//Should be placed in the header of every page. This won't fire any events

Doesn't This Place Have Standards?

So, here's something you should know about me: I really don't care for racists.

A few years ago, a simpering neo-Nazi named Kevin Alfred Strom wrote to me, having somehow acquired the delusion that I would be his friend. I handled him rather roughly, I can tell you, though I like to think it was no less than he deserved. And then there was Eric Hovind, the creationist dauphin who posted an anti-immigrant poem that - oops! - just happened to be prominently featured on the white-power site Stormfront.

The reason I bring all this up is because I found out the other day that Big Think has begun publishing a blog by a person named Satoshi Kanazawa, who presents himself as an evolutionary psychologist. I'm going to say more about this fellow, but first, a few words.

I hope it's clear that I don't object in principle to Big Think serving as a platform for controversial ideas (hey, they gave me a blog!), or showcasing a range of political opinions. In the time I've been on Big Think, I've debated libertarians and conservatives like Penn Jillette and Peter Lawler, and I thought these were productive and worthwhile exchanges even when I continued to disagree. But Kanazawa is a different ballpark entirely.

He's most infamous for a paper which argues that African countries suffer chronic poverty and illness because their people have lower IQs. (Wouldn't poverty and illness cause lower IQ, not vice versa?) He's also known for a blog post arguing that black women are "objectively less attractive" than other races. He bases this on subjective opinion surveys, which might give you insight into patterns of cultural prejudice, but can hardly be insight into objective reality. (Would he also argue that black people are more likely to be criminals based on people's responses to an Implicit Association Test?)

Kanazawa's usual tactic is to cloak his bigotry in a superficial veneer of science and then, when his views get the expected response, to cry about censorship and free speech - a predictable if rather shopworn gimmick. But his pretense of being a Dispassionate Scientist Following Where The Facts May Lead is thrown into some doubt by the fact that, when he writes about this stuff in other contexts, even more vile and noxious views come bubbling up. Take these excerpts from his old posts on Psychology Today, where he argues that if there's one thing our military needs, it's more racism:

We don't hate our enemies nearly as much as they hate us... This has never been the case in our previous wars. We have always hated our enemies purely and intensely. They were "Japs," they were "Krauts," they were "Gooks." And we didn't think twice about dropping bombs on them, to kill them and their wives and children. [emphasis as in original]

In fact, he as much as says that the appropriate response to 9/11, which involved a few dozen people at most who planned a horrible atrocity, would have been a first-strike nuclear genocide, killing millions of completely innocent people.

Imagine that, on September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers came down, the President of the United States was not George W. Bush, but Ann Coulter. What would have happened then? On September 12, President Coulter would have ordered the US military forces to drop 35 nuclear bombs throughout the Middle East, killing all of our actual and potential enemy combatants, and their wives and children. On September 13, the war would have been over and won, without a single American life lost.

(Why exactly 35 bombs, I wonder? What were his imagined targets? Alas, he declines to specify.)

And then there's this quote from an extensive collection on Jezebel, in which Kanazawa favors us with his pathetically retrograde view about the proper roles of men and women, which he tosses off as if it were inarguable fact:

Money, promotions, the corner office, social status, and political power are what make men happy... Spending time with their children is what makes women happy.

He follows this wisdom up with an exhortation to "kill all the feminists and hippies and liberals" so as to achieve this happy state. It's not clear to me from the context whether he means this literally.

If Kanazawa had turned over a new leaf in the interim, that might be one thing, but no: he opens his first and so far only Big Think post to defend his "black women are less attractive" paper, and moans about all the persecution he's faced just for investigating this hypothesis which just popped into his head for no apparent reason! He goes so far as to name his blog after something supposedly said by Galileo, which if I'm not mistaken, vaults you right to the top of the Crackpot Index.

I can only speculate as to the lapse in editorial judgment that must have occurred for Big Think to extend this racist, sexist, genocide-advocating pseudoscientific bigot a platform. Were they unaware of his views? Were they aware, but went ahead anyway because controversy is good for traffic? (Racism can't be good for traffic, can it?)

I don't want to be accused of giving any extra publicity to Kanazawa, so I won't be writing to criticize him again. However, I want to make it clear in the most emphatic terms that I think him utterly vile and contemptible. And rest assured, I intend to follow up with Big Think's upper echelons to find out who made this decision and why, and I'll update when I know more.

Image via Know Your Meme

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Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

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//This will actually fire event. Should be called after consent was verifed