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Taxpayers unwittingly fund GM trials as the prospect of leaving wiser European counsellors looms

Will agri-business be allowed to charge ahead, imposing genetically modified food on an unwilling public?  

This is Rothamsted research centre, one of the country’s largest agricultural research stations.

The work is publicly funded through a £696,000 grant from the government’s UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and $294,000 from the US Department of Agriculture. Other partners include the universities of Lancaster and Illinois.




Why has America’s National Academy of Sciences focussed so much research on Facebook?

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NAS, established by an Act of Congress, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology.

In 2011 Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times had mild issues with Google:

robert shrimsley “Google would like to use my locational data. It wants to know where I am, and to help me organise all my personal information. Google is always thinking of new things it can do for me. Google is my mother . . . If I mention in passing in a Gmail that I’m feeling under the weather, Google will instantly recommend some vitamins or offer me the details of the Wellman clinic . . .

Facebook, of course, is your friends, cheerfully telling you what to do and where to go. “Hey, Robert, don’t forget John’s birthday. Lots of your friends are buying the Twilight saga.” This explains its success, because, let’s face it, you put up with this kind of nannying from your mates. Or Amazon – a man you see in the pub telling you what you really ought to read. This is our new extended support network. We may not talk to our blood relatives from one week to the next, but our virtual family is a constant presence, caring, suggesting, attending to our every need; there for us at any hour of the day, arms open just waiting for us to embrace them.

But three years later – after Facebook’s senior executive, Sheryl Sandberg, apologises for conducting secret psychological tests on nearly 700,000 users in 2012, he jests:

“Facebook is going to kill the president. Seriously; the evil technologists are running psychological experiments on our news feed to play with our emotions. I’m telling you; it is Homeland all over again. Or to rephrase that for an older generation: we are the Manchurian Candidate . . .

But adds: “If it can manipulate your mood (which the tests show it could) then with its huge reach, Facebook has worrying power”

He was referring to news that Facebook had secretly run psychological experiments on 700,000 users; tampering with their news feed to expose them to more positive or negative posts and tracking the impact on their activity.

A search led to a link to the scientific paper in question which was published in the March issue of the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences and may be downloaded here. Its title:

Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks

The Guardian’s view in a nutshell: “Facebook hid “a small percentage” of emotional words from peoples’ news feeds, without their knowledge, to test what effect that had on the statuses or “likes” that they then posted or reacted to”.

Shrimsley comments that it is reasonable to ponder on Facebook’s power over those users who are unaware of being “subtly programmed”: “We can also all imagine the risks if the company were tempted to use its immense power subliminally to influence political debates. (Facebook has already tried this once, albeit fairly benignly, using “nudge” techniques to encourage people to vote in the last US election.)”.

A digital-privacy group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, is reported to have filed a complaint against Facebook Inc. with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, because Facebook failed to get permission to conduct the research, which altered the number of positive and negative comments in the news feeds of about 700,000 members, according to the complaint from. The group said the agency should impose sanctions, including requiring Facebook to disclose the software formulas that determine what users see in their feeds.

Robert Shrimsley is interested in speculation on how Facebook will use this research, but the writer is far more interested in why National Academy of Sciences is doing so much research on Facebook.

Papers include:

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