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The Media

Virus Scares and False Authority Syndrome 322

Fifth of Five writes: "Ran across this article on the site regarding False Authority Syndrome and the spread of virus misinformation by the media, users and Folks Who Probably Ought To Know Better. If you've ever watched the TV news and gritted your teeth over what is being presented as 'fact' this may shine some light on just how it got to be like this."
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Virus Scares and False Authority Syndrome

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  • The link is slashdoted, but I believe it is the old ("old" as in been around for a while, from before the Michaelangelo scare) virus myth site which used to be at It is/was run by Rob Rosenberger, and it is a really good resource of finding out which is the latest fake scare, and what stupidities are being distributed via chain-mail...

    The "False Authority Syndrome" article itself is at least 5 years old...
  • by xtermz ( 234073 )
    but if the media voluntarily (or involuntarily) f's up the news, whats to say they dont do it on a regular basis to more 'mainstream' news items, either to push a certain agenda, or to appease their friends in the gov't.
    Not tryint to flamebait, but it was a pretty well known fact that in the clinton WH press corp, if you asked the pres a tough or 'offtopic' question, guess what, unless you were from one of the big 6, your pass got pulled and good luck getting a interview again.... basically what it boils down to is you can never tell when the press is full of it. hell, they cant even get traffic reports right (accident at main and elm with injuries....right after i just drove by and all i saw was some homeless dude...).... sorry, im ranting now
  • by LL ( 20038 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:20PM (#2110266)
    People keep on forgetting that public media is in the attention business ... it is in their economic interest to sensationalise news in order to flog those accompanying ads (a bit of a problem for CNN when there's no major wars going on). As such, manufactured fluff (ie press-releases) is easier to regurgitate than any in-depth research or second-hand opinions (syndicated columns). Historically public media was part and parcel of the lecture circuit (aka rubber chicken show) where you would invite real authorities and experts to come in and air their thoughts in a proper interview. However, two general trends mitigate against this ... the increasing complexity of real-world issues (anyone who thinks Middle-East is a simple case of good-guys/bad-guys is in deep trouble) which limits the potential audiences interested in understanding the issues, and the move to tabloid style audience capture which tends to confuse celebrity with fame. Why should sports-heros and actresses (apart from the convenience of recycling pre-existing studio contracts) be ask to comment on areas way outside their domain? Why should TV shows get people from the entertainment field to present business news (and you wonder why the stock market is irrational). Unfortunately those with real knowhow gained from the school of hard knocks tend to be people who charge for their services ... would you want a surgeon who has never practised on patients before so why are we willing to listen to highly filtered news passed along by talking heads? It's becoming nothing more than a massive Chinese whisper in a global cocktail party.

    Fortunately we have some countervailing examples ... the /. ask XYZ is a particularly good way for the plebs to touch some of the people involved in the thick of things.


    The economic models which are the equivalent of yelling "fire" as loudly as possible to rush people to newsfeeds are creating some really bad incentives ... ultimately people have to realise there is a cost in misleading/diluted information (e.g. did anyone notice that the bard-wire concentration camp story that helped sparked the Balkans intervention and sundry bombings was filmed on the inside looking out?).
  • It's a pain, but... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Raymond Luxury Yacht ( 112037 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @01:00PM (#2113477) Homepage
    I must get warnings for "Wobbler" and "All Seeing Eye" sent to me by my [L]users all the time, but you know what? It's a fair cop.

    I set up filters, I block the sending and receiving of all .vbs files, I warn. And most of all, I know that many here will cringe when they read this, I actively encourage my [L]users to forward me all the warnings they get sent to them.

    Know why? After the 4th one I send back to them with an URL [] and a "Thanks, but that one was a hoax", they start to catch on (well... many of them do). Some also start to forward any and all messages with attached files to me if they weren't expecting them. Again, many here may cringe, my email box is huge and I spend hours each day weeding through false alarms sometimes. But IMHO it's worth it.

    Do you know how many actual FULL outbreaks this company has seen in the last year? One. Back in November of last year. It was Navidad [] and it was sent to a Hispanic employee (the CFO actually... hehehehe) from a relative, and since it was near Xmas, well, I forgave him. AFTER I made HIM clean out his own machine and then lambasted him in front of the entire company. But when people first saw the SIRCAM [] virus come in, even users who had not read my warnings yet spotted it instantly and sent it to me. This was before I'd set our mail server to send all messages with "I hope you like the file that I sendo you" in the body to /dev/null.

    All things considered, though, seeing as this office is almost entirely Windows, I think my methods work. Yes, it's time consuming. Yes, it can be annoying. BUT, I rarely have to restore from backup, and we haven't had any major outbreaks.

  • I remember running across that article several years ago. He had that posted when he was on a different server called the virus myths home page.

    Circa. 1996?

    Makes sense, there was an article on slashdot today about the Next cubes...

  • Journalism (Score:2, Insightful)

    by T1girl ( 213375 )
    ...has been defined as the art of thrusting oneself into one unintelligible situation after another and subsequently passing oneself off as an expert.
  • For the first time, I'm replying without reading the article. I can't get through to the server. I'm really responding to the general tenor of comments.
    Everyone is blaming the media for not understanding computers. Are you making any effort to help them understand? I know it's popular to be cynical and claim that reporters are idiots/biased/bought, but in reality they are very busy and provide shallow coverage of many domains. Those who take the time to talk to reporters eventually get their ideas and viewpoint represented. Those who just sit there and chuck rotten vegetables will always be excluded.
    We seem to be the only group that has not figured out how to communicate with reporters. Retired people, cops, farmers, insurance salesmen, teachers - all of these have taken the effort to establish communications with the press and make sure that their side of the story gets told.
    So, if you give a damn, find out who the technology reporter is for your local paper and contact him. But first read some of his stuff so you understand what is and isn't interesting to him. See if you've got material for a story. If not, at least he might contact you for a quote on the next virus scare/whatever.
  • Is anyone else getting spam with the body "hey. i got the file thanx."? The message doesn't seem to have an attachment, which makes it even more disconcerting.
  • by feed_me_cereal ( 452042 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @11:59AM (#2118128)

    Being knowledgable of technical stuff like "what viruses can really do" is the specific domain of knowledge we slashdot readers have. This makes me wonder, not being an expert on many other things, just how much mis-information is propagated through the news. I never watch the news anymore. All you see are disaster reports and attempts to make 40-year-old, middle-class americans paranoid of something.

    Possible TV News Headlines:
    • 10 reasons music will turn your kid into a raging homicidal maniac!
    • Is your home safe? (probably, if you don't live in the slums, which you probably dont)
    • Will hackers delete your life? (and you thought stupidity existed only in movies)
    • What are your kids doing after school? (What are your kids doing IN school? Learning how to cheat a proficiency test, getting harrassed by morons (young and old), and then smoking pot.)
    • Why environmentalists are crackpots (or how to think comfortably and incorectly)

    • Perhaps everything is fine, or perhaps the media is just the outlet by which those in power marginalize anyone who says differently. One rational question to ask might be; Why are environmentalist given the same spin as terrorists? Watch closely the next time you see an environmental group trying to save some remaining old growth or a wet land. Let's take federal timber as an example;
      a. who owns the land being debate?
      b. who has the contract on the cutting of said timber?
      c. if public record, then check to see if that contract holder has made any donations to that districts politicians.

      The fence sitters see the news and say to themselves, "self, there isn't much we can do without being incarcerated, I think I'll go buy a new SUV so I feel better." Anyone who might consider some kind of grass roots environmental action becomes terrified quickly by the thought of the man putting the squeeze on him. He might loose that, job, house, boat, peer respect, etc. And we wouldn't want that to happen. I'm just an un-educated hick from the sticks with a few memories of how to do some stuff on a computer. Better I just shut up now and tapity tap tap tap on my bosses accounting software, wouldn't want to miss that deadline... cough cough...
    • Maybe the reporters -- and their audience -- simply aren't cynical enough?

      An example --

      Might have been yesterday or the day before, but either NBC or CBS had a brief piece on some study regarding red wine. The anchor implied that the study showed that people who drink red wine tend to have better social status, higher intelligence, and what not...

      ...and, IIRC, completely ignored fundamental questions such as what variables were controlled for, such as whether non-drinkers could *afford* the red wine/dinner party/"cultured" lifestyle. Correlation versus causation went unmentioned, as if the anchor were merely reporting a press release.

      Similarly, the editors of "Social Text" -- apparently, a left-leaning social studies journal -- were severely burned when they published the infamous Sokal Hoax; the editors claimed that they accepted it primarily on the basis of the reputation of the author (a physics professor). One suspects that they didn't bother reading the paper very much, since it's quite deliberately impenetrable nonsense. I highly recommend looking at it for amusement's sake.
  • by Chris Y Taylor ( 455585 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @02:00PM (#2121302) Homepage
    False Authority Syndrome is hardly limited to computer technology and the Air Force. How many times have we seen some celebrity interviewed in the media or give testimony to congress on some topic that has nothing to do with their area of expertise. Why would anyone think that some actress knows anything about agribusiness because they played a farmer in a movie? Yet, the media eats such "celebrity experts" up. I know most of the sensible congressmen surely know that the celebrity "expert" congressional testimony is just a way to get free publicity for their committee, but why do so many people play along with that?

    Scientists giving "expert opinions" outside their field of speciality is anouther common occurance (Carl Sagan comes to mind) in the media; perhaps because it is easier to know a handful of photogenic and cooperative scientists than to make a large number of contacts in different fields of research.

    It seems to happen alot on slashdot, too.
    Perhaps we should put useful biographical information in our sigs instead of cute sayings so that when someone with a degree in cognitive sciences is arguing with an aerospace engineer over spacecraft problems or adaptive behavior, we know which one to listen to at the time. I guess, perhaps that is what the User Info is for; but it doesn't seem to be used for that very often. Of course, if we get overly focused on "meatspace" identities, that might dampen otherwise productive discussions. Maybe different karma for different topics? Anyone have any ideas on how to minimize False Authority Syndrome on slashdot w/o introducing unneeded complexity or dampening useful dialog? Does it need worrying about?
  • You know what scares me the most. If the TV news crews can't get the fact straight concerning a simple Virus how can we trust them with other information?
    • You know what scares me the most. If the TV news crews can't get the fact straight concerning a simple Virus how can we trust them with other information?

      You can't. Not only am I a geek, I'm a geek who flies planes. For both computer related stuff AND aviation related stuff, they get it completely and totally wrong. With aviation, they sensationalize even more than they do with anything to do with the 'net or computers, spouting opinions based on zero knowledge (and it shows).

      I no longer watch the news on TV. Print news I feel is a little better depending on the source - it's not nearly as sensationalistic - but I still take everything with a big enough grain of salt that you could make a large livestock salt-lick out of it.

  • by Chmarr ( 18662 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:29PM (#2121819)
    Here's links to google's cache of all pages:

    Page 1 []
    Page 2 []
    Page 3 []
    Page 4 []
    Page 5 []
    Page 6 []
    Page 7 []
    Page 8 []

  • A colleague of mine updated a simple midi driver on his system that accidentally wrote over his boot record and did a lot of things that viruses are famous for doing. The company [which will remain nameless until they do something like this again] was good enough to compensate us for the downtime.

    "I can't print" != virus

    "This brand new computer is running slow when I open Photoshop, IE, and Excel at the same time" != virus


    "This .doc file won't open because we need to spend thousands for software we don't need" = virus

    See the difference? []

  • by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:04PM (#2123651) Homepage
    Before anyone posts some rant along the lines of ["They should have been smarter"|"They should have known better"|"Why are people so stupid as to fall for this all the time"], they should read this essay on Milgram's studies of authority []. It's frightening.
    • Read Milgram's book [] instead. It's a very readable account of his experiments, that will change the way you think about the society you live in. Everyone should read this book.
    • by gorf ( 182301 )

      I read the essay. I haven't read the book. But just from the essay, I wonder if a potential flaw in the experiment has ever been considered (I know nothing about psychology)

      Obviously the `teacher' had discomfort about administering the shocks. But it seems to me that the teacher was just delegating the moral responsibility of care back to the experimenter. The teacher may not have known about the actual effects of the shocks (and labelling the switches with voltages may not be a good idea because people's understanding of the actual numbers vary), and just trusting that it was safe, because the experimenter was implying it.

      Of course, the `learner' banging on the wall is a different thing :)

      • The teacher just delegating the moral responsibility back to the experimenter is part of what they were testing--authority versus empathy. That wasn't an unintended variable, that was what they were looking for. The teacher knew about the perceived effects of the shocks (there were no actual shocks, thus no actual effects) because of the feedback from the "student". Voltage means nothing when you're hearing somebody screaming.
  • by rkischuk ( 463111 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @11:53AM (#2128756)
    On the same page:

    ultracrepidarian: (n., adj.) a person who gives opinions beyond his scope of knowledge.

    I'll have to add this to my top ten words to use when talking over somebody's head.

    • by ackthpt ( 218170 )
      Years and years ago, when we had one of the first hobby computers in our town (pop ~35,000) the local newspaper sent over a reporter to do an article on me. The reporter asked lots of question and jotted notes. I waited with baited breath for the article to come out in the newspaper, when it did I was stunned. Where the reporter had evidently forgotten some things and filled the gaps with malarky, then went so far as to make up stuff to put more spark in the story. My mom was pleased, but I sent it off to the recycle bin.

      I've found this to be a common trait, in the number of times I've been interviewed since, that reporters, where they have a gap, don't call back for a correction, but just invent things. I think this goes some way to explain an ultracrepidarian, IMHO they don't really care enough to get it right.

      • Re:ultracrepidarian (Score:2, Informative)

        by Cruciform ( 42896 )
        Actually you waited with bated breath, unless you were into munching worms and crickets at the time :)
        As for reporters and their fancies, I did an interview with the Ottawa citizen 10 years ago that ended up on the front page. The reporter used every word of our conversation, unfortunately not in even remotely the same order. What began as a discussion on failures within the local social assistance branch of the government and the abuses I'd seen soon became a twisted version of the original where I bragged of helping others perpetuate fraud.
        There were seven witnesses to my interview with him, so I could easily have sued the prick and won, but my parents wanted me to let it slide before their peers found out and it cost them their jobs.
        Revenge was sweet though. A TV show doing a followup story contacted a friend of mine about the article and when he explained the truth of the matter they investigated the reporters practices. Last I'd heard he'd been fired :)
      • by scoove ( 71173 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:22PM (#2154165)
        Ditto! I'm so used to reporters getting it wrong (from interviews I've had) that I seriously doubt anything these critters put out.

        In case you're ever the recepient of a reporter's questions, here are a few recommendations for your survival:

        - if it is "off the record," then don't say it. Off the record is reporter code for "this will be really juicy stuff to print, but I'll have to slightly reword it."

        - if it involves a competitor or other antagonist, don't say it (reporters have a field day on creating any emotional tension, e.g. making you out to be a fool)

        - if it is not for release now, keep your trap shut and only mention it when it is for release. Reporters survive by getting new stories out and their loyalty to their editor (and interest in keeping their job) is greater than their loyalty to you.

        - if it is at all technical, give them a written release and limit the story to that. If you absolutely must be interviewed beyond the release, give them 10 minutes, give them a couple of soundbytes that you've pre-prepared, and refer everything else to the release.

        - and if you're the boss, tell your employees that speaking to the press is voluntary resignation (e.g. nobody does it except you).

        This will help you survive these critters.

        • by DNAGuy ( 131264 )
          - and if you're the boss, tell your employees that speaking to the press is voluntary resignation (e.g. nobody does it except you).

          You really ought to read the ClueTrain Manifesto []. One of the core arguments is that this sort of centralized communication from within companies is ignored by your customers.

          Think about it. What gives you the warm and fuzzies? Would you rather an engineer at XYZ Co. tell you that they're having problems with the Linux drivers for their latest video card, or read the press release stating "the platform is currently unsupported."

          Your friendly neigborhood devil's advocate...

          • Not after the CNN Propaganda Corps (division of US Army intelligence warfare people) gets through with it. (True story: during the bombing of Yugoslavia, US military personnel worked at CNN preparing "stories". Both parties admitted to this.)

            The point isn't the engineer telling you they're having problems, it's the engineer telling (say) Jesse Berst they're having problems, and then reading a long, uninformed, blatantly wrong screed about how incompetent the company people are and how linux is inferior.

          • The Cluetrain manifesto was talking about individual to individual communication. Talking to the press is centralized to begin with, since the press itself is centralized. The great thing about communication with peers is that it goes both ways and it's always possible to straighten things out if there's misscomunication (which there will be).

            With the press that's not possible -- not in any meaningful way, anyway. So sure, have your engineers talk to their engineers, but don't go blabbing to the press because then it's too likely to get out of control.
  • Why does it say "Ran across this article on the site" then the link doesn't point to, but instead to some server that is not even accepting connections on port 80?
  • A long time ago I heard a statement to the effect of "Don't believe everything that you read." I apply that to every bit of television, radio and print media I consume. It bothers me that we, as a society, seem to think we are the most educated people ever to live on this planet, yet we allow ourselves to be suckered by rumor, speculation and guessing.

    Be a skeptic. Demand proof and accountability from your information sources.

  • The Truth (Score:2, Funny)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 )
    The truth never stands in the way of a news story!
  • by Joe_NoOne ( 48818 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:56PM (#2131779) Homepage
    A friend of mine in High School loved to ride BMX bicycles and worked in the local shop. Lots of young kids used to come in and ask him stupid questions and bug him to try to be cool like they though he was. One day a particular kid was really obnoxious asking all sorts of questions about how he wanted his bike to work just so, to which my friend, getting sick of this kid, finally said, "I know the problem, but we can't fix it. Go to XXX bike shop and tell them there's a nut loose behind the handlebars". Shop XXX was about 3 miles away down very busy roads. The next day he gets a realy nasty call from Shop XXX because apparently the kid didn't catch the joke and went up there to bug those guys.
  • It seems that journalists simply don't know who to ask. They'll ask the first person that seems to have credentials. As we all know, credentials don't really mean much, and can give the journalist a false sense of truth. They may be thinking that they are getting a good insight about computer virii, when in fact it is a confused loudmouth with some personal goal that he/she is interviewing.

    In Living Color did a skit about this. It involved a journalist who was covering a shooting and as she was looking for someone to interview, she happened to pick out a street punk who went on to describe a ludicrous sequence of events.

    "And there you have it..."
  • As the family geek, I've developed a few rules for responding to the frequent hoaxes I get from family and friends.

    I never reply until I've researched the hoax and/or truth and proven to myself, at least two different ways.

    The best way to ruin my credibility is to send out ONE wrong email.

    I sign everything I send, including my phone number. If I'm not willing to have my full contact information forwarded to someone else along with my conclusions, it needs more research.

    When I don't know the answer, I tell them so. And I recommend they just ignore it.

    When I find it's a hoax, I ask them NOT to forward this conclusion until they've done the same research, and are willing to append their own conclusions. The propagation method of all hoaxes is thoughtless, research-free forwarded email.

    If it turns out to be true, I make a point of including links to whatever authority I can find.

    If it turns out to be false, I include links to at least two web sites that debunk the hoax/myth.

    Finally, I almost always recommend that they take a minute to browse the Kumite Virus Hoaxes and Myths [] web site (seems to be down at the moment but it's a good review of quite a few common hoaxes).

  • Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Adam9 ( 93947 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @11:51AM (#2138849) Journal
    Does the False Authority Syndrome include accepting Slashdot stories as fact too?
    • Re:Hmm (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ackthpt ( 218170 )
      As in the TV news, to get that big Scoop, the goal is getting it out before the other guy. At least in the news papers there's some time before going to press to research it. But as it comes with Hi-Tech, Internet, etc., there's few people who really are qualified to speak, hence they go to their regular contacts. Once that contact has lost sufficient credibility they move on to another. Notice how the experts get put down, but the newsies blissfully continue on. The only newsperson I can recall who's been sufficiently spanked is Pierre Salinger. []
      • Considering the fact that technicians outnumber biotech and even medical professionals by a good order of magnitude, just imagine what kind of poor information we must be getting about those domains.

        As an aside, I'm a little perplexed by the claim that there are few qualified high-tech experts: the field of computers and networks seems to enjoy a huge population, vis-a-vis just about any other (i.e., chemistry, the environment, biology, public health, economics etc.)

    • Re:Hmm (Score:3, Funny)

      by zpengo ( 99887 )
      Does the False Authority Syndrome include accepting Slashdot stories as fact too?

      No, no, no... read carefully: It says False Authority Syndrome. Slashdot editors select news from only authoritative sources[1], carefully check all facts[2], generate precise and accurate write-ups[3], and publish promptly[4]. Any story you read here can be trusted.

      1: Anonymous cowards
      2: Asking on IRC, "Hey does this sound right?"
      3: Including careful spell checks by CmdrTaco
      4: Usually 2-3 months after news has appeared on Memepool, Slant-Six, K5, or similar sites.

  • Virus' need hosts

    Saying "Code Red" was a computer virus is FUD
    it's an IIS virus

    saying sircam is a computer virus is FUD it's an Outlook virus

    saying Melissa is a computer virus is FUD it's an Outlook virus

    (notice a vendor commonality?)

    • BTW: Code Red, Melissa and SirCam all run on computers therefore they are computer viruses
    • sircam is not an Outlook virus. You can for instance download the attachment in Netscape's mail, and open it. Sircam doesn't rely on Outlook, since if it cannot find the outlook address book, it just uses the IE browser cache. Sircam is a trojan which is different, and usually prays upon less knowledgeable computer users --> most of whom use M$ outlook & and outlook making it much easier to spread the virus. I guess if you were using netscape only and there wasn't anything in the IE cache, then it wouldn't spread, it would simply sit around doing nothing.

      Okay, I just felt like pointing that out...
  • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @11:53AM (#2140210)
    A few days ago, I was involved in a conversation with a computer neophyte after I had been off the net for a few days.

    She told me she had heard of a new CD format that was supposed to copy-protect CD's by making them damage your stereo speakers.

    Knowing quite a bit about the Red-book standard, I told her that such a format was impossible and that it was almost certainly a hoax.

    Once I got back on the net and read about the Macro-vision scheme now in use in thousands of CD's, I had to call her and tell her that I was mistaken.
    • ...that [insert certification here] doesn't qualify you to deal with every computer problem ever imaginable? *sarcasm off*

      Seriously, it's little wonder that this is being codified into a syndrome since it seems that Joe Q. Public has it into his head that just because someone knows how to stick a card into a PCI slot, they must be a certifiable computer genius. I know as the most up-to-speed user in my small company, I get a daily barrage of questions about every computer related topic imaginable. While I have no hesitation in letting my coworkers know that I haven't a clue as to what it is they are talking about (which they read off reuters this morning and can never keep the details of straight), they still persist in thinking that the most computer saavy person in the room must be a network-sysadmin-31337-haxor-d00d-MCSE-Ph.d-in-com puter-science. Little wonder the suits are cashing in on such naivte in order to move product.
    • Hell, for years we were all telling them that you couldn't get a virus from email.
    • I got the email about superheated water from your microwave, and how it could explode. Wrote back explaining, "No, mom. It's just another one of those hoaxes I keep telling you about." Sheesh, when will she learn.

      Fast forward two weeks, I'm watching TV and see this interesting video ...

      Well damn, how about that. [dial dial dial ... ring ... ring ]

      Umm yeah, Mom? Sorry. You were right ...

      • by Gregoyle ( 122532 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @01:57PM (#2125283)
        I don't know if that mail still has the woman's phone number at the end, but when I got it, it did.

        The number was at Los Alamos national laboratory, and I decided that with my shiny new cell-phone with free long distance I would call the number.

        Haha, much to my surprise, the woman picked up the phone, and I asked her if the email was true. She said it was and asked me to take the number off the mail if I sent it to anyone, because ever since that mail had gone out her phone had been ringing off the hook.

      • I got the email about superheated water from your microwave, and how it could explode. Wrote back explaining, "No, mom. It's just another one of those hoaxes I keep telling you about." Sheesh, when will she learn [...] Umm yeah, Mom? Sorry. You were right ...

        The 'exploding water' thing predates the e-mail by a few years. When we got our first microwave (a Toshiba, IIRC) the manual contained a warning that you should make sure that if you were boiling the water, you should vigorously fill the container with water or it may "erupt". In fact, I've seen this happen - boil the water in the microwave, then drop a teabag in and it will erupt (anything from just fizzing like a can of Coke to water being splashed out of the container).

      • by gotan ( 60103 )
        Hmm, being a physicist i even know how that superheated water thing works, you can heat water a little above the boiling point without it becoming steam. Only when you disturb it it will boil. Until then it's in an instable equilibrium state. The effect is even used in Bubble chambers: the disturbance by a charged particle is enough to result in a track of bubbles, thus making the particle visible (but be sure to get the timing of that photo right, or you could as well take a photo of your teapot). In chemistry we even learned to put something with an irregular surface in a testing tube before heating it, because it doesn't need a microwave for the effect, nor water. Any liquid being heated 'carefully' enough (and in a container with smooth enough surfaces e.g. glass) will do.

        So i wouldn't have discounted that superheated water story anyway. But that also means, before accepting or discounting such a story one should think if one has expertise on the subject. By dismissing it all as a hoax you became the false authority. It's rather better to say "Well i don't know about that, i have to know more before making a statement", maybe followed by "but i don't believe in it". It's ok to have an opinion about the credibility of a statement, but it should be marked thus.
  • by Nugget ( 7382 ) <> on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:02PM (#2140733) Homepage
    "The media is always accurate, except when they're talking about things I know."

    It's always a source of amazement to me how many people are capable of maintaining this perspective towards the media. I always try to think back to every single teeth-grinding, knee-gripping instance of media inaccuracy in a tech story whenever I'm exposed to a story on a subject on a topic which is unfamiliar to me.
  • One word of advice. _Always_ research the problem for yourself before jumping headfirst into an ocean of hysteria. I've had to correct the sysadmin at my former college because of hoaxes that were sent out by them. This didn't happen just once, either. A little common sense and understanding about how computers do (and don't!) work will help you see through almost all of the hysteria and hype.
  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:34PM (#2141105)
    No, not all reporters are. Just most of them. Most of the reporters I've met are little more than a talking hair-do and are fascinated by anything with blinking lights even though they almost never comprehend anything you tell them. You can just watch anything you tell them go in one ear and out the other.

    Why do I say this? I work in a tech center. We do a lot of nifty complicated work usually involving a lot of computers and/or math. It's neat stuff, but not that hard to understand what it is even if you don't understand the details of it. (part prototyping, databases, 3d computer graphics, etc) Because of the kind of work we do, we are something of a showpiece for the company. We get reporters and TV crews coming through all the time. The visits usually go something like this:

    Us: Here's this nifty complicated new piece of equipment that is going to help us make widgets faster, better and cheaper.

    Then: Uh-huh. Can you turn the lights in the room down and stand over by the blinking lights? We need a picture.

    Us: But those lights are the air conditioning system.

    Them: Yeah but it looks cool and I didn't understand a word you said anyway.

    They also have this peculiar fascination with taking pictures in low light conditions with glowing things. My wife worked in a lab where they used radioactive chemical markers for testing. They wanted to turn the lights down to get a picture of the spectrometer (which wasn't even in use) while showing someone handling radioactive chemicals in the dark. Very safe...

    Needless to say, I don't watch the evening news anymore...

    • Look at a magazine story involving programmers / IT people / scientists. Chances are you'll see a picture with one guy pointing at a monitor / instrument / dial, with 1-2 other folks looking on. Now, remember that this picture was STAGED, with a pushy photographer running around placing lights and fixing hair.

      Does this ever happen where you work or go to school? I can count on one hand the number of times I have gathered around co-workers (only on one side, wouldn't want to block the camera) while they pointed at a screen. Yet this image has become almost universal in the media's coverage of computers and science!

      The Boston Globe did a feature on a place I used to work. They tore the place up, taking pictures and disrupting everything.. and then people read the story thinking they just took candid pictures while everyone was working!

    • Sounds like MSCSE's to me.
  • by Placido ( 209939 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:05PM (#2142196)
    I love you google cache! [] (remove the space that /. so helpfully adds. ;)
  • The first example given (can't read the rest since the site seems to be /.'ed) does seem to be a situation where the person transmitting the information appears authoritative. But the ways in which the computer store staff person got his information was not far from the traditional rumor mill; it's a long-standing fact of history that truth rarely catches up to rumors!
  • *The News* (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PopeAlien ( 164869 )

    *The News* is not necessarily about informing you of anything important. *The News* is about selling your eyeballs to advertisers. *The News* has therefore got to grab your attention and get your eyeballs in front of the advertising. You can always print a 'correction' on page 3, or just nevermind that 'facts' got 'distorted' in the 'reporting'.

    It seems to me that this could be used to focus attention on the DMCA and other important, but non-sexy issues. We just have to come up with new wording that grabs attention.. Hm .. I dunno, can you relate the DMCA's limits on reproduction to sex?

    • Re:*The News* (Score:2, Interesting)

      by GregWebb ( 26123 )
      Yet one more reason to use the BBC! and yes, that'll get you UK-focussed news but they're not just aiming for eyeballs for advertisers. I'm delighted that we have something like this and they're probably my primary news source.

      Having said that, they still got some home users worried about Code Red...
  • by alteridem ( 46954 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:00PM (#2144229) Homepage
    Oh my God, their server isn't responding!!! They must be infected by that Code Red virus that I've been hearing about in the news. It's all true, the sky is falling, the Internet is grinding to a halt. Quick, everyone turn off your computers to prevent its spread!

    Or maybe this is that even more insidious virus/worm I've been hearing about, the /. effect...

If at first you don't succeed, you must be a programmer.