The Citizen's Guide to the Future

Oct. 30 2014 6:47 PM

Google Has to Pay Up for Showing a Woman’s Cleavage on Street View

Google Street View trucks are known for capturing weird things, going to remote places, and generally causing drama. Oh, and privacy violations. This one falls into that last category: A Canadian judge has ordered Google to compensate a woman whose cleavage was captured by Street View cameras and put on the service for all to see. Maria Pia Grillo says she suffered emotional trauma as a result of the boob incident.

When she found her house on Street View in 2009 she saw herself sitting in front of her house and leaning forward. The angle of the photo reveals a lot of cleavage and about half a breast. Originally Grillo’s face was blurred, which is standard on Street View, but she felt that she was still identifiable because she was sitting in front of her own home. You can see the photo over at Canadian tabloid Journal de Montreal.

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In 2011 Grillo told Google that she wanted the rest of her body blurred out along with other identifying information in the scene like her house and license plate number. She also requested 45,000 Canadian dollars in compensation for emotional distress and damage, which apparently included ridicule from colleagues. Google blurred out a large portion of the image but didn’t want to pay her. The company said that it was within its rights to photograph her in public, and denied that boobgate (as it came to be called ... by me) was related to her emotional issues.

Grillo took the dispute to court and judge Alain Breault ruled at the beginning of October that Google has to pay Grillo 2,250 Canadian dollars plus 159 Canadian dollars in court costs and interest since June 8, 2011. The judge felt that Grillo's emotional issues weren't tied to boobgate, but believed that the front stoop of Grillo's house was still part of her home and that she was entitled to privacy there, even if she could be photographed.

As Gigaom points out, the judge also noted that privacy laws are a bit different in the United States and Canada, and said that he had taken a “European approach” in deciding the case.

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Oct. 30 2014 5:47 PM

Will Amazon Lead Us to the Golden Age of Books? A Future Tense Event Recap.

The unfortunate Fire Phone aside, the glut of opinion pieces and blog posts about Amazon of late have really been about one thing: books.

So, is Amazon really as bad for book culture as we fear, or could the company of “1-click” sales, Kindles, and two-day shipping in fact be leading us to a golden age? A Future Tense conversation that included voices from bookselling and publishing, authors and readers, moderated by Nicholas Thompson, the editor of the NewYorker.com, tackled this question in New York on Wednesday evening. (Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.)

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For some of the panelists, Amazon’s challenge to the publishing industry is nothing new. “Publishers have always hated their biggest accounts,” Hugh Howey, author of the best-selling Wool series, said. When his book first came out with Simon & Schuster, he remembered, it wasn’t carried by Barnes & Noble because of an ongoing disagreement with the retailer. “My sense is that Amazon might be crushing the former predator,” he added. Sarah McNally, owner of New York’s McNally Jackson Books, recounted that when she opened her store 10 years ago, Amazon was beginning to be a force, but independent bookstores were already on their knees because of aggressive competition from chain retailers.

There is nevertheless something different about Amazon, Lucas Wittmann, executive editor of Regan Arts and the former literary editor of the Daily Beast, argued. Amazon is pushing publishers not only on pricing, but also on the key thing that they do—create content. While Amazon’s marquee publishing ventures have mostly failed, it’s making serious advances with self-publishing and genre fiction like romance and crime. “Publishers are always deluded in many, many ways,” Wittmann said. “Whether it’s how many copies of a book they’ll sell or how to market it or how great it is.” But if Amazon is going to challenge them on the creation of content and on pricing, then perhaps their fears are not entirely misplaced.

Thompson hazarded that perhaps people wouldn’t hate Amazon quite so much if they thought Amazon really cared for or understood books. As Wittman said, “at the end of the day for Amazon, a book is a diaper, is toilet paper, cars, refrigerators.” The widget argument is particularly controversial when it comes to the low pricing Amazon demands. McNally told the audience how David Shanks, the former head of Penguin, said once that the most painful thing about the e-book pricing fight is that he just didn’t think romance novels should be the same price as a history book that the author researched for 10 years.

But then many of the publishers are also part of giant corporations with responsibilities to shareholders. “We don’t talk about how Harper Collins is owned by News Corp. How Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS,” Howey stated.

All the panelists agreed that the book industry needs to change, and perhaps has already begun to. As a publisher, Wittmann said that he now sees plenty of book proposals from agents who picked up titles that had first got popular on Goodreads and other group reading sites. This new era might also prompt publishers to get smaller and a bit more focused, he said, like independents that are able to be more creative. And bookstores like McNally Jackson have some advantage because they’re still far superior to Amazon when it comes to discoverability, mostly because Amazon’s algorithms still fail at search. “My philosophy since I opened the store is that book sales are never finite,” McNally said. “[The industry] will sell as many books as it inspires people to buy.”

So could the perfect publishing industry in fact be right now? After all, as Thompson noted, we have vibrant publishers, self-publishers, Amazon, and great bookstores. Howey agreed emphatically, concluding that “there’s never been a better time in history to be a reader or a writer.” But perhaps the golden age is always the one that came just before our own. As Manoush Zomorodi, host of WNYC’s New Tech City, asked: Wasn’t the true golden age of books the heyday of Oprah’s Book Club?

Listen to the event using the player below:

Oct. 30 2014 4:07 PM

Nintendo Is Expanding into “Non-Wearable” Health-Tracking Devices

Nintendo has been open in the past year about its desire to move into other types of technology besides video games. In January the company talked about diversifying by making “quality of life” products. No one heard anything else about that, though, until now. On Wednesday, Nintendo CEO and president Satoru Iwata spoke with investors about a device the company is working on that uses radio waves to track sleep. These days it's so common to hear about new fitness trackers or home sensors that the plan sounds, well, normal.

Nintendo is working with health tracking company Resmed, which already makes devices for monitoring sleep. Data will go into Nintendo's Quality of Life cloud, and users will be able to view and track it. Plus, Nintendo gaming products will interface with the Quality of Life platform. The company has also already gained experience with quantified self-devices through manufacturing the popular Wii Fit and failed Wii Vitality Sensor. Iwata said Quality of Life will launch in 2016.

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One interesting aspect of Quality of Life is that Nintendo seems to be defining the service against what the company doesn't like about other products on the market. Which seems like a great idea since there’s so much junk out there. A “non” slide in the presentation talks about everything that the product is not. Non-wearable, non-contact, non-operating, non-waiting, non-installation efforts. It seems like there might be a little bit of a translation issue from Japanese going on here, because Nintendo presumably wants its devices to be operational.

The “non” campaign is definitely present in the Japanese version of the presentation, though. Hopefully Nintendo knows that “non-wearables” already exist. They're called the smart home movement.

Oct. 30 2014 3:37 PM

Read R.L. Stine's Ghoulishly Fun Halloween Twitter Fiction

On Tuesday night, Goosebumps author R.L. Stine crooned his latest spooky ditty on Twitter. The Halloween tale, which comprised 15 tweets, is his third contribution to the Twitfic canon. (His first, from 2012, concerned a haunted kitchen, and his second related a farmer’s bedevilment by a ghost named Yost.)

In “What’s In My Sandwich” (Stine told me in an interview last year that he always begins with the title, and that his all-time favorite from his own oeuvre is Little Shop of Hamsters), a tribe of bristly, clawed creatures climbs out of the protagonist’s egg salad sub. The guy takes the half-eaten lunch home, planning to document the new life form and get rich. But his young son finds the sandwich, does what you do with sandwiches, and disaster ensues:

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This is vintage Stine, a compressed Theremin wail of youth-horror tropes. You’ve got the cliché of the useless parent (and here, Dad is worse than useless—he’s actively negligent and coldhearted); and the eerie recursiveness of tiny animals erupting out of the tiny animal that is the narrator’s young son. You’ve got the everyday yuckiness, the queasy plausibility, of unearthing something gross in your food. (As a rule, egg salad accrues disgustingness the more you contemplate it, so, good filling choice, Stine.) And there’s the twist: the situational irony of the final tweet, in which the narrator detects a silver lining in his child’s alien infestation—that where is my camera a uniquely Goosebumps-ian stab of terror, humor, and surprise.

Now, of course, is Stine season. The ghoul-whisperer for kiddies will appear at McNally Jackson bookstore in New York tonight, and this afternoon he takes the reins of the Scholastic social media accounts to talk to fans. Even during off-peak months, though, Stine has a warmly oddball partnership with his readers, wherein he freaks them out, and they send him inscrutable mail. On a Nerdette podcast episode from 2013, the king of gentle thrills gleefully described some of his correspondences, most of which, he said, look pretty similar. (Dear Mr. Stine, the teacher is making us write to an author, and I picked you. Where do you get your ideas?) When a note deviates from the pattern, he told the Nerdettes, it sticks in his memory. (He recalled one that read: Dear Mr. Stine, you are my second favorite writer. No signature.)

In order for your Twitfic to work, you need an audience: Luckily, Stine has 136,000 followers. (That is far more than Freddy Krueger, Leatherface, and Bunnicula combined.) Read his latest here. Happy Halloween!

 

Oct. 30 2014 1:22 PM

Whiny Tweets About Being Sick Might Be Invaluable in Tracking the Flu

You know that person: live-tweeting their latest sneeze and bowl of chicken noodle soup from bed. No one likes being sick, but no one particularly likes getting a play-by-play of it, either. Except maybe your parents. And now, health researchers.

According to a new paper published in PLOS Currents this week, data from Twitter could play a crucial role in helping to predict and track flu outbreaks. The paper reports that scanning and analyzing tweets "significantly improves" flu forecasting and can reduce error seen with standard prediction models that use data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by 17 to 30 percent. Twitter's data is also fast, while the CDC's can lag by a week or two, and then is often revised.

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This isn't the first time that researchers have consulted big data from social media for public health purposes. Probably the most famous example to date is Google Flu Trends, an analytics tool from Google's charity arm that aims to predict the location and severity of flu outbreaks. Since Google Flu Trends launched in 2008, its accuracy has been questioned. It significantly overestimated the instance of flu in 2012-2013 after understimating the initial wave of swine flu in 2009. One main criticism of Google's model has been that it conflates keyword searches for the flu and flu symptoms with people actually having the flu.

Mark Dredze, an assistant research professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University and author on the paper, says he and his colleagues have tried to be more careful in sorting through the data. He explains that they collect about 5 million tweets a day that contain health-related—not just flu-related—keywords. From those, they first separate out the tweets about the flu, and then filter out ones that seem specifically about having the flu. To do all this, the team uses language processing algorithms that look at all sorts of factors: the words in the tweet, the order of those words, and what role each takes in the sentence.

Dredze says the research doesn't indicate that Twitter is "definitively better" than Google Flu Trends, but that in conjunction with the CDC's data, it produces more accurate forecasts than the CDC's alone or models that use Google's information. He and his fellow researchers have made their data available to the CDC and are working with it to make the Twitter forecasts more accessible to everyone.

"The people who benefit most from this in the U.S. are the people at the state, city, and county levels," Dredze says. More accurate flu forecasts mean more accurate planning for things like hospital staffing and vaccine pushes. "There are a lot of different people who care about this," he adds.

So go ahead, tweet about your flu symptoms. You're officially doing something in the interest of public health.

Oct. 30 2014 11:19 AM

Netizen Report: Hungarians Reject “Internet Tax” With Protests, Motherboards

The Netizen Report originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Juan Arellano, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Alex Laverty, Bojan Perkov, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

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Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Hungary, where tens of thousands took to the streets of Budapest on Oct. 26 to protest a proposed tax on Internet traffic. Some demonstrators threw old computer parts at the gates of the headquarters of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party.

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The bill would require every Internet service provider to pay a tax per gigabyte downloaded by its customers. Like opposition politicians and advocates, telecommunications firms are rejecting the proposal, saying that it will increase their costs and ultimately lead to a hike in the already-expensive market pricing of Internet access in the Central European country. The government reportedly likened the tax to the standard levy on long-distance telephone calls, despite the technical distinctions between telephone and Internet traffic.

This the latest in a series of policy initiatives by the Fidesz party to tighten regulations on media outlets and anti-corruption NGOs.

Egypt continues to persecute and prosecute bloggers
Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah was detained once again in connection with charges for which he has already served jail time. The pro-democracy activist has been arrested and jailed by every government that Egypt has seen since 2011.

An Egyptian court sentenced 23 activists to three years in jail, including Sanaa Seif, the sister of Alaa Abdel-Fattah. Seif has been on hunger strike for almost two months to protest the law under which she was sentenced, which bans demonstrations without prior police authorization and punishes violators with imprisonment. Seif’s lawyers intend to appeal the decision.

Peru’s #LeyChavez will let your boss spy on your email
The Peruvian Congress is considering a bill that could give employers the right to review the emails of their employees. Known as #LeyChavez, the bill has become controversial among lawyers and Internet security specialists for its restrictions on privacy rights. The bill will not be brought before Congress for some time, leaving space for discussion around its implications for citizens.

Watchdog media site downed by DDoS attack on election day in Mozambique
The independent news site @Verdade experienced a massive Distributed Denial of Service attack on the eve of Mozambique’s general elections, preventing the site from covering the election in real time. The site’s staff believes it was targeted because it investigated assets and mining interests belonging to outgoing president Armando Guebuza and his family. It claims to know the origin of the attack but has not released this information to the public.

Ebola is bad for youand malware is, too
Malware messages
claiming to be from the World Health Organization are spreading online, according to Trustwave’s SpiderLabs team. Unsuspecting users have reportedly opened emails claiming to contain important information and prevention tips about Ebola. The messages then installed malware that gives perpetrators remote access to victims’ computers.

Italy cooks up yet another Internet Bill of Rights
Italy put forth a draft of an Internet Bill of Rights for public consultation this week, via the new Civici platform that allows any citizen to comment on and suggest changes to the document. Inspired by Brazil’s Marco Civil process, and designed with an international framework in mind, the draft covers topics including the right to Internet access, net neutrality, and the right to anonymity. It also includes measures that require online service providers (i.e., open platforms, social networks, email services) to be fully transparent in their terms of service and to refrain from “algorithmic discrimination,” a principle that would chiefly apply to search engines.

Global Voices contributor Ben Wagner, who serves as director of the Centre for Internet & Human Rights at European University Viadrina, told TechPresident he didn’t see “much added utility” in the bill. “The time of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies would be better spent drafting bills which prevent Italian companies like HackingTeam exporting surveillance technologies which enable human rights abuses across the world, or even to limit the massive use of domestic wiretaps in Italy,” he said.

Although there is support for the general principles behind the bill and the policy shifts that it could inspire, some Internet governance experts are skeptical of the project’s value, given that it is not clear that the bill would actually be legally binding.

The consultation period will last from Oct. 27, 2014, through Feb. 27, 2015.

British trolls, beware: the government is coming for you
The U.K. government is considering new regulations that would make online trolling an offense punishable by up to two years in jail. The move comes in the wake of a series of high-profile cases of online harassment.

Can YouTube takedowns buy you votes?
Brazilian netizens suspect presidential candidate Aecio Neves was responsible for the removal of two videos from YouTube, including a highly regarded documentary revealing links between some of Neves’ close political allies and the cocaine trade. The two-term governor of the state of Minas Gerais, which borders both Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, has a history of seeking to stifle critical political views on social media. Last August, Neves filed a lawsuit against Twitter after the company refused to hand over data on 66 users he claimed were propagating lies and criticism about him and his campaign. Neves lost the election in its second round by a slim margin to sitting president Dilma Rousseff.

Russia takes its seat on the ISIS censorship bandwagon
Russia is taking stringent measures to curb the online content about ISIS, including banning hyperlinks and labeling all videos by and about the group as “extremist.” While there’s no guarantee that this will have any concrete impact on terrorist activity, the new policies will unquestionably have negative consequences for online free expression.

Global Voices celebrates its 10th birthday
Happy birthday to us! Since our first post on Oct. 26, 2004, Global Voices has grown in many dimensions—we’ve published more than 88,000 posts, have become one of the most dynamic human-powered translation communities online, and pioneered community-led advocacy and development work around the world. To kick off our anniversary celebrations, here are some reflections from our contributors on their first encounters with Global Voices.

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.

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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:

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.

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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.

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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:

FT-141029-snow
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.

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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 named for the Siding Spring observatory 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.

Correction, Oct. 30, 2014: This post originally and incorrectly stated that the Siding Spring observatory was named after the Siding Spring comet. The comet was named for the observatory.

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