Tag Archives: London

People believe falsehoods despite new factual info

This is not news, but it turns out can be replicated in carefully designed experiments, as researchers at University College in London have observed in a submission to the journal PLOS: Computational Biology. And it turns out this bias toward old facts we thought were true over new facts showing the opposite can still exist even when choosing the old beliefs costs us something in return.

This last presidential election was a watershed moment for many of us in terms of politics, and not in a good way. No matter which candidate one supported, the amount of false news being passed about online was staggering and, if you value credible news, disheartening.  I witnessed perfectly intelligent people — some with advanced degrees — sharing articles which most any informed person would immediately assume to be factually incorrect.

Part of this is because the purveyors of false news — whether they are simply offering clickbait to make money or because they are spreading political propaganda — have become much better at making fake news seem real.

But part of it is because the false news being spread on both sides simply confirmed the biases of the person sharing it — confirmation bias.  If an article confirms our previous beliefs it seems true for that very reason no matter how outlandish it might seem when held up to scrutiny.

But what if choosing the wrong answer we knew to be true previously would cost us something in return?

Researchers at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, set up an experiment whereby individuals were shown symbols worth varying amounts of money. After a while, participants learned which symbols were worth most and began choosing those symbols as expected.

In a second experiment,  however, participants were shown the same lucrative symbols from the first experiment. Added to these were new symbols worth more money, making the choosing of the old symbols cost participants in terms of potential earnings lost.

An interesting thing happened: participants would still choose the old symbols even though they were plainly shown doing so would cost them money . 

This all sounds exceedingly simple, but the researchers controlled for all sort of variables in the participants and in the way they crunched their numbers.  I don’t know exactly what “dimensionality reduction and model comparison” and “parameter correlation and parameter recovery” are, but the trained scientists who do these sorts of experiments know exactly what they are and that is what elevates research like this from something you might do with your friends into the realm of accepted scientific research.

Of course, this will all have to be confirmed with more experiments by other scientists who read these results in this respected journal and try to replicate them, which is how science works and why it is so important that it be done properly.

These same kinds of results keep appearing in similar studies. If these findings are confirmed down the road it raises interesting questions for our everyday life, in education, and in understanding why people continue to hold onto false beliefs.

The researchers from University College have some ideas as to why people might still hold onto false information even when still believing it to be true might cost them something. 

Some of it might be simply the satisfaction of thinking we are correct and refusing to let go of that feeling that we are smart.

It also might hold some evolutionary reasons which translate into today’s world, such as the mere fact that, as other research has shown, being supremely confident in your own abilities and choices can often make a person with few facts and low ability more successful that a person with more facts, greater abilities but possessing chronically low self-confidence.

I have a friend, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, whose grandparents are staunch supporters of President Donald Trump despite the latter being tied to, and refusing to immediately condemn, Nazis and other forms of anti-Semitic rabble.

This has, of course, caused great pain among for the grandparents and some of their progeny who cannot understand how the grandparents could support such a man — especially considering the background of the grandparents with Nazi Germany.

There has been much shaming of the grandparents and hurt feelings on all sides. Through it all, grandpa — the self-made business success story — has dug in his heels with grandma the dutiful follower.

Grandpa the self-made man likely has much emotional real estate invested in his stubborn support of Trump.  Plying him with facts and condemning him for his choices has gotten nowhere.

Perhaps the best approach to grandpa — and anyone else we are trying to dissuade from contradictory beliefs which alarm us — is to find a way of helping them to save their ego while still choosing the the thing that is true over the thing they want to be true.

How one might do that is an open question and will likely vary from person to person.

In the real world, it is clear that telling a person how stupid they are for not acknowledging the plain-to-see (for most of us, anyway) facts in front of them simply doesn’t work with many people.

London infrastructure project yields fascinating finds

Massive boring machines like this one—dubbed Victoria in honor of the British queen who oversaw the birth of modern railways—are carving 26 miles of tunnels beneath London as part of Europe’s largest infrastructure project. (NATGEO)

London’s version of Boston’s massive big dig is fully underway, and they are excavating some priceless historical artifacts during a public infrastructure project that gives urban archaeologists the rare chance for extended exploration in an area that is usually too densely populated and too busy for this kind of unearthing:

“These excavations have provided us with fascinating snapshots into the lives of Londoners through the ages,” says Don Walker, a human osteologist, or bone specialist, for MOLA. “It makes you realize that we all are just small, passing players in a very long-running story.”

One of the earliest chapters of that story came to light after 2010 at the three-acre building site for Bloomberg London, the soon-to-open European headquarters of the Bloomberg financial empire. Located in the ancient ward of Cordwainer, where leather workers had plied their trade since Roman times, a 40-foot-deep excavation pit turned out to be one of the most significant early Roman sites ever found in London.

As the soil was removed, entire street scenes were revealed, complete with timber-framed shops, homes, fences, and yards. Dating from the early 60s A.D. onward, the site was in such an astonishing state of preservation that archaeologists dubbed it the “Pompeii of the north.” More than 14,000 artifacts were found over the course of the excavation, including coins, amulets, pewter plates, ceramic lamps, 250 leather boots and sandals, and more than 900 boxes of pottery.

You can read more here.

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Muscle bound Spartans take over London in a flash mob

This certainly looks as if it was fun. Picture below. More pictures at the link.

300 Spartan cosplayers decided to surprise London Underground passengers during the rush hour of the subway. These brawny men in leather coats and pants, with their shields and spears in their hands, rode escalators, boarded trains, entertained passengers, and flirted with women.

via 300 Spartans Storm London Underground – Epic Flashmob — Epicstream.

Spartans on the elevator…escalator. oops.