Clusterfackt

Mike Dwyer – Anchor Staff

Nowadays, facts come at you fast. News cycles and timelines are on overdrive. Fake news is common place. Clusterfackt is an ongoing series that asks readers to question everything. Think of it as an exercise in critical thinking. Each week readers will be given a giant clusterfackt of scientific findings meant to replicate the dizzying news loops that dominate our lives. However, there’s a catch. One statement within the clusterfackt is entirely false. Identify the falsehood and win a prize by emailing editorinchief@anchorweb.org and don’t repeat anything you read here without doing your research!

In last week’s issue we cited a totally real study from Gordon Pennycook and David Rand which demonstrated that an ability to think analytically as measured by the Cognitive Reflection Test could predict the susceptibility of subjects to fake news. The CRT is designed to measure the ability of respondents to overcome “gut” reactions and come to the correct answer.

The test was created by psychologist Shane Frederick, according to whom there are two systems of cognitive activity. System one is short shrifted and instinctual while system two is conscious and deliberate. The CRT presents three questions meant to provoke an incorrect response from system one that will then activate the deeper thinking of system two, that is, if respondents are able to recognize the error of their initial response.

At the end of last week’s issue we left readers to ponder the three questions from the original CRT. As promised, here are the answers, including the reasoning behind each solution:

  1. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? The response from system one might be that the ball costs 10 cents. Ideally, system two would then be activated and might analyze the problem as such: The ball costs X and the bat costs $1 more than X. So we have bat + ball = X + (X + 1) = 1.1 because together they cost $1.10. This means X= X+(X+1) = 1.1. Therefore, 2X= X+1 = 0.1, which makes X equivalent to 0.05. This means the ball costs 5 cents and the bat costs $1.05.
  2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? The “gut” reaction might be that it will take 100 minutes. However, if it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, then it takes 1 machine 5 minutes to make 1 widget (each machine is making a widget in 5 minutes). If we have 100 machines working together, then each can make a widget in 5 minutes. So there will be 100 widgets in 5 minutes.
  3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake? At first, respondents might be tempted by the quick thinking of system two and say it will take 24 days for half of the lake to be covered by the patch. However, read more carefully, the question stipulates that every day forward the patch doubles in size. So every day backwards means the patch is halved. So on day 47 the lake is half full and on day 48 it doubles once more, covering the entire surface of the lake.

If you answered one or even all of the questions incorrectly you are not alone. In a survey of 3,428 people an astonishing 33 percent missed all three questions while 83 percent missed at least one of the questions. Even very educated people made mistakes. Only 48 percent of MIT students sampled were able to answer all the questions correctly. While the CRT is not a measure of an individual’s intelligence quotient, correct answers on the CRT have been found to correlate with higher IQ.

Now that our readers have had a bit of practice perhaps they will find the falsehood hiding in this week’s issue. As promised, somewhere during this article I have once again lied and given readers some bad information to root out. Was it that “totally real” study from Pennycook and Rand? Qualifying markers in speech often precede a lie to make it more believable, but in all fairness this is not a definitive hallmark of dishonesty. Maybe it was the part about Shane Frederick- is that even a real person? Are these the actual questions from the CRT? Does the CRT actually exist?

Any one of these things could be absolutely made up. Which begs the question, why are you still reading this series? Why trust or entertain an admitted liar? In the last month alone I’ve told readers that forensic otologists have theorized that Sir Isaac Newton suffered an inner ear imbalance, a lifelong condition which led to his discovery and study of gravity in 1492; that menacing pygmy clowns made Egyptian pharaoh Phak Tes-Falsiti laugh to death in 2500 BCE while the Ancient Roman senate kept a stock fool known as “stupidus” who took part in the assassination of Julius Caesar- mistaking it for a practical joke; that the mathematical model designed to test the viability of common conspiracies failed when attempting to calculate the probability of lizard people running a vast globalist government because there was not enough data on the secret-keeping abilities of reptilian life forms; and last week I provided an incorrect date for the midterm elections not once, but twice. Forensic otologists, Pharoah Phak Tes-Falsiti, nefarious lizard people- all of these statements were absolute rubbish. Roman theatre did have a stock character known as “stupidus”, but there were no clowns present during the assassination of Caesar.

Sometimes, falsehoods are just more convincing when they include a tinge of truth. Normally, Dwight Myers does our fact checking section but he was unavailable this week because he doesn’t exist. Next week, we’ll explore why it is that humans have an inherent desire to fool others and to be fooled themselves. Why do we engage in fantasy and what purpose does it serve?