Tag Archives: disinformation

Rumours of the internet’s death have been greatly exaggerated

Internet - serious business.Hey, have you heard? The internet’s goose is pretty much cooked, as far as Nemertes Research are concerned, thanks to exponential traffic increases running up against linear infrastructure investment – and net neutrality legislation will be the nails in the coffin lid.

The thing is, there isn’t a whole lot of factual data to back up the assertion, which has been made (and debunked) numerous times since the rise of video streaming services like YouTube. Ars Technica has a good takedown:

What’s most odd about Johnson’s argument about network neutrality is that she admits that this is default network behavior right now. And while she frets about the huge growth of Internet traffic, the reality is that the growth rates have been much faster in the past (doubling every year or faster)—and the Internet abides! As for ISPs not having the money to invest in enough infrastructure to keep up with demand, well… just take a look at ISP balance sheets. Tremendous profits are being made now, even as cable operators roll out DOCSIS 3.0 tech and boost download speeds to 50Mbps or 100Mbps.

In the end, the song remains the same: of course the Internet has issues, but some kind of network-killing “exaflood” hasn’t materialized in two years and doesn’t look about to wreak devastation on the Internet in the near future. What we have instead is declining traffic growth rates in mature markets, and big boosts to access line capacity (for Verizon and the cable operators, at least), plenty of bandwidth in the core—all on a network that has generally been neutral for decades.

So there’s probably very little to worry about… except perhaps where Nemertes’ research funding originates from.

Agnotology: The science of ignorance

luckyMany of my fellow citizens believe that the Apollo program was faked, evolution is a lie, global warming is a sinister plot by Al Gore to take away their Hummers, and President Obama is some kind of Nazi foreigner whose healthcare plan will lead to mass euthanasia. Disinformation seems to be a winning tactic.

So, yes, Discover Magazine’s interview with Robert Proctor, Stanford science historian and co-editor of Agnotology: The Making & Unmaking of Ignorance, had some resonance with me.


Just what is agnotology?
It’s the study of the politics of ignorance. I’m looking at how ignorance is actively created through things like military secrecy in science or through deliberate policies like the tobacco industry’s effort to manufacture doubt through their “doubt is our product” strategy [spelled out in a 1969 tobacco company memo [pdf]]. So it’s not that science inherently always grows. It can actually be destroyed in certain ways, or ignorance can actually be created.

Have you continued your focus on tobacco?
I recently collaborated on an exhibit of the most outrageous tobacco ads called “Not a Cough in a Carload.” It’s centered on medical-themed tobacco ads: that tobacco’s good for your T-zone, that it calms your nerves. Scientific tests prove that brand A is better than B, or, you know, 20,000 physicians recommend Camels, and so forth. The use of athletes and models, and the artwork is just beautiful.

How do you maintain the perspective essential to your kind of research?… [I]t’s important to see the past the way the people saw it. So I’ve written two books on Nazi medicine, and the goal there was not just to condemn them, but to see how in the world they came up with those ideas and those movements and how they justified them to themselves. So we see them as full humans and not just scarecrows, so we can actually understand the depth of the depravity or whatever. But at least we see it honestly, and that’s a traditional historical virtue.

[Image: leifpeng]

O NOES! Infrastructure hakz0rz!

network switchesSo, the big red-hot knee-jerk story of the week is surely the suggestion that there’s a possibility that maybe some foreign countries are thinking about whether it would be worth hacking the poorly-secured United States power grid infrastructure with computer intrusion techniques. Maybe.

… multiple countries are believed to be behind the attacks, including both the Russians and the Chinese. Some of these were apparently detected and stopped before any damage could be done, while the remains of others (and tools designed to trigger failures) have been found in other areas. The article doesn’t give specific information on where issues were and weren’t detected, or which infrastructures were contaminated, but the list of “at-risk” institutions include electric plants (particularly nuclear ones), financial networks, and water management/treatment facilities.

Credit where it’s due, Ars Technica isn’t going to flap its arms and panic like some other news sources:

The Internet is merely the latest—and by most measures, the most benign—means by which one country could attack another. Personally, given the choice between ICBMs, chemical weapons, “the bomb”, or V-2 rockets, I’ll take the Internet.

Amen. Bruce Schneier agrees:

Honestly, I am much more worried about random errors and undirected worms in the computers running our infrastructure than I am about the Chinese military. I am much more worried about criminal hackers than I am about government hackers.

Right. And why worry about complex hacks when a crew with some industrial tools can wipe out the data grid for a whole region?

Ten fiber-optic cables carrying were cut at four locations in the predawn darkness. Residential and business customers quickly found that telephone service was perhaps more laced into their everyday needs than they thought. Suddenly they couldn’t draw out money, send text messages, check e-mail or Web sites, call anyone for help, or even check on friends or relatives down the road.

Several people had to be driven to hospitals because they were unable to summon ambulances. Many businesses lapsed into idleness for hours, without the ability to contact associates or customers.

The dogs in your own backyard are more likely to bite you than your neighbour’s. [image by jonbell]