Page 17 - The 'X' Chronicles Newspaper - October / November 2018
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Has ET Gone Home?                                                                                17

               Has ET Gone Home                           trying to understand the problem and to be     things that are easy to manipulate.
                                                          thoughtful about the research and therefore, in       It makes sense that humans would glom
                                                          some cases, to move slower,” she says.         on to just about anything when they’re so worn
          The Department of Defense released three               Part of the issue is that people are still  out by the news. But when we resist snap
          separate videos taken of the AAVs (anomalous
                                                          relying on outdated shortcuts, the kind we were  judgments, we are harder to fool. “You just have
          aerial vehicles) from the incident after a secret
                                                          taught to use in a library. Take the professor in  to stop and think,” Rand says of the experiments
          Pentagon program intended to find signs of
                                                          Wineburg’s study. A list of citations means one  he has run on the subject. “All of the data we
          alien life was revealed by the New York Times
                                                          thing when it appears in a book that has been  have collected suggests that’s the real problem.
          to have been defunct since 2012. However, the
                                                          vetted by a publisher, a fact-checker and a    It’s not that people are being super-biased and
          paper's sources said the program continues to
                                                          librarian. It means quite another on the Internet,  using their reasoning ability to trick themselves
          exist in some form, despite being stripped of its  where everyone has access to a personal     into believing crazy stuff. It’s just that people
          explicit funding.                               printing press. Newspapers used to physically  aren’t stopping. They’re rolling on.”
                 And why not? The American military -     separate hard news and commentary, so our             That is, of course, the way social-media
          and the air force in particular - has been
                                                          minds could easily grasp what was what. But    platforms have been designed. The endless feeds
          investigating incidences of UFOS for decades.
                                                          today two-thirds of Americans get news from    and intermittent rewards are engineered to keep
          In 1947, the Air Fore started investigating more
                                                          social media, where posts from publishers get  you reading. And there are other environmental
          than 12,000 claimed UFO sightings before the
                                                          the same packaging as birthday greetings and   factors at play, like people’s ability to easily seek
          project ended in 1969.  While the program
                                                          rants. Content that warrants an emotional      out information that confirms their beliefs. But
          concluded that most of the sightings involved
                                                          response is mixed with things that require     Rand is not the only academic who believes that
          conventional aircraft of spy planes, more than  deeper consideration. “It all looks identical,”  we can take a big bite out of errors if we slow
          700 incidences remained explained. []           says Harvard researcher Claire Wardle, “so our  down.
                                                          brain has to work harder to make sense of those       Wineburg, an 18-year veteran of
             How Your Brain Tricks                        different types of information.”               Stanford, works out of a small office in the
                                                                 Instead of working harder, we often try  center of the palm-lined campus. His group’s
            You Into Believing Fake                       to outsource the job. Studies have shown that  specialty is developing curricula that teachers

                            News                          people assume that the higher something        across the nation use to train kids in critical
                                                          appears in Google search results, the more     thinking. Now they’re trying to update those
                                                          reliable it is. But Google’s algorithms are    lessons for life in a digital age. With the help of
                  Continued from Page 13                  surfacing content based on keywords, not truth.  funding from Google, which has devoted $3
                                                          If you ask about using apricot seeds to cure   million to the digital-literacy project they are
          Academics are only beginning to grasp all the   cancer, the tool will dutifully find pages     part of, the researchers hope to deploy new rules
          ways our brains are shaped by the Internet, a   asserting that they work. “A search engine is a  of the road by next year, outlining techniques
          key reason that stopping the spread of          search engine,” says Richard Gingras, vice     that anyone can use to draw better conclusions
          misinformation is so tricky. One attempt by     president of news at Google. “I don’t think    on the web.
          Facebook shows how introducing new signals      anyone really wants Google to be the arbiter of       His group doesn’t just come up with
          into this busy domain can backfire. With hopes  what is or is not acceptable expression.”      smart ideas; it tests them. But as they set out to
          of curtailing junk news, the company started           That’s just one example of how we need  develop these lessons, they struggled to find
          attaching warnings to posts that contained      to retrain our brains. We’re also inclined to trust  research about best practices. “Where are the
          claims that fact-checkers had rated as false. But  visuals, says  Wardle. But some photos are  studies about what superstars do, so that we
          a study found that this can make users more     doctored, and other legitimate ones are put in  might learn from them?”  Wineburg recalls
          likely to believe any unflagged post.  Tessa    false contexts. On Twitter, people use the size of  thinking, sitting in the team’s office beneath a
          Lyons-Laing, a product manager who works on     others’ followings as a proxy for reliability, yet  print of the Tabula Rogeriana, a medieval map
          Facebook’s News Feed, says the company toyed    millions of followers have been paid for (and an  that pictures the world in a way we now see as
          with the idea of alerting users to hoaxes that  estimated 10% of “users” may be bots). In his  upside-down. Eventually, a cold email to an
          were traveling around the web each day before   studies, Wineburg found that people of all ages  office in New York revealed a promising model:
          realizing that an “immunization approach”       were inclined to evaluate sources based on     professional fact-checkers.
          might be counterproductive. “We’re really       features like the site’s URL and graphic design,
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