Google being evil

Hey Google, don’t be evil! This is exactly the kind of thing we were afraid would happen without strict net neutrality rules — and lo and behold, here it is: The search engine is helping the gas lobby support fracking by stacking search results with pro-fracking ads that look like search results. And as this Truthout article says, it’s having a negative effect on how peer-reviewed fracking research is perceived by the public:

For more than 17 months, Robert Howarth, an ecology professor at Cornell, has had a Google problem. Howarth is the chief author of an important paper on the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial method of obtaining natural gas. The paper concludes that the practice is not a clean way to extract domestic energy, as many allege, and has an even greater carbon footprint than coal. The paper’s conclusions poke holes in some of the most common talking points used by supporters of fracking and made major headlines, including a large and prominently placed article in The New York Times in April 2011. Howarth, along with one of his co-authors, Anthony Ingraffea, and activist actor Mark Ruffalo, were ranked by Time as among the 100 “people who matter” in 2011.

The paper also got the attention of the gas lobby. Most notably, America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). Soon after the paper was released, Howarth and others noticed a disturbing phenomenon on Google. Every time Professor Howarth’s name was placed into a Google search engine, the first thing that appeared was an ad from ANGA, devoted strictly to hampering the credibility of Howarth’s research. The page was listed as an ad but at a quick glance, it simply looked like the top search result. As of the time of this writing, late October, the ad still displayed that way.

The ad, and the ability of industry to use Google ads for these purposes, raises important questions about the role that Google and other prominent search engines will have on important political and scientific discourse. Do Google and other companies have a responsibility to the public to consider the way their search engine can be used to advance the interests of certain industries? This method naturally empowers wealthy industries to dominate Google search results given their massive resources and vested financial interests in the way in which science is discussed in the public sphere. And the company does ultimately answer to shareholders and not to the public at large. Given this reality, what can we expect from Google and other corporate giants of the Internet world when it comes to providing valuable information that serves the public?

The content of the ad includes attacks that Howarth is “not credentialed to do the kind of chemical analysis required for this field of study,” his research is “not well documented” and his conclusions “extreme.” They also argue that the vast majority of scientists are skeptical of Howarth’s conclusions.

In an interview with Truthout, Howarth meticulously refuted the statements in the ad, saying they are “very misleading” and argues that, contrary to what is portrayed in the ad, “many more scientists agree with and support our research than disagree with it.” Howarth claims the ad has been alarmingly effective at shaping the debate on the issue and disrupting his career.
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Human sacrifice

When I was in the third grade at Catholic school, I had to write a book report. I was precocious, and chose “The Cardinal,” a popular novel my mother left in our bookcase. The nun who taught me called my mother and yelled at her because the book was on the “condemned” list of the church. My mother’s sensible response was, “Those things you’re worried about probably went right over her head. And if they didn’t, then she’s old enough to read about them.”

One of the story lines in the book was the lead character’s sister. He was a priest and the sister ran off to be a flamenco dancer because the Irish Catholic family wouldn’t let her marry the Jewish boy she loved. She turns up pregnant by another dancer and fighting for her life. The priest brother tells the doctor to save the baby and let his sister die.

Say what? I may have only been in the third grade, but that just didn’t seem right to me. What kind of brother would allow his sister to die to prove some point? That part of the story stayed with me a long time.

And now, there’s Savita Halappanavar, whose death in an Irish hospital is also a truly heartbreaking yet infuriating story, a true story. There are few issues that make me more angry than men taking it upon themselves to make this very personal decision for women — especially when based on the politics of a church whose hierarchy went to the wall to protect child-rapers. Jessica Valenti writes about it in The Nation:

This week, the first American study ever to look at what happens to women when they’re denied abortions was released. It’s a fascinating, but not all that surprising, read. The research shows women who seek out abortions and are unable to obtain them fare significantly worse over time than women who are able to procure the procedure. Women who are denied abortions are more likely to end up on welfare, more likely to stay in abusive relationships, and more likely to be emotionally distressed over their pregnancy outcome.


Women’s lives suffer when they are forced to carry pregnancies. I thought I was angry when I read this research. But then I heard about Savita Halappanavar in Ireland, whose tragic story reminds us of the worst thing that can happen when women are denied abortions.The 31-year-old Indian dentist, who was seventeen weeks pregnant, went to the hospital with severe back pain. Within hours of being admitted, doctors told her she was miscarrying. The law in Ireland—which only allows for abortion if a woman’s life is in danger—prevented Savita from being able to end her pregnancy and her excruciating pain because there was still a fetal heartbeat present.


As Savita’s condition worsened over the course of three days, she and her husband begged doctors to end the doomed pregnancy. They refused, saying “this is a Catholic country.”Savita countered, “I am neither Irish nor Catholic.” Still, she was denied. That night she vomited repeatedly and collapsed in a restroom.The following day, the fetus’s heartbeat finally stopped and it was removed by the doctors. But it was too late. Savita was transferred to the ICU where she died of septic shock.


Savita died in terrible pain, over the course of several days, begging for a medical procedure that would save her life. She was killed—murdered by a law that places women’s humanity beneath that of a fetus.


American women would do well not to dismiss this as a tragedy that could only happen in another country. This is what happens when you legislate something as personal and complicated as pregnancy. How do doctors decide when a woman is close enough to dying to give her an abortion? Or to what degree does a woman’s health need to be at risk?


I had a life-threatening pregnancy. I was lucky to be far enough into my pregnancy that I was able to deliver my daughter—had it been just a few weeks earlier, I would have been forced to end the pregnancy to save my life. I went into an emergency C-section with my blood pressure rapidly escalating and my liver failing. If there were a law trumping the rights of my fetus over my own, what would have been considered a reasonable risk for me to take? Undergoing a liver transplant? Having a few eclamptic seizures?


It’s not just our lives and health that are in danger, but our human dignity. Consider the women in Ireland who suffered as Savita did but lived—put through needless torture in the name of “life.” Or the American women who are denied late-term abortions even when the fetus has no chance of survival—forced to carry dying babies. Or the women with doomed pregnancies who—thanks to draconian ultrasound laws—are made to listen to a nurse describe the organs and details of their dying fetus before being allowed to have an abortion.

Just plain mean

Sarasota retains its title as “the meanest city in America” for the homeless:

SARASOTA – A homeless man spent the night in jail Sunday after police arrested him for charging his cellphone in a public picnic shelter at Gillespie Park.


Darren Kersey, 28, was charged with theft of utilities after Sarasota Police Sgt. Anthony Frangioni spotted him charging his phone at about 9:20 p.m. Sunday. Unable to come up with the $500 bail for the misdemeanor, Kersey had no choice but to stay in jail.


In his arrest report, Frangioni wrote that he told Kersey that the “theft of city utilities will not be tolerated during this bad economy.” Frangioni also told Kersey that he should charge his phone at local shelters, according to the report.


But Monday morning Circuit Judge Charles Williams threw the case out, saying Frangioni lacked the legal justification to make the arrest.

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