April 28, 2020

You've probably noticed that graphs and charts are having a moment during the coronavirus pandemic. Governments are using them to make informed decisions about when to re-open economies, and they pop up daily to present people around the world with a look at how the pandemic is trending. But some would argue people are putting a little too much stock in models without accounting for their potential pitfalls.

Carl Bergstrom, an expert on both emerging infectious diseases and networked misinformation from the University of Washington, told The Guardian in an interview he doesn't think people have done a good job of "thinking about what the purpose of models are, how the purposes of different models vary, and then what the scope of their value is." That's led people to over-rely on them and "treat them too seriously," and when reality eventually differs from the projections, models tend to get criticized "for not being perfect at everything."

Bergstrom's point is that science, especially in fast moving scenarios like the pandemic, is "provisional" and "can be corrected." He believes researchers can improve at communicating that point by "deliberately stressing the possible weaknesses of our interpretations." A really good paper, he said, will lay out all the reasons why it could be wrong. Read more at The Guardian. Tim O'Donnell

June 7, 2018

On Wednesday night, Fox News host Sean Hannity took umbrage at a report that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had asked witnesses in his Russia investigation to hand over their phones and other devices so investigators could see if they had used encrypted apps to communicate with anyone connected to President Trump. You may be surprised to hear that Hannity made reference to Hillary Clinton.

"Maybe Mueller's witnesses," Hannity began, "I don't know, if I advised them to follow Hillary Clinton's lead, delete all your emails, then acid-wash the emails and hard drives on the phones, then take your phones and bash them with a hammer into itsy-bitsy pieces, use BleachBit, remove the SIM cards, and then take the pieces and hand it over to Robert Mueller and say, 'Hillary Rodham Clinton — this is equal justice under the law.'"

Hannity was referring, presumably, to the Clinton aide who told the FBI that after Clinton was done using her old BlackBerrys, he broke apart or smashed two of them; the FBI said it found eight devices she used during her tenure as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. BleachBit is a program Clinton's aides used to delete an archived mailbox of Clinton's emails in March 2015. The FBI opened its investigation in July 2015 and closed it without charges a year later. Handing Mueller smashed phones in an ongoing investigation would probably be a bad idea. Just ask Sean Hannity. Peter Weber

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