A month or so ago, my brother told me that his daughter, Ruby, wanted a new science kit for her birthday. I had gotten her one previously and we enjoyed doing the experiments together. However, that experience taught me that pre-made science kits are not great. So, I decided to make one for her myself.
I smartly (or stupidly) posted pictures of a couple of pages on both Facebook and Twitter, and it quickly went low-key viral. I did not expect the overwhelming response, but perhaps I should have. After a great deal of thought and consulting with some wonderfully supportive colleagues, I decided to not officially publish the manual and keep it freely available to all who would like it.
However, to maintain my sanity and and time for my actual job, I have now posted it to my website. You can find the Ruby’s Laboratory Manual here.
Back in May during one of the many peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic and stay at home orders, I was feeling useless. I felt the need to contribute and help. I also was personally feeling terrible since I wasn’t able to maintain my powerlifting routine. I decided to combine the two.
I got in touch with my friend and colleague, Dr. Katie Rose Hejtmanek, and we put together an online survey looking at gathering information on how the stay at home orders affected exercise routines. Furthermore, we wanted to find out how the changes in routine also affected perceived physical and mental well being.
We quickly got over 500 survey respondents, and it became very clear that folks who almost exclusively used gyms before the pandemic faired the worst during the stay at home orders. We have not published these results yet, but wanted to put something together in hopes of getting results back as quickly as possible to out participants as well as providing some techniques for coping.
Here is the infographic we created based on the preliminary analysis.
UPDATE: check out these awesome media literacy resources pulled together by the Illinois Civics Hub! Also, check out this amazing website that provides lots of articles debunking pseudoscience and false information.
Misinformation is not new. Deception, whether intentional or unintentional is not even unique to humans (see, for example, Nature’s Cheats).
However, the landscape of how we create, curate, and disseminate information has drastically changed in the past few decades. Highly accessible internet access, engaging social media platforms, and few-to-no checks on information accuracy have not only increased the amount of misinformation, but have also substantially increased the speed and distance with which misinformation can spread.
The vast amount of information at our fingertips is an incredibly powerful tool, but can also be an incredibly powerful weapon. In the age of COVID-19, we have seen how dangerous misinformation can be (for example, the promotion of hydroxychloroquine despite the lack of evidence), which can lead to real harm (see here and the results of a recent study here).
Yes, we need to address the problematic claims. However, I think this only addresses the proximate and not the ultimate issue, which is that many, if not most, people struggle to reliably spot misinformation. There needs to be a more concerted effort to train people (friends, family, students) to be more discerning consumers of information.
There will always be people who want to intentionally spread false information, however, if we give people the tools to identify misinformation, we can limit that spread. Correcting misinformation is like giving a person a fish…they will correct, hopefully, that one falsehood. However, teaching someone to identify false claims will empower them to spot misinformation for life.
Throughout my career, I have placed greater and greater emphasis on teaching my students to always be skeptical, recognize bias (their own and that of others), assess the agenda of article authors, and to confirm or refute purported facts with additional research. And, semester after semester, it is these lessons that students point to as being the most important and most remembered.
How might the agenda of the media outlet bias the information in the article?
What is the date of publication?
The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation where new information becomes available almost every hour – often rendering yesterday’s news completely out of date.
If the article is more than a couple weeks old, do a search to see if there is new, updated information.
Who is the author?
Give the author a quick search to find out their background and credentials – especially those that relate to the claims they are making.
Might they have an agenda? If so, what is that agenda? What are they trying to make you think, feel, and do?
How is the information being presented?
How was the evidence gathered? Were links provided to original work?
Does the original work back up the author’s claim?
If only screen shots or simplified summaries of the original work are presented without links, BE EVEN MORE SKEPTICAL. The author is only showing you what the author wants you to see and not the whole story, and you will need to research more on your own.
If you do not have access to the original work, email the author! Scientists love sharing their articles to those who don’t have access. I mean it, we really do.
Does what you are reading confirm what you already believe?
If yes, BE CAREFUL. This could be confirmation bias, which is the tendency to only seek out and trust information you already agree with in order to confirm the beliefs you hold.
Another term for this is apophenia – the tendency to make connections or see patterns between unrelated and random things. This is often how conspiracy theories are generated and spread. This article does a great (albeit long) job of discussing this.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you are wrong in your thinking, but it does mean you need to do some extra research to determine if this is confirmation bias or not. Read articles (from quality sources, see media bias chart above) that promote opposing views. Once you have heard both sides of a story, try to objectively weigh the evidence and decide where your thoughts fall with this new information.
Does what you are reading elicit an emotional response?
If yes, BE EXTRA SKEPTICAL! The author of the article is likely trying to use emotion (and not well researched information) to sway your opinion.
The same advice applies here as it did above. If you find yourself reacting emotionally to something (especially if it is anger or fear), do additional research from quality sources to determine if the original post is misleading you.
Check out the website “About” and “Contact” pages
1. Do they have a list of reporters? If not, be VERY skeptical!
2. Is the “About” page comprehensive and give you a good idea of who they are and what their goals are (see #2,4,&5 above)? If not, be VERY skeptical!
9. Reach out to others!
1. Still don’t know if what you are reading is true? Start conversations with friends and family who may have more expertise in a particular subject. Make sure you and they are asking questions.
2. Seeks expert opinions, and get more than one if you can.
10. Be wary of video clip times! If you see a video clip that is only 5-10 seconds long or less DON’T BELIEVE IT! That clip was taken out of context! Do some searching to find a more complete video, and then make a judgement about the original shortened video’s goal and potential manipulation.
“I realized that I profited from studying a group of people, pursing my own interests, my own questions, using my own methods, and (without intending to do so) I was perpetuating a colonial way of doing science that was not there to serve the populations that I studied. And it was a shock to me.”
In our latest installment of #Hackademics, Dr. Pablo Nepomnaschy discusses de-colonizing research and navigating academia if you or your mentee are an international student.
South Bend was getting what we all thought would be the last snow of the winter (we are expected to get 3-5 inches of snow tomorrow…April 17th). Spring Break was just two days away, and I had planned a cabin retreat to re-focus my energy on research. An official pandemic would not be declared for another two weeks.
When I returned from that cabin retreat to a different world. The severity of Covid-19 was finally being recognized, Notre Dame made the call to shift to remote instruction, and there was a run on toilet paper.
Listening to my interview now, I feel nothing but gratitude. I am grateful to have opportunities to talk about the work I love. I am grateful to have a job that supports me in doing the work I love. I am grateful for a job that continues to support me working safely from home.
This past month has been filled with difficult transitions, but today this podcast made things a bit easier for me.
I am going to try and be better about posting new podcast episodes!
Here is the most recent one where Dr. Sam Urlacher (Baylor Anthropology) discusses his work among Shuar children. His interview was also the first one we conducted while in quarantine, and so conversation is both insightful and meandering given the wear and tear of isolation.
Chris Lynn and I recently wrote an article for Practicing Anthropology discussing the how and why we podcast for the Human Biology Association. The short and sweet answer is that it is a labor of love. We love what we do and all the amazing people we get to interact with, and we want to share that through the Sausage of Science.
This article also provides a brief road map of how to go about making your own podcast if you are interested. Here is the link the article abstract, feel free to contact me for a pdf. Also, here is a link to the blog post Chris wrote about the article!