Estoniafilmarna överklagar till HD Utdrag: “Den femdelade dokumentären ‘Estonia – fyndet som ändrar allt’ vann 2020 Stora Journalistpriset i kategorin ‘Årets avslöjande’. Dokumentären har samtidigt varit hårt kritiserad. Kritiker som … Continued
Inlägget Dagens Media, 27 april 2023 dök först upp på Vetenskap och Folkbildning.
AI chatbots like ChatGPT, Bing, and Bard are excellent at crafting sentences that sound like human writing. But they often present falsehoods as facts and have inconsistent logic, and that can be hard to spot.
One way around this problem, a new study suggests, is to change the way the AI presents information. Getting users to engage more actively with the chatbot’s statements might help them think more critically about that content.
A team of researchers from MIT and Columbia University presented around 200 participants with a set of statements generated by OpenAI’s GPT-3 and asked them to determine whether they made sense logically. A statement might be something like “Video games cause people to be aggressive in the real world. A gamer stabbed another after being beaten in the online game Counter-Strike.”
Participants were divided into three groups. The first group’s statements came with no explanation at all. The second group’s statements each came with an explanation noting why it was or wasn’t logical. And the third group’s statements each came with a question that prompted readers to check the logic themselves.
The researchers found that the group presented with questions scored higher than the other two groups in noticing when the AI’s logic didn’t add up.
The question method also made people feel more in charge of decisions made with AI, and researchers say it can reduce the risk of overdependence on AI-generated information, according to a new peer-reviewed paper presented at the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Hamburg, Germany.
When people were given a ready-made answer, they were more likely to follow the logic of the AI system, but when the AI posed a question, “people said that the AI system made them question their reactions more and help them think harder,” says MIT’s Valdemar Danry, one of the researchers behind the study.
“A big win for us was actually seeing that people felt that they were the ones who arrived at the answers and that they were in charge of what was happening. And that they had the agency and capabilities of doing that,” he says.
The researchers hope their method could help develop people’s critical thinking skills as they use AI chatbots in school or when searching for information online.
They wanted to show that you can train a model that doesn’t just provide answers but helps engage their own critical thinking, says Pat Pataranutaporn, another MIT researcher who worked on the paper.
Fernanda Viégas, a professor of computer science at Harvard University, who did not participate in the study, says she is excited to see a fresh take on explaining AI systems that not only offers users insight into the system’s decision-making process but does so by questioning the logic the system has used to reach its decision.
“Given that one of the main challenges in the adoption of AI systems tends to be their opacity, explaining AI decisions is important,” says Viégas. “Traditionally, it’s been hard enough to explain, in user-friendly language, how an AI system comes to a prediction or decision.”
Chenhao Tan, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Chicago, says he would like to see how their method works in the real world—for example, whether AI can help doctors make better diagnoses by asking questions.
The research shows how important it is to add some friction into experiences with chatbots so that people pause before making decisions with the AI’s help, says Lior Zalmanson, an assistant professor at the Coller School of Management, Tel Aviv University.
“It’s easy, when it all looks so magical, to stop trusting our own senses and start delegating everything to the algorithm,” he says.
In another paper presented at CHI, Zalmanson and a team of researchers at Cornell, the University of Bayreuth and Microsoft Research, found that even when people disagree with what AI chatbots say, they still tend to use that output because they think it sounds better than anything they could have written themselves.
The challenge, says Viégas, will be finding the sweet spot, improving users’ discernment while keeping AI systems convenient.
“Unfortunately, in a fast-paced society, it’s unclear how often people will want to engage in critical thinking instead of expecting a ready answer,” she says.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-34243-3Sterilization characteristics of narrow tubing by nitrogen oxides generated in atmospheric pressure air plasma
Nature Communications, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-37963-2Voltage-gated sodium channels function as multiprotein signaling complexes. Here, authors show that the dispanin
Scientific Reports, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-34039-5Comparison of rabbit corneal changes during different preservation techniques using optisol-GS and airlift
Scientific Reports, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-33965-8Smoking induces increased apoptosis in osteoblasts: changes in bone matrix organic components
Scientific Reports, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-33789-6Endovascular embolization of visceral artery
Scientific Reports, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-33655-5Predicting drug adverse effects using a new Gastro-Intestinal Pacemaker Activity Drug Database (GIPADD)
Scientific Reports, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-32936-3MagicCubePose, A more comprehensive 6D pose estimation network
Scientific Reports, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-34269-7Prognostic value of adjuvant external beam radiotherapy for
Scientific Reports, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-33979-2Psychopharmacological treatment of disruptive behavior in youths: systematic review and network meta-analysis
Scientific Reports, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-33934-1Prediction of total knee replacement using deep learning analysis of knee MRI
Fåglar och groddjur trivs tillsammans, men fåglar och fiskar har en mer komplicerad relation. För att ta hänsyn till alla arter kan separata våtmarker vara lösningen, menar forskare.
Inlägget Nischade våtmarker kan gynna fler arter dök först upp på forskning.se.
When Ravi Yekkanti puts on his headset to go to work, he never knows what the day spent in virtual reality will bring. Who might he meet? Will a child’s voice accost him with a racist remark? Will a cartoon try to grab his genitals? He adjusts the extraterrestrial-looking goggles haloing his head as he sits at the desk in his office in Hyderabad, India, and prepares to immerse himself in an “office” full of animated avatars. Yekkanti’s job, as he sees it, is to make sure everyone in the metaverse is safe and having a good time, and he takes pride in it.
Yekkanti is at the forefront of a new field, VR and metaverse content moderation. Digital safety in the metaverse has been off to a somewhat rocky start, with reports of sexual assaults, bullying, and child grooming. That issue is becoming more urgent with Meta’s announcement last week that it is lowering the age minimum for its Horizon Worlds platform from 18 to 13. The announcement also mentioned a slew of features and rules intended to protect younger users. However, someone has to enforce those rules and make sure people aren’t getting around the safeguards.
Meta won’t say how many content moderators it employs or contracts in Horizon Worlds, or whether the company intends to increase that number with the new age policy. But the change puts a spotlight on those tasked with enforcement in these new online spaces—people like Yekkanti—and how they go about their jobs.
Yekkanti has worked as a moderator and training manager in virtual reality since 2020 and came to the job after doing traditional moderation work on text and images. He is employed by WebPurify, a company that provides content moderation services to internet companies such as Microsoft and Play Lab, and works with a team based in India. His work is mostly done in mainstream platforms, including those owned by Meta, although WebPurify declined to confirm which ones specifically citing client confidentiality agreements.
A longtime internet enthusiast, Yekkanti says he loves putting on a VR headset, meeting people from all over the world, and giving advice to metaverse creators about how to improve their games and “worlds.”
He is part of a new class of workers protecting safety in the metaverse as private security agents, interacting with the avatars of very real people to suss out virtual-reality misbehavior. He does not publicly disclose his moderator status. Instead, he works more or less undercover, presenting as an average user to better witness violations.
Because traditional moderation tools, such as AI-enabled filters on certain words, don’t translate well to real-time immersive environments, mods like Yekkanti are the primary way to ensure safety in the digital world, and the work is getting more important every day.
The metaverse’s safety problem
The metaverse’s safety problem is complex and opaque. Journalists have reported instances of abusive comments, scamming, sexual assaults, and even a kidnapping orchestrated through Meta’s Oculus. The biggest immersive platforms, like Roblox and Meta’s Horizon Worlds, keep their statistics about bad behavior very hush-hush, but Yekkanti says he encounters reportable transgressions every day.
Meta declined to comment on the record, but did send a list of tools and policies it has in place. A spokesperson for Roblox says the company has “a team of thousands of moderators who monitor for inappropriate content 24/7 and investigate reports submitted by our community” and also uses machine learning to review text, images, and audio.
To deal with safety issues, tech companies have turned to volunteers and employees like Meta’s community guides, undercover moderators like Yekkanti, and—increasingly—platform features that allow users to manage their own safety, like a personal boundary line that keeps other users from getting too close.
“Social media is the building block of the metaverse, and we’ve got to treat the metaverse as an evolution—like the next step of social media, not totally something detached from it,” says Juan Londoño, a policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank in Washington, DC.
But given the immersive nature of the metaverse, many tools built to deal with the billions of potentially harmful words and images in the two-dimensional web don’t work well in VR. Human content moderators are proving to be among the most essential solutions.
Grooming, where adults with predatory intentions try to form trusted relationships with minors, is also a real challenge. When companies don’t filter out and prevent this abuse proactively, users are tasked with reporting and catching the bad behavior.
“If a company is relying on users to report potentially traumatic things that have happened to them or potentially dangerous situations, it almost feels too late,” says Delara Derakhshani, a privacy lawyer who worked at Meta’s Reality Labs until October 2022. “The onus shouldn’t be on the children to have to report that by the time any potential trauma or damage is done.”
The front line of content moderation
The immersive nature of the metaverse means that rule-breaking behavior is quite literally multi-dimensional and generally needs to be caught in real time. Only a fraction of the issues are reported by users, and not everything that takes place in the real-time environment is captured and saved. Meta says it captures interactions on a rolling basis, for example, according to a company spokesperson.
WebPurify, which previously focused on moderation of online text and images, has been offering services for metaverse companies since early last year and recently nabbed Twitter’s former head of trust and safety operations, Alex Popken, to help lead the effort.
“We’re figuring out how to police VR and AR, which is sort of a new territory because you’re really looking at human behavior,” says Popken.
WebPurify’s employees are on the front line in these new spaces, and racial and sexual comments are common. Yekkanti says one female moderator on his team interacted with a user who understood that she was Indian and offered to marry her in exchange for a cow.
Other incidents are more serious. Another female moderator on Yekkanti’s team encountered a user who made highly sexualized and offensive remarks about her vagina. Once, a user approached a moderator and seemingly grabbed their genital area. (The user claimed he was going for a high five.)
Moderators learn detailed company safety policies that outline how to catch and report transgressions. One game Yekkanti works on has a policy that specifies protected categories of people, as defined by characteristics like race, ethnicity, gender, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation, and refugee status. Yekkanti says that “any form of negative comment toward this protected group would be considered as hateful.” Moderators are trained to respond proportionally, using their own judgment. That could mean muting users who violate policies, removing them from a game, or reporting them to the company.
WebPurify offers its moderators 24/7 access to mental-health counseling, among other resources.
Moderators have to contend with nuanced safety challenges, and it can take a lot of judgment and emotional intelligence to determine whether something is appropriate. Expectations about interpersonal space and physical greetings, for example, vary across cultures and users, and different spaces in the metaverse have different community guidelines.
This all happens undercover, so that users do not change their behavior because they know they are interacting with a moderator. “Catching bad guys is more rewarding than upsetting,” says Yekkanti.
Moderation also means defying expectations about user privacy.
A key part of the job is “tracking everything,” Yekkanti says. The moderators record everything that happens in the game from the time they join to the time they leave, including conversations between players. Some games give mods administrative privileges to hear everything that players are saying, even if the players themselves have not enabled full access to all other players. This lets them listen in on conversations that players might think are private.
“If we want platforms to have a super hands-on role with user safety, that might bring about some privacy transgressions that users might not be comfortable with,” says Londoño.
Meanwhile, some in government have expressed skepticism of Meta’s policies. Democratic senators Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut wrote a public letter to Mark Zuckerberg asking him to reconsider the move to lower age restrictions and calling out “gaps in the company’s understanding of user safety.”
Derakhshani, the former Meta lawyer, says we need more transparency about how companies are tackling safety in the metaverse.
“This move to bring in younger audiences—is it to enable the best experiences for young teens? Is it to bring in new audiences as older ones age out? One thing is for sure, though: that whatever the reasoning is, the public and regulators really do need assurance that these companies are prepared and have thought this out really carefully,” she says. “I’m not sure that we’re quite there.”
Meanwhile, Yekkanti says he wants people to understand that his job, although it can be a lot of fun, is really important. “We are trying to create, as moderators, a better experience for everyone so they don’t have to go through trauma,” he says. “We, as moderators, are prepared to take it and are there to protect others. We can be the first line of defense.”
- Maryland is on the verge of becoming the first state to adopt a law to promote the use of alternatives to animal testing in biomedical research.
This article is from The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly biotech newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Thursday, sign up here.
Feces are good for so much more than flushing.
Yes, our waste contains the stuff that our bodies are generally trying to get rid of. But it can also provide insight into our gut microbiomes and how they influence our health. And we’re getting closer to understanding the impact of individual foods.
The gut microbiome is the name we give to the community of microbes that make a home in our insides. These bugs end up in our stool, as do the many chemicals they produce.
Scientists are getting better at collecting and making sense of this data. This week, I came across a fascinating study in which researchers tried to tell whether people had eaten individual foods—avocados, walnuts, broccoli, and others—just by analyzing their poo. For some of these foods, accuracy was upwards of 80%.
The scientists behind the work want to use this approach to aid research. But we could potentially use the same approach to improve our health. Other researchers hope to use stool analysis to provide people with personalized, microbiome-based diet advice, for example.
Our guts are home to billions of microbes, and the makeup of our microbiome is linked to our diet. You see different populations of bugs in vegetarians and people who eat a lot of meat, for example. It’s likely that microbes make a home where there is food for them to eat. And some might thrive on specific foods or their breakdown products.
But when it comes to the details, we’re still figuring out exactly how the relationships between diet, microbiome, and health work. Alterations in the microbiome have been linked to multiple diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and arthritis, to name a few.
Last year, Eran Elinav at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and his colleagues showed that sweeteners can influence our microbiomes—and that the changes can alter the way our bodies respond to sugar. Put these altered microbiomes into mice—via fecal transplant—and the animals develop the same issues.
This kind of research shows how we might be able to alter our microbiomes for the better, says Sarah Berry, who studies the impact of diet on metabolism at King’s College London. Factors such as your genes or the timing of your meals also influence how your diet affects your health, but the microbiome is “a very important piece of the puzzle,” she says.
Berry and her colleagues are trying to work out exactly how diet might influence the microbiome and, in turn, people’s health. And to find out, they’re turning to poo. As part of ongoing research, the team is collecting fecal samples, as well as dietary information and health data, from over a thousand volunteers.
A couple of years ago, the team published a study demonstrating how clues in the microbiome might indicate what a person had consumed. For that study, the researchers looked for the presence of microbes in feces. Then they attempted to link those with the presence of certain food groups, such as fruits, legumes, and “healthy plants,” in a person’s diet.
It was tricky to find specific bugs associated with specific foods, but the presence of one particular microbe was a strong indicator of whether or not a person had been drinking coffee. Basically, if you’re a coffee drinker, a microbe in your feces will give you away.
The new study, by Hannah Holscher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her colleagues, takes a slightly different approach. Here, the team looked at fecal samples from volunteers who ate set amounts of specific foods on a daily basis. And rather than look at the presence of microbes themselves, Holscher’s team looked for metabolites—the chemicals microbes produce when they break down food.
The team looked at the impact of six specific foods: almonds, avocados, broccoli, walnuts, barley, and oats. The researchers first looked to see if there were any links between metabolites in poo and whether a particular person had eaten any of these foods. They used any patterns they identified to guess whether other people had eaten the same foods.
Again, it was tricky—but the team was able to tell whether people had eaten almonds, broccoli or walnuts with 80 to 87% accuracy, depending on the food. The study was published online at the preprint server bioRxiv and has not yet been peer-reviewed. But it builds on similar work the team published last year.
Studies like these provide a tantalizing glimpse into the potential future of fecal analysis. It’s early days, and the accuracy of these tests is likely to improve over the coming years. But the ability to understand the impact of individual foods on our microbiomes, and our health, could revolutionize research and nutrition. “This is really the frontier of what’s next,” says Emily Leeming, a nutrition scientist at Zoe, the maker of a personalized nutrition app, who coauthored Berry’s study.
Holscher’s team hopes to improve nutrition research. Studies that aim to figure out how certain foods affect our health usually rely on volunteers to keep food diaries. They’re a pain to maintain, and they’re usually inaccurate or incomplete. Analyzing a person’s poo instead could one day provide a painless alternative.
But fecal analysis could potentially be used to improve a person’s health more directly. Berry and her colleagues are working on ways to develop personalized dietary advice for people from the state of their microbiome, as estimated via stool sample analysis.
In theory, scientists might one day be able to provide diet recommendations designed to target specific microbes, and potentially guide the production of specific metabolites that might influence our appetites, metabolism, or even our moods, says Leeming.
“There’s so much you can learn from someone’s poo,” she says.
Read more from Tech Review’s archive
Your microbiome ages as you do. Scientists are exploring the potential benefits of maintaining a youthful community of gut bugs, as I reported last year.
Could bacteria from our microbiomes be engineered to treat cancer? That’s the goal of one group of researchers, who plan to start human trials within the next few years after seeing promising results in mice.
It’s not only food that influences the microbiome. Disturbingly, microplastics appear to be messing with the microbiomes of seabirds, as I reported last month.
Technology is rewriting our diets. Advances in the way we grow, process, prepare, and transport food are changing what and how we eat, as my colleague Amy Nordrum reported in 2020.
When you lose weight, where does it go? Bonnie Tsui has the answers in this piece from last year.
From around the web
Millions of children missed out on routine vaccinations during the pandemic. The World Health Organization and other global and national health groups are launching a “Big Catch-up” effort to get children in the 20 most affected countries up to date on their vaccines. (WHO)
A 26-year-old man has been attacked and killed by a bear in Northern Italy—the first such fatal bear attack in western Europe in modern times. Bear populations have increased thanks to a rewilding effort, which is now under renewed scrutiny. (Wired)
Maryland is on the verge of becoming the first state to adopt a law to promote the use of alternatives to animal testing in biomedical research. (STAT)
The first babies conceived with a sperm-injecting robot have been born. We’re talking engineers using PlayStation controllers to inject sperm cells into eggs. (MIT Technology Review)
Just how unhealthy is ultra-processed food? A skeptical journalist interviews a doctor who describes it as “stuff that isn’t food.” (New Scientist)
A lot of the focus on genAI's implications on the job market seem to focus on how it'll eliminate or devalue certain professions. But what kind of new roles could generative AI augment or create? You know, aside from prompt engineers who are astoundingly good at getting Midjourney to depict a human being with five, non-webbed fingers.
Nature Communications, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38132-1Transcriptional dysregulation contributes to
Nature Communications, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-37889-9The authors unveil the many-particle processes underpinning the formation of bound charge transfer excitons at the interface of hBN-encapsulated lateral MoSe2-WSe2 heterostructures. The excitons can be tuned via interface (i.e. high quality lateral junction) and dielectric (i.e. hBN encapsulation) engineering.
Nature Communications, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38191-4The authors present a method for super-resolution quantum microscopy at the Heisenberg limit by using pairs of entangled photons with balanced pathlengths. They improve the spatial resolution, imaging speed, and contrast-to-noise ratio in practice while providing a theoretical interpretation of the super-resolution feature.
Nature Communications, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38164-7Artificial molecular machines have captured the imagination of researchers, given their clear potential to mimic and influence human life. Here, the authors use a DNA cube framework for the design of a dice device at the nanoscale to reproduce probabilistic events in different situations such as equal probability, high probability, and low probability.
This is creepy.
A sea anemone found off Japan does not just live on a species of crab, but actually grows its host’s shell like a home extension
Deep in the Kumano Sea off the south-eastern coast of Japan, hermit crabs crawl around sporting what look like pearly pink flowers on their shells. But these are not floral arrangements – they are members of a newly discovered species of sea anemone, Stylobates calcifer, which live on the hermit crabs’ shells.
This kind of sea anemone and hermit crab cohabitation is not unique: dozens of anemone species live exclusively with hermit crabs. It’s a win-win situation – the anemones’ petal-like stinging tentacles protect the crabs from predators, while they hitch rides to new feeding grounds and get leftover scraps of the crab’s food.Continue reading…
The doctor will see you now.
"It shows a possible way forward."
An observation of Anzac Day in Australia, classic car racing in England, an ongoing drought in Spain, an ultramarathon held in the Moroccan desert, rising floodwaters in California, a robotic humanoid companion in Italy, a cycling race through Belgium, superbloom flowers in California, and much more
I feel like a decade ago that was really promising for all kinds of medical problems. We thought we could regrow limbs, cure blindness and deafness, get rid of all kinds of scarring etc. Is stem cell research a bust (to use a term from sports)?
|submitted by /u/altbekannt
|submitted by /u/thorium43
Even as a little kid (I’m a 2005 born) I noticed 50s nostalgia (my parents are 1970s born so I saw back to the future a lot and remember the 50s nostalgia in the original. I also remember hearing about happy days and just kind of having a romanticized view of the 50s even though I’m a racial minority.) And, of course, as someone who basically grew up in the 2010s (feels so weird to say) I remember 80s nostalgia and was REALLY IN LOVE with the 80s myself throughout middle school! So what decade do you think will receive a comparable level of nostalgia?
Nature Communications, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38088-2
Nature Communications, Published online: 28 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38125-0A challenge in diagnostics is integrating different data modalities to characterize physiological state. Here, the authors show, using the heart as a model system, that cross-modal autoencoders can integrate and translate modalities to improve diagnostics and identify associated genetic variants.
Humans with condition can have disturbed sleep, and similar symptoms in dogs indicate cognitive decline is under way
From loud snores to twitching paws, dogs often appear to have a penchant for a good snooze. But researchers have said elderly canines with
appear to spend less time slumbering than those with healthy brains – mirroring patterns seen in humans.
It has long been known that people with dementia can experience sleep problems, including finding it harder to get to sleep. Researchers have also found changes in the brainwaves of people with dementia during sleep – including decreased slow brain waves that occur during non-rapid eye movement deep sleep. These are important in memory consolidation and appear to be linked to the activity of the brain’s system for clearing away waste.Continue reading…
Something we've never seen before.
You have to see through this.
|submitted by /u/washingtonpost
This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.
More than six months after the FDA announced a shortage of the ADHD drug Adderall and its generic variations, many Americans who rely on the medication continue struggling to obtain it. This supply crisis points to serious inadequacies in the diagnosis and treatment of the disorder, especially in adults.
First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:
- America is in its insecure-attachment era.
- “I don’t want to see you get high.”
- Clarence Thomas is winning his war on transparency.
Much has been written about the toll of the ongoing Adderall shortage on Americans with ADHD, a population that includes me. But we don’t get enough credit for our ingenuity.
This week, for instance, I repeated the baroque prescription-refill process that I first developed last summer—months before the FDA’s formal announcement of a supply shortage in October, but by which point the shortage was apparent to legion prescribers and patients across the country. Among other steps too tedious to detail here, the task involves placing prescription orders at small neighborhood pharmacies (which are more likely than national chains to have the drug in stock) with somewhat restrictive hours of operation. On the whole, this strategy has worked out; throughout the supply shortage, I’ve gone very few days without access to medication. Many others have been less lucky.
As my colleague Yasmin Tayag noted in a recent Atlantic article, this medication shortage is the result of a “perfect storm” of manufacturing and regulatory factors, compounded by a dramatic surge in demand. Although the pandemic accelerated that trend, it’s been in motion for years: From 2007 to 2016, adult-ADHD diagnoses shot up by 123 percent in the U.S., and adults replaced children as the primary consumers of the medications typically prescribed to treat the condition. Both the acute spike and the longer-running pattern can be attributed, at least in part, to growing awareness about the presentation of ADHD and other executive-functioning disorders.
More recently, COVID-19 lockdowns disrupted daily routines and forced many people to adapt to new schedules that posed conflicting demands on their attention. For some, this highlighted difficulties with time management, organization, and focus. Increased stress and anxiety likely also exacerbated ADHD symptoms, or made them more apparent.
But even people without ADHD have likely experienced a range of emotional and cognitive effects of pandemic-related stress—difficulty concentrating, irritability, restlessness—that resemble ADHD symptoms. And in the U.S., where the diagnosis of adult ADHD largely relies on self-reported symptoms, clinicians may not always be able to tell whether a patient’s account of their experience is accurate. As such, it’s plausible that the pandemic drove an increase in ADHD misdiagnoses, which, in turn, contributed to greater overall demand for Adderall. (It’s important to note that the passing similarities between ADHD symptoms and other human responses to the quotidian challenges of 21st-century life are also responsible for some of the lingering stigma that surrounds the disorder, including the common misperception that it isn’t “real”—a misperception that is at least partly to blame for the likelihood that the overwhelming majority of adults who meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD remain undiagnosed.)
The problem is double-pronged. For one, as Yasmin pointed out, the U.S. lacks standardized clinical guidelines for identifying ADHD in adults. In an interview for The Guardian last year, the clinical psychologist and ADHD researcher Margaret Sibley told me that, in an ideal world, the assessment process for ADHD would involve hours of legwork on the part of practitioners: talking to the individuals, assessing their medical histories, and even reaching out to family members to get their perspective. In other words, the best-practice scenario would require time investments that are completely untenable within the current health-care system.
For patients to benefit from such a comprehensive evaluation by a licensed mental-health clinician, they would need to have access to those services in the first place, and the time off work with which to use them. In a country without universal health care, let alone universal mental-health care, the logistical arithmetic doesn’t add up for the millions of people who might otherwise benefit from procedural improvements in diagnosing ADHD and all kinds of other disorders.
Which leads us to the second issue: treatment. In the United States, prescription psychostimulant medications such as Adderall are almost always the first course of action after an ADHD diagnosis, but stimulants aren’t necessarily the safest treatment route, let alone the most effective. Moreover, the Drug Enforcement Administration classifies these medicines as Schedule II drugs with a high potential for addiction or misuse. What this means, in practice, is that sharp increases in ADHD diagnosis—and thus greater demand for ADHD medication—aren’t guaranteed to be met with expanded drug-production allotments by the DEA. And although limiting the circulation of Schedule II medications is, in theory, sound public-health policy, the approach creates new challenges when those medications are the first-line treatment for a chronic condition.
There are no simple solutions here, but the Adderall shortage has sharpened the picture of the ripple effects produced by mental-health-care access gaps. And although my geographic and financial privilege will likely keep working in my favor for as long as these drugs remain difficult to obtain, scores of other Americans with ADHD will be forced to make do with no recourse.
- At a news conference in Jerusalem, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that the recent lawsuit filed by the Walt Disney Co. was “political.”
- Carolyn Bryant Donham, whose accusation resulted in the brutal murder of Emmett Till, has died.
- South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol addressed a joint session of Congress and urged North Korea to end its nuclear provocations.
You Will Miss Bed Bath & Beyond
By Amanda Mull
On the first day of the rest of my life, I went to Bed Bath & Beyond. It was a rainy spring Monday in 2011, and like generations of optimistic 20-somethings before me, I had just washed up on New York City’s shores with two bulging suitcases and the keys to a tiny, dingy apartment. I had spent most of the previous year saving every cent possible so that I could rent and furnish a bedroom in an unfashionable, relatively cheap part of Manhattan, but before I could unpack my clothes or sleep in the new bed I had scheduled for delivery the next day, I needed to buy everything else: sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, hangers, a hamper.
This shopping trip was the kind of minor domestic milestone that abounds in young adulthood. I had no idea how to navigate anything about New York, and I was looking everywhere for signals that this new life would be viable for me. On that first day, I began the process of figuring all of that out by getting myself to a store that sold affordable bed linens.
More From The Atlantic
- My newspaper sued Florida for the same First Amendment abuses DeSantis is committing now.
- How relatives can make radicals
- Make yourself happy: Be kind.
- Goodbye to the dried office mangoes
Read. Kelly Link’s new story collection, White Cat, Black Dog, which masterfully twists familiar source material into unexpected new shapes.
Watch. The movie adaptation of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (in theaters now), which successfully captures the cross-generational power of Judy Blume’s beloved novel.
Late this morning, I found out that Jerry Springer had died. I heard the news the way I suspect many of my approximate age-peers across the country did: by text from a very old friend. A pal I’ve known since elementary school broke the news (“oh wow, Jerry Springer died”); a few hours later, my partner chimed in (“damn, Jerry Springer”). For our particular young-Gen-Xer-to-elder-Millennial generational slice, the notorious talk-show pioneer (and onetime mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio) transcends the voyeuristic television spectacle that, for better or worse, is what history will remember him for. As my colleague Megan Garber writes, “His show’s concessions predicted the ease with which American politics would give way to entertainment. He was an omen of all that can go wrong when audiences treat boredom as vice.” But he was also a reflection of what in retrospect seems like the comparable innocence of our 1990s childhoods—when Springer-esque entertainment was strictly a guilty pleasure.
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Katherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.
An unthinkable calamity.
– En riktig överraskning, och mycket oroande. Det kan vara ett kortvarigt extremvärde eller början på något mycket mer allvarligt, säger oceanografen Mike Meredith till The Guardian.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 27 April 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-33420-8Contact lens embedded holographic pointer
The chants of his name defined a decade: “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!”
Jerry Springer died today at 79. His most obvious legacy will be the syndicated talk show that bore his name—one that embodied the frenetic voyeurism of the American ’90s. Sex, affairs, secret children, incest, love triangles, love trapezoids, more sex, people wrestling and sparring and throwing chairs at one another: The Jerry Springer Show was the tabloids come to life. The program democratized scandal and then exploited it. It allowed its viewers to peer into the lives not of celebrities, but of everyday people. It was gaudy and sad and insulting and irresistible.
Springer’s show, in that way, predicted our current moment even as it embodied its own. It was TikTok before TikTok, Twitter before Twitter, the logic of reality TV wrangled onto the set of a talk show. The most revealing element of The Jerry Springer Show, though, isn’t its scandal-mongering. It’s that the show, like its host, had its roots in politics.
Springer was born in London, in 1944, to Jewish Holocaust refugees. After coming to the U.S. as a child, he studied politics at Tulane University and received a law degree from Northwestern University. He embarked on a career in politics: Springer worked as an adviser to Robert Kennedy and served as the mayor of Cincinnati in the late 1970s. He ran for governor of Ohio—but then, after that attempt proved unsuccessful, he switched careers. He became a reporter at a local TV station and rose up to become an anchor. In 1991, he debuted The Jerry Springer Show. It began as a political talk show in the Phil Donahue vein: social issues and current events, high-minded discussions of politics. It was, like most talk shows of that time, relatively sedate. It featured conversations about gun violence and homelessness. Its guests included commentators such as Oliver North and Jesse Jackson.
And then … the show evolved. Or, perhaps, it devolved. It maintained its talk-show format but changed the subject of the conversation. The show’s titles were tabloid headlines turned into hour-long melodramas: “I Married a Horse” and “I Slept With 251 Men in 10 Hours!” and “I’m a Breeder for the Klan.” The debates became brawls. The chairs on set turned into weapons. The audience cheered. It jeered. It signaled its approval of the fighting by chanting Springer’s name. Springer had tapped into an American market that can never be fully satisfied: voyeurism. In 1998, Springer briefly bested Oprah Winfrey in the daytime ratings. Later that year, his show aired episodes that featured none of its signature fights; its ratings plummeted. In July, it put the violence back in and topped Winfrey’s ratings once more. In 2000, Springer signed a five-year contract for a total of $30 million.
One of Springer’s legacies will be his realization that shamelessness is a lucrative industry. Another will be his recognition that even shock can grow stale. Springer had to keep finding new ways to outdo the drama on his show. In the 2000s, he began arriving onstage by sliding down a stripper pole. When real people’s stories seemed insufficiently titillating, he brought on a character—the drunken “Reverend Shnorr”—to punch things up. Springer masterminded the havoc, but on-screen, he presided over it for the most part like a mild-mannered father amused by his unruly children. And then, for the final twist, he tried to graft meaning onto the chaos he’d just presented to his viewers. Springer ended each episode with his “Final Thought,” the wan sermon he delivered as a response to the stories just aired. The address, a holdover from a similar one he’d delivered during his days as a news anchor, tried to find a moral in the madness. It concluded, always, with the same line: “Take care of yourself, and each other.”
The hypocrisy of the Final Thought—its episode-by-episode effort to cleanse all the scandal with sanctimony—will be Springer’s most lasting legacy. The Jerry Springer Show exploited people fervently and ruthlessly and lucratively. It treated real tragedies as diversions. And it did all of that as it pretended to be more profound than it was. Springer tried to frame the show’s exploitation as anthropology, as something revealing and instructive. But it was Springer’s own arc that would prove most culturally revelatory: His show’s concessions predicted the ease with which American politics would give way to entertainment. He was an omen of all that can go wrong when audiences treat boredom as vice.
[From the March 2023 issue: We've lost the plot]
When Springer’s show ended, in 2018, The Guardian proposed that perhaps “The Jerry Springer Show was such a relentless orgy of humanity’s worst impulses that audiences became too sad to keep watching it.” As the article went on to make clear, the opposite was true. Jerry Springer’s talk show had not become too tragic to maintain an audience. It had simply become redundant.
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Some farmers hope this year's federal Farm Bill brings more attention to the benefits of – and barriers to – precision agriculture technology.
(Image credit: Stephen Fowler/Georgia Public Broadcasting)
For our weekly dose of wonder, NPR learns about glorious sounds chicken make at a very important moment in their lives — when they're laying an egg.
See Spot Speak
As if robotic dogs weren't creepy enough.
A team of programmers just equipped a
robot dog with OpenAI's ChatGPT and Google's Text-to-Speech voice modulation, allowing it to literally speak to them and answer their questions.
In a video posted to Twitter, machine learning engineer Santiago Valdarrama showcased how he and a colleague programmed a Spot robot dog to verbally answer system questions with the help of OpenAI's extremely popular tool.
"These robots run automated missions every day," Valdarrama explained in his Twitter thread, noting that each mission includes "miles-long, hard-to-understand configuration files" that only engineers can understand.
"That's where ChatGPT comes in," he continued. "We show it the configuration files and the mission results. We then ask questions using that context. Put that together with a voice-enabled interface, and we have an awesome way to query our data!"
As seen in the video, Spot even adds amusing gestures to its answers, shaking its head to say no or bowing to say yes.
Talk Like a Bot
While the interface itself seems pretty harmless, a lot of people who've seen the video are pretty freaked out by it.
"You know that robot dog that triggers lots of 'here come our future overlords' jokes when new videos drop?" Washington Post columnist Philip Bump tweeted. "It has AI now."
In another post, which featured a gif of a humanoid robot wielding a machine gun, one user joked that "one day we will look back and point to this day as a pivotal point," complete with a laughing emoji.
While SpotGPT does feel like it's bringing us one tiny step closer to the robot uprising, integrating the chatbot into robots has always been a part of the plan.
In February, Microsoft, which signed a multi-billion dollar deal with OpenAI, released a paper outlining design principles for ChatGPT integration into robotics.
"We believe that our work is just the start of a shift in how we develop robotics systems," the company's announcement reads, "and we hope to inspire other researchers to jump into this exciting field."
In other words, it was only a matter of time until somebody gave Spot its own voice.
More on robodogs: NYC Mayor Defends Robodog Deployed in Garage Collapse
The post Oh Great, They Put ChatGPT Into a Boston Dynamics Robot Dog appeared first on Futurism.
A few things happened when SpaceX’s uncrewed experimental rocket blasted off and then exploded mid-flight last week. The engineers who’d designed it let out a deep sigh, maybe a couple of groans. The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates rocket launches, began a standard investigation into what happened. Elon Musk congratulated his staff on a good start. And in a small nearby city, ashlike debris rained down from the sky, covering everything in a layer of grime.
The giant Starship rocket lifted off with so much force that it not only blew a massive hole in the launchpad’s foundation but also kicked up a cloud of sand and soil that reached Port Isabel, located about six miles northwest of the company’s launch facility in Texas. The launch also shook houses and shattered at least one window, The New York Times reported, though there were no reports of injuries or damage to public property in the aftermath.
Residents knew this launch was happening. They are well aware that they share a neighborhood with a powerful company intent on creating a spaceship that can fly to both the moon and Mars. And they knew it would be loud; SpaceX had warned Cameron County residents of that. Still, no one had warned residents about the dusty drizzle. (SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment.)
[Read: Elon Musk is maybe, actually, strangely going to do this Mars thing]
SpaceX’s presence in southern Texas has received mixed reviews over the years, particularly from people who live even closer to it—just down the road from the ever-growing launch facility—than Port Isabel. SpaceX’s takeover of Boca Chica Beach, a quiet coastal paradise along the Gulf of Mexico, is a nearly decade-long saga of Musk and his enterprise getting their way, sometimes to locals’ detriment. And that was before SpaceX attempted its biggest launch yet, trying to hurl Starship into orbit. Starship was the most powerful rocket ever built, and more prototypes will follow—SpaceX will attempt as many launches as necessary to prove that its design actually works. As Musk expands his beachfront space city and its potentially fiery attractions, his company risks becoming an even more unwelcome neighbor.
SpaceX began construction of its launch site on Boca Chica Beach nearly a decade ago, bringing in so many truckloads of materials that the only highway leading to the area started cracking. As the spaceport took shape, SpaceX bought out some of the residents of nearby Boca Chica Village. The company rebranded the area as Starbase, and SpaceXers, including Musk himself, moved in, replacing the retirees who felt forced to leave. SpaceX instructs Boca Chica residents to evacuate and closes off the beach during launch activities, including last week’s test—the first of its kind and the most destructive yet.
The earliest Starship prototypes were small, pudgy things, topping out at 65 feet. The latest prototype—a sleek spaceship stacked on top of a 33-engine rocket booster—was a nearly 400-foot behemoth, taller than the Statue of Liberty and more powerful than the rocket that propelled the Apollo astronauts to the moon. All of that power had to go somewhere, and much of it went into breaking up the launchpad and scattering debris for miles. A reporter with The Brownsville Herald came across a huge chunk of concrete on the sands of Boca Chica Beach a few days after the launch. Fish and wildlife authorities said yesterday that debris was scattered across 385 acres of SpaceX-owned and state-owned parkland, Bloomberg reported, and even sparked a small fire in a nearby state park. There were no reports of dead birds or other wildlife, they said.
[Read: Why SpaceX wants a tiny Texas neighborhood so badly]
SpaceX had predicted that the debris from an explosion would be contained within a 700-acre area (about one square mile), but the Texas division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that a “plume cloud of pulverized concrete” dropped particles miles beyond that zone, all the way to Port Isabel. City officials said the dust was not harmful to human health; local environmental groups, which have criticized SpaceX’s operations for years, say they’re evaluating the dust’s potential effects on people and wildlife.
SpaceX seems to have also miscalculated how the launchpad would fare beneath a vehicle such as this one. Starship lifted off without the special trench system found at major launch sites, which helps dampen the impact of launch. Workers had begun building one but hadn’t finished in time. Musk later tweeted that the company “wrongly thought” the launchpad would be unscathed. Yes, the Starship program is an experimental one, and SpaceX doesn’t shy away from potential explosions during testing. But the decision to launch with little more than a slab of concrete in the ground doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the company’s approach to safety.
A week out from Starship’s dramatic, short-lived flight, Starbase is as busy as ever, with technicians preparing for repairs. Musk says they’ll be ready to try again in a month or two, but any Muskian timelines must be taken with a big grain of launchpad dust. Engineers will spend the coming weeks poring over data from the test, learning for the next go. Some locals would probably prefer that they also learn how the surrounding areas might be affected if another Starship starts tumbling in the sky and breaks apart. After all, a rocket with 33 engines, as Musk himself said earlier this month, is like “a box of grenades.” Someday, if SpaceX succeeds in launching rockets on Mars, it may really be able to operate without concern for its nonexistent neighbors. It’ll have entire craters to itself. But the starting point of that future is here, on Earth, and SpaceX can’t avoid sharing it.
Editor’s Note: Read Kenan Orhan’s new short story “The Renovation.”
“The Renovation” is a new story by Kenan Orhan. To mark the story’s publication, Orhan and Oliver Munday, the associate creative director of the magazine, discussed the story over email. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Oliver Munday: Your new story, “The Renovation,” opens with an absurdist premise: A woman discovers that her bathroom has been renovated into a prison. What ensues is an astonishingly moving tale of family, exile, and memory. Which came first, form or function?
Kenan Orhan: For this story, it was the form. I was gripped out of sleep by a voice that kept saying the first line of the piece over and over in my head. I rarely have ideas in the middle of the night. I went to my computer and wrote the first page or so. There wasn’t much of a story there yet, but I trust my subconscious. Naturally our obsessions coalesce into meaning. I have been obsessed with memory and loss lately. The idea of an ailing father, and a family in exile, fell out of the sky because I’ve been thinking about such things, reading about them too. Soon a dichotomy revealed itself, and I think dichotomies are a good base for short stories. There is natural tension and irony in the relationship: One person wishes only to remember, and one person can’t do it at all. Tracing the origin of a story is only slightly more concrete than tracing a dream to its roots. Mostly I start with a premise that I find fun or interesting; it has to feel like play or I won’t do it. I then let the function grow naturally around the skeletal form, which might be backwards.
Munday: “The Renovation” is about a daughter (the narrator) caring for her father, who has Alzheimer’s. At one point she muses, “The way he talked was a bridge to our lives left behind.” What does she hope to preserve through him?
Orhan: We pull a lot of our identities out from the soils of where we have lived, especially where we grew up. I think for anyone who has left behind some limb of themselves in another, unrevisited place, our natural inclination is to reexperience the things we miss through pictures. Often I find myself instead talking with relatives about memories of Istanbul, usually completely unspurred by external factors. Maybe we’re at a restaurant, and I might say I miss the marzipan of our favorite confectioners in Bebek. Then we take turns remembering the bakery and peripheral moments and then other places, almost like driving up the street of time, and they are nostalgic discussions—melancholic and brooding—but communal, sometimes even competitive (who can remember more precisely?). It’s a less harsh way of realigning our memories than relying on photographs. Photographs are unforgiving with their starkness. Relatives can allow for a freedom of reality. And that is what the narrator is doing, I think. She is using her father’s memories almost as a plane to travel back home. She wants to use his stunted memory to hold on to a past now obliterated. She is maintaining a pathway back to the city, back to her happiness and homeland, but as this starts to fade, she finds a similar tonic—a similar pathway—in the magic of the prison cell.
Munday: Your debut story collection, I Am My Country, employs many different literary styles and voices to dazzling effect. Why work in such a polyphonic way?
Orhan: In truth I am very easily bored and very easily distracted. Growing up, I wanted to be a million different things—a spy, a carpenter, a tennis player, a screenwriter, a bank robber, an archaeologist, a professor, a locksmith, a cat burglar, a private eye, a park ranger—but all these desires lasted roughly a day before a new one overtook me. Writing is a way to be all of those things, to adopt all of these different voices. I can’t imagine trying to tell the story of a florist the same way, with the same voice, as I tell the story of a soldier. There are commonalities, sure, both of these characters are feeling desperate, but that is what makes us human: that we experience many different paths to the same emotions. Maybe it’s not such a good thing, but I approach stories as an opportunity to be new all over again. I look at collections that are all monotone and think, What’s the point? Life is limiting enough, and fiction is freedom. I’d rather be the fox who knows a few things than the hedgehog who only knows one thing.
Munday: Turkey, and, more specifically, Istanbul, is so richly described that it almost becomes a character in the story. The details take on an intoxicating and transportive quality, and the result is often quite emotional. Why do you think the process of reconstructing a city has such inherent emotion in it? Why does it often feel alive?
Orhan: I think we pour a lot of our expectations into the cities we encounter. Cities have a million different lives with a million different hearts’ desires. They flash in the windows and shadows. It’s overwhelming for someone like me, empathetic, susceptible to that neologism sonder—the moving feeling that comes from realizing all strangers’ lives are as vivid and wrought as our own. Around the corner may be a life I wish were mine. Around the next corner could be everything I’ve ever wanted wrapped up into one life that, like a mirror, I can reflect inwardly and become. The beauty of cities, unlike the beauty of nature, is a constant reminder of humanity—humanity on a grand scale. The massiveness of our species dwarfs the individual under the pressure of infinite possibility. It sometimes seems like the closest we can get to an experience of higher grace. It is a kind of transcendence.
Munday: While reading “The Renovation,” Kafka, Calvino, and Borges all came to mind. Can you talk a little bit about your literary influences?
Orhan: I am very flattered by the comparison. I love all three (I even read from Kafka in my wedding vows), but Calvino holds a special place in my heart. He is the writer I most admire and find myself most inspired by—the way he moves through traditions and styles and genres and subjects but maintains, as the gravitational center of his work, this celebration of life and humanity and the enriching powers of literature. Beyond him, though, I find myself going back to poets very regularly, especially those that work also in fiction, like Anne Carson and Michael Ondaatje. Sometimes the most valuable way to see a trend in your influences is to consider the stories you love the most, the ones you wish you’d written. For me those are [stories by] Kelly Link, Ayşe Papatya Bucak, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Adam Ehrlich Sachs, Jim Shepard, Rajesh Parameswaran, and Laura van den Berg; and, internationally, Dino Buzzati, Elena Ferrante, Milan Kundera, Bohumil Hrabal, Ismail Kadare, Sevgi Soysal, Orhan Pamuk, Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie, Herta Müller, Fleur Jaeggy, and Hassan Blasim. I’m not sure there is something all these authors have in common. Fiction that makes me go directly to my desk and start my own story is my favorite. The commonality is typically strong narratives, or else a healthy heap of digression; characters that could do well in life to take themselves a little more seriously but won’t; an ear for political irony and satire, but not at the expense of moving portrayals of emotion. Whatever book I am reading at the moment exerts perhaps the most influence over me. I have to be careful. I am impressionable.
Munday: Edward Said wrote about the “double perspective” of an exile, the inability to see things in isolation. When tackled in fiction, this idea often requires an inventive formal structure. Do you think straightforward realism can accurately capture the complexity of a political exile, or even a character with Alzheimer’s for that matter?
Orhan: I think it is easier to answer the latter half first. Alzheimer’s or any sort of neurological disease or mental illness is difficult to capture with realism, at least in any way that is interested in the experience of the illness. I don’t view reality as stably as I might, and I often find realism too impersonal for my taste.
Political exile, on the other hand, is such an absurd and strange notion on its own that perhaps, like very good comedies and slapsticks, the more seriously you take it, the better it will be. But now I’ve now conflated seriousness with realism. I think a weakness of realism is that sometimes its scenes only speak deeply to those already affected by or familiar with the conditions described. That is why I favor a bit of surrealism/fabulism. The surreal can bridge the gaps of experience by weirding life down to a more universal ether. Someone who has never missed a homeland can better understand the longing when memories become magical. Loss and grief then become starker in the absence of this golden magic.
Munday: What are you currently working on?
Orhan: I am plugging away on a novel about a petty bureaucrat in 16th-century Ottoman Europe who is sent to Italy to investigate rumors of Turkish treasure and a lost regiment from the aborted invasion of Otranto 100 years prior. There, he and his companions catalog and develop the strange and semi-magical Turkish colonies they discover in their travels through Puglia, finding themselves entangled in the political struggles of a tyrannical baron, a proto-communist Sufi şeyh, and the unruly and famine-ridden villages of a fracturing Italy in the years leading up to one of Europe’s most destructive conflicts.
Editor’s Note: Read an interview with Kenan Orhan about his writing process.
I didn’t know by what accident the builders had managed it, but instead of a remodeled bathroom attached to my bedroom, they had installed Silivri Prison. No mistaking it. After the laborers had packed up their tools and cleaned up their mess (they had almost superstitiously prevented me from checking on their progress), I threw open the door and stepped to where my shower should be, but instead found a cell with a guard walking by. I asked him where I was in Italian. Confused, he asked me in Turkish what I wanted.
“Where am I?” I responded in Turkish.
“Are you sick? Silivri Prison.”
“That’s not right. This is supposed to be a grand shower with two heads and massaging jets and a marble bench.”
“Massaging jets, haha! No, this is the prison.”
“But what’s it doing in my bathroom?” I asked.
“It isn’t,” he said. I pointed behind me at the doorway I had just walked through to my bedroom beyond it. He looked into the cell and saw that indeed it led to my bedroom. “Now how did they mess up like that?”
“The builders just finished today. The plumber turned on the water a moment ago,” I said.
“Well, how do you know your bathroom isn’t in Silivri Prison instead of the other way round?” Frustrated with the oaf, I latched on to the cell bars and throttled myself against them, but they wouldn’t budge. “Keep this to yourself,” he said, as if talking about an elephant behind window drapes. “I don’t need the headache of explaining this to the warden. I have enough problems as it is without you stirring up trouble.”
As soon as he said “trouble,” I ran back to my bedroom, slammed the door shut, and used the plastic tarp to hide the renovation from my husband, who would be home any minute. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very understanding man, sometimes too understanding, and though he would understand this—whatever this means—he has a very nervous disposition, and this is precisely the sort of thing to trigger his anxiety so that his stomach is nothing but ulcers and acids in flux, and on his tongue would be the refrain: “Dear me! Dear me! O, deary, deary me!”
I called the builder, but the phone rang without end. Then I called one of the plumbers, and one of the carpenters, and the tile guy, and anyone else whose number I had, but they all went to voicemail. This couldn’t be happening at a worse time. We had decided to remodel the bathroom (even though we didn’t have the money for it) because my father could no longer live on his own. In fact, he hadn’t been able to live on his own for some time now. When we’d moved to Italy, he’d insisted he wasn’t some invalid who needed to be doted on or else sealed up in a dank little hospice room, so he’d bought his own flat across the street from us, but he was, even then, already dependent on us. We kept saying to each other that he might get better as a way of convincing ourselves of its truth, but his condition was already very poor. The doctors didn’t say that. It’s not so bad right now—that’s what the doctors said, knowing it would get worse—but they didn’t ask my father or me, and that’s not what either of us would have said: It’s not so bad right now.
The first time we took him to the hospital was years ago, when we still lived in Istanbul, at the peak of the Gezi Park protests. The police had come in with their tanks and water cannons. Everywhere little clouds of tear gas sprang up, in bouquets of pain. We watched it all on the news. My husband was at his wits’ end (he had grown up in a certain era, in a certain household, where the state was the most fearful thing). I was impressed, I suppose, that so many people had gotten together without hurting one another. I was impressed that they had lasted so long in their barricades and camps, but I could not find any desire to join them. I tried to stir up a bit of something like courage to go to the park and join the protests—I knew it was what my father wanted to do, though he was too old—but I couldn’t find this ounce of grace in me. For his part, my father obsessed over following each development, with learning the demands of the fractious groups—the anarchists, the communists, the environmentalists, the Kemalists, the Turanists. Despite knowing the myriad factions, however, he started confusing simple things, like the names of political parties. Then he’d forget the day’s events entirely while watching the evening news. When an attempt by police to end the unrest came to a head, he started rambling about the 1980s, the upheavals and battles he’d listened to on the radio, the arrests and dismissals, the summary execution of 50 extremists. But these were the wrong events, the wrong names—ghosts of a coup that had happened more than 30 years ago. I asked him if he wanted to go and watch the demonstrations to help get his bearings. I didn’t know then that he was sick. I can’t imagine what I would have done if he’d said yes. Some gnawing desire for trouble cropped up in me.
I asked if he knew who the prime minister was. I asked if he knew the date. I asked if he knew whose house we were in. Instead of answering, my father kept shaking his head and saying no, no, no, no. I asked if he knew his own name. He shot out of his chair and told me to shut up—something he’d never said, even when I was a little girl too jealous of my parents’ time. He stomped to the television and tried to change the channel, but he’d grabbed the wrong remote and so only increased the volume. I kept repeating over and over: “Dad, you are not okay.” He pushed the television over. It thudded awkwardly without shattering. Then, sitting on the coffee table in the fresh silence, he admitted that he didn’t know where he was.
I calmed him down (my husband spent the whole of the protests huddled in the bathtub in case of bombings) and took him to his doctor, who then suggested a specialist who did some scans, told us they couldn’t identify the problem, and mentioned that if it had been an isolated incident, it would likely clear up on its own. “These are stressful times,” they said. “I’ve knew a patient who suddenly lose a finger from anxiety.” But they didn’t explain.
Pacing outside my renovated bathroom, I dialed my contractor once more. At last he answered. I demanded to hear a justification of this egregious mistake, but a loud buzz came through the wall I shared with the adjoining flat. My neighbor had started their coffee grinder and put the kettle on, which would soon whistle loudly. I asked the contractor to repeat himself but the grinder kept on buzzing. I could hardly hear the contractor’s explanation as I paced around, so I ducked back into the prison cell, where all was quiet. He told me that he always verified everything with the customer, that he required receipts with signatures to that effect, at which point he emailed me scans of my signature, indicating I had approved the installed materials and fixtures.
“Yes, materials and fixtures perhaps, but they put them to use all wrong! They’ve made some horrible amalgamation of them. I wanted a bidet, not a prison washbasin. It is a jail cell!”
“That is a rude exaggeration, though I can barely understand it with your accent.”
“No,” I insisted. “There is a prison and a guard where there should be a bathroom!”
“That seems highly unlikely to have happened in any case,” said the contractor, and he rang off.
Then, as if the notion of coffee (spurred by my neighbor’s grinder) had plopped out of my head and begun wandering the house on its own, a small cup of Turkish coffee appeared in the corner of the cell. I thought perhaps the guard had brought it for me while I was talking to the contractor. He must have heard the distress in my voice, even in Italian. No doubt I looked frantic and despairing. But I hadn’t seen him come by, nor had I heard the soft scrape of porcelain being set down on concrete. The coffee was there and the guard was not. I took a sip and felt awash in giddiness. It was the precise duplicate of the coffee served at Mandabatmaz, in Beyoğlu, with its thick foam the consistency of a luxurious dream, and I felt that all the time and distance that separated me from Istanbul was gone for the briefest of moments. I took the coffee inside to my father. I made him hold it, and I mimed drinking to get him to do so.
“Isn’t it just like at Mandabatmaz?” I asked.
He took a sip and made a face. “It isn’t correct,” he said. It was a phrase he was using lately to allude to thoughts he could no longer articulate.
“Isn’t it just how they used to make it?”
His disappointment was obvious. He looked ready to speak, but instead kept making the same small facial gestures. I interrupted his stupor and asked again if it tasted just like how he remembered. He only managed to raise his eyebrows and pout his lips and say nothing.
I took the cup from him to finish, but inexplicably it was empty: not just the coffee but the grounds too.
My front door rattled in its jamb. I ran to replace the tarp before my husband entered, then I flew down the hall and planted a kiss on his cheek. He gave my chin a pet, and I took his briefcase from him (he liked having a briefcase though he had absolutely no use for the thing). I told him that the plumber had made a mistake and that we would have to keep using the guest bathroom.
He sighed and asked me about my day as we settled into our happy if trite routine, but the only thing on my mind was the prison. I realized that if a guard hollered at someone or an alarm started blaring, there was no way I could convince my husband it was merely the sound of a defective toilet. Fortunately, however, the wing of the prison that had been installed was a quiet one, or by some other miracle the sounds did not carry through the door and tarp. We ate our dinner and took care of my father’s needs. We brushed our teeth and went to bed very early.
All my life I have been accused of an unwarranted optimism. In the morning, after my husband set out for work, I went down to the cellar of our building. Keeping only the most utilitarian objects in the flat, we had stuffed the rest of our personal belongings into boxes when my father moved in, abandoning them until we could repopulate our lives once more with our delighting possessions (where had I put that book? have you seen the flower vase? why is the potato peeler missing?). I lugged everything into the prison cell, which, for being a cramped prison cell, held all our effects quite well, and was certainly secure—more secure than a cellar in the Italian countryside. Yes, I suppose if I couldn’t have a new en suite bathroom, I’d at least now get free shelter. I pulled a few knickknacks out of a box and sorted them. In this box were happy books, in this box were glittering frames, in this box were my hiking boots and mittens and extra scarves that I’d worn when my husband and I went up to the mountains around Rize, and there at the bottom was a scrap of soil, a little plant that had managed to grow despite it quarters, stringent and fresh—a little tea bush, somehow.
The second time we took my father to the hospital, a few years had passed. The government had survived a corruption scandal. High-profile politicians had been implicated in a gold-smuggling ring. Then a witch hunt saw hundreds of police investigators, lawyers, judges, and journalists arrested. Not long after, a wave of bombings swept through Turkey—it seemed like one happened every month. Really, if you paid attention, you might have thought the country was being gobbled up by disaster, but catastrophe is a household staple in Turkey.
Smack in the middle of all this, my father had been attacked by a political fanatic who had mistaken him for a grave threat to the nation. In fact, my father was mostly an academic who had made a name for himself beyond lecture halls as a novelist of inspired if inconsistent ability—his greatest talent was antagonizing the government.
As my father was on his way home from one of his lectures, the fanatic tried to shoot him. The gun wouldn’t fire, so the man tackled my father and broke his nose and arm before the two were pulled apart by a number of faculty members.
Once again, we were recommended to a specialist, and booked scans and tests, and were taken to a little room where a different doctor told us that my father’s brain was shrinking. It was like a peeled orange left in the sun. The doctor said that the tussle hadn’t helped his condition. “In fact, if I may take an educated guess, maybe it was even detrimental.” My father had Alzheimer’s and for a while things might seem normal, but he would have problems forming new memories. Eventually he would start losing his old memories as well. “Though it isn’t always chronological,” the doctor said.
Outside we could hear the sirens of an emergency vehicle swimming up the thin streets of the city. “Better not to be making memories right now anyway,” my father said.
I became my father’s caretaker. Because I am a woman, because he is my father, because in Italy my husband found a job first, because I had two extra heaps of patience in me—yet the main reason, though it was never spoken, was because I had worked in a hospital back in Istanbul, but I’d been a specialized contractor, not a doctor or nurse in the system. I was a psychologist, which ironically was the last sort of doctor my father needed, though everyone always noted how lucky he was to have a brain expert for a daughter. I was never the lucky one in these statements. I never pointed out that he needed a neurologist and a physical therapist more than he needed me. At most, I could help the people around him process their emotional responses to his jarring temper changes—but I was the only person around him. And although I didn’t hold his fits against him, everything takes its toll. Now I am in a foreign country, crawling on the floor of the ocean without bones built for the pressure.
Some days, my father would muster up some normalcy and pretend all was well (or maybe, gruesomely, he wasn’t pretending at all and was just gone), trying to make himself a bit of lunch as I cleaned the flat. But he was childlike in the way he interacted with the objects around him. He sat me down and said “Lunch,” which made me happy because he was lucid and present. He gave me a big bowl of salad. I took a bite and spat it out, which didn’t bother him. He did the same, spitting it all over the table with a smile, though maybe he was only mimicking me. Instead of grabbing the bottle of oil to drizzle over it, he had grabbed a bottle of whiskey. A lot of salad was ruined, and I know it doesn’t cost much, but I was thinking of the waste in euros. I told him to clear the table so I could go back to cleaning. He grabbed the salt shaker, but upside down, and walked back to the kitchen and then to the toilet with it, putting it in the medicine cupboard and scattering a path of salt behind him. These were the worst days, because he was active; it was hard to ignore him when he got out of his chair and puttered about. When he sat still and watched television, though, he was more like a stuffed animal or delicate vase, and could do me no injury.
Today, after making sure he had a bowl of oatmeal and his medications, after taking him for a short walk around the apartment and tucking him into his big chair, I told him that I loved him.
“I believe you,” he whispered.
“I mean it.”
“I believe you.”
“You don’t recognize me,” I said.
“I believe you!” he shouted.
Before I realized, I was back under the tarp and in the prison and shaking as I talked to myself, bringing my voice out from its hiding place. I moved a few of the boxes around and the table and little chair that were part of a dining set. It was pleasing to be in this space, because it felt so full of air, so completely stuffed with air that I could swallow a big gulp, a never-ending gulp of it, and live somehow fresher and more complete with this infinite breath rattling around inside me.
Then the guard came by in his mustache. “What is happening here? Oh no, you can’t! I said don’t cause a ruckus, and what is this you are doing if not a bona fide ruckus, my God!”
“I haven’t done anything,” I said. “I’ve just rearranged the furniture.”
“There isn’t supposed to be any furniture. But don’t say anymore. I don’t want to know it. I want to be able to say: ‘I don’t know anything.’ All my life, this is all I wanted to say. All through my school years, I studied and worked so hard to be able to say ‘I don’t know anything,’ and look at you coming around to ruin it.”
Even just this little conversation in Turkish had the golden butterflies in my throat whirring with joy. Immediately I was warmed and comforted despite the concrete, and I realized I was breathing air that had come down from the steppes of Anatolia, swept in from over the Black Sea, and though we were securely trapped inside a prison, I felt I could taste the hints of brine and juniper trees, and I wanted to swallow up this sensation, eat it ungingerly. The guard stormed off, but I begged him to come back, to talk with me, to shout anything at me, to tell me where he was from. I pressed my face into the gap of two bars, squeezed my cheeks against them. I begged him to come back. I shouted down the hall, “Please, mister watchman, come back and tell me about your neighborhood”—whether it was one of those quiet squares on the fringes of the city; or if it was in an apartment complex on the high streets of Istanbul; or if it was provincial, with peasant faces flashing at the windows. North of the city, along the coast, there are tumbledown houses and sheds standing in their huddles. You can see them with binoculars during a pleasure cruise on the Bosporus. As you come in from the Black Sea, the city reveals itself in gradients of hills pouring into the water. Peel back this layer to see Bebek—now Arnavutköy, now Kuruçeşme—all green with white houses, like marble stairs down their hillsides. Some days the water is thick and dark as velvet; others days, it is flat and bright in the sun, and other days still it is silvery as an eel in a shallow inlet, and in the faltering dusk I have seen it burn like copper, and in the misty mornings it has vanished and the city feels on the cusp of infinity. I can almost see the hills of the old city, fat with ancient domes bubbling over them, and, closer, the slender, prickly tips of minarets—and now in my prison cell I feel cold and wet, and I am sucked out of my daydream to find the floor drowned in briny water. I laugh and the water gathers its skirts into two bunches and twirls its hem to lap at my ankles and I am terrified. I shout to the guard, “Help, I will drown!” And the water turns inscrutably dark and I can see a cloud bank gathering on the ceiling, and I can feel now the coarse, stony beach of Istanbul at my feet, my toes curling pebbles into their pockets. I must shout, I must shout to the guard, something is happening to my room, it is filling up now with more water, pike and seabream, eels and gulls, and now a fisherman’s pole and line, and the far-off peal of a ferry horn, and the scent of fresh expectancy, and the silver of Istanbul under a bracing and pleasant rain. I throw open my door and retreat to my bedroom, hurrying to close out everything in the prison cell, but when I retrieve my hair dryer for my wet clothes, I find everything is dry already and nothing as it should be.
I must have gone too long without food, or maybe I was dehydrated, and imagined everything. Well, yes, I had imagined everything, it was a daydream after all, but I did not know of any daydreams that were in the habit of slipping out of the mind and becoming real. I missed Istanbul. That was how I explained it. You’ll believe anything when you need comfort. But how then had my husband, that night as I tried very hard to fall asleep, without success, pulled a small seashell (still with a bit of gritty mud in its aperture) from my hair and held it up to the darkness like an answer?
For a long time, I thought I was a bad daughter because we didn’t leave. A good daughter would’ve forced their parents out of the country that had tried to kill them. Meanwhile, once a week, my husband pleaded that we go on a vacation to Germany or France or England, one from which he had no intention of returning. He was terrified, perhaps selfishly, of staying—more afraid for himself than for my father, but I should’ve been scared too. In truth, I had not ever considered leaving. Not once in all the mess that grew around us had I thought that we must escape, even when everything exploded in July 2016.
I knew someone who had been killed in the coup attempt. It was rare, despite the number of people out, despite the tanks, despite the jets and helicopters, despite all the soldiers nervous with guns. But I knew a young woman who had been shot 100 meters from the Bosporus Bridge. Six other people in the street with her also had been shot dead. Everyone ran away except the soldiers, who barricaded the bridge, but the people came back and pulled the soldiers down from their tanks and trucks and beat them. A few weeks later, I was fired from my contractor position in the hospital. I had attended a prep school with somewhat dubious ties to the putschists and their ideologues.
My father used to say they would arrest anyone. He had been arrested once before after all, but was let out a year later. He used to say they’d throw you in jail for a bad joke, and while that was true, it had happened before, it had never felt overwhelming. Then, after the coup attempt, they really were arresting everyone. It didn’t matter if you were a semi-famous writer, or a pop singer with too much flamboyance, or just a third-grade teacher. They arrested 50 journalists in the first two weeks after the coup attempt. Then the governmental decrees came out—a list of names of everyone who was now dismissed from their jobs as state officials, academics, journalists, teachers and doctors in state programs, and military cadets and officers. They’d post them on an outdated-looking website, and everyone would search to see if their name was on it. In less than three years, 150,348 people were dismissed. They shut down 3,192 schools, universities, and media outlets, and arrested 319 journalists; they are among 94,975 people who have now been arrested on charges of treason and terrorism. They were building endless prisons to keep up with it. They made people form long queues before judges for sentencing, before they arrested the judges and sentenced them too.
Inexplicably, we stayed in Turkey. I was unwilling to believe in freighted circumstances. My father was still, for the most part, his old self, which was a great comfort. The doctors had made it all sound rather bleak, yet here he was getting through his days without much trouble. Even his physical injuries had healed well, and he was back on his feet. It fills me with so much regret thinking back on it, because these were the times of posterity, or whatever you want to call it. I could have talked to him and made meaning of things with him. Then, one late summer day, with the heat stretched, rippling, over the sky, he came to visit me in our flat in Ortaköy. It had originally been his, and his father’s before that, but after Mom died, he couldn’t stand it anymore, and with a bit of his savings he’d squirreled away, he bought himself a small place in Üsküdar. He was having dinner with us and called into the kitchen for my mother. My husband and I were stunned. He called again into the silent kitchen, asking her to come out and eat with us. “Don’t you love us, darling?”
And suddenly I was terrified.
My father surprised me at the doorway as I was sneaking back out from under the tarp and into the bedroom.
“Why have you moved the chair?” he demanded.
“I didn’t move the chair. It’s where it has always been,” I said.
“It was never there. It was in the back room, not this one.”
I walked him to the chair and told him this was a different flat. We weren’t in Istanbul anymore. I said it like I wanted to hurt him with this information, and regretted it immediately because I could see his tangle of thoughts come loose and become organized for a moment.
“I know we’re not in Istanbul,” he shouted at me. “I know it every day, because I am miserable here. You have kidnapped me and taken away my family and for what? Why do you hate me, huh?”
“I don’t hate you,” I said.
“That’s why you have moved my chair. And you don’t listen. And you’ve changed the hallway now!” The spool came undone. He was in Istanbul again.
“Dad, you have to eat something.”
“I ate,” he said distrustfully.
“You must eat something more than a baked potato and some popcorn. Come on. That’s why you feel sick all the time.”
“I’m not sick.”
“Stop calling me that. I’m not your father. I don’t know who your father is.”
I sighed because we’d done this before. I had, in the past, tried to convince him it was me, his daughter. It never went anywhere. “You’re important to me.”
He thought for a while, or at least looked like he was thinking. Sometimes it was hard to tell what was going on in these pauses that felt like an actor getting into character, but then never delivering his lines.
“You’re someone who is important to me too, aren’t you?” he said at last.
“This is not correct.”
I sometimes think about the meaning of a soul. Not some poetic thing, but as close as one could get to a scientific description. I think whatever a soul is, it is the thing dementia takes away. It has left this vessel that is my father, that looks like him and smells like him, but he can’t interact with his surroundings anymore. He is digging and digging and digging to find a fragment of meaning, and I convince myself that so long as this is happening, he still has his soul and is still him, but what will it mean when the mine of his self is exhausted? When he is a corpse that still breathes, still sees—what will I do?
How much it hurts to watch someone dissolve beneath their own skin.
I find these puddles of happiness in the prison cell. Like entering a hallucination. Like taking a heady sip of ether, and the cell becomes glutted with light, and I am squeezed by thick panes of sunshine though there are no windows. The cell becomes a concert hall of street sounds: clay tavla discs slapping wooden boards, the tootling of small car horns, the winsome peals of white gulls in their gyres. Who wouldn’t wish to stay?
When we left, something about my dad’s memory, something about how he conflated things with the past, kept me feeling safe—like we were bringing a little of the old Istanbul with us. It wasn’t so bad to be leaving our homes, it wasn’t so bad to be entering a sort of exile, it wasn’t so bad that our homeland felt like it was in ruins, because we had a little old man carrying its halcyon days in a kerchief on a stick. His voice came from before all the loss. The way he talked was a bridge to our lives left behind. Maybe that is what we do—the children, I mean: We make our parents into portals.
Things are changing now, and they don’t affect him. They renamed the Bosporus Bridge a few days after the coup attempt. People think it is an act of remembering, of honoring. But it is a forgetting. The way a state orchestrates rememberings is the same way that it orchestrates forgettings. Possibilities are limited when a country organizes its memory. I had not noticed how easily state architecture conspires against the people. Indeed, I doubt I would recognize Istanbul at all anymore. I hear from friends I desperately wish had run away as I had that the government is building more and more skyscrapers, and uprooting ancient trees for greater swaths of steel-and-stucco malls, car parks, and sports clubs. Sometimes I think even the shoreline has betrayed me. I have a photo I revisit often, of my girlfriends and me on a café patio in the hills overlooking the water, but I can’t remember the name of the place, and have searched Google Street View for hours at a time only to find that the shoreline in the picture not only doesn’t exist, but is entirely impossible (an inlet where it shouldn’t be, Dolmabahçe on the wrong side of the strait).
The country is changing—quickly, quickly all the streets are shedding their shops, and the hills are obscured by malls, and the shore is gone behind a curtain of renovations and construction projects, and the newspapers and TV programs are dwindling, and the journalists and artists are going into their prisons with satisfied frowns, and the lira is plummeting, and refugees are growing in number and desperation, and the place names are shifting, hardly noticed as phases of the moon, and my father is immune to all of it now.
My father’s head is getting lighter. His brain is shrinking the way a sponge dries into a brittle form. Eventually, it will weigh so little, it might bounce off his body into the ceiling or an errant window and escape from us. What will be in it then? What parts of him have already evaporated? What is the weight of a memory?
This morning I found my father stripped naked save for his socks, sitting on the toilet with the door flung wide open. That must have been when the notion first struck me: Because he had already mastered the art of publicly defecating, the best place for him would be the prison cell in my room. But this thought wasn’t as clear as it sounds at first. It wasn’t until after I’d helped him clean himself, led him back to his room, and laid out his clothes that my reaction coalesced into a clear notion that truly, the best place for someone like my father, the best place for someone without any memories, is a prison.
Or rather, the person best suited for a prison is one without any memories. They will get their meals. They’ll get their medications. They don’t have rent due, or checks to remember to put in little envelopes and send to the utility companies. They can get air and exercise in the yard without getting lost (as long as you aren’t a violent criminal or a political prisoner, anyway). In fact, I realized that minimum-security prisons were a step above hospice care; they were largely the same thing, with the same expectations of mistreatment, but the prisons were free.
For the past few days, I have been growing this idea in me the way an oyster grows a pearl, that the worst aspect of prison is how each day becomes so monotonously remembered; each repetitive boredom becomes a heavy, heavy burden, so massive that its gravity starts to blot out other aspects of oneself, of other, happier memories. That’s the true torture of prison—how it replaces you from the inside out with the impossible weight of monotony, until you lose the person you were before, you lose their joys and sorrows and hopes, and you become a prison cell incarnate. Hollow yet heavy.
The prison started filling up. The guard was hardly ever around anymore, which allowed me some freedom to do as I wished with the things I brought into the cell. He must have been busy, what with all the new arrests they were making. I learned about it from the women walking by to their cells. Then, at night, when the prison lights went out, I asked the dark hallway what it was like in Turkey these days. I could read the paper, I wasn’t trapped in prison like these women, but life doesn’t happen in the news.
“Oh, sister, it is bad. I got three years for telling my neighbor I had to raise my prices for inflation. I should’ve kept it to myself.”
“That’s nothing,” a little girl said. “Aunties, I promise I wasn’t doing anything at all, and I was arrested for saying that I couldn’t afford tomatoes.”
I listened for a while, they were scared women after all, and I was just a few steps away from another country altogether, but I found it tiresome—more than that, boring. I didn’t want to hear these things; I really didn’t care about their misfortunes, which were like a hiccup in the heart. I wanted to hear about their neighborhoods, their cities and villages. I wanted them to tell me about the new restaurants in Bebek and the ones that had stayed afloat. I wanted them to tell me that they had smuggled in a piece of pistachio marzipan and would share it, morsel by indulgent morsel, with me. I wanted to hear that their relatives, when allowed visitations, would bring a few packs of Turkish cigarettes, tea from Rize, a bit of simit. I wanted these women to pick up old conversations with me, and reveal that they were my friends from my university days, friends who had made it through turbulent times unscathed and still aglow even as they were caged. I wanted these women to say, “Oh my, how we’ve missed you, but of course everything is fine now; please return at once, please return to your flat at the top of the street, and we’ll throw you a never-ending party with so much champagne it becomes us, golden and sparkling.”
Selfishly, I couldn’t be bothered for the minutiae of their tribulations, because I knew they would be the same as my own if I were ever to return to Turkey. Indeed, I was in Turkey now; I was in the very prison they would send me to as soon as I alighted from the plane and showed them my passport. At least in this cell I could leave. At least this cell was one of wonders and magic that, according to its merciful designs, brought Istanbul to me. Even now, as I was dreaming of the rich and so unbelievably fine marzipan from my favorite baker in Kuruçeşme, the prison cell produced in its corner a plate of five rolls of it, and I ate them up quickly, knowing they would disappear should I try to bring them home.
Maybe I was foolish, but it caught me by surprise when my husband found out about the prison in our bathroom. He became a whirlwind in the house, knocking over the lamps, a few little decorative dishes from their tables, all of my father’s medical apparatuses. He stuffed a few items into a hard-shell suitcase—a book he was reading, his crossword puzzles he never finished, the tea bags, his watch and trousers, but mostly loads of underwear, all his underwear. Before I could say a word to him, he fled the flat, crashing down the staircase with a bunch of thuds like an awkward drum roll.
A half hour or so later—after enough time had passed that my husband could have feasibly run to the train station, checked the timetables, waited in the queue, and bought a ticket, and could now be boarding a train bound for Milan or Turin and then one out of Italy altogether—I had just started to say to myself I was now husbandless and alone, when jumping through the door was my husband again, his face carved with dread, saying, “What are you doing? Aren’t you coming too?”
I laughed (perhaps from shame or some other deep feeling opaquely buried in my soil) and pulled him by the arm into the flat, though I didn’t embrace him.
“We can’t stay,” he insisted.
“Why not?” I asked.
“You’re being purposefully obtuse, I see.”
“Just sit down and listen for a minute.”
He refused. He said we were being driven out of the country, that Turkey wants us dead, or worse. He said the prison attached to our bedroom must be some new development by the Interior Ministry to hunt down political enemies. He said my father was in no condition to be in jail. He said I wouldn’t like it much either. He said these things as if I didn’t know them too.
“Please, just give it a little while. Everything will be fine.” Nothing about this felt like it would turn out well for me, and yet I couldn’t help wanting to stay.
My husband said, as if falling into the sky: “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get away to where your father can’t hurt you anymore?” But it sounded like he was inviting me to my own funeral. Pain is life after all, along with its glittering treasures. Painlessness is death, and I have my very own father as evidence. “Oh no, no. I can’t do this. I have to leave, and quickly. What about my acids? I have to go before my ulcer …” And my husband was gone.
When your brain shrivels up and has finished erasing everything, there is no longer any weight atop you. There are no felicitous nostalgias eating my father’s body from the inside out, like corrosion. His wife is no longer dead. She hardly even existed now. Soon she will be gone entirely. The last thing left is the shape of these memories. And he will erase this by disentangling the words he used to know her by, the acts he used to love her by, from all their meaning. It is the same for his country. Soon his confusions will end. Looking out the window, he won’t see his old neighborhood anymore. He won’t see the hills of Ortaköy from our living room anymore. And he won’t see Italy either. He’ll be lost at last, and his memories will have popped out of his head and be left to wander on their own doomed journeys. I envy him, but do not, in truth, desire the same fate, even if Istanbul seems to desire it out from under me, the way the city conspired to change. But I have not been fidelitous toward my country, so why shouldn’t it change? “While my back is turned, you become someone else!” I accuse it, but it replies, “To say while your back is turned implies that it will turn round again.”
I don’t want to miss my country anymore. I don’t want to be afraid of becoming a tomb. I don’t want unrevisitable memories. I want a self-renovation of the soul. I want a cleansing wave like the controlled burns on the steppes, the immolations that remove the thistles and noxious weeds. I want to take up a drip torch and set fire to my insides until everything that is gold and glittering has turned to charcoal—an act of preservation, charred against rot and decay.
I piled a few provisions by the bathroom door, small things you might take on a hike if you weren’t the sort of person who normally hiked: a bag of chocolates, a bottle of soda water, a sleeve of crackers, a few blocks of white cheese, instant coffee. Next to these I folded up a bundle of clothes and my toiletries and some good books. In a huge bucket I mixed mortar. All prepared, I chucked my things into the prison cell and started stacking bricks and spreading mortar. From inside the prison, I built a wall sealing me off from my bedroom, sealing me in the cell, the prison, Turkey. Maybe they will let me out in a few years. Maybe, if the regime is ousted, there’ll be a general pardon like there used to be.
I slathered all the mortar, then mixed up some more and started the second wall of bricks covering the first. As I went, I could feel the breeze come off the Bosporus and the sun climb high overhead, where it stayed perched as I worked, but it was not unpleasant—in fact, the boughs of a few judas trees came to cover me and fill me with the sweet scent of their new leaves. When I reached for another brick, I saw that the floor around me was suddenly a cobblestone esplanade over the Bosporus, where jellyfish and little darting creatures bobbed about the surface. Behind me now was the gleaming Ortaköy Mosque, with the high, sweeping line of the bridge beyond it. Before me were the walled gardens and apartments of a palace, and deeper into the mist came the familiar rolling hills of the old city, flat as paper on my eyes. I could hear the fishmongers shout out their prices, and I watched the caïques and tankers lolling across the sea. As I placed the last brick, I could taste the brine and the flower buds and the spices from the bazaar. I could hear the gulls and the motorway. I saw fishermen fix their nets in the sun and lovers tear their hair out at the scope of their affections. All of it was crammed, crammed into the cell. All of the city was in there with me—all of the country. It swirled in a great and terrible form, as if everything I had ever loved and feared had been scooped out of me and thrown into a kaleidoscope. My body was in a cell in Silivri Prison, and it would now never leave.
In a recent panel interview with Collider, Joe Russo, who has directed big Marvel movies like "Avengers: Endgame" alongside his brother, shared some of his thoughts on how AI might impact the film industry, giving it about two years before AI can create a fully-fledged movie.
"We're in a world where the entire generation has a facile expertise in [AI], and is also not afraid of it," Russo said. "So potentially, what you could do with it is obviously use it to engineer storytelling and change storytelling," allowing for "constantly evolving" stories.
"You could walk into your house and save the AI on your streaming platform," he added. "'Hey, I want a movie starring my photoreal avatar and Marilyn Monroe's photoreal avatar,'" Russo explained. "'I want it to be a rom-com because I've had a rough day,' and it renders a very competent story with dialogue that mimics your voice."
The director also said he believes modern TVs are not far off from having enough processing power to "render anything in real-time."
"You can curate your story specifically to you," he added.
These are bold and perhaps alarming claims to make by a deeply embedded figure of the industry, especially as Hollywood continues to deliberate over its future with AI. It seems dubious though, that an AI could measure up to flesh-and-blood filmmakers in just a few years.
AI is Inevitable
Russo is no stranger to the foreboding tides of AI. He says he's "on the board of a few AI companies" — the good ones, he claims, "that are developing AI to protect you from AI."
The director seems to view AI and its encroachment as an inevitability, adding that "unfortunately… you will need an AI in your life because whether we want to see it developed or not, people who are not friendly to us may develop it anyways."
Still, ominous plausibilities aside, Russo sounds pretty excited about AI's supposed potential to empower up-and-coming creators, though says little in the way of how it might harm them.
"The value of it is the democratization of storytelling. That's incredibly valuable," he said. "That means that anyone in this room could tell a story, or make a game at scale, with the help of a photoreal engine or an engine and AI tools."
"That, I think, is what excites me about it most," he added.
More on AI: Hollywood Panicking Over the Rise of Generative AI
The post Marvel Director
Fully AI-Generated Movies Within Two Years appeared first on Futurism.
The former director of a
research center faked data and presented others’ published data and text as his own in four grant applications to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and one research record, according to a U.S. government watchdog.
Johnny J. He, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (RFUMS) in Chicago, Ill., “engaged in research misconduct by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly falsifying, fabricating, and plagiarizing experimental data and text” published by other scientists, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) said today.
He did not immediately respond to an email or phone call seeking comment.
He started at RFUMS in 2020 as the director of the Center for Cancer Cell Biology, Immunology and Infection and the chair of the Discipline of Microbiology and Immunology. The cancer research center now lists another scientist as its director, but He remains among its members.
He received nearly $15 million in NIH funding from 2000 to 2021, about $1.5 million of that total while at RFUMS. Before his current post, he was a professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
ORI found that He took figures from published papers by other researchers and used them to represent his own data in NIH grant applications, sometimes cropping and splicing the images. He also plagiarized text from published articles, ORI said. None of the grant applications with plagiarized and faked data were funded.
He entered into a voluntary settlement agreement with the agency and agreed to a three-year period of supervision for his research. During that time, He may not serve on any advisory committee, board, or peer review committee for the U.S. Public Health Service, which includes the NIH.
We reached out to RFUMS for comment and received a statement from Ronald S. Kaplan, the university’s executive vice president for research, which read in part:
The RFU Office of Research Integrity was alerted to allegations of research misconduct and conducted a thorough investigation, in strict accordance with university policies. The RFU investigation determined that research misconduct had taken place and promptly imposed appropriate sanctions and initiated the appropriate steps for remediation. RFU forwarded the investigation report to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Research Integrity as required by university policies and federal regulations. HHS ORI made findings of research misconduct that have been recently published and are nearly identical to our findings.
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- Deanna MacNeil from The Scientist's Creative Services Team will be joined by the entire panel in an open question and answer session where presenters will address questions posed by the audience.
This month, a local TV-news station in Arizona ran an unsettling report: A mother named Jennifer DeStefano says that she picked up the phone to the sound of her 15-year-old crying out for her, and was asked to pay a $1 million ransom for her daughter’s return. In reality, the teen had not been kidnapped, and was safe; DeStefano believes someone used AI to create a replica of her daughter’s voice to deploy against her family. “It was completely her voice,” she said in one interview. “It was her inflection. It was the way she would have cried.” DeStefano’s story has since been picked up by other outlets, while similar stories of AI voice scams have surfaced on TikTok and been reported by The Washington Post. In late March, the Federal Trade Commission warned consumers that bad actors are using the technology to supercharge “family-emergency schemes,” scams that fake an emergency to fool a concerned loved one into forking over cash or private information.
Such applications have existed for some time—my colleague Charlie Warzel fooled his mom with a rudimentary AI voice-cloning program in 2018—but they’ve gotten better, cheaper, and more accessible in the past several months alongside a generative-AI boom. Now anyone with a dollar, a few minutes, and an internet connection can synthesize a stranger’s voice. What’s at stake is our ability as regular people to trust that the voices of those we interact with from afar are legitimate. We could soon be in a society where you don’t necessarily know that any call from your mom or boss is actually from your mom or boss. We may not be at a crisis point for voice fraud, but it’s easy to see one on the horizon. Some experts say it’s time to establish systems with your loved ones to guard against the possibility that your voices are synthesized—code words, or a kind of human two-factor authentication.
One easy way to combat such trickery would be to designate a word with your contacts that could be used to verify your identity. You could, for example, establish that any emergency request for money or sensitive information should include the term lobster bisque. The Post’s Megan McCardle made this case in a story yesterday, calling it an “AI safeword.” Hany Farid, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Information, told me he’s a fan of the idea. “It’s so low-tech,” he told me. “You’ve got this super-high-tech technology—voice cloning—and you’re like, ‘What’s the code word, asshole?’”
But we also should be wary of getting paranoid too quickly. A broader loss of trust in any audio, or video for that matter, could feed the “liar’s dividend,” or the idea that more public knowledge about fakes can make it easier for bad actors to undermine legitimate media. America doesn’t exactly have a surplus of trust right now: Faith in media and institutions, including organized religion and public schools, is polling miserably, at the same time that AI is amplifying the ability to spread false information online. “We want people to be aware of what’s possible,” Henry Ajder, an AI expert who has been studying synthetic voice technology for half a decade, told me. “We also don’t want to just absolutely terrify people.” If you do get an out-of-the-ordinary call, you can always just stay calm and ask commonsense questions that your loved ones should know how to answer, Ajder said.
Beyond the anecdotes, data about AI voice scams are practically nonexistent. Juliana Gruenwald, a spokesperson for the FTC, told me that the agency does not track how often AI or voice cloning is used in scams. Fraud-report statistics for the first three months of this year don’t show an increase in the number of scams involving the impersonation of family and friends. The FBI, which also keeps data on phone scams, did not respond to a request for comment.
[Read: The rise of AI Taylor Swift]
Still, there’s clearly genuine risk here. Last month, for a story about the proliferation of such clones on TikTok, I replicated Taylor Swift’s voice using just one minute of audio of her talking in an old interview on YouTube. It took five minutes and cost $1 using the online Instant Voice Cloning tool from ElevenLabs. (The company did not respond to a request for comment about how its software could be used in scams.) All the program needs is a short audio clip of the person speaking: Upload it, and the AI will do the rest. And you don’t have to be a high-profile figure to be vulnerable. It simply takes one public audio clip of you, perhaps pulled from a TikTok or an Instagram post or a YouTube vlog, and anyone can create an AI model of your voice that they can use however they choose. Our extensive digital histories, built over years of life online, can be used against us.
Although the technology feels like it’s lifted from a Philip K. Dick novel, this is, in a sense, a classic American story about the uncertainty of a new frontier. The historian Susan Pearson, who wrote The Birth Certificate: An American History, told me that when more Americans began moving from the countryside to cities in the mid-19th century, the country developed “a real cultural fascination” with swindlers and an “anxiety about being in these new large spaces, where all kinds of strangers are going to interact and you don’t necessarily know who you can trust.” We developed technologies like credit scores, for better or worse, so that we might know who we were doing business with. The expanse of the AI-powered internet is perhaps a corollary to that earlier fear.
We’re in a period of change, trying to figure out the benefits and costs of these tools. “I think this is one of those cases where we built it because we could and/or because we can make money from it,” Farid said. “And maybe nobody stopped to think whether they should be doing it.” There are some legitimate use cases for voice cloning: It could empower a person who has become impaired or lost their ability to use their own voice, for instance. In 2021, AI helped the actor Val Kilmer use his voice when he lost his natural ability to speak as a result of throat cancer. But the beneficial uses don’t necessarily require unregulated, free-for-all access, Farid pointed out.
Many critics of AI have said we should slow down and think a little more about what the technology might unleash if left alone. Voice cloning seems like an area in which we really ought to do so. Perhaps humans will evolve alongside AI and create new verification technologies that help us restore trust, but fundamentally, once we start doubting that the person on the other end of the line is really the person we want it to be, we’ve entered an entirely new world. Maybe we’re already there.
- In 2021, New York State approved legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, and adults may now smoke it wherever they can smoke tobacco.
Imagine you’re in the heart of New York City—for example, on the steps of Madison Square Garden. One of the very first things you would notice there, no matter the time of day or the weather, would be the pungent aroma of burning reefer. This would also be the case if you found yourself at the entrance to the Q train at Union Square, or at a chessboard in Washington Square Park, or under some scaffolding erected on any random block in SoHo. Smelling cannabis has become an inescapable feature of living in (or visiting) the city, an emblem of life in New York akin to sipping a crème at a café table in Paris or strolling through Rome eating a gelato. In some parts of Midtown, weed aromas pump through the streets like those bizarre plumes of steam that blow continuously from orange-striped tubes at intersections.
Not so long ago, the United States took a draconian approach to marijuana. As recently as 2017, New York City alone recorded more than 18,000 arrests for weed possession, down from a peak of more than 50,000 in 2011. Some 93 percent of those 2017 arrests were for possession in public view or public consumption. In 2021, New York State approved legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, and adults may now smoke it wherever they can smoke tobacco. By the end of 2022, the grand total of marijuana arrests and summonses—in this city of 8.5 million inhabitants—had fallen to 179. It is an unmistakably good thing that New York, along with much of American society, has abandoned the puritanical War on Drugs absolutism that sought to prevent otherwise law-abiding adults from ever getting high on pain of criminal prosecution. Anti-marijuana laws from a previous, stricter era were not only hypocritical and ineffective—everyone who wanted to smoke weed could still do so; they were enforced to an extremely unequal measure, falling much harder on Black and Latino citizens. The old regime was clearly unsustainable.
[David A. Graham: Biden goes to pot]
But too much of a good thing can pose an entirely new set of problems, and two competing truths often exist simultaneously. The computer scientists Dylan Hadfield-Menell and Simon Zhuang argue that optimizing the pursuit of any given goal will lead to unanticipated consequences, including the achievement of ends that are antithetical to the original objective. In a recent podcast, the physicist Max Tegmark provided a concrete example of this idea. Pretend you’ve programmed a car to drive from Boston to New York City by telling it to go as southward as physically possible. Eventually, it will arrive in Manhattan, but without any further steps to redirect or halt its movement, it will inevitably keep going all the way to Florida. Tegmark says that the principle can be applied to the development of artificial intelligence. It can also help make sense of why I can’t step outside without smelling marijuana.
The desire to correct past wrongs hasn’t just resulted in marijuana smoking becoming permissible in most areas where tobacco smoking is allowed. Because of a larger disinclination toward any punitiveness at all, blunt-smoking can now be observed even where cigarettes are considered inappropriate or offensive. Police aren’t enforcing the law where it still holds. It is progress that people are no longer facing jail time for personal weed possession; it does not follow, however, that Americans should accept a total erosion of the etiquette around public consumption in shared and non-designated spaces. The car has traveled way past New York City and is on a ferry to Patagonia.
Several months ago, coming into New York City from the liberal-arts college in the Hudson Valley where I teach—where, for what it’s worth, I have never seen anyone openly smoking—I complained offhandedly on Twitter about the omnipresent aroma of cannabis. This wasn’t even an original observation. In 2018, as the city was still in the early stages of shifting its drug policy, Ginia Bellafante wrote in The New York Times that marijuana is the “signature olfactory experience of New York.” And last year, the mayor, Eric Adams, joked at a press conference, “The No. 1 thing I smell right now is pot. It’s like everybody’s smoking a joint now.”
I received a huge amount of pushback for my remark (in addition to quite a lot of agreement), much of it premised on the idea that any social response to public weed smell would inevitably result in the warehousing of Black and brown bodies. In fact, I don’t want the police to put public weed-smokers in jail. I simply think New Yorkers should do a better job of policing themselves: a middle ground in which smokers of any color exercise discretion where the law employs restraint.
[Sarah Milov: Marijuana reform should focus on inequality]
The pushback against my complaint is ongoing. Last week, in the libertarian magazine Reason, Liz Wolfe published an article titled “New York City Should Have Always Smelled Like Pot,” in which she opens with a rebuttal of my tweet. Hers is about the most compelling argument I’ve seen in favor of the new normal, and to her credit, she declines to partake in the customary gaslighting that would deny that a change has occurred in the first place. “The smell of weed in the streets,” Wolfe argues, “is a sign of progress and tolerance, not decline.”
Tolerance is a wonderful value in principle. And as the intolerant have long understood, it is also a value that can be easily exploited. It works best when buttressed by agreed-upon standards and a common investment in informal norms. “Some of today’s stoners do have a bit too much chutzpah,” Wolfe concedes, “like the guy I saw on the G train rolling a joint at 9 a.m. on an especially packed train car.” That experience rings familiar. On a recent Monday morning, I boarded an overflowing L train from Williamsburg into Manhattan, the entire car reeking of freshly puffed ganja. Progress demands that elderly people and small children must also inhale this? Something is perversely unserious about a culture that insists the answer is yes and that you are some kind of “Karen” if you beg to differ.
“Fellow New Yorkers who have long tolerated cigarette smoke clogging up the public airways,” Wolfe writes, “should offer the same grace to weed.” But cigarette smokers haven’t had their way for two decades now, and anyone who would dare light a Marlboro on the subway today would receive the most withering glare—and possibly risk physical assault—because we now have not only laws but also real taboos around the spreading of secondhand smoke. Which is one reason you barely smell cigarettes at all, even in the streets, parks, and plazas where the scent of weed prevails.
The reflex to dismiss any criticism of violations against communal consideration exemplifies an evolving progressive politics, what the writer Michael Shellenberger has referred to as an ethos of “left-libertarianism.” In ways large and small, it has degraded urban spaces. In the absence of wider unspoken controls, the anything-goes mentality flirts with pandemonium. Turned up to a certain pitch, it produces something much worse than a public nuisance: It encourages self-reinforcing disorder. Look at San Francisco or Portland, Oregon, where tent encampments and open hard-drug use have in some districts made healthy and productive activity all but impossible. New York is by no means at a West Coast level of decline, but such states of decay are not binary. They operate along a dismal continuum, and public spaces forfeit structure by gradation. Broken windows left untended really do tell larger stories.
When is the last time you’ve seen someone pounding shots of vodka on the subway? You haven’t, and for good reason. Drug possession was once a crime as well as a taboo. Now that we’ve optimized the admirable goal of ensuring that it isn’t the former, we need a redirect to preserve the latter.
Extremely Quiet Luxury
If you haven't seen Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' Coachella fit yet, maybe stop scrolling. Save yourself. It's scarring.
Bezos and his girlfriend, alive girl Lauren Sánchez, took to the influencer-laden festival scene last weekend, flanked by their couple friends, momager Kris Jenner and her boyfriend, Corey Gamble. You'd think that with a current net worth of $114 billion, the world's richest man might have had a little festival swag to show for it. But somehow, even with all that money, the space tourism entrepreneur managed to step out at the festival looking like he'd made a pit stop at a Forever 21 sales rack on the way in.
Truly, the outfit — which gives off an unfortunate "yes, I am youthful" energy — is just abysmal vibes. First of all, Bezos made the choice to rock some distressed jeans — presumably pre-distressed, considering that the guy isn't big on manual labor. And don't even get us started on the sneakers.
Then, of course, there's the true star of the show: his unbuttoned butterfly shirt, which according to a bit of internet sleuthery, strongly appears to be a $12 Amazon Fashion find.
Oof. As far as billboards go, this is a tough one.
Fastest of Fashion
As a disclaimer: we're not saying that you need to have or spend a lot of money to look cool. But some people are simply born with a certain swaglessness that no amount of cash can rectify, and Bezos' fast fashion fit is definitely a case study in "money can't buy style."
That said, regarding the fast fashion of it all, it's worth noting that Bezos' divorcedcore fit really looks every stitch of the highly-polluting, low-quality, underpaid-labor-intensive clothing that rules Amazon's marketplace. The fact that the person wearing it is worth billions — and made those billions by way of, well, hawking mostly highly-polluting, low-quality products via underpaid and overworked laborers — only makes the quality stand out a little bit more.
Anyway. We never thought we'd say this, but: Mr. Bezos, please bring back the cowboy-hat-slash-crotch-suit fit. It was better.
More on Bezos' eye for design: No, the Scale Model of Blue Origin's Rocket Is Not an Operable Dildo
The post Jeff Bezos’ Awkward Coachella Outfit Is Seared Into Our Memories appeared first on Futurism.
A water treaty has survived three wars between India and Pakistan. Now the agreement is in trouble, but some say a new is treaty needed for both political and environmental reasons.
(Image credit: Diaa Hadid/NPR)
Researchers have examined the genomes of 240 mammal species. The project reveals when mammals evolved, how some developed the ability to hibernate, and clues that may help explain humans' brains.
(Image credit: Getty Images)
- Their new ultra-white paint is more than 98 percent reflective, which allows it to keep hot surfaces cooler for longer periods of time.
Nature, Published online: 27 April 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-01446-7The Zoonomia Project is helping to pinpoint genes responsible for animal brain size and for human disease.
It doesn't just slice and dice.
- In 2020, Hancock and Moore collaborated with the nonprofit news organization Poynter to create a digital media literacy intervention to help seniors identify misinformation online.
In the run-up to the 2020 election, people appear to have become better at spotting misinformation online, according to a study that found a decline in clicks on unreliable websites.
According to prior research, some 44.3% of Americans visited websites during the 2016 US election that repeatedly made false or misleading information. During the 2020 election, that number dropped by nearly half to 26.2%.
While these findings are promising, the researchers are cautious in interpreting the results. Exposure even among fewer people can still have serious consequences, they note in the new paper in Nature Human Behaviour.
Extrapolating their results, they estimated that nearly 68 million Americans made a total of 1.5 billion visits to untrustworthy websites during the 2020 election.
“Although we saw a serious reduction in the overall number of people exposed to misinformation on the web, misinformation remains a serious problem in the information ecosystem for some populations, especially older adults and diverse communities,” says senior author Jeff Hancock, a professor of communication at Stanford University.
The researchers found that those who did visit websites touting false claims tended to be older and lean more to the right of the political spectrum, a finding consistent with 2016 data. They did however visit fewer untrustworthy websites and spend less time on them than they did in 2016.
Misinformation purveyors target older adults
The study builds on previous research conducted by Andrew Guess at Princeton University. In 2016, Guess compiled a list of some 490 untrustworthy websites that included pages that prominent researchers in the disinformation research community had previously identified, including Stanford economist Matthew Gentzkow.
For the current study, Hancock, along with Stanford PhD students Ryan Moore and Ross Dahlke, augmented the list with an additional 1,240 unreliable domains from NewsGuard, an organization that rates the credibility of news and information websites.
Their rankings are done manually by experienced journalists and editors who rigorously review and rank websites on a variety of criteria, including whether they repeatedly publish false content, issue corrections on errors in their reporting, and distinguish between news and opinion.
The researchers then recruited a representative sample of 1,151 American adults through the polling firm, YouGov. Participants completed an online survey and installed a browser plugin that allowed the researchers to passively track web activity between October 2, 2020, and November 9, 2020. In sum, they gathered some 7.5 million website visits on users’ desktop and mobile devices.
The researchers found that in 2020, 5.6% of visits to untrustworthy websites were referred to by Facebook—in 2016, it was 15.1%. They credit this decrease to efforts the social media platform took to mitigate the issue of false news on the website.
“The drop in visits referred by Facebook may reflect investment in trust and safety efforts to decrease the prevalence of misinformation on their platform, such as flagging, content moderation, and user education, which they and other platforms weren’t doing as much of in 2016,” Moore says.
While the researchers found that the average number of times a person visited a misinformation website decreased from an average of 32 visits in 2016 to 23 visits in 2020, there are a few individuals who still consumed misinformation online at extremely high clicks.
“There are some people still consuming hundreds of misinformation websites,” says Dahlke. “We need more research to understand the effect of this type of exposure on people’s beliefs and actions.”
The researchers also found that older adults were twice as likely to visit a misinformation website compared to those aged 18-29 years old. While a smaller percentage of Americans 65 and older were exposed in 2020 (56.2%) than in 2016 (37.4%), they continue to consume misinformation at much higher rates than younger adults.
“Older adults continue to be targeted by misinformation purveyors because that generation tends to be wealthier and more civically engaged than other generations, making them prime targets for bad actors trying to make money or change election outcomes,” says Hancock.
What’s ahead for 2024 election?
Misinformation is pernicious, it morphs and mutates quickly, the researchers say.
“While one could interpret our findings as evidence that the problem of online misinformation is improving in some way, they could also be interpreted as evidence that the nature of the problem is changing,” the scholars write in the paper.
The researchers only studied web browsing activity, and misinformation could have been displaced to other social media platforms or encrypted messaging services, such as WhatsApp or Signal.
Moreover, a click is not the only metric of fake news consumption; people could have still consumed untrustworthy information passively online through a meme or even just skimming a headline when scrolling through news feeds. All of these factors make it a difficult topic to study.
Hancock, Moore, and Dahlke are already thinking about what their findings might reveal about how misinformation will spread in the next general election in 2024.
They anticipate that older adults will continue to be vulnerable to fake news, an issue that Hancock’s Social Media Lab has separately been working to address with support from the Stanford Impact Lab program. In 2020, Hancock and Moore collaborated with the nonprofit news organization Poynter to create a digital media literacy intervention to help seniors identify misinformation online.
They are also concerned about the role of misinformation in under-resourced areas, such as non-English speaking communities, as highlighted in a recent paper Hancock and Moore coauthored with Stanford PhD student Angela Y. Lee on the topic.
Source: Stanford University
The post Are people getting better at avoiding misinformation? appeared first on Futurity.
- On April 10, President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan resolution terminating the Covid-19 national emergency, which had allowed the government to free up funding and waive certain regulations to fight the pandemic.