from the world's big
Fact vs. Fiction: How Facts Are Made, and Who Decides What's True
What information can we trust? Truth isn't black and white, so here are three requirements every fact should meet.
Katherine Maher is the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, a position she has held since June 2016. Previously she was chief communications officer.
In addition to a background in the field of information and communications technology (ICT), Maher has worked in the non-profit and international sectors focusing on the use of technology to empower human rights and international development, specifically improving communities, promoting inclusivity and transparency, and deepening participation.
You can find more information about her on — guess where?
Katherine Maher: Was it Moynihan who said you're entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts?
The thing that Wikipedia focuses on is not truth nor facts, it's reliable, verifiable information. And what we would say is that as the world's consensus changes about what is reliable, verifiable information, the information for us will change too.
So the example I like to use—because it seems a bit difficult to dispute at this point in time—is that of helio- versus geocentrism. If Wikipedia had been around a couple hundred years ago we probably would have had an article that says that the Sun revolves around the Earth because that was what we understood to be true.
We no longer understand that to be true, thanks to advances in science and physics, but if tomorrow we were to wake up and learn that in fact time being relative really does upend the way that we think about the world, Wikipedia would have to evolve in order to describe that.
So we're not really in the business of truth or facts, we're in the business of what is known, and what has been determined through consensus—scientific consensus or otherwise. And I think that that actually provides some clarity on how to understand what information you're looking at.
One thing that I think is really unique about Wikipedia is there's only one version for the whole public. There's no feed that's curated for you or for me. We all are looking at the same version of the article. And I think that's actually a strength, because it forces editors and it forces contributors to come to some sort of common understanding of what the narrative of a story, what the narrative of history, what the facts actually are.
Research has been done by the Harvard School of Business, just earlier this year, that shows that people who enter into editing Wikipedia with a highly partisan perspective tend to actually become more neutral if they stick around over time.
So you might enter in to edit the article of a politician's page, and if you are particularly political or have a perspective on that politician, if you actually learn how Wikipedia works and continue to edit, what it seems is that Wikipedia editors start to take on a more neutral tone and engage in more neutral ways, presenting more facts than opinion.
Now, there's not a lot of places on the Internet that I think make people less partisan or more oriented around conversation and discussion and inquiry, and so that in and of itself is sort of a really interesting byproduct of the way Wikipedia works.
So every Wikipedia article is based on sort of these three core tenets. The first is neutrality. Wikipedia articles have to be neutral in the way that they present information. And what that means generally is that you don't see a lot of adjectives in Wikipedia articles because adjectives are slippery, they can mean different things to different people.
They have to be based on reliable sources and reliable sources, so that's the idea that it's verifiable, you can go back to the source that it comes from.
And Wikipedians will use different types of reliable sources depending on what you're writing about. If you're writing about current events you're going to use very different sources than if you're, say, writing about 18th-century tapestries; just different types of publications cover these things. And the way that Wikipedians think about reliability is not about “source A is good and source B is bad”, instead it's more around “how do those sources think about and engage in knowledge creation, generation, and critique?”. So they look at things like: does the source fact check? Does the source engage in peer review? If the source is wrong will it issue a correction? And that is sort of the approach that Wikipedians take to assess different types of reliable sources for different areas of knowledge creation.
And then the last is no original research. So while new knowledge is being created every single day, until it has actually gone through a process of shaping consensus review it doesn't belong on Wikipedia. We are not a place to break news, in the sense of new information. We are a place to provide an overview of what is understood and accepted, and the work has been done in other forums.
Subjects also have to be notable in the sense that they have to have been written about by sort of a number of secondary sources—and so, notability is not the same thing as fame. You may have somebody who is a very obscure ethnobotanist, but if they have really contributed to their field and are acknowledged as such they will be notable even though the general public may never have heard about them. So those are some of the sort of core characteristics of what goes into Wikipedia, what doesn't go into Wikipedia, and then how an article is built.
And what was fascinating to me was reading what we call, with Wikipedia, a 'talk page'. Every article has a talk page. One way of thinking about it is, it's a newsroom for Wikipedia articles. It's where editors can can test information, can challenge each other, can propose alternate phrasing for the article, can highlight things that are missing, and can engage in debate: what goes on the cutting room floor and what makes it into the public article?
Most people never see the talk pages, but they're there, they're public. You can click on them. You can read them. You can learn about the discussions and debates that go into the creation of every article. And it's not just controversial articles; I encourage everyone to look at the talk page for your hometown, it's very enlightening or entertaining.
So those talk pages are where the conversations happen and you can really start to see things like the principle of neutrality at work. You can start to see things like: the way information is created, and why it matters to be specific.
So in this particular article about the U.S. strike on Syria, I was looking at the way they titled it. And the conversation was: "Is it an airstrike? Well no, because it didn't come from planes; it was sea to surface, so it's not an airstrike, it's a strike. Is it a raid? No, because there weren't troops on the ground, so we wouldn't call it a raid.”And these are the sort of conversations that Wikipedians have as they hammer out the specifics of almost every sentence that goes into an article.
Of course, the more contested an article is, the more controversial a subject is, the more attention each individual sentence gets. I don't know if the articles about, say Pokémon, are quite as contested, but then again I don't know much about Pokémon, so perhaps they are.
The chances are good that you've used Wikipedia to define or discover something in the last week, if not 24 hours. It's currently the 5th most-visited website in the world. The English-language Wikipedia averages 800 new articles per day — but 1,000 articles are deleted per day, the site's own statistics page reports. That fluctuation is probably partly the result of mischievous users, but it is also an important demonstration of Wikipedia's quest for knowledge in motion. "As the world's consensus changes about what is reliable, verifiable information, the information for us will change too," says Katherine Maher, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation. Maher is careful to delineate between truth and knowledge. Wikipedia isn't a jury for truth, it's a repository for information that must be three things: neutral, verifiable, and determined with consensus. So how do we know what information to trust, in an age that is flooded with access, data, and breaking news? Through explaining how Wikipedia editors work and the painstaking detail and debate that goes into building an article, Maher offers a guide to separating fiction from fact, which can be applied more broadly to help us assess the quality of information in other forums.
Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.
A time for sleep<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="Mt29uUqI" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="931343dee3c02121445e51e94ba22446"> <div id="botr_Mt29uUqI_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/Mt29uUqI-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Previous studies had already suggested a link between persistent nightmares in childhood and psychosis and borderline personality disorder (BPD) by adolescence, but researchers at the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology wanted to see if a similar connection existed between these mental disorders and other childhood behavioral sleep problems.</p><p>To do this, they scoured data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a longitudinal cohort study that followed approximately 14,000 children born in Avon, England, in the early 1990s. The study followed the children for more than 13 years. During that time, mothers filled out questionnaires asking about the children's lives. Factors looked at included housing, parenting, nutrition, physical health, mental wellbeing, environmental exposures, and so on. </p><p>The cohort study inquired about sleep routines, sleep duration, and awakening frequency when the children were 6, 18, and 30 months old, and then again at 3.5, 4.8, and 5.8 years. It also assessed mental health in adolescence using semi-structured interviews, such as the Psychosis-Like Symptom Interview.</p><p>"We know that adolescence is a key developmental period to study the onset of many mental disorders, including psychosis or BPD. This is because of particular brain and hormonal changes which occur at this stage," <a href="https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/psychology/marwaha-steven.aspx" target="_blank">Steven Marwaha</a>, professor of psychiatry at Birmingham and senior author on the study, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200701125431.htm" target="_blank">said in a release</a>. "Sleep may be one of the most important underlying factors—and it's one that we can influence with effective, early interventions, so it's important that we understand these links."</p><p>After compiling the data, the researchers discovered an association between children with irregular sleeping patterns and teenagers with <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/psychosis/about-psychosis/" target="_blank">psychotic experiences</a>—that is, episodes when the person perceives reality differently than those around them. Even when depression at 10 years old was considered as a mediating factor, their findings still suggested "a specific pathway between these childhood sleep problems and adolescent psychotic experiences." </p><p>Toddlers with shorter nighttime sleep duration and late bedtimes were likewise associated with a <a href="https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml" target="_blank">borderline personality disorder</a>—a disorder marked by a pattern of varying moods, self-images, and behaviors—in their teenage years. Depression at age 10 did not mediate this particular association, suggesting a separate and more specific pathway. </p>
A more restful tomorrow<p>While the sample size was large and mental health was assessed with a validated interview, there nevertheless remain limitations to this data. For starters, sleep habits were based on mothers' reports. Because they came from memory, versus a more direct observation method such as actigraphy, these data may be prone to imperfect recollection and reporting error. There are also many confounders that could be secretly nudging the results, such as family conditions, prenatal medicines, and a host of environmental factors. Finally, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6024884/#:~:text=Sleep%20difficulties%20in%20youth%20with,fear%20of%20dark%20%5B13%5D." target="_blank">the relationship between sleep problems and mental disorders</a> is both complex and two-way.</p><p>As such, the study shows an association between poor childhood sleep later mental disorders but does not prove a causal link. Parents need not worry that a string of nightmares or the eternal struggle settle into bed will be the first ingredients in a witches' brew of debilitating mental disorders. The goal of the study, the researchers point out, is not to create undue worry but improve our ability to recognize the signs of at-risk children and deliver necessary interventions earlier.</p><p>"The results of this study could have important implications for helping practitioners identify children who might be at higher risk for psychotic experiences or BPD symptoms in adolescence, and potentially lead to the design of more effectively targeted sleep or psychological interventions to prevent the onset or attenuate these mental disorders," Isabel Morales-Muñoz, the study's lead researcher, <a href="https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20200702/childhood-sleep-problems-linked-to-adolescent-psychosis-borderline-personality-disorder#:~:text=Sleep%20problems%20during%20early%20childhood,study%20published%20in%20JAMA%20Psychiatry." target="_blank">told Healio Psychiatry</a><u>.</u></p><p>If a parent reading this is worried that their child's sleep patterns are deleterious, the take away should not be despair over an unyielding fate. It should be to seek professional help as soon as possible to begin improving sleep duration and quality. Even if you aren't worried, it's worth remembering that childhood experiences lay the foundation for a lifetime of salubrious sleeping habits. It's so much more than beauty rest.</p>
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.