NYT asks Stewart, “Don’t shoot the messenger!”

The New York Times decided to take the bull by the horns, and tackle Jon Stewart’s accusations of poor reporting by the media. Unfortunately, David Carr’s Rally to Shift the Blame comes off as a poorly argued, disingenuous attempt to separate the media from the message.

Carr writes, “[Stewart’s] barrage against the news media Saturday stemmed from the fact that, on this day, attacking the message would have been bad manners, so he stuck with the messengers.” What Carr should know—and if he doesn’t, why is he writing for the New York Times?—is that the medium is the message. (Surely Carr has heard of Marshall McLuhan?) What the media sends out is the message we get, whether through the television, the internet, the radio, or paper.

Here’s Carr’s first attempt to make the distinction of message vs. messenger:

It was a beautiful day on the Mall, and who doesn’t like kicking the press around, but speaking of ants, media bias and hyperbole seem like pretty small targets when unemployment is near 10 percent, vast amounts of unregulated cash are being spent in the election’s closing days, and no American governing institution—not the Senate, not the House of Representatives, not even the Supreme Court —seems to be above petty partisan bickering. Mr. Stewart couldn’t really go there and instead suggested it was those guys over there in the press tent who had the blood of democracy on their hands.

The problem is that Stewart never said the press was responsible for unemployment, war, or hatred. What Stewart said is that the press makes it very difficult to effect change in any of these areas, because it’s driven by ratings. From the speech Carr complains about:

We can have animus and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24-hour, politico-pundit, perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.

Stewart is absolutely right. I don’t see Tea Party rallies in person, I see what the news channels share of them; I don’t see the administration’s press conferences in full, I see what the reporters and cameras share of them. When politicians make claims, I don’t see investigation into whether the claims are credible; I see “he said, she said” coverage of claims that, if true, must come from alternate universes, since they’re radically incompatible with a shared reality.

The heart of the Stewart/Colbert message

What many media commentators, Carr among them, seem to have forgotten is that the very structure and content of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report is to provide satire and critique of the media. Sure, it’s comedy, but it’s the comedy of the court jester, mixing hard truth with silliness. Truth is relatively easy to say in comedy, and relatively hard to say in the 24/7 news cycle.  That’s probably why news coverage quality has devolved into its current state. (What does the media at large think inspired Colbert to coin “truthiness” as a word, and why do they think so many people immediately appropriated it?)

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are highly aware that the medium is the message, and equally aware of what drives media coverage. This rally was an attempt to expand coverage of their message by creating an event the news media could not ignore. That media might not understand their message or represent it as clearly as Stewart and Colbert would like. Still, those of us tired of seeing the media allow itself to be used by people, parties, and corporations they should be holding in check, were pleased to see that same media forced to cover an event calling them on it.

It’s all cable TV

Carr also argued against Stewart’s observation that, “We work together to get things done every damn day! The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV.” Somewhat disingenuously, Carr responded:

But here’s the problem: Most Americans don’t watch or pay attention to cable television. In even a good news night, about five million people take a seat on the cable wars, which is less than 2 percent of all Americans. People are scared of what they see in their pay envelopes and neighborhoods, not because of what Keith Olbermann said last night or how Bill O’Reilly came back at him.

I call this disingenuous because since everything went digital—since broadcast news ceased to be aired and had to be obtained via cable companies—it’s all cable TV. If it’s not, it’s online, (frequently obtained through cable companies as well), and is driven by either TV channels, stations, or online “newspapers.” And more people than ever are watching the news one way or another, according to the Pew Research Center.

There are many more ways to get the news these days, and as a consequence Americans are spending more time with the news than over much of the past decade. Digital platforms are playing a larger role in news consumption, and they seem to be more than making up for modest declines in the audience for traditional platforms. As a result, the average time Americans spend with the news on a given day is as high as it was in the mid-1990s, when audiences for traditional news sources were much larger.

…The net impact of digital platforms supplementing traditional sources is that Americans are spending more time with the news than was the case a decade ago. As was the case in 2000, people now say they spend 57 minutes on average getting the news from TV, radio or newspapers on a given day. But today, they also spend an additional 13 minutes getting news online, increasing the total time spent with the news to 70 minutes. This is one of the highest totals on this measure since the mid-1990s and it does not take into account time spent getting news on cell phones or other digital devices.*

I think that pretty much speaks for itself.

The media should take responsibility

That same Pew report noted that, “About eight-in-ten (82%) say they see at least some bias in news coverage; by a 43%-to-23% margin, more say it is a liberal than a conservative bias.” Jon Stewart isn’t the only one to see skewed coverage, he just had a larger platform to speak out about it. It’s not bias that’s the problem, though, it’s the choice of what’s covered, the style of presentation, the lack of critical evaluation of the data being presented.

Sure, we like seeing conflict and meltdowns. It’s sad but true that it’s more exciting to see someone rudely yell “You lie!” at the President, than to learn whether it was or was not a lie. Whatever side you’re on, you’re more easily engaged by the strong emotions of outrage or support. But shouldn’t at least as much coverage as the video clip be provided about the truth behind the furor? It shouldn’t be necessary to dig deeply online while watching the news to discover the truth behind the news. If it’s not informing us, it’s less news and more entertainment.

My personal plea to the news media: We are fully capable of being engaged and enlightened at the same time. Please, don’t turn a necessary critique into another conflict. Help us be the educated populace we need to be to defend ourselves against those with more power and bigger pockets.

* The increased attention to news is good for the New York Times web site. From the Pew Research Center: “This year, 17% of Americans say they read something on a newspaper’s website yesterday, up from 13% in 2008 and 9% in 2006.”


12 September 2010. Americans Spending More Time Following the News, Pew Research Center.

Carr, David, 31 October 2010. Rally to Shift the Blame, The New York Times.


Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)

Frequent visitors to our home in Washington.
Two Steller's Jays enjoying seed

common name Steller’s Jay
domain Eukaryota
kingdom Animalia
phylum Chordata; subphylum Vertebrata
class Aves
order Passiformes
family Corvidae
genus Cyanocitta
species stelleri
location Renton, Washington
IUCN status Least concern
Extremely local species are itemized species seen at our homes: on the actual property, or in the air above it. (Across the street doesn’t count!) I began by itemizing species seen at our house in Copperas Cove, Texas, and later expanded the project to include our home in Renton, Washington.


Reveals the logic behind your HTML/XHTML code. W3C semantic data extraction.

Try it with these:

Why does this matter? Because as search engines and other information trawlers grapple with more and more content, the ability to parse and understand that content continues to become more and more important.


Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the NYT

My husband and I watched the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on TV, curious and hopeful. Along the way, I checked in on different media coverage, including the New York Times’ live blogging of the event. The blogging was sarcastic and impatient, but I was less upset with snide remarks than with what wasn’t said.

The New York Times, along with NPR, ABC, and others, refused to allow reporters to attend the non-partisan rally for sanity, on the grounds they might appear partisan. Such is the sanity of the media. But when the media elides criticism of itself without showing the elision (via “…” or some-such), that’s pretty low. My respect for the paper of record has plummeted in just one day.

Here’s the bit I’m talking about:

2:50 P.M. | Now, a Moment of Sincerity

“What exactly was this?” Mr. Stewart asks. “This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith. Or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.”

“Not being able to be able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers, or real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people but to the racists themselves, who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate.”

A sharp eye might catch the end quote marks on the first paragraph, but that’s the only clue that a significant rant against the media has just been left out. I commented with the missing words (below), and they posted the comment, which is good.

Under “now, a moment of sincerity” (which by the way, implies the rest was not sincere, an implication I don’t believe), you completely skip the rant against the press and media, without showing the elision. You leave in the bit that shows the importance of the press (“the press is our immune system”) – but below are the words that every news media outlet should take to heart, (with the end and beginning of the two paragraphs you provide above, for context).

“…And we can have animus and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24-hour, politico-pundit, perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. [Applause.] The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen – or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire [Laughter] – and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected, dangerous flaming ant epidemic.

“If we amplify everything, we hear nothing. [Applause] There are terrorists, and racists, and Stalinists, and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to be able to distinguish…”


The ever more optimized “worst graph ever”

I’ve always argued that there is no “perfect” design—either the context changes its usefulness, or the design can be improved in some way. (Hence my philosophy of evolutional UX.) No matter how good you are, there’s always something to learn.

Proving this, Robert Simmon‘s comments on my original revision of the “Worst Graph Ever?” were extremely helpful, so I’ve applied them here. Simmon wrote:

I’m not completely sold on this idea, but I like the approach. I think using a lightened and desaturated orange line would work better than a dashed line–the spaces between dashes create optical effects. I’d also label each line directly, instead of having a separate key.

It may possibly be overkill, but I also changed the data point markers: the NPP marker is square, the CO2 markers, both inverted and actual, are round.

revised graph
Click for larger image.


Envisioning a new title bar

Devin Coldewey had a fascinating suggestion on UXMag: turn the URL field into an active breadcrumb field. It’s a wonderful idea, but it ignores the usefulness of the URL bar for bots, and for those sites still showing the actual URL (most), it’s a helpful clue to visitors: yes, I really am on the site to which I thought I was linking.

But Coldewey’s concept, transforming part of the browser into something offering new functionality, was inspired, as was the bread crumb suggestion. So here’s what I proposed:

I love the concept. But if we’re going to re-conceptualize portions of the browser, why not the browser title area? You might do the following:

–Leave the URL in the URL bar. It’s an important place to verify you are where you think you linked, and this is helpful for bots as well.

–Add functionality to the title bar to link to breadcrumbs. It’s already good SEO for titles to go from specific to broad, e.g.:

     Steller’s Jay | Family Corvidae | All About Birds

So, we could add functionality with links, where a browser with title breadcrumb capability will turn those into links, and a browser without will merely read them as a title. The code could simply check browser version, and if breadcrumb title f(x) were true, it would display the above as links, thusly:

     Steller’s Jay | Family Corvidae | All About Birds

Love the idea of leveraging different areas to be more functional. Pity that “nav” is already snapped up by HTML5 ;–)

P.S. All About Birds is one of my favorite sites, run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Enjoy!

Coldeway, D. Making the URL Bar Useful Again: Where the breadcrumb should have been all along. UX Magazine, 9 September 2010.


Science funding shouldn’t depend on ignorance

Physics World editor Hamish Johnston blogged about the difficulty of public perception, research funding, and scientists commenting on God and religion in the public square. Most recently, Stephen Hawking spoke out about M-theory making God unnecessary. From Johnston’s blog:

There is just one tiny problem with all this – there is currently little experimental evidence to back up M-theory. In other words, a leading scientist is making a sweeping public statement on the existence of God based on his faith in an unsubstantiated theory.

I could see why Johnston was concerned. A BBC video, linked in the Physics World post, had this in the descriptive text:

Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has said that he sees no necessity for God in the creation of the universe and that philosophy is dead.

Things like this just make me shake my head. Hawking is so, so brilliant, but perhaps not very wise.

Johnston’s concern was driven by the possible adverse effect such pronouncements could have on science:

Physicists need the backing of the British public to ensure that the funding cuts don’t hit them disproportionately. This could be very difficult if the public think that most physicists spend their time arguing about what unproven theories say about the existence of God.

I know he’s right. Personally, I find this situation both sad and frustrating. That science’s direction and funding can be at the whim of the public; that scientists and philosophers don’t speak of and to each other with respect; that willfully ignorant people end up pitting people of good will against each other (read the comments in any blog touching both science and religion)—this kind of particularly human screwball black comedy just seems, well, wrong. I know, I know—I’m not the only one.

I commented, of course. Here’s what I said, for what it’s worth (the comment was still in moderation as of this writing):

Personally, I wish science fell into the same category as infrastructure and education when it came to funding: a must-have, something without which a society cannot thrive.

I have no problem with Hawking or anyone else pronouncing on God or religion. They are scientists, so I take their opinions in this area to be that of lay people in the field, much as my opinion in it is. I’m not offended, but I do wish they would formulate such comments with more of a “it’s my opinion that [insert sweeping religious view here]” attitude.

The same goes for evangelicals and fundamentalists of any religion who proclaim their ignorance of science loudly and proudly. Please, take a moment to reflect. Surely a creative God would want his thinking creations to view his work accurately and clearly, and support an unflinching, honest appreciation and understanding of the universe? What artist doesn’t want their craft appreciated? Therefore, fund science! Promote it! Support it in the name of understanding the world God gave you clearly and without fear.


Am I there yet? How progress bar dynamics drive users

Gavin Davies wrote a nice piece, Are we nearly there yet? The role of the progress bar on the web, discussing the four requirements of a useful progress bar in tracking software task completion. Per Davies, a good progress bar should be:

  • Accurate – watching a bar fill up gradually only to chug to a halt at around 90% can infuriate all but the most Zen. Worse still on the hair ripping scale are bars that fill up, only to empty and begin anew!
  • Responsive and smooth – the bar should be updated regularly to show that things are still working. This means that, on the web, we should update progress bars via Ajax rather than hefty page reloads. Research shows that a linear, consistent progress increase is better than the bar jerking around like a malfunctioning robot dancer.
  • Precise – the bar should show an estimate of time remaining, and perhaps other data such as percent or file size remaining so the user knows if he or she should start any long books in the interim.
  • Appropriate – before using a progress bar, consider carefully whether it is appropriate, both in terms of User Experience and technical feasibility.

I’d expand on this, and add that the progress bar is useful beyond the completion of a software task, but for personal accomplishments; “Am I there yet?” moments, if you will. For example, the LinkedIn progress bar prompts profile completeness.

The progress bar is actually a game element, which triggers the twin desires to both complete and compete. It’s invaluable in educational, social media, and other contexts. Like Seth Priebatsch of SCVNGR said, “Humans love progress bars. If you see a progress bar, you want to complete it.”

The same requirements apply that Davies suggests, but the nature of the progression dynamic changes. So, instead of time remaining, the user may have tasks remaining, or user-generated content, or a certain amount of time using the application or exploring the site. These progress bar milestones can themselves incorporate game elements, becoming a quest for users for which progress bar completion is only one of many rewards.

Apart from games themselves, game mechanics (or gamification) have been primarily used in the educational field, although it’s been spreading through interaction design since the nineties. Those interested in exploring the field, a good start is Clark Aldrich, a true guru at designing “serious games” and simulations.

Cross-posted from UXtraordinary, my professional blog. Related UXtraordinary post: Fun is Fundamental.


It’s not what you believe, it’s what you do with your belief

The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof put the fear of Islam into a historical context in his latest column, Is Islamophobia the new hysteria? He pointed out the many times U.S. citizens have rallied against various religious or national groups, using much of the same language used today when speaking about followers of Islam.

Sadly, many of the comments seem oblivious to his point, and actually repeat the very mistake he’s pointing out. So I had to comment myself:

Religions go in cycles. There was a time not too many centuries ago when Islam was a more tolerant religion than Christianity – when Jews sought refuge in places like Turkey to escape the Inquisition.

I keep reading comments that argue Islam is different from Christianity and Judaism because it is “political” and seeks to harm us. Clearly these people have forgotten that Christianity and Judaism have extremely active political elements in the U.S., and that there are many countries who presently have some flavor of Christianity as a state religion. Clearly they’ve forgotten the Christian element in Ireland’s decades of terrorism, or abortion clinic attacks, or the mostly Protestant KKK (mind, most Protestants do not support the KKK – but most KKK members believe a Christian God is on their side).

While the United States may pride itself on constitutional separation of church and state, the reality is very different, as we can see from the constant efforts by a vocal minority of U.S. Christians to inject their version of Christian concepts and language into law, government buildings, and schools.

I’m also a little disheartened by those claiming that religion as a whole is dangerous. People can be broken and dangerous with or without religion (e.g., Stalin was an atheist, KKK members are primarily Christian), and outstandingly good with or without religion (Desmond Tutu and Clarence Darrow). Danger occurs when people use any institution, be it church or state, to rationalize and cloak sloppy thinking and fear-driven bigotry.

It’s not what you believe, it’s what you do with your belief.

Kristof, N. Is Islamophobia the new hysteria? The New York Times, 7 Sep. 2010.


Making all your points with graphs

James Hrynyshyn, a science journalist, pointed out on the Class M blog that a recent climate research graph was poorly designed.

The paper, Drought-Induced Reduction in Global Terrestrial Net Primary Production from 2000 Through 2009, demonstrated that anomalous CO2 and anomalous NPP (net primary production, described by Robert Simmon of NASA’s Earth Observatory as “a measure of the amount of carbon a plant takes from the atmosphere and uses to grow”) were negatively correlated. In other words, not only was increased CO2 not acting as “plant food,” it was undermining NPP overall.

In order to demonstrate just how strong this correlation was, the researchers inverted CO2 emissions on their graph:

Original NPP and inverted CO2 graph as shared on Class M science blog
Click for larger image.

As Hrynyshyn pointed out, this could readily lead to misunderstanding by non-scientists (or the occasional absent-minded scientist) to appear as though the CO2 anomaly was positively correlated to the NPP anomaly, instead of the opposite. That would be a significant misunderstanding, and in a politically controversial area such as climate change, a serious problem.

Robert Simmon, of NASA’s Earth Observatory, provided an alternative graph, clearly demonstrating the negative correlation:

Robert Simmon's version of NPP and inverted CO2 graph, as shared on NASA's Earth Observatory blog
Click for larger image.

But if I understand this correctly, the original graph had a useful purpose, it just went about it poorly. The point of the original graph was not to mislead about the positive/negative aspect of the correlation, but to demonstrate the strong level of correlation. This is a useful visualization in the right context, you just can’t do it by itself.

So why not add a third line? Something which showed the actual anomalous NPP and CO2 numbers with differently colored solid lines, as shown in the 2nd version, and added a clearly different third line (perhaps dotted, but in the same color as the CO2 to associate them), labeled CO2 (Inverted to demonstrate absolute correlation).

Revised NPP, CO2, and inverted CO2 graph, showing both actual data and degree of correlation
Click for larger image.

If you show the actual numbers clearly, then equally clearly distinguish the inversion, you can make both points without misleading, or allowing your graph to be misused.

Note: I commented this suggestion to the Earth Observatory post, and David Powell, another commentator, expressed concern the line could still be misunderstood. Powell wrote, “people would assume that a third line meant a third set of data and not just the same data plotted differently.” To show how I think it’s possible to avoid that, I created this example, which I think clearly distinguishes the inversion from the actual data.


Simplicity is not a goal but a tool

Simplicity in design is not a goal but a tool. The goal is the need of the moment: to sell a product, to express an opinion, to teach a concept, to entertain. While elegance and optimal function in design frequently overlaps with simplicity, there are times that simplicity is not only not possible but hurts usability. Yet many designers do not understand this, and over the years, I’ve seen the desire to “keep it simple, stupid,” lead to poor UX.

I was therefore glad to see Francisco Inchauste’s well-thought, longer version of Einstein’s “as simple as possible, but no simpler” remark.

From the column:

As an interactive designer, my first instinct is to simplify things. There is beauty in a clean and functional interface. But through experience I’ve found that sometimes I can’t remove every piece of complexity in an application. The complexity may be unavoidably inherent to the workflow and tasks that need to be performed, or in the density of the information that needs to present. By balancing complexity and what the user needs, I have been able to continue to create successful user experiences.

Plus, as I’ve commented before, messy is fun!

[Cross-posted from UXtraordinary.]


How to get the best idea

This was written in response to Ross Douthat’s call for Americans to stop enabling M. Night Shyamalan. We all love him, we all want him to create another wonderful movie, and his lukewarm box office response is not enough to push him to abandon his current approach and do that. A complete flop, Mr. Douthat reasons, will be the rock bottom necessary before Mr. Shyamalan can begin true change.

He may be right. This prompted me to share my personal theory on Mr. Shyamalan. It’s also my personal theory on how to get the best idea, whether you’re writing a story, designing a test, or figuring out the best user-centered taxonomy for a site.

I love Shyamalan’s writing, I love his directing, I love his characters. What I don’t love is how he makes all of the above subservient to an idea that forces them into unnatural, un-storylike forms.

My theory on Mr. Shyamalan: he’s been letting themes take too much control of the story. It’s like the recently-evangelized musician who thinks removing a bad lyric about Jesus is somehow betraying Jesus—instead of thinking that writing the best song possible is a better form of praise. Or the recently-transformed-by-therapy writer whose characters all act in the best interests of each other’s mental health. I believe Shyamalan becomes enthralled by an idea, and the idea drives the story, the writing, and the directing.

I heard that the killer surprise in Sixth Sense was an afterthought. This is how good ideas show up—you follow the story/research/whatever faithfully, and have faith the best idea, or juxtaposition of ideas, will present itself as a result. Clinging to *an* idea throughout the process reduces the chance that the *best* idea—the one rooted in your fullest understanding of story, characters, data, concept—will emerge.

The best way to explore a theme in a story is to establish the situation, and let it play itself out in a means true to the characters. Your concept or theme will emerge much more naturally, and people will be much more engaged.


I’m so embarrassed Joe Barton is from Texas

The New York Times covered Congressman Joe Barton’s apology to BP for our asking them to pay for their damages, and then his retraction. I commented, and so far 114 readers have recommended – a new record (previously it was 14). To put that in perspective, though, the most-recommended comment is sitting on 332 recommendations.

I know, it’s not all about me, but I like the illusion of validation.

As a native Texan, I am sadly more and more embarrassed by certain factions in the state I love. Let’s hope that this makes all politicians think twice before favoring a rapacious foreign company over the people of the U.S., and the environment of which we are all stewards.


A ll over the world on Sunday, May 2, at 15:00 UTC, photographers took shots wherever they were. Some were planned, some not (there are rainbows, etc., that could not be arranged).

The New York Times has gathered it all into a global gallery – stacks of photos reaching out to the sky, browsable by stack. Beautiful images, and once again, beautiful UX from the New York Times.


The biggest barrier to UX implementation

My response to a LinkedIn UX Professionals question, Why they don’t like to spend or invest in the User Experience tasks?

My personal experience has been that ignorance is the largest barrier to UX implementation. While there are many exceptions, too often do developers, marketers, executive management, or others with a large level of control over UX strategy and tactical development feel that user experience is simply “common sense.” They believe that they are users, and therefore they have insight into the process. This is natural.

It’s the responsibility of UX professionals to educate them and evangelize the value of user experience. (Though it’s nice if you can get executive support, it’s frequently not there.) At my current company, I approached this from several angles:

  • I held one-on-one meetings with stakeholders and others, seeking to understand their needs and start a conversation about possible UX solutions.
  • I wrote and presented brown bags, open to all, on subjects like Why Taxonomy Matters: Taxonomy and the User Experience, in order to promote understanding of UX and its considerations.
  • I introduced concepts designed to make people think more from the user perspective. For example, like many sites we’re interested in user-generated content. I expanded this to user-generated experience (a concept I’d already developed from previous social media work and user analysis), and measured/discussed user-generated activity. The point, of course, was that thinking about user activity required thinking about user flow and perspective. Eventually key stakeholders were talking about UGA as a matter of course, and we even discovered ways to convert some UGA into UGC.

This was successful enough that UX became a standard consideration in not just design, but product strategy. It is of course beyond your control what others do with your information – but you have to provide it!

People understand success. Show your co-workers and management how UX solves their problems. Provide numbers, using performance indicators that matter to your audience. Present before/after case studies. Remember to focus on solutions, not problems (never show a problem for which you don’t have a suggested solution). In short, provide the best possible user experience for your internal customers.


Ahmed Kamal, the person who posed the question, responded positively to my comment:

Alex O’Neal, I raise my hat! I appreciate it really! your comments are really touching, reflecting a real long experience, comprehensive and concluding the problem and how to solve it!!

Aw, shucks :–)

[Cross-posted on UXtraordinary.]


The BBC’s style guide. An exceptional, best-in-class example of what a style guide should do.

Also of interest: a BBC’s blog post on their goal of a new global visual language .


Nature and nurture, not nature or nurture

Recent research reported in Scientific American shows that for some people, mother’s milk may promote a higher IQ. That’s all very well and good, but it was this paragraph that had me skipping with joy:

As for the study’s implications on the nature / nurture debate, Linda Gottfredson, a professor of education at the University of Delaware, says that a person’s DNA is not really a blueprint, as it is commonly portrayed. “[Genes] are more like playbooks,” she says. “It’s not nature or nurture, but your genes operate frequently by making you more susceptible or less susceptible to certain environmental conditions.”

I find this a beautiful example of stepping away from the tyranny of dichotomy (I’ve been saying “nature and nurture” since high school). One of my pet peeves is either-or conceptualizing being applied to more complex discussions. Such black-and-white, right-or-wrong pigeon holing erodes critical thought.