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Risks Digest 31.96


Risks Digest 31.96

RISKS Forum mailing list archives Risks Digest 31.96 From: RISKS List Owner Date: Sun, 7 Jun 2020 15:31:21 PDTRISKS-LIST: Risks-Forum Digest Sunday 7 June 2020 Volume 31 : Issue 96 ACM FORUM ON RISKS TO THE PUBLIC IN COMPUTERS AND RELATED SYSTEMS (comp.risks) Peter G. Neumann, founder and still moderator ***** See last item for…

Risks Digest 31.96

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Risks Digest 31.96

From: RISKS List Owner

Date: Sun, 7 Jun 2020 15:31:21 PDT

RISKS-LIST: Risks-Forum Digest  Sunday 7 June 2020  Volume 31 : Issue 96

Peter G. Neumann, founder and still moderator

***** See last item for further information, disclaimers, caveats, etc. *****
This issue is archived at <> as
The current issue can also be found at

The Results Are in for Remote Learning: It Didn't Work (MSN)
Complex Debate Over Silicon Valley's Embrace of Content Moderation (NYTimes)
Engineering screwup turns Golden Gate Bridge into creepy wind siren
Robot dog hounds Thai shoppers to keep hands virus-free (yahoo)
Singapore plans wearable virus-tracing device for all (Reuters)
Even Scientists Funded by Zuckerberg Are Dragging Facebook for Its Hypocrisy
Re: Australian Federal Government's automated debt recovery (Attila ...)
Re: Misinformation About George Floyd Protests Surges on Social Media
  (Bob Wilson, Atilla ...)
Re: Just Stop the Superspreading (Martin Ward, Henry Baker)
Abridged info on RISKS (comp.risks)


Date: Sun, 7 Jun 2020 14:43:17 -0700
From: Lauren Weinstein 
Subject: The Results Are in for Remote Learning: It Didn't Work (MSN)

  The problems began piling up almost immediately. There were students
  (without computers and] Internet access. Teachers had no experience with
  remote learning. And many parents weren't available to help.  In many
  places, lots of students simply didn't show up online, and administrators
  had no good way to find out why not. Soon many districts weren't requiring
  students to do any work at all, increasing the risk that millions of
  students would have big gaps in their learning.  "We all know there's no
  substitute for learning in a school setting, and many students are
  struggling and falling far behind where they should be," said Austin
  Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, in a
  video briefing to the community on Wednesday.

    [Perhaps it could have been done much better, although not on such short
    notice.  But I think we all agree -- there is no substitute for daily
    human interactions in a knowledge-based environment.  PGN]


Date: Sat, 6 Jun 2020 07:35:22 -0400
From: Monty Solomon 
Subject: Complex Debate Over Silicon Valley's Embrace of Content Moderation

Many in tech cheered when Twitter added labels to President Trump's tweets.
But civil libertarians caution that social media companies are moving into
uncharted waters.


Date: Sat, 6 Jun 2020 16:03:54 -0400
From: Gabe Goldberg 
Subject: Engineering screwup turns Golden Gate Bridge into creepy wind siren

After work on the Golden Gate Bridge's sidewalks to bolster their wind
resistance, nearby residents of San Francisco are complaining that the 1.7
mile-long structure makes a creepy droning noise when it's windy.  The
mysterious and unsettling tone is heard in videos posted by Alberto
Martinez, Mark Krueger and @reedm. It's a spectacular example of engineering


Date: Sat, 6 Jun 2020 10:49:46 +0800
From: Richard Stein 
Subject: Robot dog hounds Thai shoppers to keep hands virus-free (yahoo)

"I think the execution, like the robot itself, is a bit scary," the
29-year-old said, though she admitted that giving out hand sanitiser is a
"good idea".

Muzzle the mandible-equipped model.


Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 17:25:49 -1000
From: the keyboard of geoff goodfellow 
Subject: Singapore plans wearable virus-tracing device for all (Reuters)

Singapore plans to give a wearable device that will identify people who had
interacted with carriers of coronavirus to each of its 5.7 million
residents, in what could become one of the most comprehensive
contact-tracing efforts globally.

Testing of the small devices, which can be worn on the end of a lanyard or
carried in a handbag, follows limited take-up of an earlier smartphone-based
system and has further fueled privacy concerns about contact tracing

The tiny city-state, with one of the highest COVID-19 caseloads in Asia, is
one of many countries trying to use technology to allow them to safely
reopen their economies.

Singapore will soon roll out the device, which does not depend on a
smartphone, and ``may then distribute it to everyone in Singapore,'' Vivian
Balakrishnan, the minister in charge of the city-state's smart nation
initiative, said on Friday. [...]


Date: Sun, 7 Jun 2020 14:52:55 -0700
From: Lauren Weinstein 
Subject: Even Scientists Funded by Zuckerberg Are Dragging Facebook for Its
  Hypocrisy (Gizmodo)


Date: Sun, 7 Jun 2020 08:31:48 +0100
From: Attila the Hun 
Subject: Re: Australian Federal Government's automated debt recovery
  'Robodebt' was illegal (RISKS-31.95)

Rodney Parkin should remember Hanlon's razor.

My experience of various governments (the administrative parts) consistently
demonstrated "stupidity" when designing systems.  This word is better
characterised as: "ignorance of the reality" and "inability to consider
'out-of-the-box' situations".  Government projects, especially where
computer programs are involved, provide a rich seam for RISKS' contributors
to mine.


Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 21:52:20 -0500
From: Bob Wilson 
Subject: Re: Misinformation About George Floyd Protests Surges on Social
  Media (Shapir, RISKS-31.94)

Shapir's excellent comments connect to research on "news finds me",
e.g.,those people who say

  > "we know better because we have read an Internet post!"

Recent research papers tell us that the people most likely to believe
conspiracy theories are those who don't read (on paper, online, etc.)
articles about a topic. They believe that anything that matters will find
them, via channels such as social media groups, rather than their having to
look for news at all. One paper that is available online is by Michael
Wagner and John Foley.  Once you "know" that reports contrary to your
beliefs derive from conspiracies, no amount of presenting facts and rational
arguments will change those beliefs.


Date: Sun, 7 Jun 2020 08:30:52 +0100
From: Attila the Hun 
Subject: Re: Misinformation About George Floyd Protests Surges on Social
  Media (RISKS-31.95)

Since the early days of social media I have been making the point that Amos
Shapir echoes.  Headlines, in both mainstream and social media have become
increasingly hyperbolic, seldom more so than when a "cause" or disaster is
involved.  With no apologies to the coronavirus pandemic, there is a
long-standing saying in the media, that the headline: "Small Earthquake In
China, Not Many Dead" does not sell newspapers.  Consequently, editors have
always chosen snappier phrases, which sometimes misrepresent the real story.

That seems to have become somewhat of the norm these days, especially so on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and 
even LinkedIn.

Contributors (I would not demean the role of an Editor by giving the authors
that title) now trade on their readers (and I hesitate to use that
description) not looking beyond the headline.  Only a vanishing few now read
below the fold.

Anecdote: many moons ago I found myself seated next to the retired British
Prime Minister, Sir Ted Heath on a Concorde flight to Miami (he was going to
watch the Superbowl, I was heading to Bogota in a hurry).  He read the
broadsheets from masthead to imprimatur and I commented to him that he must
now have a Catholic view of the news.  His reply was at the same time both
stunning and bleedin' obvious, so much so that I recall it verbatim, and is
highly relevant in this context.

He said: "It has been my delight since leaving office, to read the
newspapers for myself.  When I was Prime Minister, I received two digests of
the news: one prepared by the Cabinet Office [the Civil Service digest of
relevant news - MB] and one prepared by my PPS [Parliamentary Private
Secretary, giving the Conservative Party's digest of relevant news - MB].

"You know, I could have been Prime Minister of two different countries!"


Date: Sat, 6 Jun 2020 09:31:39 +0100
From: Martin Ward 
Subject: Re: Just Stop the Superspreading (Baker, RISKS-31.95)

Unless the variance is *infinitely* large (and extensive scientific evidence
gathered over the last few months proves this not to be the case), then the
concept of R0 is indeed well-defined and R0 does indeed have a precise value
for a given data set: "superspeaders" notwithstanding. The value of R0 is
analogous to the "expected value" in probability theory: the actual wins and
losses in a game of chance may vary wildly, but the concept of "expected
value" is still valid.

There is no point in continuing to argue that the infection process "might"
have such a wide variance that the outcome is completely random and
undeterminable and uncontrollable, and that therefore any model is
worthless. The data is in: as I wrote in RISKS-31.90, a number of countries
have taken various actions (those supported by the models that Baker is
still trying to discredit) and these are beating COVID-19.  Other countries
have failed to take effective action and these still do not have the virus
fully under control.

If the model is faulty because the situation is completely random and
unpredictable (in the chaos theory sense), then there would be no
corollation between actions taken and outcomes. But by now the corollation
is plainly there to see in the data:

The Law of Holes: "If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!"


Date: Sat, 06 Jun 2020 15:00:29 -0700
From: Henry Baker 
Subject: Re: Just Stop the Superspreading (Arthur T., RISKS-31.95)

  [If the experts who read RISKS are having trouble with these concepts,
  then we're all in deep yogurt!  Derek Bok, a president of Harvard
  University, said "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance".
  Between the trillion dollar bailout in the Great Recession, and the
  trillion dollar bailout in the Great Pandemic, I'd say that we all just
  paid the highest tuition in history to learn the cost of our ignorance
  regarding heavy/fat tailed distributions.  HB]

Statisticians came up with the terms 'mean', 'median', and 'mode' because
the term 'average' was ill-defined.

For 'normal' distributions, 'mean/expected', 'median', and 'mode' coincide,
so there is less need to disambiguate.

For (ab)normal distributions, mean/median/mode can vary widely from one
another, or may not even exist -- e.g., the pathological, but not unusual,
'Cauchy' distribution ("applications of the Cauchy distribution ... can be
found in fields working with exponential growth" [Wikipedia]), which has
neither a *mean/expected value*, nor a *variance*, nor a *standard
deviation*, thus for the Cauchy distribution (and many other commonly
occurring distributions) Arthur's phrase "the size of the standard
deviation" is nonsensical.

Takeaway: when some distribution is not 'normal', then our INTUITION FAILS
US.  The sign on an abnormal distribution should read: "Abandon all
intuition, ye who enter here".  Something is dreadfully wrong when the
variance/standard deviation or even the mean/expected value does not exist.
Even when the mean/'expected value' does exist for such an abnormal
distribution, it is almost always misleading and/or useless.  Perhaps it
would be more appropriate to call such a mean 'the SUSpected value'!  :-)

Indeed, Nassim Taleb has written entire books about the differences between
'mediocristan' ('normal' distributions) and 'extremistan'
(heavier-tail-than-normal distributions), and has had unrelenting criticism
of the financial regulators for their inappropriate use of 'normal' instead
of 'fat-tailed' distribution models in the run-up to the Great Recession.
One of Taleb's books has the name 'Fooled by Randomness', which I loosely
translate as 'Fooled by Ab-Normality'.

The whole point of the terms mean/median/mode/average is to attempt to
characterize the 'ordinary/typical/expected' behavior of a system.  For many
systems having 'normal' distributions, these attempts often succeed, mostly
because the bulk of the density of the distribution is confined within a
relatively narrow band around the mean/median/ mode/average, and the 'tails'
of the distribution fall off extremely fast, so the percentage of
'out-liars' (pun intended) is negligible.

Thus, e.g., classical thermodynamics works beautifully, because many/most of
the variables are normally distributed, and with Avagadro's number of
'independent' variables, these normal distributions are incredibly smooth
and accurate.  Traditional differential equation models are therefore

Getting back to 'reproduction rate', we find that in the presence of
superspreaders, this rate is NOT normally distributed -- indeed, it has
exceedingly high variance due to its heavier-than-'normal' tail.  If such a
random variable occurred by itself, discussions of 'average' behavior might
be excused.  However, when a symbol like 'R0' appears as the *BASE of an
exponential function* -- e.g., (R0)^n -- any attempt to describe an
'ordinary/typical' behavior is nonsensical, because the variance of (R0)^n
is amplified to effectively infinite proportions (variances nearing the
magnitude of Avagadro's Number qualify as 'effectively infinite' IMHO).

We all agree that these pandemic R0-based models are *ill-conditioned*, and
I have simply pointed out that one of the causes of this ill-conditioning is
the high variance of the distribution for a 'reproduction number', which
variance is then amplified by its appearance as the base of an exponential

An aside on "policy prescriptions":

I have studiously avoided any discussion about which policy prescriptions
should be followed, but I would merely make the comment that if one bases
one's decision about whether to follow some policy prescription on the
validity of some scientific statement, then if that statement is shown to be
false/inaccurate, then such a prescription becomes illogical and

Indeed, from a false premise, one can deduce a true conclusion, but in that
case, all false premises are *logically equivalent*, e.g., "we would predict
approximately 510,000 deaths in GB" is logically equivalent to "Iraq had
weapons of mass destruction" is logically equivalent to "the Moon is made of
green cheese".  But NASA didn't spend $1 trillion on the lunar exploration
program because some 'scientist' swore that the Moon was made of green


Date: Mon, 1 Jun 2020 11:11:11 -0800
From: RISKS-request () csl sri com
Subject: Abridged info on RISKS (comp.risks)

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