Friday link round-up, a tid-bit, & a thought

It's Friday, time for some news and tidbits for this week. I even have a thought exercise for you!
But first, here's a cat video:

Why? Aside from 'why not,' I didn't want to put it in this upcoming weekend playlist since I already have a music video for the end. THUS, cats. You should have seen this coming. Frankly, I'm surprised that I was able to hold myself back for so long. Now, onto the news!


  • From the Latin American Herald Tribune, "Colombia Proposes World’s Largest Eco-Corridor with Brazil, Venezuela," about a proposed plan for protecting 135 million hectares (four times the size of Germany). The project is being proposed by Colombia at the upcoming UN climate summit in Paris this year, but the protected area itself would be transboundary, covering areas in Colombia, Brazil, and Venezuela.
  • From the largest to the smallest, this month saw the launch of Truly Brief Communications (via The Scientist), where researchers can publish maximum 200 word snippets of their original research. The result is a real-time, open access, searchable database, and while it's not peer-reviewed, it could (partially) solve the problem of being scooped.
  • Onto Bitch Magazine, covering an issue that should make you feel pissed off and/or guilty, and rightly so: "Women of color working in STEM fields are frequently mistaken for janitors." STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and I've previously linked to news articles about the prejudice faced by queer STEMers. The article is coverage of a recent report from the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California.
  • Cargo bikes are nothing new if you've lived in The Netherlands, but at Grist, they're getting the royal treatment - "6 reasons why cargo bikes are the next big thing" - complete with pictures of people smiling while it's sunny outside. I've slowly come around to cargo bikes, so I think North America could learn to love them in time.
  • Finally, a psychology journal, Basic and Applied Social Psychology, has decided to do away with p-values. Because hey, they don't like how unreliable they are, and they don't have a replacement solution, but they'll figure it out. All studies published in this journal will have p-values (and standard error and confidence intervals) removed prior to publication. So... I just can't.

One Tid-bit

Should you fact-check your grandma's Facebook posts?  by Lyz Lenz at Aeon Magazine

When this article came into my RSS feed, I immediately said, "Yes" aloud. The answer was so clear to me. Now, not so much - we all have a desire to be right, but social constructs and a certain amount of evolutionary drive motivates us to be able to know when to give up that desire and be amicable instead. I should clear something up first: Grandma Julie, don't worry, you don't post stuff like that on Facebook.

Now, Lenz begins by describing a situation that most of us on Facebook have encountered: someone on the internet is wrong.

"Duty Calls" from xkcd
Lenz illustrates several situations, but most revolve around this process:
  1. A friend/family member/what-have-you shares a post, a website, or an idea that you know to be wrong. 
  2. Maybe you ignore it the first few times, but... 
  3. Eventually, you engage. You link to websites with (in your opinion) factual information (Snopes for hoaxes, Wikipedia for general knowledge, and news site to your leaning liking, etc.). 
  4. The person, instead of being embarrassed at the call-out or gracious for your correction, claims the information presented is wrong, a conspiracy, or propaganda, and instead cites their own sources of knowledge (which you will deem dubious). 
  5. Repeat steps 3-4 until someone gives in.
  6. Avoid eye contact the next time you see them.
Lenz goes on to discuss the history of falsehoods going viral as well as the recent Rolling Stone mess, but I want to touch on one aspect of this that she doesn't go into, and that's the types of cognitive bias at play here. There are likely several, and I'm not a trained philosopher or psychologist to know all, but there are two that I recognize from my own training in ecology and climate change. The first is confirmation bias, where people seek out and accept information that conforms to their beliefs. Your Facebook friend found something that fits their views and has taken it as the only fact. You know that it is wrong, and find a source that conforms to your beliefs on the subject matter. Both parties face confirmation bias in that case. So, who is correct? What is fact?

At this point, it's important pointing out that fact is not the same as truth. Not all truths are considered fact, and not all facts are true. There is the well-known saying that history is written by the winner, and there is a bias in that history. Consider every scandal that has ever erupted, ever - there were reported facts that later turned out to be fabricated, meanwhile, tabloids are often awash with people who know the truth. That's as far as I'm going into this debate - it continues to rage on forums in all corners of the web - but I bring it up so that you don't get hung up on facts and truths, and instead, think critically. This may reveal my atheistic leanings, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Which brings us to the second bias present in the examples that Lenz sets up. Go back to steps 3 and 4. Both parties share information from sources that they determine to be trustworthy and deny the legitimacy or reliability of the source presented by the other party. While this seems like more confirmation bias, there is another aspect at play here - distrust of the media, or at least, mainstream media. This is called hostile media effect. According to the Oxford Handbook of Political Communication, it's when "opposing partisans perceive identical news coverage of a controversial issue as biased against their own side." And it can work on both sides of the argument. So again, the key is critical thinking. Or just ignoring memaw because seriously, she will not be convinced. BUT, do read the original article. It's very in-depth and made me rethink a lot of things that I see on Facebook, so I encourage you to read it!

A Thought

You're canoeing in a single canoe with four other friends. Every one has a paddle, rowing for the shore. At that moment, what defines you as an individual? You are all together, working for the same goal... are you individuals? Or are you a single entity in that moment? Think about that for a minute. Got it? Indisputably? Good. Now, watch this and tell me if you've changed your mind.

And that's your news for the week, see you tomorrow!


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