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With Training, We Can Learn to Spot Fake News

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Fake news is a real problem. Now researchers say we may be able to inoculate ourselves against real-looking fabrications the same way we would against any other epidemic. They published their findings in the aptly named journal Global Challenges.

Lead author Sander van der Linden is a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge. “Misinformation can be sticky, spreading and replicating like a virus,” he said in a statement. “We wanted to see if we could find a ‘vaccine’ by preemptively exposing people to a small amount of the type of misinformation they might experience.”

Van der Linden and his colleagues at Cambridge and George Mason University recruited 2167 participants from across the United States and asked them to rate their familiarity and agreement with a variety of statements about climate change. Some were true, such as: “97% of scientists agree on manmade climate change.” Others were falsehoods created and spread by disinformation campaigns, such as: “There is no consensus on human-caused climate change."

Some people were shown just the facts; others saw only the falsehoods. Others saw a combination of both in varying proportions. As the participants read through the materials, they were asked repeatedly if scientists agreed about human-made global warming, in order to judge which stories they believed.

The results were what you might expect. Being shown only the facts increased participants’ understanding that there is scientific consensus by 20 percentage points. The folks who only saw the falsehoods experienced a 9-percent drop in that understanding.

Showing participants fact and fiction at the same time had worrisome results: fiction seemed to cancel fact out. This is especially problematic at a time when many media outlets insist on presenting a false “balance” on issues like climate change, even though the facts are clearly piled up on one side of the scale: climate change is real and caused by us.

"It's uncomfortable to think that misinformation is so potent in our society," van der Linden said. "A lot of people's attitudes toward climate change aren't very firm. They are aware there is a debate going on, but aren't necessarily sure what to believe. Conflicting messages can leave them feeling back at square one."

But there’s good (real) news. The researchers also gave one subgroup of people an ‘inoculation’: a warning that “some politically motivated groups use misleading tactics to try and convince the public that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists.”

It worked. People who were given this fake-news vaccine reported a 6.5-percent increase in their understanding that there is scientific consensus on climate change even after they’d read misinformation. Remarkably, this effect held strong even among people who were predisposed to reject climate science. 

"There will always be people completely resistant to change,” van der Linden said, "but we tend to find there is room for most people to change their minds, even just a little."

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environment
Eco-Friendly Cruise Ship Design Includes Vertical Farms, Solar Sails, and a "Plant Kingdom"
Oliver Design
Oliver Design

If you want to reduce the environmental impact of your next vacation, you could do better than boarding a cruise ship. Luxury liners consume tons of fuel and produce even more sewage that is often dumped directly into the ocean. But cruises don’t have to be disastrous for the Earth by design: As inhabitat reports, the newly-designed Ecoship aims to be the most eco-friendly cruise ship on the seas.

The futuristic vessel was envisioned by the firm Oliver Design for the Japanese humanitarian organization Peace Boat. For decades, Peace Boat has been spreading its message of global social change through “peace voyages” that sail around the world. The Ecoship will embody this mission by being kinder to the environment than conventional cruise ships. Ten photovoltaic solar sails extend from the deck like giant fins, collecting clean energy to supplement the hybrid engine. Retractable wind generators harvest energy as well.

According to Oliver Design, the Ecoship will produce 30 percent less carbon dioxide than modern cruise ships. The vessel’s electrical system has also been updated with both the solar sails and kinetic floors onboard providing power. The biggest change comes in the sewage operations: Both the waste and water will be fed through a closed loop, which means that whatever’s produced is filtered and recycled again and again.

As these features are working behind the scenes, passengers will get to see some Earth-friendly amenities up close. A “plant kingdom” that covers five decks will consume surplus waste, water, and carbon dioxide produced by the ship, while vertical farms will be used to grow vegetables for meals.

When the Ecoship sets sail in 2020, it will continue to spread awareness of the changing climate that inspired its design. Oliver Design writes on its webpage, “The organization [Peace Boat] wants the Ecoship to be a turning point for the shipping industry and a flagship for raising awareness on climate change. As well as hosting Peace Boat’s voyages throughout the world, the ship will be used to stage exhibitions on green technology at the 100 ports where it is expected to dock each year.” You can check out the concept art for the project in the video below.

[h/t inhabitat]

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The Most (and Least) Expensive States for Staying Warm This Winter
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It’s that time of year again: Temperatures outside have plummeted, while your monthly heating bill is on the rise. If you want an idea of how much heat will cost you this winter (perhaps you blocked out last year’s damage to your bank account), one reliable indicator is location.

Average energy expenses vary from state to state due to factors like weather, house size, and local gas prices. Using data from sources including the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, WalletHub calculated the average monthly utility bill totals for all 50 states plus Washington D.C. in 2017.

Source: WalletHub

The personal finance website looked at four energy costs: electricity, natural gas, car fuel, and home heating oil. After putting these components together, Connecticut was found to be the state with the highest energy costs in 2017, with an average of $380 in monthly bills, followed by Alaska with $332 and Rhode Island with $329.

That includes data from the summer and winter months. For a better picture of which state’s residents spend the most on heat, we have to look at the individual energy costs. Michigan, which ranks 33rd overall, outdoes every other state in the natural gas department with an average bill of $60 a month. Alaska is close behind with $59, followed by Rhode Island With $58.

People living in Maine prefer oil to heat their homes, spending $84 a month on the fuel source. All six New England states—Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts—occupy the top six spots in this category.

So which state should you move to if you want to see your heating bill disappear? In Florida, the average household spends just $3 a month on natural gas and $0 on heating oil. In Hawaii, on average, the oil bill is $0 as well, and slightly higher for gas at $4. Of course, they make up for it when it comes time to crank up the AC: Both states break the top 10 in highest electricity costs.


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