Huffington Post just jumped the (whale) shark

The Huffington Post
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Modern journalism is often criticized for its slavish devotion to balance — a commitment to both sides of the story that boils down to he said-she said — even when this sort of equality is wholly unwarranted.

What I’m saying is that the following piece of criticism is not altogether original in kind. Behold, the first paragraph of Huffington Post’s coverage of the latest* exploding whale incident:

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Twitter and NFL team up to run one classy Thanksgiving advertisement

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Twitter recently held an IPO and is currently trading over $40 a share. But does it deserve that valuation?

Based on the company’s financial earnings, potential investors are right to be skeptical: the company lost $69m (gigiddy) over the first six months of this year.

Obviously, those who purchased TWTR expect that number to go up (in the absolute sense) given the fact that the company’s revenue nearly tripled between 2010 and 2012 to $317m. But that sort of prognosis can’t be based solely on faith: there has to be some reason to believe Twitter has figured out how to make money.

I’m here to report that it hasn’t.

85% of Twitter’s revenue comes from advertising. In theory, this is not a terrible idea. Twitter can tell a lot about you based on what you have to say. Indeed, over 100 studies mining Twitter for data have come out over the past year alone! And this trend is nothing new.

And even without access to your tweets, it’s possible to discern personal information based solely on who you follow — and I don’t just mean in the sense of Why is Anthony Weiner following a harem of strippers? I mean that it can tell where you are, what you enjoy, what religion you practice, what you eat — without even reading your actual tweets.

A few years ago, I came across a Twitter-based app that composed a profile of me based solely on who I follow. And it was scarily accurate: it guessed, among other things, that I am Jewish and a vegetarian. [Editor's note: If you know the name of the website, please remind me!]

But it seems that Twitter is incapable of applying this wealth of intrusive personal information to determine what ads should be targeted at a given audience.

Take me, for instance. I have sent numerous tweets from Seattle. I follow Pete Caroll on Twitter. My most common single Tweet is “Russell ‘the man’ Wilson.” And still, Twitter’s ad service thought the following was worth displaying in my timeline:

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Complete guide to spelling the holiday

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While some are looking to tomorrow’s special event as some sign of apocalypse, I’d be the first to admit that I’m pretty excited for the coincidence of Thanksgiving and Chanuka. What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than by encroaching upon its native turf? (Zing.)

This post was prompted by a recent email that turned up in my inbox, with a deceptively-simple subject line — one word: “Thanksgivikah.” I didn’t think much of it as I got to typing my reply, but the moment I pressed send, I noticed something a little off. You see, I had concluded my email in kind, by wishing the recipient a “Happy Thanksgivvukah!” and couldn’t help but do a double-take at my own spelling of the word: Two v’s? That couldn’t possibly be right.

Or could it?

Two years ago, this blog thoroughly covered the debate over the proper spelling of Hanuka/Chanuka/Hanukah/Chanukah/Hanukkah/Chanukkah/Hanukka/Chanukka in a post titled Google’s War on ‘Chanuka’. One of the highlights of that post was Avidan Ackerson’s deterministic finite automaton that helped define all of the possibilities (for Google to declare war against).

This year, Avidan and I have again teamed up to compile all the possible spellings of the seemingly-simple but deceptively-diverse portmanteau of Thanksgiving and Chanuka. Behold, DFA v2.013:

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The very worst sports analysis I’ve ever heard

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The worst sports analysis I’ve ever heard comes courtesy of Yahoo! Sports’s usually-respectable Shutdown Corner. In the wake of the Arizona Cardinals’ 40-11 thrashing of the Indianapolis Colts, the site handed the reins to Eric Edholm — not to be confused with Eric Edhelms — and he had this to say:

The Cardinals are hot. They are dangerous on defense and vastly improved on offense. They’re a team we must take notice of in a deep and confusing NFC picture. It’s a dreaded phrase, but if the playoffs started today, Arizona — and not the San Francisco 49ers — would be in the big dance.

“If the playoffs started today” is certainly a — I wouldn’t call it “dreaded” — silly phrase. It’s just another one of those sports cliches I usually skim over without a second thought. It’s a lazy way to note that one team is ahead of the other in the standings. Not harmful, but not really meaningful, either.

But here, I draw the line.

You see, when the aforementioned phrase is typically uttered, it’s in the context of some plausible alternative universe that follows the rules of football.

What do I mean?

Imagine Team A is 6-5, and Team B is 5-6. In a universe where (when?) the NFL plays an 11-game season, Team A would make the playoffs. Obviously, the point is academic because the NFL plays 16 games in the universe we actually inhabit, but the underlying comparison is easily understood: through 11 games, Team A has been better than Team B. We can all wrap our heads around that.

This is not such a situation. Yes, the Cardinals currently sit second in the NFC West — behind the Seahawks — and the Niners sit third, but take a look at their records:

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Stephen Colbert comes out of the closet, basically

Stephen-Colbert
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During last night’s Colbert Report, Colbert Reported on plans to boycott the 2014 Olympics because of host country Russia’s harsh treatment of homosexuals.

In the course of his segment, Colbert belittled one athlete’s attempt to protest by wearing a rainbow pin in Sochi as follows:

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Source-checking Stephen Colbert, too

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Fresh off my recent stint as a source-checker for the New York Times, I’ve decided to turn my attention to the words of Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA.

During his visit to Yale University about a month ago, Colbert sat down with the Yale Daily News for a brief interview:

You are obviously welcome to watch the whole clip — the interviewee is certainly adorable, if that’s what you’re into — but I just found myself curious about one statement in particular:

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Source-checking the New York Times

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I once read an article in the New York Times that reported a fact so implausible my immediate impulse was to debunk it. Here it is:

More than 18 percent of marriages by Chinese- and Japanese-Americans [are] to American Jews.

18 percent – chai percent! – is a huge number. I call bullshit. But how to prove it?

My initial attempt to fact-check this quote last September failed miserably. I tried to demonstrate statistically that, given the size of the populations in question, the purported numbers were patently absurd and ridiculous.

Once I got my hands on some relevant statistics, I remained thoroughly skeptical, but was at least satisfied that what the New York Times had reported was within the realm of statistical plausibility.

Defeated in my quest to fact-check the New York Times, but unwilling to let all my effort go to waste, I ended up writing some ridiculous post linking the latest bizarre beauty trends in Japan to the desire to find a nice Jewish boy (See ‘Bagel head’: My theory if you’re interested in a bit more detail about my statistical endeavors).

Having failed to debunk the original fact, and having read it in the New York Times, I began to feel comfortable citing that 18% as an actual fact over the past year. So it was, perhaps in connection with JLSA’s upcoming mixer with APALSA (but not), I related that fact to a friend… and was again struck by the overwhelming impulse to debunk it. There’s just no way.

So I decided to go back to the source: New York Times. And so I discovered, simply “fact”-checking was the wrong approach all along. I needed to be source-checking.

Dredging up the relevant article was easy, as I had linked to it in my ‘Bagel head’ article. Next, I checked out the location of the reputed fact. The excerpt reads in full:

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