Tips for spotting conspiracy theories

Following up a recent post on this blog addressing the issue of fake news, it’s worth addressing an issue we sometimes run into when patrons come into the library looking for information on conspiracy theories. For example, if someone were to ask for a resource about how best to spot a reptilian, or for information about how NASA faked the landing on the moon, we would have a problem, because the kinds of books and articles that address those questions don’t generally meet the criteria for inclusion in the library’s collection. The main thing that keeps them out is their lack of references to anything resembling objective evidence, let alone scientifically verifiable studies. As works of fiction, they fail the requirement of literary merit.

A photo of the Apollo 11 crew during training, sometimes pointed to as supposed evidence that the whole moon landing was done in a studio.
A photo of the Apollo 11 crew during training, sometimes pointed to as supposed evidence that the whole moon landing was done in a studio.

This is not to say we don’t have information about particular conspiracy theories, or how they emerged, or why people believe them. We certainly have resources along those lines. This scientific paper, for example, explores how the tendency for people to believe in conspiracy theories is related to their perceived lack of control in the world.

We also have many books and articles that cover real conspiracies, which certainly have occurred, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, Nixon’s Watergate conspiracy, Project MKUltra, and so on. Real conspiracies are eventually uncovered, and one researcher has even offered estimates for how long it should take conspiracies to be uncovered given the number of people that would have to be involved. For example, given the number of people who would have had to be involved in the conspiracy, the moon landing conspiracy should have been outed in a bit under four years.

Finally, if you’d like some help deciding whether something you’ve found on the internet is discussing a real conspiracy or a conspiracy theory, check out this short checklist in Scientific American. Your PSC Librarians are also happy to discuss questions about evidence and information creation.

 

Finals.

exam

Photo credit: Solja Virkkunen; shared under the Creative Commons license

Feeling prepared for final exams and assignments can help you feel less nervous during this inherently stressful time. But how to prepare when there’s SO MUCH to do? We have some suggestions:

timer

 

Use a time management method, such as the Pomodoro Technique, to make the most of your time. Make a list of what needs to be done and make yourself a study schedule. Limit distractions by keeping cell phones silent and out of sight during study time.

 

book3

 

Create your study space by finding a quiet area that allows you to focus on the task at hand. The library is a great place to work! It’s quiet, and sometimes it helps to be near other students who are in the same “need-to-study” boat. If you’re studying with a group, you may also check out a study room for 2 hours per day.

 

heart

 

Keep yourself well by eating right, getting enough sleep, and taking periodic mental breaks to do something you enjoy. If you’re looking for leisure reading material for such breaks, we have some great book suggestions.

 

Finals will be over before you know it. You can do this!

Don’t Let Fake News Ruin Your Day

In the past week since the U.S. presidential election, there’s been an increase of discussions about fake news stories. Whether or not they played a role in determining the outcome of the election will be difficult to determine, but it’s clear that false information in the disguise of credible news has been on the rise, and is spreading fast. Even Google got in on the act, displaying news results that were false:

Fake Google News Screenshot
Source: New York Magazine. Picture links to article.

Shortly after this happened, both Google and Facebook have said they will do their best to prevent promotion of false news stories. But that doesn’t mean they’ll go away completely. So what can we do?

Communication professor Melissa Zimdars from Merrimack College was interviewed by the Chronicle of Higher Education about increasing and improving media literacy — the ability to critically analyze a piece of news. Here are some tips from her (these are all taken from a document she created that had a list of fake news sources; the document is still available but the list of sources has been removed while it’s being updated and edited); the bolding is mine:

  • Watch out for websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources  
  • Watch out if known/reputable news sites are not also reporting on the story. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.
  • Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.
  • Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.
  • Some news organizations are also letting bloggers post under the banner of particular news brands; however, many of these posts do not go through the same editing process (ex: BuzzFeed Community Posts, Kinja blogs, Forbes blogs).
  • Check the “About Us” tab on websites or look up the website on Snopes or Wikipedia for more information about the source.
  • Bad web design and use of ALL CAPS can also be a sign that the source you’re looking at should be verified and/or read in conjunction with other sources.
  • It’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames. Some sources not yet included in this list (although their practices at times may qualify them for addition), such as The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and Fox News, vacillate between providing important, legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources.

Some more thoughts from the PSC Library:

  • Don’t indiscriminately retweet or reblog or repost. Take a moment to investigate the story being told.
  • Don’t be fooled by professional looking presentations! More and more people are skilled in making website and graphics. Instead, take some time to look at the source of the article or story.

Lastly, beware of confirmation bias, or “When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true.” Webster University professor Julie Smith has dedicated her career to media literacy and debunking fake news stories, and she makes her concern over confirmation bias very clearly in her post-election post. She says:

I feel we have entered into an age where truth no longer matters.  We are in a post-truth world.

We are so compelled to believe the worst of one candidate and the best of another, that we are incapable and unwilling to entertain any critical thought.

We are more interested in what we believe rather than what is true.

For more examples of confirmation bias — and how to critically evaluate news sources — visit Julie’s website.

Critical analysis of news — of any information — has always been important. But now, it may be even more important. Do your part to be informed.

Monthly display: memoirs

reflection

Photo credit: daniyal62; shared under the Creative Commons license

Learning about others’ lives can help us to reflect on our own. This Thanksgiving Recess (November 24-27), consider reading a memoir. The library has several on display this month (they’re located behind the cookbooks), but if you’re interested in a title that we don’t have, you can place a request for it using our interlibrary loan service. If one of the other 76 libraries within our consortium owns the title, it will be ready for you to pick up in just a few days. As always, please ask us if you have any questions about finding or borrowing materials.

Here’s a sample of the memoirs available to borrow at the PSC Library:

why-not-me         audacity-of-hope          i-am-malala         bossypants

Cookbooks in the library (and online)

apples    Image modified under the Creative Commons license. Photo credit: arbyreed

Thanksgiving is around the corner! Do you need to bring a dish to a Thanksgiving celebration? Or perhaps you’re just looking to incorporate some variety into your daily diet?

The library holds a great number of recipes for special diets—for example, gluten-free, vegan, paleo, etc.—and that represent a wide range of cuisines. Check out this month’s display in the library, or, go online to access a huge selection of recipes in the form of eBooks and magazine articles. (Current PSC students and faculty members can even access these digital materials from home!)

To find  recipes online using the PSC catalog, first select the Advanced Search option on the library homepage.

 

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Within the Advanced Search, type in “cooking” OR “cookbooks” into the search box. Note: the default Boolean operator is “and.” By switching the operator to “or,” a larger number of results will appear. Also select the “SU Subject Terms” field from the drop-down menu next to the text boxes. Click “Search.” This will retrieve the library items that have been categorized into the “cooking” or “cookbooks” categories.

2_subject-terms

Now, you can browse through the results, or add another term to the last search box in the top if you’re looking for a specific diet, cuisine, or ingredient. Limiting the Source Types to Magazines and eBooks will exclude scholarly reports and articles related to food (these types of sources don’t typically include recipes).

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As always, please contact us if you have any questions about using the Advanced Search (or if you have any other questions about using the library!).

new-election-day-2016jpg

Monthly Display: Elections

In two short weeks, we, citizens of the United States of America, will be able to exercise one of our most important rights as citizens: voting.Women's suffrage

The history of voting rights in the United States reveals the best and worst things about our nation. In the beginning of our nation, the right to vote was exclusive to white, property owning men aged 21 and over. This right slowly opened up to all citizens, regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity. A short paragraph does little justice to history of voting rights in this country. The fight for voting equality shows the great bravery of many of our citizens. All people, especially people of color and women, put their lives at risk. Many died or were gravely injured for the vote. Moreover, it also shows the great shames our nation must face. Our long and continuing history of denying people their full and equal rights as citizens.

On November 7th, please exercise your right. Do it for those who came before you and those who will come after you. For information about your local ballot, visit Ballot Ready.

 

Westworld: 15 Books and Movies for the Western Android Fan

HBO’s new series, Westworld, is a big sprawling story set in a future where humans have begun imbuing robots with sentience in order to make a large, corporately owned theme park, more immersive for its rich clientele. It is based on the 1970s Michael Crichton movie of the same name where Androids in a Western based theme park become murderous and start to terrorize its patrons. Unlike the movie, the show seems to be developing some bigger questions, such as how is consciousness developed and what is a creators ethical responsibility for its creation as well as examining what is entertainment and what will immersive game playing experiences look like in the future. Overall, it is a great viewing experience, that balances a fun story while still letting its audience delve into references such as Shakespeare, Da VinciAlice in Wonderland, Hieronymus Bosch, and Julian Jaynes’ theory of the Bicameral Mind.

If you have been enjoying the show or are just interested in some some of the themes or genres it presents, then try out some of these titles we have at the Prairie State College Library.

Blood meridian: or, The evening redness in the West
by Cormac McCarthy
FIC MCC

Based on incidents that took place in the southwestern United States and Mexico around 1850, this novel chronicles the crimes of a band of desperados, with a particular focus on one, “the kid,” a boy of fourteen. An epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America’s westward expansion, Blood Meridian brilliantly subverts the conventions of the Western novel and the mythology of the “wild west.” Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, it traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennesseean who stumbles into the nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving.


Do androids dream of electric sheep?
by Philip K. Dick
FIC DIC

It was January 2021, and Rick Deckard had a license to kill. Somewhere among the hordes of humans out there, lurked several rogue androids. Deckard’s assignment–find them and then…”retire” them. Trouble was, the androids all looked exactly like humans, and they didn’t want to be found!


What to think about machines that think : today’s leading thinkers on the age of machine intelligence
Q335 .W445 2015

Weighing in from the cutting-edge frontiers of science, today’s most forward-thinking minds explore the rise of “machines that think.”
Stephen Hawking recently made headlines by noting, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Others, conversely, have trumpeted a new age of “superintelligence” in which smart devices will exponentially extend human capacities. No longer just a matter of science-fiction fantasy (2001, Blade Runner, The Terminator, Her, etc.), it is time to seriously consider the reality of intelligent technology, many forms of which are already being integrated into our daily lives. In that spirit, John Brockman, publisher of Edge. org (“the world’s smartest website” – The Guardian), asked the world’s most influential scientists, philosophers, and artists one of today’s most consequential questions: What do you think about machines that think?


The Ox-bow Incident
by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
FIC CLA

Set in 1885, The Ox-Bow Incident is a searing and realistic portrait of frontier life and mob violence in the American West. First published in 1940, it focuses on the lynching of three innocent men and the tragedy that ensues when law and order are abandoned. The result is an emotionally powerful, vivid, and unforgettable re-creation of the Western novel, which Clark transmuted into a universal story about good and evil, individual and community, justice and human nature.


The complete stories of J.G. Ballard
by J.G. Ballard
FIC BAL

Short story, ‘The Largest Theme Park in the World’, describes a Europe of the near future, ‘the first totalitarian system based on leisure’. Former pilot Paul Sinclair drives his young doctor wife Jane to the French Riviera when she takes up a post at the exclusive high-tech community of Eden-Olympia. The multinational corporations behind the business park are conducting a psychological laboratory there, a huge experiment in how to ‘hot-house the future’. They become aware of the violence and paranoia under the project’s glossy surfaces and its increasingly sinister undercurrents: sado-masochistic sex, robberies and racist attacks, unexplained murders. Jane falls into promiscuity and drug addiction, while Paul investigates the death of the former medical director of this ‘Alcatraz-sur-Mer’ in a deranged shooting spree.


Continue reading “Westworld: 15 Books and Movies for the Western Android Fan”