Computer underground Digest Thu Jul 13, 1995 Volume 7 : Issue 59 ISSN 1004-042X Editors: J
Computer underground Digest Thu Jul 13, 1995 Volume 7 : Issue 59
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
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
http://www2000.ogsm.vanderbilt.edu), 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:
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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 Warren, GovAccess list-owner/editor (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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