisclosed report by staffers at the Federal Trade Commission reveals new details about how Google Inc. manipulated search results to favor its own services over rivals’, even when they weren’t most relevant for users.

In a lengthy investigation, staffers in the FTC’s bureau of competition found evidence that Google boosted its own services for shopping, travel and local businesses by altering its ranking criteria and “scraping” content from other sites. It also deliberately demoted rivals.

For example, the FTC staff noted that Google presented results from its flight-search tool ahead of other travel sites, even though Google offered fewer flight options. Google’s shopping results were ranked above rival comparison-shopping engines, even though users didn’t click on them at the same rate, the staff found. Many of the ways Google boosted its own results have not been previously disclosed.

The report’s insight into Google’s business practices is still relevant as Google expands its own offerings. Just this month, it launched a search tool for car-insurance quotes, which competes with similar tools offered byAllstate Corp.’s Esurance, among others. It has beefed up hotel listings that compete with TripAdvisor Inc. and Expedia Inc.

The staff report lends credence to longstanding complaints by Google rivals that the search giant was unfairly discriminating against them. Local-listings site Yelp Inc., for example, complained publicly during the FTC’s investigation that Google copied its reviews to give its own local listings more heft.

The report’s findings are at odds with Google’s descriptions of its search practices. Then-Chief Executive Eric Schmidt,now executive chairman, told a Senate panel in 2011 that “he was not aware of any strange boosts or biases” in Google’s results. “I can assure you we’ve not cooked” the results, Mr. Schmidt added.

“After an exhaustive 19-month review, covering nine million pages of documents and many hours of testimony, the FTC staff and all five FTC Commissioners agreed that there was no need to take action on how we rank and display search results,” Google General Counsel Kent Walker said in a statement on Thursday.

“We regularly change our search algorithms and make over 500 changes a year to help our users get the information they want,” Mr. Walker added. “We created search for users, not websites—and that focus has driven our improvements over the last decade.”

Google has said that promoting its own specialized-search services gets more information to users more quickly. That’s more important in the smartphone age when clicking back and forth from a search page can be frustrating.

The FTC staff found that Google promoted its own services in part because it feared losing searches, and advertising revenue, to rivals such as Yelp and TripAdvisor.

One way Google favored its own results was to change its ranking criteria. Google typically ranks sites based on measures like the number of links that point to a site, or how often users click on the site in search results.

But Marissa Mayer, who was then a Google vice president, said Google didn’t use click-through rates to determine the ranking for its own specialized-search sites, because they would rank too low, according to the staff report. Ms. Mayer is now chief executive of Yahoo Inc. A Yahoo spokeswoman didn’t immediately make her available for comment.

See full report here:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-google-skewed-search-results-1426793553