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Project Censored: The top 10 censored stories of 2016 

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3. Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels Threaten to Permanently Disrupt Vital Ocean Bacteria

Global warming is a recurrent Project Censored subject. Systemic changes associated with global warming threaten human welfare and all life on earth through a multitude of different pathways. These remain largely hidden from public view. One potential pathway – directly dependent on carbon, not temperature – is through the catastrophic overproduction of Trichodesmium bacteria, which could devastate the entire marine food chain in some regions. It lives in nutrient-poor parts of the ocean, where it fixes atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium, an essential nutrient for other organisms – from algae to whales.

A five-year study by researchers at the University of Southern California and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found that subjecting hundreds of generations of the bacteria to predicted CO2 levels in the year 2100 caused them to evolve into "reproductive overdrive," growing faster and producing 50 percent more nitrogen.

As a result, they could consume significant quantities of scarce nutrients, such as iron and phosphorus, depriving the ability of other organisms to survive. Or the Trichodesmium bacteria could drive themselves into extinction, depriving other organisms of the ammonium they need to survive.

"Most significantly, the researchers found that even when the bacteria was returned to lower, present-day levels of carbon dioxide, Trichodesmium remained 'stuck in the fast lane,'" Project Censored noted, a finding that one researcher described as "unprecedented in evolutionary biology."

Sources:

Emma Howard, "Climate Change Will Alter Ocean Bacteria Crucial to Food Chain – Study," the Guardian. Sept. 2, 2015.

Robert Perkins, "Climate Change Will Irreversibly Force Key Ocean Bacteria into Overdrive," USC News, Sept. 1, 2015.

4. Search Engine Algorithms and Electronic Voting Machines Could Swing 2016 Election

Social media has played an important role in recent social movements, from the Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter, but technology can potentially undermine democracy as well as empower it.

In particular, search engine algorithms and electronic voting machines provide opportunities for manipulation of voters and votes, which could profoundly affect the 2016 election.

Mark Frary, in Index on Censorship, describes the latest research by Robert Epstein and Ronald E. Robertson of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology on what they call the Search Engine Manipulation Effect, or SEME.

Their study of more than 4,500 undecided voters in the United States and India showed that biased search rankings "could shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more" and "could be masked so that people show no awareness of the manipulation."

In an earlier article for Politico, Epstein wrote that the Search Engine Manipulation Effect "turns out to be one of the largest behavioral effects ever discovered. ... [W]e believe SEME is a serious threat to the democratic system of government."

Because courts have ruled that their source code is proprietary, private companies that own electronic voting machines are essentially immune to transparent public oversight, as Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis documented.

In 2016, about 80 percent of the U.S. electorate will vote using outdated electronic voting machines that rely on proprietary software from private corporations, according to a September 2015 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

The study identified "increased failures and crashes, which can lead to long lines and lost votes" as the "biggest risk" of outdated voting equipment, while noting that older machines also have "serious security and reliability flaws that are unacceptable today."

"From a security perspective, old software is riskier, because new methods of attack are constantly being developed, and older software is likely to be vulnerable," Jeremy Epstein of the National Science Foundation noted.

On Democracy Now! and elsewhere, Wasserman and Fitrakis have advocated universal, hand-counted paper ballots and automatic voter registration as part of their "Ohio Plan" to restore electoral integrity.

While there has been some corporate media coverage of Epstein and Robertson's research, the transparency and reliability advantages of returning to paper ballots remain virtually unexplored and undiscussed.

Sources:

Robert Epstein, "How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election," Politico, August 2015.

Mark Frary, "Whose World Are You Watching? The Secret Algorithms Controlling the News We See," Index on Censorship 44, No. 4 (2015), 69-73.

Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman, Is the 2016 Election Already Being Stripped & Flipped? Free Press, 2016.

Lawrence Norden and Christopher Famighetti, America's Voting Machines at Risk, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law, 2015.

Harvey Wasserman, interview by Amy Goodman, "Could the 2016 Election Be Stolen With Help From Electronic Voting Machines?" Democracy Now!, Feb. 23, 2016.

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