Posted by: jonkatz | July 21, 2009

Article in the NYT

In case you missed it, there was an article in the New York Times today (requires subscription) about “Making Digital Data Self Destruct”.

It reminded me why I hate popular media coverage of science. First, the article doesn’t give any explanation of what is going on. (The best I could figure was that the system involved an application of standard secret sharing techniques.) Second, it demonstrates once again that media coverage of scientific results is driven by PR rather than by any inherent scientific (or even economic) value of the result itself.



  1. What did you expect? Though, in all fairness, I think this is a good article considering the audience it’s meant for: people who probably aren’t scientists in any regard, but just like keeping up with “what’s new” in the science world. Personally, I’m glad that a computer science piece made it in the New York Times. It suggests a growing public acknowledgement that computer science is in fact an important science, just like physics or biology.

  2. It suggests a growing public acknowledgement that computer science is in fact an important science, just like physics or biology.

    Of course exposure to CS is good but I think we do need to be careful about what exactly gets exposed. I could be wrong, but I get the sense that popular articles about physics, math, biology tend to be either about things that are very important to the experts (i.e., breakthroughs) or things that affect society (or both).

    If we are going to have articles written about crypto/security then shouldn’t they also satisfy these criteria?

  3. Hmm. So what would count as being very important to experts or things that affect society in crypto/security – that also wouldn’t bore the heck out of the lay reader? I’m by no means a crypto guy so I have no idea. But this article is one of those “oh cool” kind of things, even if you know nothing about computer science.

  4. Yes, news is driven by PR. But that doesn’t mean you can’t participate in the process and have articles written about your work or the work of others that you think is worthy. It’s just more work.

    The physicists and biologists have it slightly easier, as science reporters all read Science and Nature and report on what they read there.

    If you as a computer scientist want to have articles about your research to appear in the New York Times, here is what you do: 1. translate the results to a story for non-specialists, 2. go to your university’s press office and have them write a press release about the work to distribute on the wire, and 3. make a web page to submit to Slashdot or other influential blogs.

  5. The Usenix Security paper is here, along with a FAQ and code to download:

  6. It wouldn’t bother me if the NYT (say) covered every half-interesting piece of crypto work. What annoys me is that their reporting is so clearly driven by PR. For example, I do not recall any NYT articles on ID-based encryption or fully homomorphic encryption, to name two developments that are of real scientific importantance AND of interest to a general audience.

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