Saturday, August 16, 2008

It's not all you see.

The American media are full of someone called Phelps who has won a lot of gold medals at the Olympics. They don't seem to be interested in Rebbecca Addlington who has large headlines in the Times of London and other British newspapers. Normally British gold medals only occur in couch potato sports where we can win sitting down - sailing, rowing, canoeing, horse riding and cycling - though we may get some losers medals for sports where we an lose sitting down, like boxing. Miss Addlington, it seems, has won two gold medals for swimming - sport where you sort of lie down in the water, and in one race has broken the longest standing world record (held by an American, Janet Evans) by 2 seconds. It has got me thinking about fraud. Not, I hasten to add, because I think there was anything fraudulent about Miss Addlington's world record, not Mr Phelps's, but of course we don't really know because we were informed of these things by television.

These Olympics are been beset by simulation. The Opening Ceremony was apparently spectacular (I never watched it - too busy with real life) but we have since learned that the beguiling nine year old was miming to the words of 'China the Beautiful' or 'China uber alles' or whatever it was called (I don't understand Chinese) as they were sung by a seven year old with a beautiful voice, but too ugly to be put on display. If this has overtones of the movie "Singing in the Rain" it should not be too surprising since the weather also interfered with the Opening Ceremony; it was too foggy to see the fireworks at their best, so the world's media were fed a pre-recorded version, some of which were computer-generated. In addition the parade of the various regions of China with local ethnic groups waving their local flags was in fact populated by the majority Han tribe. Given that empty seats are being filled by yellow-shirted 'cheer-leaders' bussed in for the purpose; it is clear that the Beijing Games were following the Los Angeles experience - not the 1984 Games; I mean Hollywood.

I heard on the wireless this morning a spoof on the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Games. The spectacular display of flying by the Red Arrows Display team had been cancelled because of the price of fuel and had been replaced by a fly past of 20 Spitfires - all computer-generated. The trouble with such a spoof is that already someone will be working on the simulation and the story will be denied by government ministers, so that everyone will be certain that it is going to happen. And who's to say they will be disappointed.

We have lost the distinction between truth and reality. In part this is down to the post-modern movement which denies that there are absolutes; in part it is because of laziness; in part it is due to the ease with which the electronic media may be manipulated.

Photoshop allows scientists to fake pictures of gels in their experiments. Back in the 1980s. Consider this from a paper I wrote in 1981:

The latest shocking revelation concerns the spectacular Mark Spector and the respected biochemist Efraim Racker. Their work was so elegant and so important that it was tipped to win a Nobel prize. They seemed to have discovered a cause of cancer. They postulated that a viral gene incorporated unto the host DNA produces a protein kinase which awakens a dormant kinase cascade. This in turn amplifies the signal and causes the phosphorylation of cell mebrane ATPase. This then acts less effectively and the cell membrane assumes cancer cell characteristics. Alas it seems that Spector was cooking the experiment. Radioactive iodine appeared where radioactive phosphorus should be and Racker banished Spector from his laboratory

With Photoshop all that mucking around with radioactive chemicals would have been unnecessary. Peer Review of scientific articles is most unlikely to detect fraud. You naturally assume that they are not cheating. Unless you are doing the same experiments you are unlikely to suspect dishonesty. (A remarkable exposure of scientific fraud concerning global warming can be found on this link, however.)

A famous use of Photoshop occurred during the war between Israel and Hezbollah last year. Fake Israeli atrocities were generated that deceived the world's press (though not the blogosphere).

But I wander. Back to the Olympics. Since we mostly watch it on television, and television coverage is concentrated on the competitors of the same nationality as the broadcaster, it should be possible to by 2012 to broadcast tailor-made performances for each nation. By enlisting the help of Pixar we should be able to produce pictures of winners from any nation to order. Imagine sitting watching the Olympics on TV in a hotel in Astana. The reporter focuses on the swimming pool with the headline, 'Kazakhstan swimmer denies Michael Phelps his 29th gold medal'.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You raise some interesting issues. When we reach the point that nothing is printed as such, how will we "know" what is 'real'...Orwellian for sure!

I sincerely hope that an effort is made to save the printed page and to preserve at least some of our libraries. I am currently looking over my shoulder at 4 sets of encyclopedias that were used years ago by my children and which I shall have to dispose of as they have no significant value at present. If I am sufficiently motivated I shall take the time to remove their bindings and recycle the printed pages, but that will entail a lot of work.