The Intellectual Dark Web

You might say members of the Intellectual Dark Web don't fit in. They might say, "exactly."

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  • Researchers from the University of Cambridge use an online game to inoculate people against fake news.
  • The study sample included 15,000 players.
  • The scientists hope to use such tactics to protect whole societies against disinformation.


A large new University of Cambridge study proves that it's possible to teach regular people to spot fake news. By analyzing the responses of 15,000 participants, the researchers found that "psychological resistance" to fake news could be increased by having the subjects play an online game.

In the browser game, called Bad News, launched in February 2018, players become propaganda producers. They are allowed to manipulate the news and social media, invoking anger and fear. Tactics at their disposal include twitter bots, conspiracy theories, impersonation and photoshopped evidence. Still, while they use such Machiavellian approaches to attract followers, the players must maintain a "credibility score" to continue to be persuasive.

Dr. Sander van der Linden, Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab, explained that the task before the researchers was not easy, since fake news spreads very fast and can go "deeper than the truth." That makes it harder and harder to stand up to misinformation.

"We wanted to see if we could pre-emptively debunk, or 'pre-bunk', fake news by exposing people to a weak dose of the methods used to create and spread disinformation, so they have a better understanding of how they might be deceived," shared the scientist.

He called their game "a psychological vaccination." This work builds on the so-called "inoculation theory," which maintains that beliefs can be guarded against influence the same way you can protect a body against diseases – by being exposed to smaller doses of them over time to build up immunity.

To see how well the participants were inoculated against fake news, they were told to rate how trustworthy various tweets and headlines were. They had to do this before and after playing the game for at least 15 minutes.

The researchers discovered that the subjects were eventually able to pick out fake news better, finding them 21% less reliable after the game. Playing made no difference in how they ranked real news.

Not only that, the scientists saw that those who were most vulnerable to fake news prior to the game were inoculated the strongest.

While they perceive that those who actually played the game were generally younger, male, liberal and educated, the scientists built in a nonpartisan mechanism into the game to avoid bias. The subjects were able to choose fake news either from the left or the right.

Dr. Linden expressed excitement at using such methods across whole populations to build "societal resistance to fake news".

His colleague and the study's co-author Jon Roozenbeek, also of Cambridge University, saw the benefits of their investigation in uncovering pro-active measures that could be taken to fight against bad information. He hoped to use such tactics to create "a general 'vaccine' against fake news."

The game, created by the scientists, in conjunction with the Dutch media collective DROG as well as the design agency Gusmanson, has been translated into nine different languages. It is also being developed for WhatsApp and has a "junior version" for children aged 8-10. The researchers hope to use that version to develop early media literacy.

Check out the study published in the journal Palgrave Communications.

Play the game Bad News here.

Preserving truth: How to confront and correct fake news

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Conflict, violence, persecution and human rights violations led to a record high of 70.8 million people being displaced by the end of 2018.


The latest data from the UN Refugee Agency represents an increase of 2.3 million people on the previous year, twice as many as two decades ago - and is roughly the same as the population of Thailand.

But the actual number could be higher because the data only partially reflects the current political and economic crisis in Venezuela, from which around four million people have fled, according to the UNHCR.

Here are the key facts about the world's displaced population from the UNHCR's Global Trends - Forced Displacement in 2018 report.

 Image: UNHCR

1. There were more than 13 million newly displaced people in 2018

The report's figures take account of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people.

While some displaced people did manage to return to their country of origin, there were 13.6 million newly displaced persons in 2018 – that means 37,000 persons were forced to flee their homes each day of the year due to war or persecution.

A total of 3.5 million asylum seekers - those under international protection, but not yet granted refugee status - were awaiting a decision about their applications, 1.7 million of which were new applicants.

More people sought asylum in the US than any other country, followed by Peru, Germany, France and Turkey.

2. The majority of refugees come from just five countries

More than two-thirds of all refugees originate from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. In each of these countries, war and unrest account for the high numbers of displaced people.

Image: UNHCR

Syrians make up the largest single group of displaced people, with 13 million living in displacement, including 6,654,000 refugees, 6,184,000 internally displaced persons and 140,000 asylum seekers.

Syria has been the main country of origin of refugees for more than five years.

3. Most refugees seek refuge in the country next door

Almost four out of five refugees around the world sought refuge in a country neighbouring their homeland.

Since hostilities began in Syria in 2011, refugees have largely fled across the border into Turkey, which currently hosts the world's largest refugee population, at 3.7 million. As well as the 3.6 million exodus from Syria, Turkey has taken in smaller numbers of refugees from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

The refugee population in Pakistan is almost exclusively from Afghanistan and has held steady over the last year, with the number of newborns in the refugee population equalling the headcount of people returning home.

4. Fewer refugees are returning home

While total global refugees increased during 2018, fewer returned to their homeland than in the previous year.

Image: UNHCR

During 2018, the number of refugees who returned to their countries of origin stood at 593,800, down from 667,400 in 2017.

Although the situation in Syria is far from stable, more than 210,000 refugees did return home, mostly from Turkey.

South Sudan saw the second highest number of returnee refugees, primarily from Uganda.

5. Almost half of the world's refugees are children

Children under the age of 18 made up about half of the global refugee population in 2018, including many that were unaccompanied or separated from their parents - and, as such, at risk from abuse and exploitation.

During 2018, 27,600 unaccompanied or separated children were reported as having applied for asylum. At the end of 2018, 111,000 such children were reported among the refugee population.

However, many countries do not report, or misreport, the numbers of this most vulnerable refugee group, underestimating the actual figures.

Reprinted with permission of the World Economic Forum. Read the original article.

  • Bernie Sanders has released a plan to forgive all the student debt in the country.
  • It is even larger than the plan Elizabeth Warren put forward two months ago.
  • The plan has drawn criticism for forgiving the debt of both the poor and those well off enough to pay their own debt.


Americans are saddled with 1.6 trillion dollars of student loan debt. This number not only keeps young people from buying homes, starting families, investing in businesses, and living at the same standard as their parents but also weighs the economy down.

How to solve this problem is a significant issue of the 2020 presidential campaign. As all candidates try to court the youth vote and address the crisis, Bernie Sanders has thrown down the gauntlet and introduced a plan that dwarfs all others.

Bernie Sanders’ plan to end student debt. 

Bernie Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist from Vermont with crazy hair and an endearingly grumpy old man attitude, just released his plan to end all student debt in the country.

You read that right, all of it

The plan would forgive all 45 million borrowers from their debt, no questions asked. It would do so by either simply canceling debt held or insured by the federal government in the case of government loans and by buying up private loans at cost and then forgiving them in all other cases.

In addition to this, it the bill would also end tuition at two and four-year public colleges and trade schools, increasing funding to historically black and tribal colleges, expand Pell grants, and cap student loan rates.

The plan would cost $2.2 trillion and be paid for by a .5 percent tax on stock trades, a .1 percent tax on bond transactions, and a .0005 percent tax on dividends. Given that 80 percent of all stock is owned by 10 percent of the American population, this amounts to a tax on the rich through Wall Street.

What do the experts say?

Reviews of the program are mixed, as they were perhaps doomed to be.

The political right has already started to have a field day with it, with the usual suspects all calling it too expensive, a bribe, or otherwise fundamentally flawed. On the left, some criticism has focused on how the plan would forgive debt held by people making enough money not to need help.

Some have pointed out that it won't end student debt forever. A large chunk of the student debt in this country is taken out for graduate school, which tends to be more expensive than undergraduate programs. Even if undergraduate education is made free, graduate education will likely continue to be costly and drive students into debt for the foreseeable future.

Marshal Steinbaum of the University of Utah has argued that, like Elizabeth Warren's plan, this proposal would lead to an economic boom as millions of Americans, freed from debt, would be able to invest and spend their money more freely. The result of this could be billions of dollars in growth, many new jobs, and increased wealth for low earners.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich likes the plan and wrote on his Facebook page "Kudos to Sanders and others for introducing this important proposal. Student debt has been crippling our economy for far too long, and has been a huge strain on American families. Eliminating this burden for millions of Americans would help revitalize the middle class."

How does it compare to Elizabeth Warren’s plan?

Other candidates have proposals to deal with student debt. Most notable among them is Elizabeth Warren, who published her plan a couple of months ago.

Both programs are massive in scale and represent a paradigm shift in how we view higher education in this country. They both would wipe out an enormous amount of debt for millions of Americans boost the economy, and make undergraduate education free.

There are a few differences though. The biggest is that while Warren's plan forgives student debt for millions of people who have it, she leaves out those making more than $250,000 a year. Her plan also caps out at $50,000 of debt, everything above that is still on you. If you make more than $100,000, you're also subject to a slow phase-out of debt relief, so you won't get all of that $50,000. Bernie's plan includes everybody and would forgive all the student debt of the 1 percent too.

Ironic, isn't it? Bernie is the one willing to help the one percent get out of a bill. It's easy to understand why his plan is drawing criticism.

However, there is a method to the proverbial madness. Bernie argues that programs that apply to everybody are politically durable and less likely to be targeted later by people who pay for the plans but don't see any benefit. His reasoning isn't unique; that exact line of thinking is why Social Security is funded the way it is. Elizabeth Warren's plan is more straightforwardly a program to help reduce the wealth gap and makes less of a grab for this kind of support.

There is another idea to it, too, that a public program is for everybody and not just the people who need it the most. Just as civil and political rights are granted to everyone no matter if they use them or not, economic entitlement programs are also to be given to everybody even if they make enough not to need them to survive.

Or, as Bernie put it, "I believe in universality. If Donald Trump wants to send his kids to public schools, he has a right to do that."

The student loan crisis represents a failure of Americans to fund our education system adequately. Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have plans to forgive trillions of dollars' worth of debt and make public education debt free going forward. While the devil may be in the details, the fundamentals of both programs should be considered by everyone concerned about student loan debt, education, and the future of this country.

  • The study involved using MRIs and emotional processing tasks to compare 20 regular cannabis users to 35 non-users.
  • The results showed cannabis users had lower brain volumes in a region called the left rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC).
  • Still, the researchers noted that their study didn't establish causality.


A new study shows that cannabis use is associated with abnormalities in a brain region responsible for processing emotions seen on people's faces. The results suggest that smoking cannabis during adolescence and young adulthood could damage this brain region, making it harder for users to recognize subtle emotional changes in others, which could potentially contribute to mood disorders.

"There is a high rate of overlap between regular (at least weekly) cannabis use and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety," study author Kristin E. Maple, a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told PsyPost. "People with depression and anxiety often have differences in brain structure in regions that process facial emotions. The current study was designed to investigate whether cannabis users (without mood or other psychiatric disorders) have similar differences in brain structure, and whether those abnormalities are related to problems processing facial emotions."

In the study, Maple and her colleagues used MRI scans to examine the brains of 20 regular cannabis users (who used cannabis at least 40 times in the past year) and 35 non-users. Participants also completed several tasks related to facial emotion processing, which involved looking at various images of faces on a computer screen. These tasks tested participants' ability to discriminate between and recognize emotions and also to judge the degree to which emotions are expressed.

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

Example of a facial emotion recognition task, not part of the current study.

The results showed that both male and female cannabis users' brains had significantly lower volumes in the left rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) and also that users performed relatively poorly on one of the facial-emotions tasks: emotional discrimination.

In this task, participants were shown two identical images of a person's face. But sometimes, one of the images had a subtle computer-generated tweak that was inserted to intensify the display of either happiness or sadness. Participants had to look at each set and judge whether one of the images more intensely expressed the given emotion, or whether they were equal.

"These rACC structural abnormalities are related to difficulty noticing subtle differences in facial emotions, even after three weeks of abstinence from cannabis. This emotion processing deficit could be one reason why many people who regularly use cannabis also have mood disorders (e.g., depression or anxiety)."

Still, the study didn't establish causality. "The study was cross-sectional, which means we don't know whether abnormalities in the rACC make someone more likely to use cannabis, or whether regular cannabis use leads to abnormal rACC structure," Maple said.

The researchers wrote that longitudinal work is needed to fully understand "the causal relationships between substance use, comorbid disorders, gender, brain structure, and affective processing."

  • Two more Broward sheriff's deputies have been fired for failing to confront the gunman of the Parkland school shooting.
  • In total, four officers have so far been fired for failing to act.
  • The case raises questions about how much bravery and sacrifice the public can reasonably expect of police officers.


Two Broward sheriff's deputies have been fired for failing to confront the gunman who killed 17 students last year during the Parkland school shooting.

Joshua Stambaugh was working an off-duty shift when he responded to reports of gunshots at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Bodycam footage shows that Stambaugh drove to the scene, heard gunshots, put on a bulletproof vest, but then took cover by his pickup truck for about five minutes, after which he drove to a nearby highway.

Edward Eason also fled the scene after hearing gunshots, spending crucial minutes fiddling with his bulletproof vest and bodycam as students were being shot inside the school, investigators said. In total, four officers have been fired since the shooting.

The most infamous of the four is Scot Peterson, the high school's resource officer who stood outside the school as some 75 gunshots rang out inside. When Lt. Craig Cardinale arrived at the scene, he saw Peterson pacing back and forth outside of the school, breathing heavily, repeating, "Oh, my God. Oh, my God."

Peterson initially denied claims that he did nothing to help the students. "How can they keep saying I did nothing? I'm getting on the radio to call in the shooting. I'm locking down the school. I'm clearing kids out of the courtyard," according to The Washington Post. "There wasn't even time to think. It just happened, and I started reacting."

Peterson later told ABC News that he did everything he thought was appropriate at the time, but also acknowledged a difference between following protocol and doing the right thing, saying, "This will haunt me for the rest of my life." Still, Peterson maintains that he followed his training and that cowardice wasn't why he didn't enter the school.

In June, Peterson was fired and charged with 11 criminal counts, including seven counts of child neglect, three counts of culpable negligence, and one count of perjury. An arrest affidavit states that Peterson and his fellow officers had been trained to quickly confront mass shooters.

"Remember, every time you hear a gunshot in an active shooter incident, you have to believe another victim is being killed," deputies were taught.

​How much bravery can and should we expect of police?

Although victims' families and the general public might want to see Peterson punished for cowardice, the extent to which he's legally accountable for not entering the school remains unclear. CNN legal analyst Paul Callan said that the decision to charge Peterson with child neglect – an offense typically applied to people in a "caregiver" position – is unusual.

"...The US Constitution provides no general right to be protected from harm by wrongdoers, and a 'failure to protect' is not a crime that exists on either the state or federal level. In addition, the Supreme Court has previously ruled that the police do not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm – unless the officer has failed to protect someone 'in custody,' in a jail, prison or mental institution, for example."

The case will test whether statutes typically applied in cases involving "caregivers" can apply to a school resource officer, and also whether an officer can be imprisoned for failing to follow training. In the wake of the charges, some have questioned how much the public can reasonably expect of police.

"They're supposed to be expert marksmen, mixed martial artists, kind, caring nurturers, social scientists to the level of psychologists; they should be able to diagnose at a distance some poor individual who is downtrodden and acting out; we expect that they should be able to tell a real gun from an identical replica, and with very little training," Ken Murray, who runs an association for training law enforcement in Florida, told The New York Times. "If society knew how poorly officers are trained, they would never let them do this job."

Still, inadequate training doesn't necessarily relieve officers of moral duty. "They have an obligation to put themselves in harm's way," Murray said. "Now, if you don't want to do that job, go do something else."

Police officers swear to uphold the constitution and enforce local laws, but they're not always required to take oaths promising to "protect and serve." Even when they do, the act is symbolic. But in all cases, police are entrusted with a special degree of power – and that power, some argue, should be matched by an equal degree of responsibility.

"We are trusting police to do a job," Solomon Radner, a Michigan-based attorney representing some Parkland parents and students who are suing Peterson, told the Orlando Sentinel. "We are giving them a tremendous amount of legal power and with that power comes a certain amount of responsibility that requires them to sometimes risk their lives."