Tag Archives: propaganda

Are we “choking the ocean with plastic”? Tracing creation of a myth.

Summary: Many of the scary stories of our time result from interactions between actual science, activist scientists, and clickbait-seeking journalists. “We’re choking the ocean with plastic” is one such tale, showing how real problems become masked by myths. This leaves us divided and unable to respond to our problems, as neither Left nor Right clearly see the world. Meanwhile, overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction are wrecking the oceans.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The first recorded sighting of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was by oceanographer Charles J. Moore (heir to oil wealth, now an environmental activist) when sailing home after a race in 1999. Here is how he describes it (from “Trashed”, Natural History, Nov 2003). Too bad he did not bring a camera to record it!

“Day after day, Alguita was the only vehicle on a highway without landmarks, stretching from horizon to horizon. Yet as I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic.

“It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments. Months later, after I discussed what I had seen with the oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, perhaps the world’s leading expert on flotsam, he began referring to the area as the “eastern garbage patch.” But “patch” doesn’t begin to convey the reality. Ebbesmeyer has estimated that the area, nearly covered with floating plastic debris, is roughly the size of Texas.”

Much of this seems odd. There are patches of debris, but no such masses of plastic “as far as the eye can see”. There is much plastic, but most is barely visible to the eye — and lies under the surface.

Like all good stories, it grew over time. From “Choking the Oceans with Plastic” — his 2014 op-ed in the New York Times: “We even came upon a floating island bolstered by dozens of plastic buoys used in oyster aquaculture that had solid areas you could walk on.” Again no photo of the floating island, let alone of him walking on it.

Moore becomes somewhat more accurate when confronted by a knowledgeable journalist, such as Suzanne Bohan in this 2011 article: “It’s not something you can walk on, or see from a satellite. We’ve always tried to dispel that fact,” Or in this quote of him from The Independent: “The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup. It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States.”

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Martin van Creveld looks at the propaganda fog that covers modern war

Summary: Today Martin van Creveld discusses the difficulty of finding the truth amidst the sea of propaganda that surrounds us. It’s an essential skill Americans seem to have lost. He concludes by examining the stories about the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza.



The Facts of the Case

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 27 August 2014
Posted with his generous permission

Perhaps I should start this article with a little cautionary tale. Years ago I was teaching a course about the history of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). I had just said that the kingdom of Jordan already had a Palestinian majority when a young student raised her hand and asked me, very politely, how I knew. To my shame, I must confess that the question took me by surprise — here in Israel everybody and his neighbor had been saying this for years, as they still do.

When I recovered I told her she was right and offered her a deal. She would look into the matter and do a research paper about it. In return, I would release her from the final exam. She agreed, and a few months later I received the paper which neither confirmed not contradicted my original claim. It did, however, draw my attention to some facts that I, and presumably many others as well, had never thought about.

First, there was and is no accepted definition of a Palestinian. One reason for this is that there are several different kinds of Palestinians — old ones, medium ones and new ones, all depending on the date at which they had arrived in the Kingdom. Second, Jordan being the only Arab country that has granted the Palestinians in its territory citizenship, there were many mixed marriages with offspring, making the question as to “who is a Palestinian?” even harder to answer. Third, the Jordanian Ministry of the Interior for its own reasons is keeping a very tight hand both on definitions and on figures, with the result that nobody knew.

Another personal story. Back in 2003, at the height of the Second Intifada, my son had an American girlfriend who lived in Utah. One evening we were sitting in front of the TV when the phone rang. It was Christine. “Jonathan, there has been shooting in your town. Are you alright?” It turned out there had indeed been a few shots; but even though our town is rather small she, living on the other side of the world, knew it before we did.

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Russia’s Propaganda Trolls become a power in cyberspace

Summary: Cyberspace is not just a means to steal information and wreck systems, but also a means to touch people’s minds and change how they see the world. The tech is new, but the methods are old. Russia has a long history of playing this game well. Here Emilio Iasiello explains how they have aggressively exploited this new medium.

Soviet propaganda


Russia’s Propaganda Trolls
Make an Impact in Cyberspace

By Emilio Iasiello, 27 August 2015
From DarkMatters: superior attack intelligence

Posted with their gracious permission.


Russia’s propaganda machine in action

Recent reporting reveals that the Russian government may be using online propagandists in order to project a positive Russian image to the global community, while attacking those perceived to be a threat to Russian government interests.

Two individuals that used to work for an organization called the “Internet Research Agency” exposed the propaganda machine whose objective was to influence public opinion, and in some instances, discredit specific targets.

The Internet Research Agency is an organization that employees hundreds of online “trolls” – individuals whose job it is to create online discontent.

Located in four floors of a building in St. Petersburg, these trolls logged twelve-hour days supporting the Russian government while attacking perceived enemies – the United States, political oppositionists, for example – on social networks, blogs, and comment areas for social media sites (“One Professional Russian Troll Tells All“).

These online operators created personas and blogs in order to disseminate propaganda to the wider Internet audience. Techniques ranged from blatant attacking content to leveraging more subtle techniques in attempt to discredit the West. According to one former “troll,” the operations were tightly controlled and closely supervised. Assignments were handed out to the propagandists, each focusing on a theme and a list of key words to be used in online content. (“My life as a pro-Putin propagandist in Russia’s secret ‘troll factory’“.)

Some of the more prevalent topics included the situation in Ukraine, the Syrian conflict, and stories related to U.S. President Barak Obama. For this they received a monthly salary of approximately $750 (“Woman who sued pro-Putin Russian ‘troll factory’ gets one rouble in damages“).

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The Big List of Lies by our Leaders. Post it everywhere to change America.

Summary: Here’s the big list of lies by our leaders. It’s one of the most important posts among the 3,300 on the FM website. It should be posted in every home. America will change when enough Americans no longer accept leaders who lie — even those of their own party. This goes up as a reference page on the right-side menu, to be updated with future lies by our leaders. In the comments post other big lies by our leaders that should go on this list.

“Since becoming a journalist I had often heard the advice to “believe nothing until it has been officially denied”.
— Claud Cockburn (Irish journalist) quoted in Discord of Trumpets: The Autobiography of a Legendary Newspaperman (1956). Often attributed to Bismarck.

The Truth key


  1. Examples of lies to guide us.
  2. FDR before WWII.
  3. Fear-mongering to start the Cold War.
  4. All our foes are Hitler.
  5. Other examples.
  6. Are we cowards, or just gullible?
  7. For More Information.

(1)  Examples of lies to guide us

“I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy.”
— George Washington in his Farewell Address (1796).

Truth, not Pravda, Will Make You Free

The history of American since WWII is one of lies by leaders that we eagerly embrace. No matter how often they lie, we believe. Here are some of the most outrageous, some of the most influential, and some that are just routine.

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Testing Skeptical Science: is Roger Pielke Sr. a climate misinformer?

Summary: A post last week examined a darling of the Right, Zero Hedge. This post takes an equally harsh look at a darling of the Left, Skeptical Science. Both show how our stronger loyalty to tribe than truth encourages our information providers to feed us a mix of fact and politically appealing misinformation, shaping our beliefs and maintaining internal cohesion of the tribe (and our distrust of the “others”). We’ll remain gullible and easily led until we learn skepticism and demand more accuracy from those we trust.

“Truth is strong enough to overcome all human sophistries.”
Timarchum by Aeschines (389–314 BC).

The Truth is Out There

Smearing scientists is a staple on both sides of the climate wars — the debate about the public policy implications of climate change. Such smears not only overflow the comment sections of popular websites, they’re often seen in the writings of major players on the public stage.

For example, see the 40 “climate misinformers” listed on John Cook’s Skeptical Science. It’s one of the climate-focused websites most widely cited on the Left, known for its flamboyant claims.  This post examines the first of 4 SkS page about eminent climate scientist Roger Pielke Sr.

Before examining the details of SkS’s content, note the vast amount of work that went into creating it. The 4 pages about Pielke Sr. are one of 40 about “climate misinformers” — which is one of 10 “resources”, which are just one part of the SkS website (which has aps for iPhone, Android, and Nokia). This shows a major difference between the websites of climate “warriors” and “skeptics”. Despite claims that the skeptics have vast funds from evil oil, their websites are a ramshackle pile of contributions from volunteers (however skilled). Several the climate warriors have professional-quality websites.

About a misinformer

What was are the myths of Roger Pielke Sr.? How do SkS’ claims look today? The SkS page (it’s undated) gives ten quotes which they call “myths”. Not one of their rebuttals looks correct. A lot of the SkS content is like that, which is why people so often report their critical comments get deleted (no Smackdowns page there). I’ve slightly expanded some of Pielke’s quotes, and made small edits for clarity (e.g., numbering the myths).

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