Tag Archives: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Facebook Just Manipulated the Emotions of 700,000 Users Without Informing Them

When you sign up for Facebook, you have to agree to a whole laundry list of fine-print terms and conditions (which almost nobody ever reads). One of the things you consent to is Facebook’s Data Use Policy, which gives Facebook the right to use your info for, “…troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”

Well, it seems that Facebook has taken full advantage of the “research” portion of that agreement. A study published two weeks ago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) revealed that Facebook recently carried out an experiment that involved manipulating user’s emotions.

Basically, Faceobook wanted to know if removing sad, angry or otherwise negative terms from a user’s News Feed would affect how happy or sad the statuses they posted were.

So they randomly selected 689,003 users and tweaked the computer algorithms that determine what pops up on your News Feed. Some of the users were fed primarily neutral to happy information and stories, while others were fed primarily neutral to sad or depressing information.

It probably comes as a surprise to nobody that the users who were fed more negative information tended to post more gloomy statuses.

Congratulations Facebook, you proved something that 99% of 5th graders could have probably just told you.

But what about all of the users who Facebook intentionally made sad? Some serious questions have been raised about the ethics of the experiment.

Any experiment that receives federal funding has to abide abide by a code of rules known as the Common Rule for human subjects. The Common Rule’s definition of consent requires the researchers to give the test subjects, “a description of any foreseeable risks or discomforts to the subject.”

Facebook clearly didn’t abide by that standard, but since the test wasn’t federally funded, they are technically exempt. However, the PNAS also has its own set of rules for publication. Unfortunately, they seem to have bent or broken a few of them to publish the Facebook study.

Most notably, PNAS‘s guidelines for publishing require that a study abide the principles of the Helsinki Declaration, which states that test subjects must be,

“…adequately informed of the aims, methods, sources of funding, any possible conflicts of interest, institutional affiliations of the researcher, the anticipated benefits and potential risks of the study and the discomfort it may entail.”

Clearly, manipulating the emotions of 700,000 oblivious users is a blatant violation of this principle. With most people getting the bulk of their news and information on Facebook, it’s pretty unsettling to find out that they’re doing mass psychological testing on us.

Read the original story from Slate here.

LA polluted

China’s Pollution is Crossing the Pacific and Becoming America’s Problem

A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that pollution from the manufacturing of American-bound products in China is responsible for between 12-24% of daily sulfate concentrations in the western US.

Don Wuebbles, who is a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Illinois, led the study. He said,

Pollution from China is having an effect in the U.S., and we need to recognize how that is affecting both our background ozone levels and also particulates that are reaching the West Coast.”

Strong westerly winds can send pollution from China across the ocean to the American west coast within a matter of days. The picture at the top is of Los Angeles on a particularly smoggy day.

About 21% of export-related pollution in China is from products headed for the US.

Read the full story from CNN here.

Where Do We Feel Different Emotions? The Body Atlas (Graphic)

The Body Atlas (click to see full size)

A group of 700 participants was shown different images and videos associated with different emotional responses. After each visual, they self-reported parts of the body that felt different after experiencing the emotion.

Researchers compiled this data and created a “Body Atlas” showing how different emotions increase (warm colors) or decrease (cool colors) the amount of sensations we feel in different parts of the body.

Read more details about the project and experimentation here.

93 Earthquakes in North Texas from 2009-2011 Were Caused By Accelerated Oil Production Process

The process illustrated above, known as Carbon Dioxide Enhanced Oil Recovery, speeds up oil production by pumping carbon dioxide down into the oil reservoir. By using data on these injections as well as oil extractions, researchers were able to determine that 93 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher were caused by this process near Snyder, a small town between Abilene and Lubbock, between 2009 and 2011. Researchers say that existing fault lines in the area contributed to the high seismic activity associated with the Enhanced Oil Recovery process.