The Citizen's Guide to the Future

Oct. 29 2014 6:14 PM

This New Pomplamoose Video Is a Reminder That the Internet Really Is Awesome

Remember when the Internet was an amazing new thing that was about to change all of our lives for the better?

Pomplamoose, charmingly, still feels that way. The YouTube-friendly duo, best known for viral pop covers and mash-ups like the Pharrell/Daft Punk collision “Happy Get Lucky,” has a new music video that’s drenched in ’90s-style enthusiasm for the boundless possibilities of the World Wide Web.


It’s called “The Internet Is Awesome,” and it’s a goofily sincere love letter to the medium that has brought Pomplamoose a modicum of fame, if not exactly a fortune. Group member Jack Conte says he was inspired to start his own crowdfunding platform for artists after calculating the paltry ad revenue that Pomplamoose stood to receive from one of its YouTube hits: $18 for 250,000 views. Artists are now using the platform, called Patreon, to raise upwards of $1 million a month from their fans. (That’s $1 million combined, not $1 million per artist. Still, it’s better than $18.)

It's almost like the Internet is doing for Pomplamoose what everyone hoped it might do for creative people, back before it turned out that most of the money was actually going to a few corporate goliaths like Google and Amazon.

The group says the video for “The Internet Is Awesome” was recorded live, in a single take, using “a Launchpad, Impulse midi controller, and Ableton Live.” For such a makeshift production, it sounds pretty great.

The lyrics aren’t explicitly nostalgic, but their wide-eyed optimism recalls a simpler time before the Internet became associated as much with misogyny, inequality, and privacy violations as it is with democracy, hope, and creativity. “Before the Internet,” Nataly Dawn intones, “ordinary people could only publish their ideas and creations if they went through a gatekeeper.” (At 28, she may be a few years too young to remember zines. Still, her point is well-taken.) The spoken-word delivery also brings to mind such ’90s MTV fodder as Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen). “

The truth is, for all its problems, the Internet really is awesome, in the original sense of the term. It’s easy to forget just how miraculous it is that you can ping a server in New Zealand from your house in Switzerland and get a response in 285 milliseconds. As one reverent Redditor recently pointed out, that means the information traveled around the world at more than half the speed of light.

Referring to wireless Internet, among other technological achievements, Louis C.K. once remarked that “everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy.” Good for Pomplamoose for proving him wrong.

Previously in Slate:

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Oct. 29 2014 5:59 PM

Sorry, You Can’t Stream Yourself Playing Video Games Naked on Twitch Anymore

You have to assume that anyone you interact with online could be naked at any time. You could be emailing with a co-worker who isn’t wearing pants, or instant messaging with a friend who just got out of the shower. Who knows! Who cares!

Unless your naked buddy is using Twitch, which offers a  livestream of video game players on the service. And a Rules of Conduct update is making it clear that everyone needs to be wearing clothes to use Twitch.


The revision also says that you can’t stream gameplay to Twitch that has a “core focus” of nudity. In terms of personal attire, Twitch doesn't want anything sexually suggestive (“lingerie, swimsuits, pasties, and undergarments”). And, again, no torso or full-body nudity. The service is so committed to these rules that the update actually includes detailed tips about how to keep from getting too hot while gaming. Switch to fluorescent lightbulbs! Or crop your webcam picture so it only shows your face! “There is always a workaround.” Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

Twitch seems serious about enforcing these rules and says that both employees and global moderators can suspend an account for “any activity that we deem inappropriate or harmful.” If you get suspended, you’re allowed to appeal, but Twitch doesn't have to do anything or provide a reason for your suspension.

The sudden change could be motivated by corporate overlord Amazon or an ever-increasing population of overheated gamers. It’s not clear how many people were previously naked on Twitch at any given time. Perhaps anticipating some pushback, the service makes a point of emphasizing that it's just trying to create a safe and inclusive community. “Nerds are sexy, and you’re all magnificent, beautiful creatures, but let’s try and keep this about the games, shall we?” Duly noted.

Oct. 29 2014 5:57 PM

A Halloween Snowstorm Looks Increasingly Likely for the Eastern U.S.

The East is about to experience a case of extreme weather whiplash, as the hangover from Tuesday’s record warm high of 80 degrees in upstate New York gives way to the good possibility of temperatures below freezing in Atlanta this weekend.

One of the leading analogs for the upcoming round of wintery weather is the record-breaking nor’easter that hit in early November 2012, immediately after Superstorm Sandy. But, to be fair, for every historical coastal snowstorm this weekend’s weather pattern resembles, there are at least four or five near-misses. It’s still a bit too early to know exactly who’ll be dusting snow off their jack-o-lanterns.


Though the latest model runs have the storm’s path trending more safely out to sea, the National Weather Service includes some ominous wording in its latest technical forecast discussion, with this bold headline: “Strong Nor'easter to form just offshore the Northeast this weekend.”

A witch's brew of rain, wind, cold, and snow will all be possible in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic this weekend as we start November. Temperatures will drop in the wake of the front all the way into Florida where low temperatures could approach record levels in some locations. Appreciable snowfall accumulations in the Appalachians and lee of the eastern Great Lakes into the Northeast are looking more and more likely given the strength of the amplification.

In all likelihood, the best bet for this looming winter blast isn’t so much snow, but an extremely strong shot of cold air that will make it all the way down to South Florida:

Here’s a quick rundown of this weekend’s snow chances:

The Northeast could get an early season dusting of snow on Saturday. This map shows a reasonable worst case—there’s a 95 percent chance that actual snow totals will be less than what’s shown.

Image: NOAA Weather Prediction Center

In Madison, Wisconsin, snow is looking increasingly likely on Halloween morning. The storm will shift east during the day and could bring a dusting to places like Chicago, Indianapolis, and Detroit during prime trick-or-treating time Friday evening.

Asheville, North Carolina—a place that’s had measurable October snow only four times in the last 124 years—could also see a dusting as the calendar rolls over to November on Saturday.

If snow does fall in New York City on Saturday night—and current forecasts show a rain/snow mix as close in as the suburbs—chances are it’ll just wind up being a slushy mess for a few hours. No biggie.

The best chance for substantial East Coast snow is in the Appalachians, from northern Georgia to Pennsylvania. New England could also get a few inches on Sunday, though Boston will probably be stuck with a gross day of cold rain. But hey, at least they’ll have half-price Halloween candy to keep them company.

Oct. 29 2014 4:47 PM

No One’s Looking for Dangerous Meteors in the Southern Hemisphere Anymore

The southern hemisphere’s only early warning system for meteors, asteroids, and comets approaching the planet has closed due to lack of funding. Based out of the Siding Spring observatory in central New South Wales, Australia, the survey was funded by NASA until it withdrew last year. Sadly, appeals to the Australian government and private donors to pick up the tab also went unanswered.

Brad Tucker, an astronomer at the Australian National University, told Vice that we already have significant blind spots around the world for spotting such objects early. “There was a meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia, last year [that went unnoticed] … That was partially due to budget cuts at NASA, and specifically cuts to the Near Earth Object Program, which funds a lot of asteroid detection surveys. A lot of these surveys have been cut and it snuck through,” he said.


Tucker noted that while it’s obviously easier to spot large asteroids that are kilometers in width, there are too few programs looking out for smaller comets and meteors of around 5 to 50 meters. These are sizes that might not be the end of us all, but are nevertheless dangerous. For instance, the Chelyabinsk meteor explosion injured more than 1,200 people across six Russian cities in 2013 after it detonated with the force of some 500,000 tons of TNT.

Other scientists are also worried that we’re too fixated on asteroids the size of Texas—the type that might have interested Bruce Willis in Armageddon. Physicist Mark Boslough of Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has suggested that a small asteroid exploding in the air above a city poses a more immediate and likely threat than a “life-ending” asteroid actually hitting the earth. He called for a global survey and a new satellite to spot smaller asteroids.

In an example of just how close these objects can come to planets in our solar system, on Oct. 19 the comet after which the Siding Spring observatory is named passed within approximately 87,000 miles of Mars. Or, as NASA noted, a third of the distance between the Earth and its moon.

The loss of funding for the comet-spotting program is not the only threat the Siding Spring observatory is facing. The Guardian Australia also reported that light pollution from three proposed gas fields close by the observatory could render its many telescopes useless. The coal seam gas project, to be run by the mining firm Santos, is of concern to astronomers due to the strong light the mines are expected to emit at night. Peter Small, who works at the observatory, told the Guardian that light from a nearby mining operation already creates greater amounts of light than two neighboring towns. “If there’s light pollution from anywhere, never mind about the gasfields, this site becomes unviable,” he stated.

As Slate has previously noted, the current conservative Australian government’s attitude to science is best deemed aggressively ambivalent. The country is without a science minister to advocate for programs like the Siding Spring survey, not to mention the millions in funding cuts to its peak scientific body, the CSIRO. There’s little more painfully representative of Australia’s present short sighted relationship with science than the idea that its enthusiasm for taking things out of the ground could literally outshine our ability to see worlds apart from our own and dangers beyond the next election cycle.

Oct. 29 2014 1:25 PM

A White House Network Reportedly Got Hacked By Russians

On Tuesday night the Washington Post reported that an unclassified White House computer network was compromised in the last few weeks by hackers who may have been working for the Russian government.

Sources said that there were network service disruptions while White House cybersecurity attempted to remove the intruders—staffers had to change passwords and couldn’t use White House VPNs (virtual private networks) for a while. Officials said that there wasn’t long-term damage or an indication that the hackers reached any classified data.


The FBI, Secret Service, and NSA are working jointly on an ongoing investigation about the breach, and White House officials won’t confirm who their suspects are. But sources at security firms have implicated Russian hackers in other similar attacks lately and told the Post that the White House hack seemed consistent.

A staffer who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity said:

On a regular basis, there are bad actors out there who are attempting to achieve intrusions into our system. This is a constant battle for the government and our sensitive government computer systems, so it’s always a concern for us that individuals are trying to compromise systems and get access to our networks.

The battle for a secure network, typewriter, whatever continues.

Oct. 29 2014 12:44 PM

Middle Schoolers' Dreams of Worms in Space Still Alive Despite Rocket Explosion

Tuesday evening’s spectacular Antares launch mishap wasn’t just the first failure of NASA’s commercial rocket program. It was also a tough lesson in the challenges of doing real science for hundreds of elementary, high school, and college students across the country. According to an Antares payload manifest, a good portion of the rocket’s cargo was comprised of student-led science experiments.

No humans were hurt at the launch site in Virginia, but the rocket explosion unfortunately proved tragic for a payload of worms that were part of an experiment designed by middle school students from the Urban Promise Academy, a public school in Oakland, California.


Three middle school students in Oakland—Jose Morga, Kevin Cruz, and Cithlali Hernandez—devoted much of their last year to answering an important question related to human spaceflight: what happens to all that leftover astronaut food?

Needless to say, they were pretty excited about getting to see their composting space worms fly to the space station:

Here’s a summary of the proposal they submitted to the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program, which was selected along with 17 others out of a pool of 1,487 student teams from across the country:

Composting in Microgravity
Urban Promise Academy, Grade 6, Oakland, California
Composting in Microgravity asks the question: Are Eisenia fetida (red worms) able to compost food waste into soil in microgravity? If they can, it means that fertile soil can be created in space that helps plants grow, gives off oxygen, and even provides food for astronauts and scientists on the International Space Station (ISS).  Sending some Eisenia fetida to microgravity and seeing if they compost food waste into soil, this hypothesis is being tested. The same experiment is conducted on the Earth in order to compare and contrast the ground results and microgravity results. This is important because the results will determine if Eisenia Fetida can compost food waste into soil for plant seeds. Growing plants in fertile soil could provide food and oxygen to everyone on the ISS and future space travelers. It is also important because this could help the astronauts and scientists on the ISS decrease the amount of space that food waste takes up.

The students also put together a short video explaining their project.

I spoke with their science teacher, Alison Ball, on the phone a few hours after the failed Antares launch.

My condolences to your students for the loss of their worms. How are they taking the news?

We were certainly shocked and feel for all of the other teams that lost experiments, in addition to the other materials aboard. Plus ... the poor worms!

The students’ sense is that this was very surreal. They students got together to watch the launch after school [Tuesday]. The live feed was pretty grainy, so honestly they thought at first that it had gone up. They thought the extra light was just a flare from the base of the rocket. It wasn’t until later that they realized that it actually had exploded.

What kind of work went in to getting an idea from a team of middle school students to the payload of a rocket bound for the space station?

We started this project a year ago. We ended up fundraising over $24,000 to be able to secure that spot on the rocket, and to be able to get the materials to do all the proposal writing. It really was a whole school investment.

Every student at our school last year designed microgravity experiments. We ended up with students at every grade level writing proposals, and going through the whole proposal writing process, and competition. And then this one, the worms composting in space, was the experiment that was selected by the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program to fly for us.

This isn’t the first time worms have had a less-than-perfect ticket to space. Incredibly, a group of nematodes actually survived the fiery re-entry of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. Is there any hope for a re-launch?

We’d already sent one round of worms out and because of launch delays those worms couldn’t be sent [to space]. They, perhaps, died in a fridge somewhere in Texas. So we ended up having to send another round of worms.

Science can often be seen as this opportunity for really smart people to do work in a white coat in a really safe laboratory somewhere, and I think this gives the students a chance to get the idea that, really, science takes a lot of courage and it takes a lot of perseverance. It’s about being able to find that determination to keep driving yourself forward in the face of failure.

Of all the things that could have possibly gone wrong with a student experiment being sent to space, this was the last thing that we had anticipated. It’s a lot of disappointment, but I think this is also a real learning opportunity for students. They’re getting a chance to do real science. So coupled with this is just the feeling that this work is really important. They’re going to get a chance to do this again, we just got word. They’re definitely going to get to relaunch.

That’s great news!

It really is. It’s a way for our whole school to rally around this group of students who put in an incredible amount of time and energy and love into a project that in some ways could be seen as a failure. I hope they really feel that sense that they’re pushing forward through a difficult time and able to overcome it. Ultimately, everyone at the school is going to be able to support them to get their experiment to the ISS.


Later, student Jose Morga told me in an email, "I feel very upset because we were going to send something to space but unfortunately the rocket failed.  ... [But] I feel confident about putting the experiment together again because we've done it so many times so we know the procedure really well."

Update, Oct. 29, 2014, 1 p.m.: Thanks to Cynthia Thomson for putting me in touch with Alison Ball.

Oct. 29 2014 11:41 AM

How to Revive a Language With No Native Speakers

This piece was originally published in Zócalo Public Square.

As Los Angeles fourth graders know (because their curriculum includes the study of California Indians), the original language of Los Angeles is Tongva. This American Indian language  (also called Gabrielino) used to be spoken in villages all over the L.A. Basin.

These villages have given their names to places all over Los Angeles, including Tujunga (from Tongva Tuhuunga “place of the old woman”) and Cahuenga (from Kawee'nga “place of the fox”). But despite these ever-present reminders, the language has not been spoken for over 50 years.

I first encountered Tongva shortly after I began teaching at UCLA 40 years ago, when my mentor, the late professor William Bright, introduced me to the field notes of J. P. Harrington, an ethnographer and linguist who worked with Tongva speakers during the early 20th century.

Oct. 29 2014 11:00 AM

There Is an Actual Ivy League Class Called “Wasting Time on the Internet,” and I’d Take It

For the 2015 spring semester at the University of Pennsylvania, English students have the option of taking a creative writing seminar called “Wasting Time on the Internet.” From 2 to 5 on Wednesdays, they can earn course credit by doing nothing in front of a screen. “Students will be required to stare at the screen for three hours, only interacting through chat rooms, bots, social media and listservs,” elucidates the class description. “Distraction, multi-tasking, and aimless drifting is mandatory.” It sounds deeply unpleasant, though somehow it is also exactly how I would naturally spend 180 minutes of free time. The students’ work, under the tutelage of professor Kenneth Goldsmith—Slate contributor!—does not stop at, however. (Well, all things—no matter how evanescent—fleetingly pause at, because how could you not.) Having soaked in the seamy tidal pools of the Internet all afternoon, undergrads are asked to go home and turn their experiences into art.

The course is dedicated to the “alchemical recuperation” of mindless scrolling. I’m not sure precisely what that means, unless “alchemical recuperation” is code for “this is really an experiment put on by UPenn’s psych department.” There are some clues to what Goldsmith is after, though: “What if these activities—clicking, SMSing, status-updating, and random surfing—were used as raw material for creating compelling and emotional works of literature?” the catalog wonders. “Could we reconstruct our autobiography using only Facebook? Could we write a great novella by plundering our Twitter feed? Could we reframe the internet as the greatest poem ever written?”


Could we Snapchat with all the colors of the wind? These are not new questions (though they are—jokes aside—pretty interesting, and if you’re going to pose them, it might as well be in a college creative writing seminar). Amid the explosion of Twitter fiction and a swell of writing that generally moves to Internet rhythms—Emily Gould’s emoji-strewn novel Friendship is one of many, many examples—it’s worth asking whether literature should reflect the ecology of the Web or stick to its print-era guns. “There’s something beautiful and absolutely genuine about [social media],” wrote Dani Shapiro in the New Yorker two months ago. But Facebook can also “feel thin and undigested, a skimming over of data rather than a deep sink into the specificity and emotional reality of human experience.” She concludes: “I worry that we’re confusing the small, sorry details—the ones that we post and read every day—for the work of memoir.” She might as well have said, “for the work of writing.”

Of course, Shapiro was imagining a process devoid of alchemy, of reflecting on the hours spent clicking and skimming until that time is transformed. And anyway, none of this is likely to constitute people’s main gripe with Dicking Around Online 101. Says the catalog: Students “will bolster [their] practice” (practice!) by exploring “the long history of the recuperation of boredom and time-wasting” (huh?) “through critical texts about affect theory, ASMR” (there are critical texts about ASMR?!), “situationism and everyday life.” How does one read all that and not decide that what’s truly going on is some first-rate academic trolling? Indeed, when I reached out to a real live academic—a graduate student in English at Harvard—she wistfully responded, “I wish colleges would educate their students instead of trying to appeal to the hip or exciting. … I can see how the postmodern fascination with ‘recuperating’ things is at play here and—without finding it totally devoid of interest—it seems more meaningful to teach people things that don’t need recuperating (like, say, the Aeneid).”

While the Aeneid does not feature in the spring 2015 course offerings from the University of Pennsylvania English department, there is a course entirely about black and grey (“How do these muted colors challenge us to think differently about color and society?”), as well as one on “Performing Science.” What a lamentable murk of problematism now befogs this spectacle of unseriosity, the American college.

Who am I kidding? These classes sound awesome. Hopefully the MOOC versions will come out soon.

Oct. 29 2014 10:27 AM

Mobile Carriers Are Officially Out of Control, but Congress Won’t Rein Them In

It’s almost impossible at this point to imagine America’s major telecommunications companies behaving in socially responsible ways, given their consistent record of poor service and oligopolistic practices. So while the latest disclosures—including potentially dramatic privacy abuses—may not be surprising, they do tell us once again that we need to deploy countermeasures along with better public policies.

I’d call the most recent news par for the telecom course, but the arrogance quotient seems to be rising. Here are the highlights:

  • For more than two years, according to a variety of reports, Verizon has been mucking with customers’ mobile browser connections with sites they visit, adding a string of characters it calls a “Unique Identifier Header”—what amounts to a “perma-cookie” that can, and surely will, be used to track mobile customers around the Web. (Here are some technical details.) This is a boon to advertisers but a bane to people who want better privacy. Wired quotes a Verizon representative who says customers can’t fully opt out of this. And, as it turns out, AT&T is “testing” the same kind of interference with users’ browsing (though it tells Forbes that users will be able to opt out entirely).
  • The Federal Trade Commission sued AT&T for sleazy business practices, saying the company drastically slowed down connections for customers whose service plans included “unlimited” data. AT&T punched back, saying all this was disclosed. From my perspective, the company defines unlimited as something akin to “use all you want, as long as we can make the experience so painful you'll stop trying.”
  • Meanwhile, Verizon has launched a technology-news website called SugarString that, according to the Daily Dot, forbids its writers from covering U.S. surveillance or network neutrality. Not coincidentally, Verizon has been one of the government’s best partners in spying on our communications, and is one of the leaders of the telecommunications industry’s drive to take full control of the Internet. So if you find yourself on this site, which gets no link from me, keep in mind that it’s brought to you by a company that has no intention of helping you get the full story. (At least Verizon discloses its ownership.)

That’s just the latest in a litany of misdeeds.

Of the above examples, Verizon’s (and AT&T’s) tracking  may be the creepiest. We buy our service for one reason: to get connected. When mobile carriers—a cozy cartel, in the United States, of just four major companies (and a bunch of smaller ones that typically buy connections from the big four)—impose themselves in the middle of our connections to data services we want to use, they are abusing their power, period.

What can we do about this? Here are three basic options.

First, use a “virtual private network,” which creates an encrypted data tunnel to a third-party that, in turn, forwards our Web requests along. VPNs are essential for anyone who uses public Wi-Fi networks, and a good idea for everyone else.

The problem with VPNs is also trust, however. How do we know the companies providing them aren’t playing their own games with our requests, for example? We have to take their word for it when they say they aren’t, but they tend to be extremely opaque operations in most ways. There’s a lot more competition among VPN services than among mobile ISPs, however. So if we ever discovered that one VPN service was abusing customers’ privacy, moving to another would be trivially easy. (I’d like to see some deep investigative journalism about VPN services.)

Second, Congress and/or regulatory agencies could forbid telecommunications companies from mucking with our URLs this way. Given lawmakers’ fealty to big business, and the Republican-imposed congressional gridlock, we can’t expect much from Congress. Does the FTC or the Federal Communications Commission have the power to stop this kind of ISP tampering? That’s unclear.

Third, Congress and/or the FCC could create the conditions for more competition, by requiring the dominant carriers to share their networks—at a fair price—with ISP competitors. This is even less likely, even though it’s by far the best solution.

Who elected the telecommunications giants, anyway? Government did, by initially giving them special rights and then letting them wipe out most competition. At the rate we’re going, these abusive oligopolists will control our communications in pretty much any way they choose. We can’t let this happen.

Oct. 29 2014 8:48 AM

Will You Be an “Antibiotic Guardian”?

“This is one of the biggest threats to everyone on earth,” says the attractive doctor with the English accent, “and the problem’s only going to get worse.” Despite the gravity of the subject, his voice is steady and soothing as he goes on to tell us that there’s something we can do about it: Become “Antibiotic Guardians.”

Antibiotic guardianship is a concept that Public Health England, a governmental agency, has come up with to try to convince regular Britons to stop misusing antibiotics. Visitors to the campaign website are asked to pledge not to demand antibiotics from their doctor when they have cold symptoms and—when they do have a prescription—to take antibiotics according to directions. (Don’t stop taking them just because you begin to feel better!)


Why is it such a big deal if people take antibiotics incorrectly? The more often people take antibiotics when they don’t need them, the more chances bacteria have to develop resistance to them. Effectively, antibiotic overuse breeds antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In the long run, this creates dangerous bacteria that are no longer treatable with any drug, making an infection a potential death sentence. The World Health Organization just recently reported an uptick in multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

The doctor in the YouTube video is not exaggerating when he calls antibiotic resistance one of the biggest threats on earth. But is asking everyone to become an Antibiotic Guardian really going to change anything? After all, it’s doctors who prescribe antibiotics inappropriately—shouldn’t they change their practices? (The Antibiotic Guardian website has a section for physicians, but the project is clearly aimed primarily at the general public.)

According to Ramanan Laxminarayan, the director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy, a research group that has studied antibiotic resistance, a campaign like Antibiotic Guardians is a step in the right direction. “It's not innocuous to get an antibiotic that you don't really need, and I think people don't really realize that,” says Laxminarayan. “I think if we got the word out that it's not just harmless—it actually can be harmful to you to take these powerful drugs when you don't need them—that could change behavior.”

Doctor-patient negotiations are affected by expectations on both sides, sometimes in subtle ways. Patients who are suffering from painful flu symptoms—or parents whose children are up all night crying in pain from an ear infection—often just want to take anything that might help, even if the effect is mostly placebo. Doctors, meanwhile, have tight schedules to stick to. “They want to get the patient out of their office in two minutes rather than spending 15 minutes explaining why they don't need an antibiotic,” says Laxminarayan. “The writing of a script is a way of signaling the end of a visit, in many ways.” Doctors also don’t want to lose clients by refusing to give them what they want. If patients didn’t expect antibiotic prescriptions for every single infection—or if, better yet, they treated their symptoms at home with over-the-counter drugs instead of making a doctor’s appointment—fewer antibiotic prescriptions would be written.

And there’s evidence that campaigns like Britain’s “Antibiotic Guardians” work to reduce antibiotic consumption. A French campaign with the tagline Les antibiotiques c’est pas automatique (you can probably work out a rough translation on your own), which was launched in 2002, reduced prescriptions 26.5 percent over five years. A similar but shorter-lived campaign in Belgium, which told people to “Use antibiotics less frequently but better,” also trimmed antibiotic sales. Laxminarayan says antibiotic misuse might eventually fall into the same category as indoor cigarette smoking, littering, and drunk driving: People used to accept these things as normal, but effective campaigns helped change the norm.

Which brings us to the United States, where antibiotic prescription rates are higher than Europe’s. Until recently, political apathy has prevented serious funding for antibiotic education campaigns—the CDC’s current educational program, “Get Smart About Antibiotics” is lackluster. Things may change if President Obama’s “National Strategy for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria,” which was published last month, is fully funded.

So far, unfortunately, the Antibiotic Guardian campaign is not exactly a runaway hit—only 2,808 people have taken the pledge to curb antibiotic overuse. It seems that the United States and the United Kingdom need an Ice Bucket Challenge-style viral campaign to spread the word about antibiotic overuse. Maybe instead of ice, people could dump yogurt or kimchee over their heads while yelling, “I love bacteria!” Or maybe not. But it’s clear that the danger of antibiotic overuse is a message that needs to spread.