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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Extras: iPhone Death Panels, Newton, UFOs

This week’s political tidbits range from a new iPhone app to 17th century scientists’ correspondence.

There’s an App for That

OMG! We thought we’d seen it all. But an iPhone app designed to test your knowledge about the overhaul of the health care system? Seriously?

To play "Death Panel," the new game from People Operating Technology, players assume the role of a local official who must answer questions about health care. According to the creators, the game features "hundreds of questions about health care reform" based on information pulled from government and third party sources including WhiteHouse.gov, StateHealthFacts.org (a project of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation), NCHC.org (the Web site of the bipartisan National Coalition on Health Care), and yours truly, FactCheck.org.

The name of the game was inspired by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (and others) who advanced one of the biggest falsehoods about proposed health care changes when she claimed that President Obama’s plan included a "death panel" of bureaucrats in charge of deciding who receives health care and who doesn’t. The company says it would like users to post their scores online via Twitter and Facebook "in hopes of driving awareness and comprehension to the most important social and economic issue today."

A few caveats: Its maker says the game is "100% nonpolitical, nonpartisan," but some of the questions suggest a pro-"reform" bent. Also, we’ve had issues with a few of the game’s answers, such as "every 30 seconds, someone files for medical bankruptcy." We’re not positive what "medical bankruptcy" is, but if it’s supposed to mean bankruptcy due to high medical bills, we have found that to be at least double the true number. And some questions don’t really allow for factual responses, like: "Republicans and Democrats don’t want the same things?" The game says that’s "true," but we’d say it depends on the subject.

On the other hand, you’ve just caught us fact-checking an iPhone app. We apologize and promise to crawl back to the dork factory from whence we came.


The Lighter Side of "Climategate"

The furor over scientists’ rude and dismissive comments in the "Climategate" e-mails has inspired a few observers to hack into historical writings and expose some unnoble acts by scientists from eras past. One science blogger mined the correspondence of Isaac Newton and his contemporaries to reveal the physicist’s scientific malfeasance.

Knowingly publishing scientific fraud:

You need not give yourself the trouble of examining all the calculations of the Scholium. Such errors as do not depend upon wrong reasoning can be of no great consequence & may be corrected by the reader.

Newton to [Roger] Cotes June 15 1710

Suppression of evidence:

Mr. Raphson has printed off four or five sheets of his History of Fluxions, but being shew’d Sr. Is. Newton (who, it seems, would rather have them write against him, than have a piece done in that manner in his favour), he got a Stop put to it, for some time at least.

[William] Jones to Cotes, 17 September 1711

And this video from the San Francisco Chronicle does the same for Galileo, Kepler and Einstein (and Newton, too). Apparently, we have a lot to rethink.


The Norwegian Blue Is Dead

When we got an e-mail about a "spectacular blue light over Norway," which claimed that "this luminaries are heralding the appearance of the World Teacher for all of humanity," we figured it was not really our department. We’ll wade into spurious e-mail rumors, but this is X-Files stuff. Pass! Imagine our surprise when it turned out that the "spectacular blue light" had a perfectly mundane explanation. The Russian Ministry of Defence has confirmed that the light came from a failed Bulava missile launch. No World Teachers for humanity, just weapons testing — everyone can relax now!