Tag Archives: Research

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.

New Discovery: The Black Death Was Not Spread By Rats, Must Have Been Airborne

In the autumn of 1348, The Black Death came to Britain from east Asia. By the next spring, it had killed 6 out of every 10 people in London.

It has long been thought that the plague spread via flea-infested rats, but a new discovery has prompted scientists to revise this theory.

Amidst pre-construction excavations for a train line in Charterhouse Square (to the north of the City of London) about a year ago, workers discovered 25 skeletons which were found to have been from the time of the plague.

Scientists were able to extract samples of the plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, from the teeth of the skeletons, and compared it to a strain of the plague which recently killed about 60 people in Madagascar.

One of the skulls used to extract Black Death DNA (Photo: Philip Toscano/PA)

They expected that the strain from the 14th century would be far more virulent, because of how devastating it was when it hit London, but found instead that it was no more virulent than the strain from Madagascar (their DNA code was almost a perfect match).

The researchers realized that the only way the plague could have spread as fast as it did was for the disease to have been airborne, getting into the lungs and then being spread by coughs and sneezes.

Here’s Dr. Tim Brooks, who’s been leading the research:

“As an explanation [rat fleas] for the Black Death in its own right, it simply isn’t good enough. It cannot spread fast enough from one household to the next to cause the huge number of cases that we saw during the Black Death epidemics.”

Read the full story from The Guardian here.

breaking down cancers defense

Breaking Down Cancer’s Defenses So Your Body Can Destroy It

Researchers from the University’s Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute recently discovered how the protective barrier around pancreatic cancer cells functions.

The researchers then used a drug to break down this barrier, allowing the body’s own T-cells (which attack harmful cells in the body) to destroy the cancer.

Initial tests of this method yielded almost total elimination of the pancreatic cancer cells within a week. The researchers are hopeful that the method will be able to be used for other forms of cancer as well.

Read the full story here.

Healthy human T-cell

Liberals Have a False Sense of Uniqueness; Conservatives Have a False Sense of Consensus

New research published in the scientific journal Psychological Science has found that people who identify themselves as liberals tend to underestimate the amount of actual agreement among those who share their political views, while people who are conservative tend to overestimate agreement among those who share their views.

To test this, 300 different participants were given a series of political (ex: “I support unionization”) and non-political (ex: “I like juice”) statements, and were told to respond with either agreement or non-agreement. They were then asked how much they thought other people who shared their political views would agree with their answers to the previous questions; by doing this, researchers could see how much consensus each person thought there was within their ideology.

The results?

Liberals showed what the researchers call ‘truly false uniqueness,’ perceiving their beliefs as more divergent from the beliefs of other liberals than they actually were. Moderates and conservatives, on the other hand, showed evidence of ‘truly false consensus,’ perceiving their beliefs to be more similar to those of other members of their political group than they actually were.”

Scientists hypothesize this has to do with the fact that in general, liberal desire uniqueness more than conservatives.

Chadly Stern, a psychological scientists from NYU who led the research, hopes that these findings will help us to understand the emergence of social movements:

Liberal social movements might struggle to develop solidarity and formulate shared goals within their ranks, both because liberals want to maintain unique beliefs and because they underestimate the amount of agreement among their members… Conservative social movements might initially capitalize on perceiving agreement to galvanize their ranks, but their inaccurate perceptions could impair group progress when actual agreement is necessary.”

For more information, read the full story here.