from the world's big
More than meets the eye: A Q&A with Dartmouth's Hany Farid
Did you see that photo of sharks allegedly swimming in a mall in Kuwait? Or the video of the eagle grabbing a baby in Montreal? Both must have been shared at least a dozen times on my social media feeds before someone even ventured to suggest either was a fake. As digital image manipulation tools advance, more and more of these kinds of images and videos will be released into the wild. And it gets harder and harder for us to tell the real from the manipulated.
Hany Farid is a computer scientist who specializes in digital forensics and image analysis. He's the guy lawyers, news agencies and governments call to validate images and videos--and we spoke about the challenges of doing image forensics, whether we are de-sensitized by Photoshop, and why people are so gullible when it comes to doctored photos.
Q: What got you interested in image forensics initially?
Hany Farid: Back in school, I had to use the library and I was ready to check out some books and I saw on the return cart something called, “The Federal Rules of Evidence." It was this huge book about introducing evidence in a court of law. I randomly opened it and saw a page about how you can introduce photographs. I started reading and basically, learned that you have to have a 35mm negative with a print on it--that's what is considered an original. But at this point there were digital images and the way this read it was like the 35mm negative and digital image are practically the same. They aren't and that's a problem. So this problem just kept kicking around in the back of my head. How do you deal with this?
Q: It's a problem that's now the center of your research.
Hany Farid: Yes, I hadn't expected that. But this is an interesting scientific problem with a natural solution: find new ways to analyze the images and determine their authenticity. But it's also a cool problem that has real world applications. Almost as soon as we're developing tools to analyze images, there are applications in the courts, in the media and in law enforcement. It's rare when that happens in science.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges in digital photography forensics?
Hany Farid: Today, we're very good at determining if an image is an original--that it was taken from a camera and absolutely nothing has been changed. Where things get tough are when images are modified--resized, recompressed, uploaded to a social network, maybe changing the brightness or contrast. You know, that little bit of post-processing that doesn't fundamentally change the image but is an alteration of some sort. It's hard to distinguish between these little things and more nefarious manipulations.
Q: Why are we so gullible when it comes to those shark-in-a-shopping-mall type photos?
Hany Farid: You know, people are gullible on one hand--but they are also overly cynical. I see the public making mistakes in both directions. They look at images that are real and assume they are fake or see a fake image and think it's real. So I'm not sure people are gullible but they do make mistakes. They know that images can be manipulated but they aren't particularly good at knowing what's real and what's not.
About 25 percent of my time is spent in perceptual science, studying how the brain perceives and trying to understand the visual system. We've done studies to try to understand how good people are at detecting fake images. And it turns out, we're really bad at it. So what I think is happening is that people have gut reactions to images and just go with that instead of taking a more critical or analytical process. People have trouble sorting it all out. And it's hard to sort out.
Q: Have we been de-sensitized because we see so many doctored images in magazines and in movies?
Hany Farid: It's possible. We see these amazing things and they're seamless, right? We don't even think twice about it. So, yes, it could be a de-sensitization. It could be a firehose effect where we're just inundated with images every day and it's difficult to make heads or tails of it all.
Q: So given all your knowledge, are you any better than the average person in eyeballing an image and detecting a fake?
Hany Farid: When we do experiments, the answer is always in the image itself. We generate simple CGI scenes where the shadows are inconsistent. If you know the trick, you can determine whether it's been doctored or not. The information to make the determination is there but people just don't do it.
Much to my surprise, the average Psych 101 student is no better or worse than graduate students in computer vision, graduate students who know all these rules about shadows and inconsistencies. In some ways, the graduate students were even slightly worse at making the decisions, though not significantly so. But it's a cognitive task, you have to reason it out to figure out if it's real. And your instinct is almost always wrong. So now, when I look at images, I sort of ignore my instinct and start making measurements.
Our brains have rough heuristics for visual perception. And, if you think about it, it makes sense. There's no reason for the visual system to have evolved to detect fake images. The world is real--so picking out doctored images is just not a skill we necessarily need to have.
Q: You've made the comment that one image can change the world--so we better make sure the image is real. Given that we have such poor gut instincts when it comes to doctored images, how do we make sure we're getting the right information and making the right decisions?
Hany Farid: I do think an image can change the world. Look at the news--we have North Korea testing nuclear bombs and we're using satellite images to verify that. More and more, we use images from around the world to make really important, serious decisions that have massive consequences. That's one of the reason why we created a company to make these forensic techniques available to a wider audience. At the end of the day, if we can make these tools effective and available, we have a hope of giving the right parties the ability to do critical reasoning about these images and videos--and then make the right decisions about what to do about them.
Photo credit: Richard Scalzo/Shutterstock.com
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.
- A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
- Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
- Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
Challenging the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Mental Disorders: Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="41699c8c2cb2aee9271a36646e0bee7d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-8BDC7i8Yyw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This is a far cry from Howard Rusk's 1947 NY Times editorial calling for mental healt</p><p>h disorders to be treated similarly to physical disease (such as diabetes and cancer). This mindset—not attributable to Rusk alone; he was merely relaying the psychiatric currency of the time—has dominated the field for decades: mental anguish is a genetic and/or chemical-deficiency disorder that must be treated pharmacologically.</p><p>Even as psychiatry untethered from DSM categories, the field still used chemistry to validate its existence. Psychotherapy, arguably the most efficient means for managing much of our anxiety and depression, is time- and labor-intensive. Counseling requires an empathetic and wizened ear to guide the patient to do the work. Ingesting a pill to do that work for you is more seductive, and easier. As Davis writes, even though the industry abandoned the DSM, it continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system." </p><p>That language has infiltrated public consciousness. The team at McLean surveyed 279 patients seeking acute treatment for depression. As they note, the causes of psychological distress have constantly shifted over the millennia: humoral imbalance in the ancient world; spiritual possession in medieval times; early childhood experiences around the time of Freud; maladaptive thought patterns dominant in the latter half of last century. While the team found that psychosocial explanations remain popular, biogenetic explanations (such as the chemical imbalance theory) are becoming more prominent. </p><p>Interestingly, the 80 people Davis interviewed for his book predominantly relied on biogenetic explanations. Instead of doctors diagnosing patients, as you might expect, they increasingly serve to confirm what patients come in suspecting. Patients arrive at medical offices confident in their self-diagnoses. They believe a pill is the best course of treatment, largely because they saw an advertisement or listened to a friend. Doctors too often oblige without further curiosity as to the reasons for their distress. </p>
Image: Illustration Forest / Shutterstock<p>While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient. The team at McLean writes,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions."</p><p>Davis points out the language used by direct-to-consumer advertising prevalent in America. Doctors, media, and advertising agencies converge around common messages, such as everyday blues is a "real medical condition," everyone is susceptible to clinical depression, and drugs correct underlying somatic conditions that you never consciously control. He continues,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Your inner life and evaluative stance are of marginal, if any, relevance; counseling or psychotherapy aimed at self-insight would serve little purpose." </p><p>The McLean team discovered a similar phenomenon: patients expect little from psychotherapy and a lot from pills. When depression is treated as the result of an internal and immutable essence instead of environmental conditions, behavioral changes are not expected to make much difference. Chemistry rules the popular imagination.</p>
Why Depression Isn't Just a Chemical Imbalance<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fbc027c9358dad4a6d9e2704fc9ddb04"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GAC9ODvSxh0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Many years ago, my best friend tried to quit smoking. He asked for help. While I'm no addiction expert, I offered what I knew from my fitness toolkit: breathing exercises and cardiovascular training, methods for strengthening his body and mind that could, I hoped, inspire him to take better care of himself in general. He replied, "No, I meant something like a pill."</p><p>A few years later, he quit for good. After failing the cold turkey method a number of times, it finally stuck. Maybe it was watching his children grow up—the reason my parents quit when I was young. This method is not easy, however. It challenges you; it forces you to confront your demons; it drastically affects your brain chemistry. Yet, in the long run, it sometimes works. </p><p>Sometimes pills work, too. But often they do not. The journalist Robert Whitaker, author of "Anatomy of an Epidemic," discussed the clinical trial process <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/antidepressants-dangers" target="_self">during our recent conversation</a>. While the FDA process appears thorough from the outside, pharmaceutical companies only need to prove that a drug works better than placebo, not that it works for the most amount of people. He continues, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Let's say you have a drug that provides a relief of symptoms in 20 percent of people. In placebo, it's 10 percent. How many people in that study do not benefit from the drug? Nine out of 10. How many people are exposed to the adverse effects of the drug? 100 percent."</p><p>Even though some pharmacological interventions show little efficacy, and even though Xanax, an addictive and destructive benzodiazepine that only showed <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5846112/" target="_blank">short-term (four weeks) efficacy</a> in clinical trials, is being prescribed for many months and years, doctors continue to use the language of clinical neuroscience to describe mental health issues. If chemistry is the problem, people will turn to chemistry for the solution. </p><p>Perhaps we should, as psychiatrist Dean Schuyler <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/antidepressant-effects" target="_self">writes</a> in a 1974 book, recognize that most depressive episodes "will run their course and terminate with virtually complete recovery without specific intervention." The problem is that idea isn't profitable. As long as the gatekeepers continue to use the language of chemical imbalances to describe what for many is just an episodic case of the "blahs," we'll continue creating more problems than we solve.</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>
SEAL training is the ultimate test of both mental and physical strength.
- The fact that U.S. Navy SEALs endure very rigorous training before entering the field is common knowledge, but just what happens at those facilities is less often discussed. In this video, former SEALs Brent Gleeson, David Goggins, and Eric Greitens (as well as authors Jesse Itzler and Jamie Wheal) talk about how the 18-month program is designed to build elite, disciplined operatives with immense mental toughness and resilience.
- Wheal dives into the cutting-edge technology and science that the navy uses to prepare these individuals. Itzler shares his experience meeting and briefly living with Goggins (who was also an Army Ranger) and the things he learned about pushing past perceived limits.
- Goggins dives into why you should leave your comfort zone, introduces the 40 percent rule, and explains why the biggest battle we all face is the one in our own minds. "Usually whatever's in front of you isn't as big as you make it out to be," says the SEAL turned motivational speaker. "We start to make these very small things enormous because we allow our minds to take control and go away from us. We have to regain control of our mind."