Me, NPR, and the Cost of False Positives

nprOne of the more interesting media “hits” you can do is a guest Commentary spot for NPR. It is the audio equivalent of a column — a few minutes of nattering with no interruptions. I have only done a couple such hits for NPR, but it was so darn pleasurable that now and then I propose an idea to them.

Recently, however, I received an email from NPR that was immediately grabbed by my spam filter. Upon checking it out I discovered that the message was responding to an email from me to NPR about the Sobig virus/worm. It turns out that I had proposed a Commentary piece to Morning Edition on the subject back on August 20, 2003 — they were finally getting back to me, six months later.

While it could be that NPR is just really, really slow at processing Commentary ideas, more likely is that my mention of Sobig caused the email to be filtered at their end, just as happened here. It was, to use the favored phrase, a false positive: a message that was deemed spam when it wasn’t. It seems that some poor intern at NPR must be spending their current work term digging through the detritus of NPR’s spam box.

The consequences were minimal in my case, but it is worth wondering what the overall costs are across the economy from such false positives. How many deals have been lost, contracts mislaid, and introductions vanished because an over-zealous spam filter somewhere snagged the message and sent it off some distance circle of email hell? I have a hunch that it is rapidly becoming non-trivial.


  1. You know, i’ve searched your name on the NPR website, but i never get any hits.

  2. Marketplace from the bubble years. Lol! Everyone sounds so much cheerier back than.