SciTechBlog
September 24, 2009

French politicians want Photoshop warning

Posted: 11:10 AM ET

A new law that would require airbrushed images to contain a disclaimer is gaining popularity in the French Parliament, according to the Telegraph.

An advertisement Photoshop Disasters claims is overly manipulated.

An advertisement Photoshop Disasters claims is overly manipulated.

Politicians who support the law claim digitally enhanced images portraying unrealistic beauty are to blame for body and self esteem issues in adolescents.

Campaigning MP Valerie Boyer released a statement with the bill saying:

These photos can lead people to believe in a reality that does not actually exist, and have a detrimental effect on adolescents. Many young people, particularly girls, do not know the difference between the virtual and reality, and can develop complexes from a very young age.

Boyer is joined by 50 other French politicians who support the required text, which would read "Photograph retouched to modify the physical appearance of a person."

Violations could carry costly penalties. Boyer is asking for a fine of over $50,000 or up to half of the cost of the publicity campaign, whichever is greater, for advertisers that break the law.

The law has only been proposed in France, but magazines around the world are filled with 'Photoshopped' images of slim and sexy models.

Ars Technica asks:

Clearly, there's a line somewhere between reality and fantasy when it comes to images in the media, and the widespread practice of Photoshoppery has only helped to blur that line. Still, do airbrushed images really require an Surgeon-General-like warning?

Would a similar requirement on images in the U.S. help adolescents maintain a realistic body image? Or would the disclaimer serve only to irritate publishers and advertisers?

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Filed under: Internet • online news • Politics


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May 12, 2009

Bill could mean jail for Internet flamers

Posted: 11:32 AM ET

A cyberbullying bill introduced last month has the potential to put half the Internet behind bars.

The Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act is Congress' response to the 2006 suicide of a 13-year-old girl who was harassed on MySpace. The bill makes electronic communication a felony if “the intent is to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person.”

Congressmen probably aren't the most Web-savvy bunch, but anyone familiar with trolling, flaming, and various other forms of online bullying could see a problem with this bill.

Network World examines the bill and explains this new breed of Internet criminal:

Given the freewheeling exchanges that characterize everything from SMS text messages and instant messaging to blogs and Web site comments, the broadly written bill potentially could turn a lot of flamers and bloggers into felons.

Amid growing online criticism, bill sponsor Rep. Linda Sanchez defended the Cyberbullying Prevention Act in a Huffington Post article this month:

Congress has no interest in censoring speech and it will not do so if it passes this bill. Put simply, this legislation would be used as a tool for a judge and jury to determine whether there is significant evidence to prove that a person "cyberbullied" another... So - bloggers, emailers, texters, spiteful exes, and those who have blogged against this bill have no fear - your words are still protected under the same American values.

While Rep. Sanchez's assurances may be comforting, judges tend to follow the wording of a law rather than its sponsor's intent. So before you text your cheating ex, slam those Apple forum fanboys, or call me a 'moron' in the comments, consider the possible consequences of this new bill, or at least put your lawyer's number on speed dial.

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Filed under: Internet • Politics


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April 2, 2009

Renewable energy could threaten wildlife

Posted: 12:27 PM ET

In a weird sort of environmental paradox, the Natural Resources Defense Council on Wednesday released maps of the American West showing areas that would be damaged if they're developed for renewable energy.

Renewable energy expansion is a priority of the Obama administration, but some of the land that could be used for wind or solar power also is home to endangered and threatened species.

It's an interesting example of environmental issues butting heads. Environmentalists generally support renewable energy projects because they reduce the amount of heat-trapping gases going into the atmosphere - and therefore help to slow global climate change. But this could be a sign they may oppose some wind and solar projects.

NRDC says the issues don't have to be in opposition. Careful planning could solve the conflict, the group says.

You can check out the maps on Google Earth.

Here's one example: a birding group mapped areas of Wyoming where the sage-grouse lives.

In my previous life as an environment reporter in Oklahoma, I wrote about how wind farms in that state are crossing paths with a funky bird called the lesser prairie chicken. The bird is so popular it even has YouTube videos.

What do you think? Can we ditch fossil fuels and protect wildlife? What should be the priorities?

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Filed under: Animals • Birds • climate change • endangered species • Energy • environment • Politics • solar energy


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February 26, 2009

Tweets on the Hill

Posted: 12:31 PM ET

Transparency seems to be all the rage on Capitol Hill these days. And what better way for Congress to connect directly with constituents than through Twitter, the free social-messaging site?

Members of Congress listen to President Obama's address Tuesday night. Some Twittered during the speech. Photo: Getty Images.

As I began following the 100 or so members who currently use Twitter through a site called http://tweetcongress.org, I found the Democrat-to-Republican tweeting ratio a bit surprising. There are only 29 Democrats tweeting compared to 57 or so Republicans.

As we saw in the last election campaign, Democrats have a reputation as being hipper and more plugged-in than their GOP counterparts. So are Republicans now trying to drum up support with the tech-savvy crowd through this hot medium that seems to be spreading like wildfire?

Twitter gives the public a sense of what’s happening in now in the halls of Congress. It’s like a real-time backstage pass to Capitol Hill. We elected these people to do a job, and Twitter gives us a way to connect with them more directly than ever.

During President Obama's speech Tuesday night to the joint session of Congress, Texas Republican congressman John Culberson posted, "This is always an awe-inspiring experience no matter who is President," and "Capt Sully is here - awesome!" These personal messages give us a behind-the-scenes look at how our government works, humanize our elected leaders and avoid the cumbersome rhetoric that we find in formal congressional correspondence.

However, there are a handful of potential pitfalls in congressional tweeting, which might be why not every senator or congressman has jumped on the Twitter bandwagon. There are no Twitter filters or copy editors, and once a tweet is out there, there is no turning back. This can be a dicey prospect for a politician.

During President Obama’s speech, one such tweet slipped through the cracks for congressman Joe Barton, another Texas Republican, who Twittered, “Aggie basketball game is about to start on espn2 for those of you that aren’t going to bother watching Pelosi smirk for the next hour.”

Oops! Several minutes later another message followed, saying, “Disregard that last tweet from a staffer.” Insert tweet in mouth.

So, should there be some filter or editor to protect our congressmen from themselves? Or can we benefit from these raw, unpolished glimpses at our elected representatives? Let us know what you think!

– Callie Carmichael, CNN.com

Filed under: Internet • Politics


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February 12, 2009

More mud in the digital switchover waters

Posted: 05:06 PM ET
ALT TEXT

The date for the switchover was February 17th, then was pushed back to June, but some stations will still be switching early.

Since we last chatted about the DTV switchover
there’s been some new developments –- the biggest of which being its postponement to June. Then nearly 500 stations told the FCC they want to go ahead and change to digital signals on the original February 17 switchover date. And now the FCC has rejected a quarter of those requests.

According to the latest TV Week article, the FCC is concerned with markets where all the major network affiliates wanted to switch early, leaving those unprepared for the change without news or emergency alerts.

So if you weren’t confused about the deadline before, there’s even more to muddy the waters now.

Your comments on my previous DTV post were very informative - especially the issue of digital signals not reaching as far as their analog counterparts - and I’m sure I’ll get even more new perspective on this issue from what you have to say today.

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Filed under: Politics • television


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November 11, 2008

Evolution Revolution: "We haven't scratched the surface"

Posted: 01:29 PM ET

Galapagos tortoises and finches may be the first creatures that come to mind when we think of evolution. But as intriguing as Charles Darwin’s discoveries were, he didn’t write the only book on evolution. In fact, a lot of books on the subject haven’t even been written yet.

New understanding of evolutionary concepts could help humans understand contemporary problems, from renewable energy to health care. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Scientists have only discovered and named about ten percent of the plant and animal species on earth.

“There’s a huge amount to learn, we have not scratched the surface,” said Professor David Lynn, chair of the chemistry department at Emory University.

Lynn was among organizers of an Emory workshop, “Evolution Revolution: Science Changing Life.” It was aimed at high school teachers trying to rev up their students’ interest in how evolution is changing our world now.

The gathering is getting a head start on celebrating Darwin’s 200th birthday next year. It’s also the 150th anniversary of “On the Origin of the Species,” Darwin’s pioneering research on one of the most important concepts in science.

Darwin described natural selection, the concept that individuals who are better adapted to their current environment have an advantage over those not so well adapted. "Survival of the fittest" is sometimes used to describe natural selection. But it's not always the biggest and toughest who win in the long run. Evolutionary fitness sometimes involves cooperation with other organisms and the ability to reproduce and pass those genes on. Researchers in scores of different fields are constantly updating this elegant idea.

“Technology moves very quickly, and even scientists have a hard time keeping up,” said Lynn, professor of biomolecular chemistry. That’s why the evolution workshop reached out to the community, and to people in the arts as well as science.

Understanding evolution today could help with contemporary challenges, from harnessing new biofuels to understanding communicable diseases to developing new strategies for health care.

(And before you ask, yes, the Emory scientists did discuss with teachers how to answer questions about creationism and “intelligent design.” But no, that wasn’t the focus of their meetings. )

Mostly, said Lynn, “Teachers were interested in the best way to teach this marvelous discovery, with questions like, ‘How do I explain this concept to my tenth graders in a digestible, artistic way?’”
Hundreds of people, from students to tweedy professors to plenty of locals packed Emory’s Glenn Memorial Auditorium to hear Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson’s address on “Darwin and the Future of Biology.”

Wilson is known as the “father of biodiversity” (as well as the guy who is so passionate about ants he wrote a 700+ page book about their behavior that earned him the Pulitzer prize for literature).

Wilson provided a glimpse into Darwin’s life, including his five- year journey on H.M.S. Beagle, from 1831-1836.

“He was a 21 year old, newly escaped from Cambridge University, on a five year journey with no TV, no radio, no newspapers,” said Wilson.

The world, Wilson said, was Charles Darwin’s to possess. And perhaps, during his six weeks in the Galapagos Islands, came his “aha” moment. The captain pointed out that the turtles, and the finches, were different from island to island. Which got Darwin thinking, “Maybe they’re changing?”

By 1838 Darwin had conceived of evolution by natural selection. In 1871 he published “The Descent of Man,” applying the theory directly to human beings. But members of Victorian society were limited in their embrace of scientific theory. Most folks were okay with plants and other animals evolving. But, said Wilson, “They were scandalized by apes as OUR ancestors.”

But the reason Darwin’s work holds up today, said Wilson, was because he was the epitome of a disciplined scientist.

“This man was irritatingly accurate. He was very careful.”

By Marsha Walton, CNN Science and Technology Producer

Filed under: Animals • Birds • Politics • Religion • Scientists • teachers


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November 5, 2008

How will a President Obama impact science, tech and the environment?

Posted: 12:22 PM ET

An eight-year presidency is coming to an end, and so is a two-year campaign full of hope, mud, hockey moms and long-forgotten candidates (Where have you gone, Vilsack and Tancredo?).  But in the end, "change" is the word of the day.

What will an Obama presidency mean for science and tech?

The transition from a Bush Administration to a Barack Obama Administration implies enormous policy differences in just about every one of the issues we cover in this blog.  

Here are some questions for the next four years:

Science:  The Bush Administration drew heavy criticism for allegedly censoring or softening federal scientific reports on global warming, endangered species, and other issues when the science didn't match Administration policy.   Will Obama clean this up?  Or will he draw fire from the opposite political direction?

Space:  The Space Shuttle faces mandatory retirement in two years.  Is Obama, and is America, ready to commit the money to continue exploration in the wake of our financial meltdown?

Tech:  From the classroom to the R&D lab, concerns are mounting that America has lost its research and innovation mojo.  Can the new administration turn this around?

Environment:  Both Obama and McCain drew sharp distinctions with the Bush Administration on addressing global warming.  Obama's campaign called for 80 percent reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.   Are we ready?  Can he deliver?

Energy:  Obama belatedly, and not too enthusiastically, embraced the possibility of expanding offshore drilling during the campaign.  He did so after the polls showed McCain scoring points with the "Drill, Baby Drill!" mantra.  Did Obama really mean what he said?  And now that gas is under $2.50 a gallon again for most Americans, do we still care?

Here are quick links to President-Elect Obama's campaign pledges on energy/global warming, environment, technology, and space.   Feel free to hang on to these links to see how many campaign promises are broken or kept.  

And let us know what you think.

–Peter Dykstra, Executive Producer, CNN Science, Technology & Weather

Filed under: environment • Politics • science • Space


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October 9, 2008

Doing the right thing for endangered whales

Posted: 11:45 AM ET

After years of both scientific study and political wrangling, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a regulation designed to protect North Atlantic right whales.

The long debated “Ship Strike Rule” requires large commercial ships (65-plus feet in length) to reduce their speeds to ten knots when traveling through right whale habitat. There are only 300-400 of these whales left in the world, making it among the most endangered marine species.

“The ship strike rule, based on science, is a major addition to NOAA’s arsenal of protections for this endangered species," said Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., NOAA administrator. (Lautenbacher has just announced his resignation from NOAA.)

Along the mid-Atlantic states, speed restrictions will extend 20 nautical miles near major ports. NOAA says 83 percent of right whale sightings are within 20 miles of land.

Right whales are very slow moving, and their migration routes take them across busy shipping lanes along the eastern seaboard of the United States.

The shipping restrictions only apply in certain months of the year, when the whales are likely to be present. The mammals spend summers around Cape Cod, Massachusetts and the Bay of Fundy in Canadian waters. They travel south off the coast of Georgia and Florida in the winter months, where females give birth.

Ship strikes and entanglement in fishing and lobster gear are currently the biggest threats to right whales.

The rule is expected to go into effect in early December. NOAA says the rule will be re-examined after five years so scientists can evaluate its effectiveness.

While conservation groups welcome the measure, they wish it had been even stronger.

“While we had hoped a 30-nautical-mile zone would be established around major ports, we are pleased by the U.S. government’s decision today to establish this new whale ship strike regulation,” said Jeffrey Flocken, Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Washington office.

IFAW is urging the U.S. government to use on-the-water enforcement and to step up new technologies for right whale protection.

The ship strike rule spent more than a year stranded in the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of the Vice President, as objections from the shipping industry were considered.

–Marsha Walton, CNN Science and Technology producer

Filed under: Animals • environment • Politics


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July 10, 2008

Questions for T. Boone Pickens

Posted: 12:00 PM ET

T. Boone Pickens talks energy on CNN in May

T. Boone Pickens talks energy on CNN in May

T. Boone Pickens, the legendary oilman, tilted at windmills the other day. With an extensive media campaign that looked a lot like he was running for office, he rolled out an ambitious scenario in which U.S. energy policy is turned on its head. His proposal: replace the 20% of our electricity supply that comes from natural gas with wind power - abundant and there for the taking from the Canadian border to the Mexican border through the middle of the country. The natural gas that's freed up would then replace oil as a major source to power our transportation fleet, according to the Pickens plan.

Pickens has an astounding track record at anticipating U.S. energy demand - including a prescient warning a few years back that oil was going to be mighty costly about now. Like the old E.F. Hutton ads, when he talks, investors listen. And if he says wind is in, investors will line up.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on his plan.
To start off, here's my own two cents (bear in mind that I could be out buying one-third of an ounce of gasoline with those two cents):

1. Pickens is neither an altruist nor a treehugger trapped in the body of an oilman. He sees money in this, and has been perfectly transparent about that.
2. It's a plan - at least a partial one - which is pretty much more than we've got now.
3. It may be a plan from a shrewd, battle-tested business tycoon, but it's probably not as easy as it seems. Wind energy gives out when the wind stops blowing, and there's no existing technology to store it in large quantity. Wind-dependent power plants would need a robust backup system. We'd also need a much better electric transmission infrastructure than we have right now, in order to move the wind power from the Great Plains, where it's available, to the population centers, where it's needed.
4. Wind as a main power source would have an uneven impact in replacing natural gas. About half of California's electricity comes from natural gas. In Ohio, it's about 2%.

Your turn - blog away: Is T. Boone Pickens a genius, or is he just spittin' in the wind?

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech & Weather

Filed under: Cars • climate change • economy • environment • Fuel • Gas • Gasoline • Politics


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February 20, 2008

Environment suffers as politics simmer

Posted: 05:11 PM ET

Of all the issues on Earth, the values of clean air and a healthy environment aren't where you would expect to find a broken government and political gridlock.

ALT TEXT

Concerns about global warming, endangered species, energy and water supplies are mounting and many see the environment as the staging ground for a great train wreck between science, politics, money and ideology.

CNN's “Broken Government: Scorched Earth,” examines tangled policies and ambitions and finds that the federal government has often stood in the way of environmental solutions. And, in some cases, well-intended programs have made problems worse rather than better.

In the Badlands of South Dakota, rancher Marv Jobgen is less than thrilled to share his federally-subsidized grazing land with prairie dogs, which are competing with his cattle to graze on grass. One federal agency hopes to expand a prairie dog poisoning program - on the same land where a rival federal agency is working to save the prairie dog.

The rodents may be competition for Jobgen’s cattle, but they’re dinner for the highly-endangered black-footed ferret. The ferrets are staging a government-backed comeback from the brink of extinction, but it all may be imperiled when the same government begins poisoning their food supply. Jobgen’s frustration is shared on all sides: environmentalists, government biologists who oversaw the ferret’s recovery, and ranchers.

“That’s what happens when you get agencies where nobody talks to anybody,” says Jobgen.

“Scorched Earth” also takes viewers to Iowa, the so-called “Kuwait of the Midwest,” where an estimated 30 percent of the nation’s corn crop is now grown - not for food - but for fuel. Corn is being touted as a “green” alternative and an antidote to America’s addiction to foreign oil.

But a backlash is building as some researchers find growing corn for fuel may actually cost more than it saves. Some experts have also blamed the corn crop for the explosive growth of the “Dead Zone” thousands of miles downstream at the mouth of the Mississippi River, where this nearly oxygen-free ocean area is wreaking havoc on the catches of Louisiana fisherman.

We also traveled to El Paso, Texas, where a century-old copper smelter stands amid a bleak landscape of lead pollution and health impacts, which some medical experts have linked to pollutants from the smelter.

Shuttered since the late ‘90s, when copper prices hit rock bottom, ASARCO recently got permission to reopen the plant. Even though ASARCO declared bankruptcy two years ago, citing “environmental liabilities” which may total $11 billion, the company recently received clearance to reopen. Some bankruptcy experts, local residents and city leaders are crying foul and say federal laws are protecting the company from paying cleanup costs.

- Miles O’Brien, CNN Science & Technology Correspondent

Watch “Broken Government: Scorched Earth” on Thursday, February 21, at 11 p.m. ET, immediately following the CNN Debate live in Austin, Texas.

Filed under: Politics


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About this blog

Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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