Computer underground Digest Thu Jul 13, 1995 Volume 7 : Issue 59 ISSN 1004-042X Editors: J

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Computer underground Digest Thu Jul 13, 1995 Volume 7 : Issue 59 ISSN 1004-042X Editors: Jim Thomas and Gordon Meyer (TK0JUT2@MVS.CSO.NIU.EDU Archivist: Brendan Kehoe Shadow Master: Stanton McCandlish Field Agent Extraordinaire: David Smith Shadow-Archivists: Dan Carosone / Paul Southworth Ralph Sims / Jyrki Kuoppala Ian Dickinson CONTENTS, #7.59 (Thu, Jul 13, 1995) File 1--The Carnegie Mellon "Cyberporn" Scandal Grows File 2--Brock Meeks on Martin Rimm & "CyberPorn" File 3--Open Letter to Phil Elmer-DeWitt and TIME File 4--Porn'd: Media Images revisited File 5--Brian Reid's comments on the Carnegie Mellon Study File 6--Cu Digest Header Info (unchanged since 19 Apr, 1995) CuD ADMINISTRATIVE, EDITORIAL, AND SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION APPEARS IN THE CONCLUDING FILE AT THE END OF EACH ISSUE. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Thu, 13 Jun 1995 23:22:02 CDT From: Jim Thomas Subject: File 1--The Carnegie Mellon "Cyberporn" Scandal Grows The research improprieties of the Carnegie Mellon "Cyberporn" study are inexorably taking on the proportions of a major scandal. Not only was the research done in its name a classic exercise in deception and duplicity, but--as Brock Meeks reports in the July 13 issue of Cyberwire Dispatch (see following post)--evidence continues to mount of fraudulent data gathering procedures. As reported in CuD 7.58, the Carnegie Mellon study purported to be a study of Usenet "pornographic" images and BBS file description lists. The intellectual content of the study has been shattered by the Hoffman/Novak and other critiques (see, and the ethical lapses extend beyond minor goofs to constitute a significant breach of ethics (see CuD #7.58). In another forum, a poster contacted CMU and learned that: ---begin quote-- researchers are held accountable to Title 45 CFR Part 689, as printed in the Federal Register Vol. 52, No. 126, Wed, July 1, 1987, p 24468. I went to the USC law library and photocopied the referenced page in the Federal Register. It states in section 689.1 General policies and responsibilities that: (a) "Misconduct" means (1) fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or other serious deviation from accepted practices in proposing, carrying out, or reporting results from research; (2) material failure to comply with Federal requirements for protection of researchers, human subjects, or the public or for ensuring the welfare of laboratory animals; or (3) failure to meet other material legal requirements governing research. ---end quote--- A more recent version of the NSF misconduct section reads: 45 C.F.R. s 689.1 s 689.1 General policies and responsibilities. (a) "Misconduct" means (1) Fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or other serious deviation from accepted practices in proposing, carrying out, or reporting results from activities funded by NSF; or (2) Retaliation of any kind against a person who reported or provided information about suspected or alleged misconduct and who has not acted in bad faith. ........... Source: 56 FR 22287, May 14, 1991 It doesn't take a close reading of the Georgetown Law Journal article in which the Carnegie Mellon study appeared to realize that procedural improprieties occurred. Lack of informed consent, questions about how system user Usenet reading habits were obtained, and other problems mar the study. Worse, revelations about the principle investigator, Martin Rimm, cast serious doubt on the credibility and integrity both of the study and of all those involved with it. As Brock Meeks reports below, it appears that Rimm acknowledges that he has self-published a volume entitle "The Pornographer's Handbook." It also appears that Rimm was less than honest with his research subjects, violating a cardinal research rule against deception. It appears that Rimm "went native," not only failing to tell Thomas that he, Rimm, was researching the BBS, but also trying to tell him how to organize his files (file organization was a key part of the Carnegie Mellon "analysis"): This week, Mike Godwin interviewed Robert Thomas, and reports that Thomas told him the following: That Martin Rimm was a member of the Amateur Action BBS, that he quarrelled publicly and privately with Robert and Carleen Thomas about how they ran their BBS (among other things, he wanted them to change the way their BBS software kept track of downloads), that his messages to them after they refused to comply with his "suggestions" grew angry and threatening, that he declared publicly that he would not renew his membership at Amateur Action, and that he *did* renew his membership in February of this year. As additional information emerges, questions about the study's problems increase, and evidence of misconduct and fraud grow. If the Carnegie Mellon study is based on systematically fraudulent data-gather practices, then the regrettable conclusion is that Carnegie Mellon has engaged in research misconduct. That CMU continues to stand by the study as its own further tarnished the reputation of all faculty and students associated with the institution. That it remains silent on the challenges to substantial and growing criticisms of the study further leads to the sad, but inescapable, conclusion that CMU is a research institution that feels that it is above the standards that the rest of us attempt to follow in human subjects research. ------------------------------ Date: Thu, 13 Jul 1995 17:11:04 -0500 From: jthomas@SUN.SOCI.NIU.EDU(Jim Thomas) Subject: File 2--Brock Meeks on Martin Rimm & "CyberPorn" CyberWire Dispatch // Copyright (c) 1995 /// (July 13, 1995) Jacking in from the "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" Port: Washington, DC --If I were drunk or stoned or Hunter Thompson or a combination of any of those, maybe this past week would make sense. But there is no empty Jack Daniels bottle on the floor, there is no drug residue dusting the desktop and unless that wino on the street corner I can see from my office window, the one harassing the hooker, is Thompson -- and you just never know -- then I'm left all alone with a virtual Marty Rimm staring back at me from my Mac in the form of Email, inside a folder called "Rimm Job." You know Marty. He's the current media lightening rod. Time magazine recently ran a cover story -- "Cyberporn" -- based on work he did while an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon university. Marty's taken a lot of heat for that work... he's about to take a lot more, owing to a little moonlighting publishing venture he had going while conducting the study. This story should write itself, but it doesn't. I've had phone calls, Email and more phone calls. Each of them adds another small piece to the "Marty and Brock Show" to which I've been an unwitting dupe in for the past week. A fairly simple puzzle a week ago, it has now becomes a 10,000 piece jigsaw of the Milky Way. Marty calls me "friend" for some reason and asks me questions via Email like "why do I like you, Brock?" Well how the hell do I know? And things just keep getting more and more bizarre. It's like I've stepped some kind of karmic black hole where a lot of good shit happens, but you can't tell anyone about it. At least not right away, because first you're bound to figure out "What it All Means." But I can't. Maybe I'll never figure it out. Which means this is an ugly story, which means I have to write it ugly or it doesn't get written. So here goes and god help us all... The same Marty that wrote the study on which Time magazine hung its June 26th "Cyberporn" cover story is the same Marty that wrote a dicey little paperback called the "Pornographer's Handbook: How to Exploit Women, Dupe Men and Make Lots of Money." Somehow, somewhere, someone named "John Russel Davis" gets ahold of this porn handbook and begins to upload excerpts from it to the Internet. It's 6:27 a.m. on July 11th and the only message I get from Marty is a one-liner: "Who is John Russel Davis?" I have no clue. This is the last I hear from Marty all day. He has gone into hiding, suddenly retreating from our Email tug-of-war. The Marty has "gone dark." Routine checks of Email reveal nothing. At 11:26 p.m. the "RimmSat" lights up. The Marty is back online. He fires off this message to me: "Look, I'm pissed off about what carolyn is spreading around certain Usenet newsgroups after I broke up with her. Someone named John Russel Davis from AOL appears to be helping her. If you don't know what newsgroups they are, I certainly am not going to be the one to tell you, but let's just say it's where bbs sysops hangout. Maybe then you'll know why I am so silent." For those playing without a scorecard, "Carolyn" is "Carolyn Speranza" as in the person listed in "Books In Print" as the illustrator for Marty's "how to" porn marketing manual. She also happens to be listed as an advisor for his academic paper. But Marty's outburst is a mystery to me. Having been wrapped in a regular reporting gig as Washington Bureau Chief for Interactive Week, I haven't been trolling the Usenet. When I tell him this, he gets insulting: "Brock, I thought you were more clever than this. If you were a bbs sysop, and you just got onto the Usenet for the first time... where would you go? But I've said too much, and I don't know what is the lesser of two evils: not to tell you (and hope it goes away), or you will eventually find out later anyway and be pissed off and nobody looks good." The red-flag has been waved and I call in the troops, posting a cryptic message on the WELL asking for assistance in tracking down messages from "John Russel Davis." Aaron Dickey, who toils away in the stock listings department for the Associated Press, takes up the challenge and delivers--in spades. Into my mailbox flow excerpts of Marty's "how to" manual. Here is a sample of his turgid prose, taken from the Usenet posting, from a chapter on Anal Sex: "When searching for the best anal sex images, you must take especial care to always portray the woman as smiling, as deriving pleasure from being penetrated by a fat penis into her most tender crevice. The male, before ejaculation, is remarkably attuned to the slightest discrepancy; he is as much focused on her lips as on her anus. The slightest indication of pain can make some men limp." The early returns on the excerpts are that they are a hoax. People castigate the anonymous "Davis" for having tried to foist such a laughable scam on the Net. But Marty knows different and when I ask if these postings are authentic, he writes: "The excerpts circulating around the Usenet were stolen from my marketing book, Brock. You are the only one I am telling." This would be the same "marketing book" that in another of these same Usenet excerpts says: "I spent two full years as a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, where I received four grants to study adult materials on the Internet, Usenet, World Wide Web and Adult BBS from around the world. Despite countless deprivations and temptations, I have examined this topic with great diligence, having obtained nearly one million descriptions of adult images which were downloaded by consumers more than eight million times. I developed linguistic parsing software to sort these images into 63 different classifications from oral to anal, from lesbian to bondage, from watersports to bestiality." If that was your jaw hitting the floor, imagine what's happening at Carnegie Mellon about now. Marty, at first, seemed unruffled by all this. When I asked him what kind of "damage control" he might be formulating to respond to the news of his little self-publishing venture, which, by the way, is listed as having the "Carnegie" imprint and which happens to have the same address in Pittsburgh as someone named "Martin Rimm". Marty replied: "What attention? I don't see it. This is just an oddity. Do you have reason to suspect otherwise?" But by the night of July 13th, at virtually the 11th hour, he tries to cut a deal with me. He notes that people monitoring the Usenet groups think the excerpts "are a fraud." He says the only ones that know they are real are me and him (forgetting, I suppose, about Carolyn and "Davis"). He says he could essentially upload to the Net a kind of confession, "claiming authorship and you lose your scoop." In return for not blowing my scoop, he wants me to send him an advance copy of this article so he can review it. He says I'm "close" on some things, but that I have missed "too much" of the story. We could work together, he promises. We could establish a "working relationship," something we obviously don't have now because my earlier article on this whole wretched debacle was "pathetically inaccurate," he claims. If I comply with his deal, I would then know all, he says: "You will really understand what I did and did not do. If you want." In case you're wondering, Marty is reading this for the first time along with the rest of you. He has never seen a word of it, other than his own Email messages reproduced here. Not eight hours after he wanted to cut a deal, to "negotiate from the edge," as John Schwartz of the Washington Post characterizes such desperate ploys, he sends a message July 13 (Thursday) that is frantic and elusive: "The thing is about to blow, probably by Friday at noon. I am not happy about this. I don't like it. I don't want it. But I consider you the lesser of two evils. I am going away in about a half hour and will probably return next week." I have no idea what "the thing" is. I have no idea what the "lesser of two evils" is. Hell, right now, I'm not even sure he's telling me the truth. Indeed, throughout this investigation, he has led me back and forth, playing games, trickling out information like some damn chinese water torture. Mike Godwin, staff counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who has made the discrediting of the Time "Cyberporn" cover story and Marty's study something of a personal Jihad, sums up Marty like this: "The more you research Rimm, the more a portrait emerges of someone wily, subtle, glib, manipulative. Even when he tells you he's being totally honest, totally frank, you have this lurking feeling that below the surface he's calculating the precise effect his choice of words--both his admissions and his omissions--will have on you." Godwin is dead bang on. An old college classmate of Marty's, Bret Pettichord , surfaced during this whole affair. He and Marty went to the New College in Sarasota, Fla., in the 1984. They were philosophy majors. It was a small school, Petticort says, so "everyone knew everyone." Marty was a loner. But Marty had a peculiar quirk: He studied tapes of the Rev. Jerry Falwell. "Not for the message," Petticort said, "Marty didn't buy into that." Instead, Marty was "fascinated by how Falwell was able to sway people with his rhetoric... and he studied that." But as far as Petticort knows, Marty never practiced it while in college. They drifted apart, meeting briefly around 1986. When the "Marty as Media Lightening Rod" emerged, Petticort got back in touch. Marty's response: "I'm busy now." Before the Great Usenet Excerpt incident, Marty was already pacing back and forth across my computer screen. When the listing of his porn book from "Books In Print" hit the Net, it was like some one had lit Marty's fuse. When I asked him to explain the book, he answered with two questions: "[T]ell me 1) whether you actually have a copy of the Porn Handbook, and 2) where you got it." I answered that I had sources in "low places" and that I didn't appreciate having to "bargain" with him for information. His book "wasn't hard to track down," I told him. His secret now blown, he goes ballistic: "It looks like that *bitch* got a copy too," he wrote, complete with asterisks, referring to Vanderbilt Professor Donna Hoffman, one of his earliest critics. "To say I'm pissed is an understatement," he wrote in Email. "They all agreed not to photocopy it - I'm going to nail them for copyright violation." The "they" he refers to there are the adult BBS operators. I know, throughout this story you have to keep telling yourself: I am not in the Twilight Zone... I am *not* in the Twilight Zone. But I swear, I'm not making any of this up. How did Marty pull this off? Adult BBS operators aren't known for their openness and trusting attitudes, in general. When I asked Marty how he was able to do what had taken me years to do -- develop sources inside this network of adult BBS operators -- he said: "[Y]ou didn't have powerful software which you could use to convince them that you indeed had something to offer. What took you years I could do in anywhere from five minutes to two months. You'll have to figure the rest out." That software, of course, was the same software he mentions so prominently in his academic study, the one published by the Georgetown Law Journal, the one that starts out telling how pornographers have started to use "sophisticated software" to help them become better marketers. Are you catching the trend here? It's the ultimate media hack. He's working both sides of the fence. One one hand, Marty is helping the porn operators better market their wares, enabling them to place the stuff more strategically online. And then he writes a study with which he reels in an "exclusive" Time magazine "Cyberporn" cover story decrying the fact that, oh-my-gawd, there's an ever increasing amount of porn online, due in part, to better marketing tactics by adult BBS operators. I tell Marty that I think it's "brilliant" that he was able to work the "acquisition of data" from BBS operators so that he could use it for his "how to" porn marketing manual and also crank it into his academic study. His reply: "If I do say so myself." It was so brilliant, in fact, that it almost backfired on him on day the Time magazine story ran. You see, the BBS operators *didn't know* Marty was collecting their data for an academic study; they thought it was going to be used only by Marty, who would in turn, help them better market their porn. Now, Marty didn't tell me that, directly, he made a game of it, making me ask questions and pose them to him in the form of a theory. So, when I ran the above theory by him, the one where he dupes the BBS operators and uses the data for both his porn book and the study, he wrote: "I'm somewhat impressed that you picked this up. Yes, I got about a dozen surprised calls this week [when the Time cover story ran] from sysops, but the academic study and BBS marketing manual were kept entirely separate... so they (the porn BBS operators) took no offense." But the academic community has... except Carnegie Mellon University. To CMU Marty is the new "Media Darling." Meanwhile, charges of unethical research practices are being launched and brought to the attention of the CMU administration. Jim Thomas, a professor of sociology/criminal justice at Northern Illinois University, wrote a blistering attack challenging the ethics underlying Marty's study. Thomas' writing is brutal, written in the cold measured prose of an academic: "The most serious and explicit ethical violation is the deceptive nature in which Carnegie Mellon collected the data. Virtually every principle of informed consent was breached, because there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the research team gathered data deceptively, perhaps even fraudulently." Marty's senior advisor, CMU professor Marvin Sirbu, is nowhere to be found. He has refused to answer questions Emailed to him about whether he knew Marty was using university funds to gather data for a "how to" porn marketing book at the same time he was using the data for his academic study. When Marty is asked whether Sirbu knew of his actions, he writes only: "Ask him." Apparently Marty did run his methodology past George Duncan, a professor of statistics at the Heinz School at CMU. Marty says Duncan is a "privacy expert." However, Marty doesn't list Duncan among the many so-called advisors for his study. "In hindsight, I guess I should have listed him," he told me during our only phone interview. When Duncan is asked about Marty's methodology he says he sees nothing wrong. When I ask him if he knows the data Marty was collecting was being used for the "Pornographer's Handbook" he says, "that's totally implausible." When I tell him that Marty has confirmed it and that I know for sure he used the data to help write the porn book, Duncan, still says, "well, that's just ridiculous." What's not ridiculous is the fallout and the "collateral damage" as the military likes say, in which they really mean "the number of innocent civilians that are murdered by a bomb meant only for a strategic target." First there is the reputation of Time magazine. This can be summed up in one word: Toast. They will have to scramble big time to recover from having been spun by Marty "Mr. Porn Handbook" Rimm. Then there is CMU. Your call here is as good as mine. The university, even as this article is grinding to a close, still refers to Marty's study as "the CMU study." They'll have to dodge a few bullets on this one now. And then there is the Net itself. It will likely take some time to heal the damage here, too. Of course there is pornography on the Net, but it's not nearly as pervasive as recent events have made it out to be. And what's more encouraging, is that there is "real research," ironically enough, from Carnegie Mellon itself, that indicates that sexually oriented material, while available on the Net, isn't really that big a drawing point. As CMU professor Sara Kiesler, one of the principles of a study called "HomeNet" says: "What's important is to look at how people use the Net and what they are actually looking at, as opposed to looking at what is actually on the Net itself." Her study is finding that very few people access sexually oriented material, even when they know its readily available, she said. And when they do access it, it's mostly out of curiosity, she says, "there's not a high percentage of repeat access." That should be the word that gets out; not the by now well debunked "83.5% of the Usenet is porn" figure that sadly (thank you Time magazine) is becoming the sound bite of the Religious Right and certain dense Senators. As for Marty? Well, he's been accepted by MIT's Technology and Policy Program, where he'll go for his masters. I'm sure he'll do just fine... after all, he does have this little publishing venture to help him cover expenses. Meeks out... ------------------------------ Date: Sat, 8 Jul 1995 12:24:52 -0700 From: jwarren@WELL.COM(Jim Warren) Subject: File 3--Open Letter to Phil Elmer-DeWitt and TIME An Open Letter to Phil Elmer-DeWitt and TIME's Responsible Editors (& T. Koppel) Hi Phil - It was sad and frustrating to see - and vigorously participate in - the net's flames that poured over you after you honchoed the cyberporn "report." I know you, and I know you are much, much better than that illustrates. You and Time earned the flaming that you got, because you and your editors were the ones with the power to impact public and political opinion, and thus the responsibility to do it *very* carefully. Even under the insane pressure of a weekly deadline in the cutthroat newsweekly racket. What's done's done. I'm writing about the immediate future - hopefully in time to make a difference. I know you and Time are planning a follow-up - which may be no more than the usual wee-tiny, "Opps, we made a few little errors," quiblette, buried in some obscure corner of a week's prose. I urge you: Please - don't do it that way. Such an approach - the press' usual approach to admitting errors - is simply not acceptable. Be assured that it will simply provoke another round of equally earned net-wide flames. YOU, PHIL, AND TIME *CAN* RECEIVE WELL-EARNED APPLAUSE: 1. Do a second major article on cyberporn and its much more important issue, cybercensorship by government as opposed as to censorship via the delete button. 2. Bluntly, fully and in detail, rip apart the Rimm study with the same zeal that you or Time would put into a secret, unrefereed pro-cigarette tobacco study by an undergraduate student - if it had received the cover-story prominence and immediately been quoted on the floor of Congress. 3. Bluntly report and criticize your and Time's failings. 4. But most of all, present the other side of the censorship case - including emphasis on the alternatives that net-illiterate, now-frightened, justifiably-concerned parents, teachers and librarians can use to protect their children from doing what kids have always done ... going where they're told not to go. 5. And have your p.r. department promote *this* - too - to Ted Koppel. Although Nightline's set-up piece was appalling, Ted himself - operating from unfortunate personal ignorance - *tried* to do an even-handed job of drawing out some of the issues ... to the extent that he understood them. I am convinced that he will do a better job, with better research beforehand, if he takes the time to cover cybercensorship excused by the minority of *global* cyberporn that exists. Soon, more and more print journalists will be doing their work online. The clear and present danger is that, by the time they and their publishers arrive online, the government will have established a long string of precedents for government-imposed content control. Phil, over and over, we have seen that the net and the public have a great capacity for forgiveness - when national leaders have screwed up and promptly, bluntly and without excuses admitted it. Janet Reno after Waco is an example. If you or your barricaded editors try to gloss this over, or give excuses, or whine forth with, "We were imperfect, but ..." scenarios, you will guarantee extensive, continuing, *earned* criticism. If you - yourselves - rip the hell out of your own story, and present the other side as provocatively as you presented the Rimmtrash, (1) you will be doing a MUCH-needed service to the nation and the political process, and (2) you and Time will *earn* praise for correcting a mistake in an equally prominent, *responsible* manner. Please Phil ... do it. You are good enough and honorable enough to do so. Your friend (believe it or not), --jim Jim Warren, GovAccess list-owner/editor ( Advocate & columnist, MicroTimes, Government Technology, BoardWatch, etc. 345 Swett Rd., Woodside CA 94062; voice/415-851-7075 ------------------------------ Date: Fri, 7 Jul 1995 21:10:42 -0500 (CDT) From: Crypt Newsletter Subject: File 4--Porn'd: Media Images revisited RIMM JOB: A REVISIT TO COMPUTER CULTURE AND MEDIA IMAGES [The original "Computer Culture and Media Images" was published in Computer underground Digest 5.65. The review was drafted after a reporter for The Contra Costa Times in central California profiled a series of public bulletin board systems in the San Francisco Bay area known as the NIRVANAnet. The news piece was remarkable for its naivete, snide insinuation that the network was involved in illegal activity and the complete failure of the newspaper reporter to allow the managers of the network to speak for themselves, a paint-by-numbers approach to on-line journalism that is very common. As time goes by, the Crypt Newsletter has noticed the more things change, the more they stay the same. The last six months of 1994 - no, make that the entire year - were devoted to a grandiose computers-and-networking hype by the mainstream media launched under the rubric of the "revolutionary age of information." The information highway scoop, as described by the same generic reporters that turn in stories similar in scope to The Contra Costa County Times/NIRVANAnet fiasco, was the first half of the trip down a new yellow brick road to the great and powerful Oz of national rebirth. By mid-1995, the same media goofballs had cast themselves as snarling Toto's, suddenly pulling back the curtain on a carnal on-line cheat of monstrous proportion, quite probably capable of scarring the children of honest Americans for life. The U.S. Congress, packed with as excessive a population of fork-tongued hypocrites, stone fools and pettifogging tallywhackers as can be found in western civilization, has been quick to act to slay the twin demons of cyberspace: smut and bombs. "Rimm Job: Computer Culture and Media Images Revisited" is a dust-off of my original piece, updated to illustrate how predictably idiotic and puppet-like the media has been on the story.] In 1993, after reviewing numerous stories on computer culture dating back to 1990, Mike Liedtke's Contra Costa Times piece on the NIRVANAnet BBS's came off as just one more example of a stupid genre: paint-by-numbers journalism, so predictable it's a cliche. The locales were shifting, the names changing but the overemphasis on the menace to society posed by superficially threatening but essentially trivial computer file "how-to's" on bombs, drugs, hacking and non-specific hell-raising remained the same. Unfortunately, through 1993 and today, so has the expertise of reporters. Locked into some kind of "ultimate computer goober" never-never land, there has never been a lack of writers who turn in stories which are painfully unsophisticated, plainly inadequate, sensational or pandering for the sake of cheap, momentary outrage. It's damnable, because the picture which emerges is one of mainstream journalists who ought to know the lay of the land, but who either won't pick it up or are being deliberately disingenuous in their work. By contrast, the lack of skill didn't hinder the mainstream media, or even slow it down, in being a conduit for countless fluffy, trend stories on the information superhighway, all equivalent to junk mail. The result, as it continues, is an abundance of useless information that no one wants. And as the deluge increases it becomes harder and harder to get anything of substance across which doesn't enrage, shock or appeal blindly to prurient interests. So, the users of the NIRVANAnet systems thought the news media arrogant in 1993. And they complained about it. Loudly. The current shaking of the cyberfists and stamping of the cyberfeet at Congress over the Exon/Coats bill, while a pathetic spectacle on the part of 'netizens who seemingly lack even the horse sense to realize they're part of the problem too, was similarly not just a scream of wounded pride or the surprised squeak of slimy characters exposed when their rock was overturned. It was justified. Why? Take, for example, a news piece which appeared way back in 1990 in The Morning Call newspaper of Allentown, PA. The Call had discovered a now long gone "underground" bulletin board in nearby Easton, PA. I lived in the area at the time and current news is uncannily similar to the one Morning Call reporter Carol Cleaveland delivered for the paper's readership. The same ingredients were in the mix, a micro-slice of the same content bemoaned on the Internet: adult files, plenty of text "how-to's" on how to make bombs, a regional lawman explaining about how hard it was to nail people for computer crime and a plainly venal and envious, rival sysop of another local _legitimate family-oriented_ system acting as official tut-tutter and squealer, warning concerned readers that he sure wouldn't want such a system in his backyard, corrupting the innocent, contributing to the overthrow of the republic, zzzzzzzzzz . . . . Typically, there was not a shred of comment from the sysop whose system was being profiled. Nothing ever came of the nonsense. The system continued on-line for a couple of more years, no criminal charges were filed, and the local businesses appeared not to go up in flames at the hands of unknown hackers or bomb-throwing, masked anarchists. So, this was news? Now, fast forward to The New York Times on January 25 of 1994. In an 'A' section article, reporter Ralph Blumenthal profiled "Phrakr Trakr," a federal undercover man keeping our electronic streets safe from cybernetic hoodlums too numerous to mention singly. A quick read shows the reporter another investigator from the mainstream who hadn't gotten anything from underground BBS's first-hand, relying instead on the Phrakr Trakr's tales of unnameable computer criminals trafficking in unspecified dread: "stolen information, poison recipes and bomb-making instructions." Blumenthal's continued fascination with text files for "turning household chemicals into deadly poisons, [or] how to build an 'Assassin Box' to supposedly send a lethal surge through a telephone line" was more of the same. Most anyone from teenagers to the college educated on-line _still_ seems to recognize these files as malevolently written crap or bowdlerized, error-filled reprints from engineering, biology and chemistry books. In either case, hardly noteworthy unless you're one who can't tell the difference between comic books and real news or has no idea of what's available at the library or well-stocked bookstore. On top of this continuum in late June was layered the gagging pig-stink of hardcore obscenity furnished courtesy of Carnegie-Mellon undergraduate Marty Rimm, his study on cyberporn and TIME magazine - which grabbed the report as a special issue exclusive and retooled it into a voyeuristic expose of damnation and decadence on the hot rails to Hell of techno-America. "I think there's no almost no question that we're seeing an unprecedented availability and demand of material like sadomasochism, bestiality, vaginal and rectal fisting, eroticized urinating . . ." Rimm blurted in TIME magazine. Know this: It's copy of this nature that many genero-journalists kill for! Even the casual reader has to admit he might jump at the chance to be _the first_ heroic scribe to ring the alarm bells on creeping electronic filth! Get yourself on Nightline! Rimm's study, in addition to not being peer-reviewed, wasn't easy to procure, leading critics to immediately accuse him, TIME magazine and a few select journalists of colluding with the author for maximum publicity and impact. (A visit to Rimm's World Wide Web-page a day or so ago showed while the student _had_ found himself the time to post media reaction to his study and the controversy embroiling it, he hadn't actually posted the paper, just the illusion of it.) One fragment of Rimm's paper was a mother-lode of purple prose - not detached science - but pure media-tempered gold-plated scandal. "Men of considerable intelligence have paid homage to Sade, admiring his unrivaled, demented imagination. Yet for all their efforts, Sade and his disciples pushed pornography only as far as the printed word allowed. Two centuries of technological innovations -- the photograph, the digital image, the scanner, computer bulletin boards, computer networks -- passed before Robert Thomas [a BBS sysop currently serving time in an obscenity case] would present us with Amateur Action BBS, a high-tech rendition of 'The 120 Days of Sodom.' "The Marquis, it seems, has finally been topped." So our advice is "Expect the worst!" - even more media-stoked smut frenzy - because, quite frankly, there really is no way to effectively counter the unholy union of peeper journalism and sensationalist _studies_ like Marty Rimm's cyberporn circus. _George Smith is the author of "The Virus Creation Labs."_ ------------------------------ Date: Thu, 6 Jul 1995 16:52:43 -0500 (CDT) From: Czar Donic Subject: File 5--Brian Reid's comments on the Carnegie Mellon Study ----------------------------Original message---------------------------- From--Brian Reid Date--Wed, 05 Jul 95 20:30:49 -0700 I have read a preprint of the Rimm study of pornography and I am so distressed by its lack scientific credibility that I don't even know where to begin critiquing it. Normally when I am sent a publication for review, if I find a flaw in it I can identify it and say "here, in this paragraph, you are making some unwarranted assumptions". In this study I have trouble finding measurement techniques that are *not* flawed. The writer appears to me not to have a glimmer of an understanding even of basic statistical measurement technique, let alone of the application of that technique to something as elusive and ill-defined as USENET. I have been measuring USENET readership and analyzing USENET content, and publishing studies of what I find since April 1986. I have spent years refining the measurement techniques and the data processing algorithms. Despite those 9 years of working on the problem, I still do not believe that it is possible to get measurements whose accuracy is within a factor of 10 of the truth. In other words, if I measure something that seems to be 79, the truth might be 790 or 7.9 or anywhere in between. Despite this inaccuracy, the measurements are interesting, because whatever unknowns it is that they are measuring, these unknowns are similar from one month to the next, so that the study of trends is meaningful. As long as you are aware of what it is that you are taking the ratio of, it is also meaningful to compare USENET measurements, because whatever the errors might be, they are often similar in two numbers from the same measurement set, and they are multiplicative, so they tend to cancel out in quotient. In other words, in the results that I publish, the two kinds of measurements that are meaningful enough to pay attention to for serious scholarship are the normalized month-to-month trends in the readership percentages of a given newsgroup, and the within-the-same-month ratio of the readership of one newsgroup to the readership of another. The reason that I publish the numbers is primarily to enable trend analysis; it is not reasonable to take a single-point measurement seriously. No matter what the level of accuracy you are seeking, it is imperative that you understand what it is that you are measuring. Whenever you cannot measure an entire population, you must find and measure a sample, and the error in your measurement will be magnified if your sample is not a representative sample. A small error in understanding the nature of the sample population will lead to an error like the famous "Dewey defeats Truman" headline in the 1948 US Presidential election. A large error in understanding the nature of the sample population can lead to results that are completely meaningless, such as measuring pregnancy rates in a population whose age and sex are unknown. Rimm has made three "beginner's errors" that, in my opinion, when taken together, render his numbers completely meaningless: 1. He has selected a very homogeneous population to measure. While he has chosen not to identify his population, he has included enough of his sample data to allow me to correlate his numbers with my own numbers for the same measurement period. His data correlate exactly with my numbers for Pittsburgh newsgroups in that measurement period; only his own university (Carnegie-Mellon) has widespread enough campus networking to make it possible for him to sample that large a population. It is therefore almost certain that he has measured his own university. I received my Ph.D. in Computer Science from Carnegie-Mellon University, and I am very aware that it is dominantly male and dominantly a technology school. The behavior of computer-using students at a high-tech urban engineering school might not be very similar to the behavior of other student populations, let alone non-student populations. 2. He has measured only one time period, January 1995. Having lived at Carnegie-Mellon University for a number of years, I know first-hand that student interests in January are extremely different from student interests in September or April. When measuring human behavior about which very little is known, it is important to take numerous measurements over time and to look for time series. Taking the last few years worth of my data and doing a trend analysis in the newsgroups that he has named as pornographic shows an average 3:1 seasonal trend change between low-readership months (November and April) and high-readership months (September and January). But the trends are different in different newsgroups. A single-point measurement is not nearly as meaningful as a series of measurements. 3. He makes the assumption that by seeing a data reference to an image or a file, it is possible to tell what the individual did with the file. We in the network measurement business are very careful to explain what it is that our measurements mean. Here is the standard explanation that I publish with my monthly measurements to talk about the number that Rimm calls "number of downloads". To "read" a newsgroup means to have been presented with the opportunity to look at at least one message in it. Going through a newsgroup with the "n" key counts as reading it. For a news site, "user X reads group Y" means that user X's .newsrc file has marked at least one unexpired message in Y. Rimm used my network measurement software tools to take his data, and he did not anywhere in his article state that he had made changes to them, so I must conclude that his numbers and my numbers are derived from the same software. But the number that he is using for "number of downloads" is the same number that I call "number of readers" by the above definition. It has nothing to do with the number of downloads. In fact, it is not possible for this measurement system to tell whether or not a file has been downloaded; it can tell whether or not a person has been presented with the opportunity to download a file but it cannot tell whether the user answered "yes" or "no". In summary, I do not consider Rimm's analysis to have enough technical rigor to be worthy of publication in a scholarly journal. Brian Reid, Ph.D. Director, Network Systems Laboratory Digital Equipment Corporation Palo Alto, California ------------------------------ Date: Sun, 19 Apr 1995 22:51:01 CDT From: CuD Moderators Subject: File 6--Cu Digest Header Info (unchanged since 19 Apr, 1995) Cu-Digest is a weekly electronic journal/newsletter. Subscriptions are available at no cost electronically. 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