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NYC Mosque Study: Providing Correct Information Is No Antidote to False Beliefs
From the Ohio State University Research News Service, a discussion of issues closely followed here at Age of Engagement. See also the full report.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Evidence is no match against the belief in false rumors concerning the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York City, a new study finds.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that fewer than one-third of people who had previously heard and believed one of the many rumors about the proposed center changed their minds after reading overwhelming evidence rejecting the rumor.
The false rumor that researchers used in the study was that Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam backing the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque, is a terrorist sympathizer who has refused to condemn Islamic attacks on civilians.
There is no evidence that this statement is true, according to FactCheck.org, a fact-checking service run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and Politifact, the Pulitzer-Prize winning service of the St. Petersburg Times.
While providing a definitive rebuttal helped dispel belief in this rumor under two conditions, researchers found that it was easy to neutralize the positive effects of the rebuttal, simply through the use of certain photos or the addition of unrelated text.
“We didn’t have much success in shaking people’s beliefs in false rumors,” said R. Kelly Garrett, co-author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State.
Garrett conducted the study with Erik Nisbet, also an assistant professor of communication at Ohio State.
The researchers used Survey Sampling International to recruit 750 Americans and have them participate in the online survey. The survey was conducted between September 14 and 19, 2010.
This study was designed to see if the researchers could change the minds of rumor believers by presenting the facts, as reported by FactCheck and PolitiFact.
The researchers presented each participant with one of four different rebuttals of the rumor, all of which contained the same facts, but were presented in slightly different ways.
Overall, only 35 percent of the participants who previously encountered and believed the rumor held more accurate beliefs after reading a rebuttal, and even fewer – about 28 percent – were moved to reject the rumor.
The findings showed that two of the rebuttal formats were effective at increasing the belief that the rumors were false: presenting a straight text rebuttal outlining the facts and proving that the Imam is not a terrorist sympathizer; and also pairing that text rebuttal with a photo of the Imam and a diverse group of people wearing Western-style business attire.
After exposure to the two types of effective rebuttals, about 1 in 4 (25 percent) of the subjects who had either previously been unsure about the truth of the rumor, or who believed the rumor was true, updated their beliefs to report they considered the rumor false.
Pairing the photo with the text probably helped reinforce the rebuttal because it emphasized visually that Rauf “is an American, just like the rest of us,” Garrett said.
Nisbet noted that while these two rebuttals did have a positive impact, the result was not overwhelming.
“Though this change was a significant improvement compared to the control condition in which participants received no rebuttal, it was still only a comparatively small increase in the number of subjects who had accurate beliefs about the Imam,” Nisbet said.
“However, this was a single, brief exposure to a rebuttal in an experimental context. Repeated exposure to rebuttals from a variety of credible sources, if presented in an effective manner, may further increase the general accuracy of beliefs over time."
But it was also interesting to see how easy it was to make the rebuttal ineffective, according to Nisbet.
“We found that how you present the rebuttal might have a very meaningful impact on how well it works,” Nisbet said. “The presentation shouldn’t have an impact on whether people accept the rebuttal or not, but we found that it does.”
For example, the rebuttal was ineffective when it was paired with a photo of the Imam and surrounding people wearing more traditional Arab clothing, rather than Western-style business attire.
“This photo clearly evoked the sense that this Imam is someone who is different than your average American – he’s not like us, and that photo was enough to keep most people from rejecting the false rumors,” Garrett said.
Some people also read a rebuttal that included additional information about the Imam that, while not relevant to the rumor, may be seen as objectionable by some Americans. This additional information was a statement by Rauf that the United States bears some responsibility for harm caused by its policies toward the Middle East. However, the statement emphasized that Rauf himself believes that terrorism is never justified.
Those who believed the rumor and read the rebuttal with the additional statement were not likely to change their mind about the truthfulness of the rumor.
This result is particularly disturbing because it means that standard journalism practice may actually make it more difficult to persuade people of the truth, Garrett said.
“Typically, journalists trying to write a balanced article would include views held by the Imam that some people might find objectionable, but that would help readers understand him better,” he said.
“But what we’re finding is that, in an effort to report both sides, journalists may be actually undermining some of the factual information they reported.”
The one silver lining in the study is that none of the rebuttals had a boomerang, or backfire effect, Garrett said. Recent studies by other researchers have suggested that when people are presented with facts that go against their beliefs, they may actually become even more confident in their false beliefs.
“We didn’t find that people were more likely to embrace false beliefs, even when we presented a photo of the Imam in Arab garb that may marginalize him in our culture, or when we included text that some Americans may find objectionable,” Garrett said.
“While it could neutralize the effect of the rebuttal, at least it didn’t encourage more belief in false rumors.”
Garrett and Nisbet emphasized that, while the 750 people surveyed represented a broad range of adults, it was not a representative sample of all Americans. That means that the proportion of people in this study who have heard or believe rumors should not be taken as national averages.
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So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
The distances between the stars are so vast that they can make your brain melt. Take for example the Voyager 1 probe, which has been traveling at 35,000 miles per hour for more than 40 years and was the first human object to cross into interstellar space. That sounds wonderful except, at its current speed, it will still take another 40,000 years to cross the typical distance between stars.
Worse still, if you are thinking about interstellar travel, nature provides a hard limit on acceleration and speed. As Einstein showed, it's impossible to accelerate any massive object beyond the speed of light. Since the galaxy is more than 100,000 light-years across, if you are traveling at less than light speed, then most interstellar distances would take more than a human lifetime to cross. If the known laws of physics hold, then it seems a galaxy-spanning human civilization is impossible.
Unless of course you can build a warp drive.
Ah, the warp drive, that darling of science fiction plot devices. So, what about a warp drive? Is that even a really a thing?
Let's start with the "warping" part of a warp drive. Without doubt, Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity ("GR") represents space and time as a 4-dimensional "fabric" that can be stretched and bent and folded. Gravity waves, representing ripples in the fabric of spacetime, have now been directly observed. So, yes spacetime can be warped. The warping part of a warp drive usually means distorting the shape of spacetime so that two distant locations can be brought close together — and you somehow "jump" between them.
This was a basic idea in science fiction long before Star Trek popularized the name "warp drive." But until 1994, it had remained science fiction, meaning there was no science behind it. That year, Miguel Alcubierre wrote down a solution to the basic equations of GR that represented a region that compressed spacetime ahead of it and expanded spacetime behind to create a kind of traveling warp bubble. This was really good news for warp drive fans.
The problems with a warp drive
There were some problems though. Most important was that this "Alcubierre drive" required lots of "exotic matter" or "negative energy" to work. Unfortunately, there's no such thing. These are things theorists dreamed up to stick into the GR equations in order to do cool things like make stable open wormholes or functioning warp drives.
It's also noteworthy that researchers have raised other concerns about an Alcubierre drive — like how it would violate quantum mechanics or how when you arrived at your destination it would destroy everything in front of the ship in an apocalyptic flash of radiation.
Warp drives: A new hope
Credit: Primada / 420366373 via Adobe Stock
Recently, however, there seemed to be good news on the warp drive front with the publication this April of a new paper by Alexey Bobrick and Gianni Martre entitled "Introducing Physical Warp Drives." The good thing about the Bobrick and Martre paper was it was extremely clear about the meaning of a warp drive.
Understanding the equations of GR means understanding what's on either side of the equals sign. On one side, there is the shape of spacetime, and on the other, there is the configuration of matter-energy. The traditional route with these equations is to start with a configuration of matter-energy and see what shape of spacetime it produces. But you can also go the other way around and assume the shape of spacetime you want (like a warp bubble) and determine what kind of configuration of matter-energy you will need (even if that matter-energy is the dream stuff of negative energy).
Warp drives are simpler and much less mysterious objects than the broader literature has suggested.
What Bobrick and Martre did was step back and look at the problem more generally. They showed how all warp drives were composed of three regions: an interior spacetime called the passenger space; a shell of material, with either positive or negative energy, called the warping region; and an outside that, far enough away, looks like normal unwarped spacetime. In this way they could see exactly what was and was not possible for any kind of warp drive. (Watch this lovely explainer by Sabine Hossenfelder for more details). They even showed that you could use good old normal matter to create a warp drive that, while it moved slower than light speed, produced a passenger area where time flowed at a different rate than in the outside spacetime. So even though it was a sub-light speed device, it was still an actual warp drive that could use normal matter.
That was the good news.
The bad news was this clear vision also showed them a real problem with the "drive" part of the Alcubierre drive. First of all, it still needed negative energy to work, so that bummer remains. But worse, Bobrick and Martre reaffirmed a basic understanding of relativity and saw that there was no way to accelerate an Alcubierre drive past light speed. Sure, you could just assume that you started with something moving faster than light, and the Alcubierre drive with its negative energy shell would make sense. But crossing the speed of light barrier was still prohibited.
So, in the end, the Star Trek version of the warp drive is still not a thing. I know this may bum you out if you were hoping to build that version of the Enterprise sometime soon (as I was). But don't be too despondent. The Bobrick and Martre paper really did make headway. As the authors put it in the end:
"One of the main conclusions of our study is that warp drives are simpler and much less mysterious objects than the broader literature has suggested"
That really is progress.
The Black Death wasn't the only plague in the 1300s.
- In a unique study, researchers have determined how many people in medieval England had bunions
- A fashion trend towards pointed toe shoes made the affliction common.
- Even monks got in on the trend, much to their discomfort later in life.
Late Medieval England had its share of problems. The Wars of Roses raged, the Black Death killed off large parts of the population, and passing ruffians could say "Ni" at will to old ladies.
To make matters worse, a first of its kind study published in the International Journal of Paleopathology has demonstrated that much of the population suffered from another plague — a plague of bunions likely caused by a ridiculous medieval fashion trend.
If the shoe fits, it won't cause bunions
The outlines of a leather shoe from the King's Ditch, Cambridge. It is easy to see how these shoes might be constricting. Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit.
The bunion, known to medicine as "hallux valgus," is a deformity of the joint connecting the big toe to the rest of the foot. It is painful and can cause other issues including poor balance. The condition is associated with having worn constrictive shoes for a long period of time as well as genetic factors. Today, it is often caused by wearing high heeled shoes.
The medieval English didn't care for high heeled shoes as much as modern fashionistas, but there was a major fashion trend toward shoes with long, pointed toes called "poulaines" or "crakows" for their supposed place of origin, Krakow, Poland.
This trend, already silly-looking to a modern observer, got out of hand in a hurry. According to some records, the points on nobleman's shoes could be so long as to require tying them to the leg with string so the wearer could walk. At one point, King Edward IV had to ban commoners from wearing points longer than two inches. A couple years later, he saw fit to ban the shoes altogether.
But, just knowing that people back in the day made poor fashion choices doesn't prove they suffered for it. That is where digging up old skeletons to look at their feet comes in.
Beauty is pain: the price of high medieval fashion
To learn how bad the bunion epidemic was, the researchers looked to four burial sites in and around Cambridge. One was a rural cemetery where poor peasants were buried. Another was the All Saints by the Castle parish, which had a mixed collection of people that tended toward poverty. The Hospital of St. John's burial ground contained both the poor charges of a charity hospital and wealthy benefactors. Lastly, they considered the cemetery of a local Augustinian friary, home to monks and well-to-do philanthropists.
The team considered 177 adult skeletons that were at least a quarter complete and still had enough of their feet to make studying them possible. The remains were classified by age and sex by observation and DNA testing. Each was examined for evidence of bunions and signs of complications from the condition, such as falling.
Those buried in the monastery's graveyard were the most affected. Nearly half, 43 percent, of the remains found there had bunions. This includes five of the eleven members of the clergy they found. Twenty-three percent of those laid to rest at the Hospital of St. John had bunions, though only 10 percent of those at the All Saints by the Castle parish graveyard did.
The rural cemetery had a much lower rate of instances, only three percent, suggesting that these peasants were able to avoid at least one plague.
Overall, eighteen percent of the individuals examined had bunions, with men more likely to have them than women. Those at cemeteries known for exclusivity were more likely to have them as well, though it is clear that the condition also affected members of other classes. This makes sense, as it is known that these shoes had mass appeal.
The authors note that the rural cemetery having fewer cases is partly because that cemetery "went out of use prior to the wide adoption of pointed shoes, and it is likely that those residing in the parish predominately wore soft leather shoes, or possibly went barefoot."
Those skeletons with evidence of bunions were more likely to have fractures indicative of a fall. This was more common on those estimated or recorded as having lived past age 45.
In our much more enlightened times, 23 percent of the population currently endures having bunions, most of them women, and one of the leading culprits behind this is the high heeled shoe.
Some things never change.