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 and don’t repeat anything you read here without doing your research!

Since this is the last issue of Clusterfackt, there will be no lie lurking between the following lines of light-hearted research — just cold, unforgiving science.

Last week, we discussed the newest revelations and fall-out from Facebook, that Google no longer tells their employees “Don’t Be Evil,” that a long term study conducted by MIT determined that Twitter diffuses false news significantly farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories” and that “contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that humans, not robots, are more likely responsible for the dramatic spread of fake news.”  We ended last week’s clusterfackt with a promise to spend this final issue analyzing the specific ways that Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube and others have hijacked the human brain and compromised our free will.

Many of the highest paid techies working for Google and Facebook have studied in undergraduate and graduate programs that combine the science of technology with the science of persuasion. Leading the pack is Professor BJ Fogg, founder of Stanford’s Behavior Design Lab, who has coined a term for this hybrid field of study- captology. He has created a behavior model which asserts that a behavior occurs when three factors converge at once – ability, motivation and triggers – leading to his motto “place hot triggers in front of motivated people.” According to his website, Fogg “teaches innovators how to use his models and methods in Behavior Design. The purpose of his research and teaching is to help millions of people improve their lives.”

And what is the result of this education? Using behavior change, students learn how to make social media users addicted to the platform — in a very literal sense of the word “addicted.” Without question, addiction is the behavior that they are provoking. Apps, social media platforms and devices are designed to hold our attention, which is how the company makes money. The more time and attention a user devotes to their product, the more money the company makes. The way tech companies do this is not always ethical. One such example is their peppering of intermittent variable rewards into the code of their products – the same design that can be found in slot machines and other forms of video gambling – which can ultimately lead to legitimate addiction.

For example, when you first log on to Facebook or Twitter there is a brief pause before your notifications appear. This pause causes anticipation in the user, resulting in a surge of dopamine. According to the current director of the US Institute on Drug Addiction Nora Volkow, it is not the reward itself which gets users addicted, but the anticipation of the reward. According to her research, users often report feeling a decreased pleasure in the reward over time and yet cannot stop themselves from seeking out that reward.

Through positron emission tomography, Volkow discovered that the surge in dopamine upon receiving the reward decreased over time whereas the surge that coincides with the phase of anticipation increases. It is that surge of dopamine when the user is anticipating the reward that gets them addicted and explains why addicts report less pleasure and satisfaction with the reward yet cannot stop themselves from seeking it out.

So, are social media and technology users similarly chasing the dragon? Every time your phone dings or beeps or buzzes, you get a little surge of dopamine as you anticipate the reward: a message from a potential love interest, an event invite, a like or thumbs up, a catchy news story that excites your emotions. You may stay logged on because of a notification, but then something in your news feed caught your attention and long after receiving the reward you’re still engaged with the product. Why were you brought to the news feed first? That’s the choice they gave you and once they have you- the motivated user- they will continue to place hot triggers in front of you to keep you logged on.

Additionally, the tech giants exploit universal social anxieties. Each time someone interacts with you there is a feeling that the gesture must be reciprocated. Facebook and others exploit this need for social decorum by including such features as informing others when you’ve read their message and telling them when you’re online. Your profile pic? According to BJ Fogg it’s your brand and the most important thing on your profile page. Comments, hyperlinks, autoplay, suggestions, tags- all of these hot triggers are a product of captological study.

These are just a few of the techniques being used right now but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books, labs and programs that teach techniques like this to a very small and homogenous group of individuals who will go on to affect the behavior of more than two billion people globally. That’s more than any single government, religion or ideology, and it should concern us enough to put down our phones, even if for just a moment to look up, notice our surroundings and see we are not alone.

For more information on this subject and possible opportunities to volunteer and advocate for a more humane design to technology, please refer to the non-profit organization Time Well Spent, founded by Tristan Harris, a former tech insider turned cyber crusader.

At home genetic testing: Is it worth the cost?

Samantha Scetta – Editor-In-Chief

Now that the gift giving season is practically in full force, I know what you’re thinking– What better gift to give than the gift of knowing where your roots stem from? Who doesn’t want to find out that they’re six percent German and have a genetic predisposition to cystic fibrosis? Tis’ the season for ancestry kits and genetic testing.

Well, maybe not for everyone. At-home genetic testing kits have evolved massively from the days of, which was founded on the basis of creating a family tree and potentially meeting some long lost cousins.

Nowadays, you can do much more than simply discover you have a cousin Jimmy from California and great aunt from Swahili. You can actually send in a sample of your DNA to get tested to find out exactly which countries your own DNA is matched to, and to find out if you have a predisposition to certain genetic diseases.

The most popular of these testing kits are ancestryDNA and 23andMe, which analyzes your DNA by looking at genetic variants in your genome that distinguish you from another person, and can issue a “Genetic Health Report” letting you know which genetic diseases you are most likely to be diagnosed with, and which diseases you are a carrier of.

The way DNA analysis works is not magical, it is based on an algorithm. In simplest terms, the algorithm reads each chunk of your genome, compares that to a reference data set of DNA, and gives a probability based on which genes yours are most closely related to.

So if your test says that you are 40 percent Vietnamese, 40 percent of your DNA pieces match similar DNA to what the ancestryDNA or 23andMe gene library has labeled as “Vietnamese.”

Although these techniques are revolutionary, and the libraries of genomes are kept rather secretly, they are not completely perfect and accurate. The more people with known ancestry submit DNA samples, the larger their library will become, and the more closely people’s results will be to what country they originate from.

There is also always the issue of privacy and rights to your own DNA. Before submitting a sample to any genetic testing company, doing extensive research into each company’s privacy policy is recommended. Each company has different measures of security, and for some you may have to go deeply into your account settings to ensure that your DNA is tossed after being tested, and not shared with any of the company’s partners.

For example, more than 80 percent of 23andMe users agreed to have their DNA results shared with research partners…I would ask you to ponder how many of that percentage is actually aware of this sharing?

Checking your state policy of genetic information sharing is also advised, as these laws vary from state to state. There has also been much talk and investigation of life insurers having access to your “Genetic Health Report” from 23andMe, which could cause an increase in the amount of money you pay for life insurance depending on your genetic predisposition.

Although “genetic discrimination” from life insurance companies is still just purely theoretical, it raises an interesting thought about who has access to your genetic information– certainly one to consider before sending off your spit to a genetic testing facility.

Graphic courtesy of Financial Time

Your health in the hands of the FDA

Jessica Gauthier – Managing Editor

Most people take food precautions, such as washing their produce or cooking their foods thoroughly. But what happens when that’s not enough?

With the recent outbreaks of E. coli, how can we be sure that our food is safe? While taking precautions might be necessary, there needs to be a conversation about mass-food production. Everything you see in your grocery store is mass-produced—from your processed foods, to your meat, to your produce.

Not only does mass-producing food create social and environmental concerns, but it also creates a health concern.

According to economics journalist Larry Elliott, with the population steadily increasing, food demand is projected to increase up to 50% by 2030. Mass-production is already being pushed to its limits and with no doubt, consumers will be running into more foodborne illnesses. The answers to safer food sourcing is not as much in the hands of the consumers as it is in the hands of both growers and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Currently, the FDA’s regulations don’t require growers to test their water supply past the sprouting stage of their produce. According to the Food Safety Modernization Act’s produce safety standards, “the FDA does not intend to enforce the agricultural water requirements for covered produce other than sprouts,” which can cause a slew of health issues including the spread of viral, bacterial, or parasitic organisms. This poses a problem with growers who mass-produce their crop, which is then shipped to different parts of the country.

While consumers can take precautions to prevent foodborne illness, we should be asking how the FDA can prevent foodborne illness. This would require stricter regulations by the FDA as well as cooperation and compliance from growers.

According to an FDA analysis, however, growers would save $12 million per year without water regulations but would cost consumers $108 million per year in medical expenses. Many growers are averse to strict water regulations, such as water testing, since it would result in more money out of their pockets. The FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, Steven Ostroff, reassured attendees at a meeting in February that they will create, “requirements that are less burdensome while protecting public health,” to benefit both farmers and consumers.

Stricter regulations are not something that can happen overnight, nor does it guarantee to eliminate foodborne illness completely. With a growing population and a higher demand for food, mass-production shows no signs of stopping.

In the meantime, you can support local growers. With faster farm-to-table harvesting, there’s less chance of your food being contaminated and is a great way to support your local economy.

K-Beauty wave takes America by storm: skincare can be both stylish and sustainable

Lucille DiNaro – Business Manager

If you’ve walked by the K-Beauty aisle in Sephora and laughed at products containing snail oil and donkey milk, you may want to think again. South Korea is currently the eighth largest cosmetics market in the world, with a market size of nearly $8.5 billion. South Korean Skincare, more widely known as K-Beauty, refers to beauty products originating from and manufactured in Korea. These products are often branded with a focus on high quality ingredients, and unilaterally leverage comprehensive skin care above all else.

Similar to many other items exported from Korea, K-Beauty is easily identifiable due to its novelty packaging and unique product offerings. Whether it be the mildly grotesque crying baby rubber mask from Dr. Jart+ or the effortlessly cute watermelon set offered by Glow Recipe, it can be difficult as a skincare novice to determine whether these items are more than just a trend.

Graphic courtesy of Sephora

K-Beauty retailers provide a stark contrast against American retailers in that they place a significant emphasis on quality ingredients. Dr. Jart+’s Cicapair line, despite its vibrant, comic book packaging, is amazingly simple and comprehensible. The hallmark ingredient of this line, centella asiatica, has served as an essential ingredient in Eastern skincare for centuries due to its nutrient rich properties. Packed with amino acids, beta-carotene, fatty acids and phytochemicals, the Cicapair line will effectively firm, repair, and soothe skin.

Another industry leader, Glow Recipe, utilizes fermented botanicals in their face masks to aid in more efficient absorption of moisture. These fermented botanicals release enzymes that break down molecules into raw material, allowing for the creation of newer, more beneficial substances for your skin. These are just some of many obscure ingredients that South Korean cosmetics companies have pursued towards the development of more natural and effective skincare.  

The growing need for safe and healthy cosmetics may have resulted from several high profile toxicology scandals that have occurred over the past decade, such as the talc settlements made by Johnson & Johnson or the hair fallout caused by WEN Cleansing Conditioners. Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow have been chided in the past for their attention to detail when it comes to safe and effective cosmetics, but a heightened sense of awareness of what comprises beauty products has contributed to the value of K-Beauty.

American cosmetic companies currently operate under regulations set by the Food and Drug Administration that were last updated in 1938. Kourtney Kardashian notably met with Congress last month to discuss the Personal Care Products Safety Act, which aims to tighten the power of review that the FDA has over cosmetics companies with regards to ingredients, facilities management and product labeling. Products labeled as ‘organic’ by cosmetics companies are not certifiably organic, as there is no governing body in the makeup industry with the capacity to grant ‘organic’ status.

K-Beauty is rooted in centuries of tradition, transparency and hands on skincare, and as such has caught the consumer eye. In a country where the cosmetics industry regulates itself, it is understandable that the average American is able to find worth in a product that is backed by attention to detail. Next time you enter Sephora, make sure to give K-Beauty a second look.

A new wave of sustainability on campus with Sustainability Coordinator Jim Murphy

Marisa Lenardson – Online Media Manager

Making a change could be as simple as shutting lights off when you leave a room, using a metal straw, or throwing food you don’t eat into compost bins. Small changes to our daily lives may seem insignificant, but in large numbers, are substantial to maintaining a sustainable environment.

Jim Murphy is the first person at Rhode Island College to have the title of “Sustainability Coordinator.” He oversees green initiatives on campus. “I’m definitely having fun” he says, noting that this is his sixth or seventh year in the position. He eagerly provided information about the progress RIC has made.

There has been an addition of new trash, recycling, and compost receptacles in Donovan Dining Center. Murphy describes Donovan as “a great partner to green initiatives.” One of the biggest challenges to come is changing behavior in Donovan to nurture people into separating their food waste. Starting in January, a team of students will be employed to advise other students, faculty and staff on what items go in each receptacle.

From our compost bins, food waste will be supplied to an anaerobic (without oxygen) digester that will start running in January/February. This machine will convert waste into a slurry which a certain bacteria consumes and thus emits methane. The methane gas is captured and converted into electricity. Food waste collected from the college will create enough renewable energy to power 5,000 homes. Additionally, this also eliminates food waste from going into the landfill which will free up about 20% of space.

Food prep scraps–all fruits and vegetables that Donovan uses for the salad bar–are also being composted in a bin at the greenhouse. In addition to these scraps, leaves, dead plants from the campus garden, and shredded old Anchor newspapers are used in the compost. The Environmental Club hopes to use that compost in the campus garden next year.

Overall, Donovan is very keen on being green. Donovan switched to paper straws in September and are slowly transitioning to compostable cutlery. The paper plates in Donovan are compostable and brown bags used for take-out meals are made from recycled materials.

While recycling is critical, the elimination of waste is a greater task. Plastic water bottles are one of the most notable examples of this problem. Across the campus, 25-30 water bottle filling stations have been installed and continue to be any time a water fountain needs to be replaced. All stations feature a counter to keep track of bottles saved. So far, 500,000 water bottles have been saved on campus.

Donovan has been a big proponent of solar panels placed on top of the building which were connected to power sources last Friday, Nov. 23. A final inspection and sign off from utilities are all that is left before the panels go live in a week. The 110 Kilowatt array will produce about $25,000 a year in electricity.

RIC’s campus captured via drone, photo courtesy of Dr.Charles McLaughlin

Jay Jerue, the Director of Facilities and Operations, explained the need to leverage savings in order to pay for energy conservation projects. This compensates for the installation of LED lights, motion sensors, solar panels and more which has around a four and a half year payback. RIC has spent $15 million in energy projects in the last two years.

The Environmental Club aspires to turn the campus into an Arbor Foundation Tree Campus. This recognition of dedication to campus environment would consist of having a tree advisory committee and a plan for placing, maintaining, and removing trees. Many of the facets need for an Arbor Foundation Tree Campus have already been developed by green initiatives.

Murphy lit up with excitement while talking about the incredible year with RIC’s bees. There are three hives: Queen Latifah, Queen Beeatrice, and Queen Elizabeeth.

At their lowest population per hive, there are normally about 10,000 bees. However, when they came out in April this year, they were about 20,000 strong, the healthiest Murphy has ever seen them. Around 275 lbs of honey have been pulled from these hives. Some of the honey has been given to Donovan, which they use to make a honey mint salad dressing for the salad bar. (The mint comes from the garden behind Fogarty Life Science.)

Dean Faiola is executive chef at Donovan and co-advisor to the Environmental Club. He was involved in pilot study with other colleges in state to test a software called “Phood.” This program allows Donovan to track what food they’re making at specific times and what is left over. The data can be reviewed and used to reduce food waste. For example, on Thursday mornings, Donovan was making a surplus amount of scrambled eggs. Now they make less. It is about the prevention of creating excess and saving money on food and labor.

Students need to know about sustainability. “When you graduate, the information that you have acquired in your major is going to be very useful for whatever job you have. But also, being sustainability minded is also a factor,” Murphy says. “Students right now don’t necessarily need to worry about what kind of lights they have or what that temperature set point is – but when they start paying that bill,” he laughs, “it becomes extremely important to them.”


Mike Dwyer – Staff Writer

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 and don’t repeat anything you read here without doing your research!

It’s our penultimate edition of Clusterfackt and as things wind down for these last two issues I want to focus on the question I raised last week: why is it that humans engage in fantasy and what purpose does it serve? I would like to additionally ask, how has the preeminent medium of our era- the Internet- met and exploited our need for make believe and can anything be done to right our thinking? These questions are vital to the future state of our nation and rest at the intersection of science, ethics and public policy- human constructions that are only as good as the people who build them.

Easy and unscrupulous access to technology has allowed Americans, if they so choose, to immerse themselves in a near continuous dream state of false news and questionable science. Once again, it is important to note that this state of affairs is by no means exclusively American. However, the model did arise from the American tech industry, where it still persists and transmogrifies daily, allowing a small group of individuals to affect the behavior of more than a billion people worldwide.  

This past week the New York Times released a damning indictment detailing the public relations campaigns adopted by Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg in the wake of the 2016 presidential election and how the pair managed to control the public discourse to downplay the company’s involvement in the spread of fake news and hate speech online using unsavory political rhetoric and tactics.

In one instance the company conducted focus groups, with both liberals and conservatives, to test approaches to the controversy before bringing their message to lawmakers, including whether or not to bring other social media platforms into the fray by accusing them of similar wrongdoings.

YouTube and Twitter are likewise awash with bots, bad-actors and malarkey. Google has engaged in similar data-sharing deals and about a year ago quietly dropped their slogan “Don’t Be Evil” from their employee code of conduct. Just over a decade ago these platforms promised to bring people together and provide them access to real-time information, yet it seems they have done just the opposite, saturating humanity with nonsense while alienating us from each other and from ourselves.

How did this happen? For starters, the business model is designed to reward such behavior. Since social media comapnies generate revenue based on how much time users engage with the platform they have no incentive to tame our darker impulses that keep us tuned in. Furthermore, policing fake news and hate speech is a politically sensitive issue that could cause backlash. Zuckerberg managed to parry difficult questions during his congressional testimony but the coaching and rhetorical preparation he underwent beforehand made him come off as mechanical which, ironically, led to fake news stories that Zuckerberg is in fact a robot.

On the other hand, is it wise for congressional leaders to delegate the task of policing language to the tech giants? Fake news is not some bug in the system- it is a product of human agency and can’t be changed with a quick system update. A recent study by MIT into the differential diffusion of all the verified true and false news stories on Twitter from 2006 to 2017 found that “falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories” and that “contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that humans, not robots, are more likely responsible for the dramatic spread of fake news.”

Our constitution is simply not prepared to handle this situation and any amendment to free speech is meant to be the responsibility of elected lawmakers. Should the social media agents choose to weigh in on free speech they risk alienating wide swaths of their consumer base, which is why executives are so reluctant to tackle the issue or even acknowledge that the problem exists in the first place. Essentially, Facebook and others have tried to establish themselves as the providers of an open platform that is not subject to the more stringent obligations of a publisher.

In next week’s final issue we will continue to ask why it is that we engage in fantasy and what purpose it serves by analyzing the specific ways that Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube and others have hijacked the human brain and compromised our free will.

Mike Dwyer is a 2013 graduate of CCRI’s school of nursing and has since worked as a registered nurse in and around his hometown of Newport, Rhode Island. Writing has been a life-long passion (Re: obsession) and in 2016 Mike enrolled at RIC to pursue a BA in English literature. He is a senior planning to graduate next Spring, after which he will stay local, stay weird and stay learning.

The keto craze

Kaila Acheson – Anchor staff

In this day and age influenced heavily by modern science, diets are increasing in number but yet it is still difficult to tell if  they would actually be beneficial to your health. A recent fad has been the Ketogenic diet because it is fairly easy to follow and many people have seen success. The question is, what does the Keto diet do to your body?

The Keto diet was discovered by Dr. Russell Wilder in 1923 while working at the Mayo Clinic, attempting to find a treatment for epilepsy. Keto mainly focuses on low carbs, moderate protein and high fat.

Supposedly, it can both help someone lose weight and improve their overall health. Studies have shown that Keto does not only help you lose weight, but can also help with chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. Keto works by eliminating carbs from your diet and primarily consuming natural fats. By doing this, the body burns more fat for energy, feeding the brain energy. This puts the body in a state called ketosis.

Graphic courtesy of Tasteaholic

According to U.S. News, the Keto diet does not rank high in effectiveness in comparison to other diets. Keto is effective in the realm of weight loss, yet is ranked low in effectiveness on overall health. Being in a constant state of ketosis can become harmful because without the consumption of carbs, the body only burns fat. Fat is necessary on the body and carbs are an essential part of your diet. With the absence of carbs, dehydration and a chemical imbalance in blood flow, become a dangerous possibility.

Although there is evidence of Keto being bad for your health, if it is not followed to the extreme it can have its benefits. A woman reported to Business Insider the effects of the diet on her after one month and she claimed that it “vastly improved her life,” but she did admit to cheating and consumed some carbs every week.

After exploring both sides of the story, it is difficult to tell whether the Keto diet is a good option for someone trying to make a lifestyle change. Overall, research seems to have shown that if the Keto diet is followed in moderation and some carbs are consumed, then it would not be harmful to your health.

Solar power vs. fossil fuels. Who will reign victorious?

Victoria Stromberg – Anchor Contributor

Solar power, what is it? Well, solar power is actually radiant energy that is being emitted by the sun and converted into electricity. Solar power can be compared to fossil fuels, where we get most of our oil from.

Today, the world gets most of its power from fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and most well-known, oil. It is also not a secret that a major contributing factor to climate change and environmental downfall are fossil fuels mixed with greenhouse gas emissions (trapping heat in the atmosphere). In fact, according to the EPA in 2012, the greenhouse gas emissions totalled a whopping 6,526 million metric tons. That is 82% of all human caused greenhouse gases. However, these nonrenewable energy sources are slowly coming to an end in terms of supply, and the need for other energy-obtaining resources are vital.

This is where solar power comes into play.

Photos courtesy of Victoria Stromberg

Solar power is a more efficient way of harnessing energy and converting it into electricity. This is because it is a renewable energy source that will never deplete, rather than fossil fuels, which take years to form. Not to mention, solar power is a cleaner way of getting our energy. The use of clean in this context means non-polluting, and not emitting greenhouse gases into the air, which is a plus because it will not contribute to global warming such as fossil fuels already have.

Solar panels are the way we are getting our energy from the sun. In Rhode Island, there are multiple solar farms either already built, or being proposed as per Governor Gina Raimondo’s executive order to generate 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020. This factor will be of great help to the environment in terms of eliminating already-existing pollution, and the way energy is obtained from here on out.

A brand-new Solar Farm has just finished construction at a capped landfill in North Providence a few months ago.

“This to me, was a no-brainer,” said Mayor Lombardi on his decision to propose a solar farm in this area. “I know it’s the right thing to do.”  

Solar energy is an up-rising practice that is expected to bring down human greenhouse gas emissions into the air quite considerably, seeing as Solar panels release little to no emissions at all. It is important to take solar power, and the damage of fossil fuels seriously for the years ahead.

According to the UN Climate Change Report, we have 12 years to “take action” before the rise in temperature will make it quite difficult to reverse. In their words, the level of global warming between 2030 and 2052 will cause extreme weather, including the sea level to rise causing severe flooding.

All in all, the need to eliminate the use of oil, coal, and natural gas is vital to the earth as of right now. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have determined that carbon dioxide emissions need to hit zero by the year 2075. This is where everyone worldwide needs to make an effort. If possible, get solar panels, reduce the use of oil in homes and lessen the contribution to the pollution of this beautiful planet. It is possible, but there is a lot of hard work ahead.


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 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?  

Many is more powerful than one when working to end pollution

Victoria Stromberg – Anchor Contributor

If everyone was to start doing small things every day to improve the environment, the world would be a healthier place. There is a growing problem with pollution in the environment and more specifically, oceans. But how big is this problem?

The effects that plastic pollution alone has had on ecosystems and food chains in the ocean is astronomical. Seabirds across the globe are being discovered with plastic in their digestive systems, as they mistake the plastic for food on the ocean’s surface. Plastic has been found the digestive tract of not just birds, but in animals ranging from whales to sea turtles and even small crustaceans. Filter feeding animals such as Baleen whales, that use their large mouths to sift through plankton and krill, ingest plastic by mistake as well. In serious cases, ingestion of plastic can kill these animals.

According to an environmental research letter by Albert A Koelmans, 99.8 percent of plastic that has landed in the oceans since the 1950s has settled below the surface of the ocean. Since then it has accumulated to 8.5 million tons annually––that is a lot of plastic to be hanging out on the ocean floor.

This is unsettling.

Plastic, while being a main contributor, is not the only issue that is reducing populations and damaging marine life. Another problem is fishing nets being abandoned in the sea causing animals such as birds, sea turtles and even whales to get caught in them while they are swimming.

Photo courtesy of National Geographic

According to The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), an estimated 640,000 metric tons of fishing gear are left in the oceans each year. This includes 25,000 nets that are recorded lost or discarded every year.

Although there are non-profit organizations and businesses out there responsible for working to remove debris in the ocean, they can not fulfill this alone. There are things that everyone can do at home to reduce the amount of plastic build-up in not only the ocean, but all ecosystems both land and sea. These underlying factors of pollution can all be reduced if there was a focus on worldwide sustainability.

As for what the average person can do from their own home, there are countless things that people do throughout their day that they don’t even think about.

The easiest things to do to preserve the environment are as follows: Reduce, reuse, recycle! Reduce your intake of plastic, get a reusable water bottle so there is never a need to buy copious amounts of plastic bottles. When shopping at the market, think about it, ask yourself if the supermarket has paper bags rather than plastic? If so, jackpot. The less plastic we use, the less plastic that mistakenly ends up where it does not belong. If you live near the coast, like us Rhode Islanders, an important way to contribute is to go to local beach cleanups, or donate to these groups and organizations. As far as fishing gear goes, clean up after yourself. The most obvious solution is do not discard fishing gear and nets into the ocean when they are no longer used. Discard them the proper way, by finding local places near you that work to recycle fishing nets, or distribute them to places that do. A little can go a long way.