Sunday, June 30, 2019

Bystander effect: Famous psychology result could be completely wrong
MIND 26 June 2019

Won’t somebody stop him?
By Grace Browne

[[There is no end to the plague of retractions. Where will it strike next?]]

If you were being attacked, would anyone stop to help you? A famous result in psychology known as the bystander effect says probably not, but now a review of real-life violent situations says this commonly held view may be wrong.

The bystander effect purports that in situations such as a robbery or a stabbing, bystanders are less likely to step in if there are a large number of people in the area, so the likelihood of intervention decreases.

The idea has its roots in the 1964 case of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman who was raped and murdered in the early morning in her quiet neighbourhood in Queens, New York. The New York Timesreported at the time that 38 people had watched for more than half an hour as she was attacked.
It turns out that the number of observers in that case was an exaggeration, but the incident has become part of psychology legend. The bystander effect, first proposed by social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley, has been replicated in numerous experimental studies.

Potential explanations for the phenomenon include that individuals may feel less responsibility to intervene when many other people are around, as well as fear acting inadequately when being observed. It may also be that if no one else seems to be reacting or taking action, then we may fail to perceive the situation as an emergency.

Now, Richard Philpot at Lancaster University in the UK and his colleagues say the effect might not actually be real. They looked at surveillance footage of violent situations in the UK, South Africa and the Netherlands, and found that, in 90 per cent of cases, at least one person (but typically several) intervened and tried to help.

In addition, they found that the likelihood of intervention increased in accordance with the number of bystanders – which directly contradicts the bystander effect.

Philpot says he hopes that the general public will find the results of the paper reassuring. “The more people around, the greater number of people who have the potential or the willingness to do something.”

The researchers were surprised to find that the likelihood of intervention was similar across all three nations, despite South Africa having on record significantly lower perceptions of public safety, as well as higher levels of violence, on average. Philpot says it shows that people have a natural inclination to help when they see someone in need.

Jay Van Bavel of New York University says the results are “very striking”. The Kitty Genovese case is one of the core studies taught in undergraduate psychology classes, and the fact that this study contradicts a lot of the previous research is shocking, but exciting for the field.

Philpot and his colleagues are interested in looking at how specific factors such as the size of the perpetrator or whether they have a weapon influence people’s likelihood of intervening. “I wouldn’t say in every single situation it’s a 90 per cent likelihood, but as a base rate, it’s something new that we didn’t have before,” he says.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Authenticity under Fire
Researchers are calling into question authenticity as a scientifically viable concept
·         By Scott Barry Kaufman on June 14, 2019


Authenticity is one of the most valued characteristics in our society. As children we are taught to just "be ourselves", and as adults we can choose from a large number of self-help books that will tell us how important it is to get in touch with our "real self". It's taken as a given by everyone that authenticity is a real thing and that it is worth cultivating.
Even the science of authenticity has surged in recent years, with hundreds of journal articles, conferences, and workshops. However, the more that researchers have put authenticity under the microscope, the more muddied the waters of authenticity have become. Many common ideas about authenticity are being overturned. Turns out, authenticity is a real mess.
Problems with Authenticity
One big problem with authenticity is that there is a lack of consensus among both the general public and among psychologists about what it actually means for someone or something to be authentic. Are you being most authentic when you are being congruent with your physiological states, emotions, and beliefswhatever they may be? Or are you being most authentic when you are congruent with your consciously chosen beliefs, attitudes, and values? How about when you are being congruent across the various situations and social roles of your life? Which form of "being true to yourself" is the real authenticity: was it the time you really gave that waiter a piece of your mind or that time you didn't tell the waiter how you really felt about their dismal performance because you value kindness and were true to your higher values?
Another thorny issue is measurement. Virtually all measures of authenticity involve self-report measures. However, people often do not know what they are really like or why they actually do what they do. So tests that ask people to report how authentic they are is unlikely to be a truly accurate measure of their authenticity.
Perhaps the thorniest issue of them all though is the entire notion of the "real self". The humanistic psychotherapist Carl Rogers noted that many people who seek psychotherapy are plagued by the question "Who am I, really?" While people spend so much time searching for their real self, the stark reality is that all of the aspects of your mind are part of you. It's virtually impossible to think of any intentional behavior that does not reflect some genuine part of your psychological make-up, whether it's your dispositions, attitudes, values, or goals.
This creates a real problem for the scientific investigation of a concept such as authenticity. As Katrina Jongman-Sereno and Mark Leary conclude in their recent article "The Enigma of Being Yourself",
"Given the complexity of people's personalities, two seemingly incompatible actions might both be highly self-congruent. People are simply too complex, multifaceted, and often conflicted for the concept of a unitary true self to be a useful standard for assessing authenticity, either in oneself or in others."
So what is this "true self" that people are always talking about? Once you take a closer scientific examination, it seems that what people refer to as their "true self" really is just the aspects of themselves that make them feel the best about themselves. All around the world, people show an authenticity positivity bias: people include their most positive and moral qualities-- such as kind, giving, and honest-- in their descriptions of their true self. People judge their positive behaviors as more authentic than their negative behaviors even when both behaviors are consistent with their personal characteristics and desires.
Even more perplexing, it turns out that most people's feelings of authenticity have little to do with acting in accord with their actual nature. The reality appears to be quite the opposite. All people tend to feel most authentic when having the same experiencesregardless of their unique personality. In particular, we all tend to feel most authentic when we are feeling content, calm, loving, enthusiasticfree, competent, mindful of the present moment, and open to new experiences. In other words, we tend to feel most authentic when our needs are being met and we feel ownership of our subjective experiences. Not when we are simply being ourselves.
Another counterintuitive finding is that people actually tend to feel most authentic when they are acting in socially desirable ways, not when they are going against the grain of cultural dictates (which is how authenticity is typically portrayed). On the flip side, people tend to feel inauthentic when they are feeling socially isolated, or feel as though they have fallen short of the standards of others.
It makes sense that feelings of authenticity would so strongly tied to social evaluation considering how important reputation and acquiring a unique role within a group was across the course of human evolution. This also may help explain why people's evaluations of their authenticity is so strongly tied to their morality and most valued goals. Behaving in ways that are consistent your "higher" goals (such as announcing your new humanitarian nonprofit) is typically perceived as more authentic by yourself and by others than authentically watching Netflix while eating that stack of glazed donuts. Even though, sorry to say it, but both behaviors are really you.

Therefore, what people think of as their true self may actually just be what people want to be seen as. According to social psychologist Roy Baumeister, we will report feeling highly authentic and satisfied when the way others think of us matches up with how we want to be seen, and when our actions "are conducive to establishing, maintaining, and enjoying our desired reputation." If you think back on your own personal experiences of when you've felt most authentic in your life (and are really honest with yourself), you'll probably agree this largely rings true.
Conversely, Baumeister argues that when people fail to achieve their desired reputation, they will dismiss their actions as inauthentic, as not reflecting their true self ("That's not who I am"). As Baumeister notes, "As familiar examples, such repudiation seems central to many of the public appeals by celebrities and politicians caught abusing illegal drugs, having illicit sex, embezzling or bribing, and other reputation-damaging actions."
Saving Authenticity
While there doesn't appear to actually be such a thing as the one true self, the concept of the true self may still serve a useful function. The science of authenticity does show that feeling in touch with your real self (even if there doesn't actually exist such a thing) is a strong predictor of many indicators of well-being. Holding the idea of your true self in mind can play an important meaning-making function, and can serve as a useful guide to evaluating whether you are living up to your ideal of the good life.
After all, I do believe there is within each of us best selves-- aspects of who you are that are healthy, creative, and growth-oriented, and make you feel most connected to yourself and to others. I would argue that getting in touch with your best selves and intentionally actualizing your most creative and growth-oriented potentialities is a much more worthy goal than spending your entire life trying to find your one true self. In my view, there is such a thing as healthy authenticity.
Healthy authenticity is not about going around saying whatever is on your mind, or actualizing all of your potentialities, including your darkest impulses. Instead, healthy authenticity, of the sort that helps you become a whole person, involves accepting and taking responsibility for your whole self as a route to personal growth and meaningful relationships. Healthy authenticity is an ongoing process of discovery, involving self-awareness, self-honesty, integrity with your most consciously chosen values and highest goals, and a commitment to cultivating authentic relationships.
As long as you are working towards growth in the direction of who you truly want to be, that counts as authentic in my book regardless of whether it is who you are at this very moment. The first step to healthy authenticity is shedding your positivity biases and seeing yourself for who you are, in all of your contradictory and complex splendor. Full acceptance doesn't mean you like everything you see, but it does mean that you've taken the most important first step toward actually becoming the whole person you most wish to become. As Carl Rogers noted, "the curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change."
The views expre

Severe limitations of AI

Some passages from the article:

Neural nets are just thoughtless fuzzy pattern recognizers, and as useful as fuzzy pattern recognizers can behence the rush to integrate them into just about every kind of softwarethey represent, at best, a limited brand of intelligence, one that is easily fooled. A deep neural net that recognizes images can be totally stymied when you change a single pixel, or add visual noise that’s imperceptible to a human. Indeed, almost as often as we’re finding new ways to apply deep learning, we’re finding more of its limits. Self-driving cars can fail to navigate conditions they’ve never seen before. Machines have trouble parsing sentences that demand common-sense understanding of how the world works.

It can be hard to appreciate this from the outside, when all you see is one great advance touted after another. But the latest sweep of progress in AI has been less science than engineering, even tinkering. And though we’ve started to get a better handle on what kinds of changes will improve deep-learning systems, we’re still largely in the dark about how those systems work, or whether they could ever add up to something as powerful as the human mind.

We make sense of new phenomena in terms of things we already understand. We break a domain down into pieces and learn the pieces. Eyal is a mathematician and computer programmer, and he thinks about taskslike making a souffléas really complex computer programs. But its not as if you learn to make a soufflé by learning every one of the programs zillion micro-instructions, like Rotate your elbow 30 degrees, then look down at the countertop, then extend your pointer finger, then …” If you had to do that for every new task, learning would be too hard, and you’d be stuck with what you already know. Instead, we cast the program in terms of high-level steps, like “Whip the egg whites,” which are themselves composed of subprograms, like “Crack the eggs” and “Separate out the yolks.”
Computers don’t do this, and that is a big part of the reason they’re dumb. To get a deep-learning system to recognize a hot dog, you might have to feed it 40 million pictures of hot dogs. To get Susannah to recognize a hot dog, you show her a hot dog. And before long she’ll have an understanding of language that goes deeper than recognizing that certain words often appear together. Unlike a computer, she’ll have a model in her mind about how the whole world works. “It’s sort of incredible to me that people are scared of computers taking jobs,” Eyal says. “It’s not that computers can’t replace lawyers because lawyers do really complicated things. It’s because lawyers read and talk to people. It’s not like we’re close. We’re so far.”
A real intelligence doesn’t break when you slightly change the requirements of the problem it’s trying to solve. And the key part of Eyal’s thesis was his demonstration, in principle, of how you might get a computer to work that way: to fluidly apply what it already knows to new tasks, to quickly bootstrap its way from knowing almost nothing about a new domain to being an expert.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Sun Is Stranger Than Astrophysicists Imagined
The sun radiates far more high-frequency light than expected, raising questions about unknown features of the sun’s magnetic field and the possibility of even more exotic physics.

Gamma radiation from the sun was thought to come from cosmic rays interacting with the sun’s magnetic field and then colliding with gas molecules near its surface. But this long-standing theory doesn’t account for the observed strength and other features of the solar gamma-ray signal.
5W Infographics for Quanta Magazine

May 1, 2019

A decade’s worth of telescope observations of the sun have revealed a startling mystery: Gamma rays, the highest frequency waves of light, radiate from our nearest star seven times more abundantly than expected. Stranger still, despite this extreme excess of gamma rays overall, a narrow bandwidth of frequencies is curiously absent.
The surplus light, the gap in the spectrum, and other surprises about the solar gamma-ray signal potentially point to unknown features of the sun’s magnetic field, or more exotic physics.
“It’s amazing that we were so spectacularly wrong about something we should understand really well: the sun,” said Brian Fields, a particle astrophysicist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
The unexpected signal has emerged in data from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, a NASA observatory that scans the sky from its outpost in low-Earth orbit. As more Fermi data have accrued, revealing the spectrum of gamma rays coming from the sun in ever-greater detail, the puzzles have only proliferated.
“We just kept finding surprising things,” said Annika Peter of Ohio State University, a co-author of a recent white paper summarizing several years of findings about the solar gamma-ray signal. “It’s definitely the most surprising thing I’ve ever worked on.”
Not only is the gamma-ray signal far stronger than a decades-old theory predicts; it also extends to much higher frequencies than predicted, and it inexplicably varies across the face of the sun and throughout the 11-year solar cycle. Then there’s the gap, which researchers call a “dip” — a lack of gamma rays with frequencies around 10 trillion trillion hertz. “The dip just defies all logic,” said Tim Linden, a particle astrophysicist at Ohio State who helped analyze the signal.
Fields, who wasn’t involved in the work, said, “They’ve done a great job with the data, and the story it tells is really kind of amazing.”
The likely protagonists of the story are particles called cosmic rays — typically protons that have been slingshotted into the solar system by the shock waves of distant supernovas or other explosions.
Physicists do not think the sun emits any gamma rays from within. (Nuclear fusions in its core do produce them, but they scatter and downgrade to lower-energy light before leaving the sun.) However, in 1991, the physicists David SeckelTodor Stanev and Thomas Gaisser of the University of Delaware hypothesized that the sun would nonetheless glow in gamma rays, because of cosmic rays that zip in from outer space and plunge toward it.
Occasionally, the Delaware trio argued, a sunward-plunging cosmic ray will get “mirrored,” or turned around at the last second by the sun’s loopy, twisty magnetic field. “Remember the Road Runner cartoon?” said John Beacom, a professor at Ohio State and one of the leaders of the analysis of the signal. “Imagine the proton runs straight toward that sphere, and at the last second it changes its direction and comes back at you.” But on its way out, the cosmic ray collides with gas in the solar atmosphere and fizzles in a flurry of gamma radiation.
It’s probably telling us something very fundamental about the magnetic structure of the sun.
Joe Giacalone
Based on the rate at which cosmic rays enter the solar system, the estimated strength of the sun’s magnetic field, the density of its atmosphere, and other factors, Seckel and colleagues calculated the mirroring process to be roughly 1 percent efficient. They predicted a faint glow of gamma rays.
Yet the Fermi Telescope detects, on average, seven times more gamma rays coming from the solar disk than this cosmic-ray theory predicts. And the signal becomes up to 20 times stronger than predicted for gamma rays with the highest frequencies. “We found that the process was consistent with 100 percent efficiency at high energies,” Linden said. “Every cosmic ray that comes in has to be turned around.” This is puzzling, since the most energetic cosmic rays should be the hardest to mirror.
And Seckel, Stanev and Gaisser’s model said nothing about any dip. According to Seckel, it’s difficult to imagine how you would end up with a deep, narrow dip in the gamma-ray spectrum by starting with cosmic rays, which have a smooth spectrum of energies. It’s hard to get dips in general, he said: “It’s much easier to get bumps than dips. If I have something that comes out of the sun, OK, that’s an extra channel. How do I make a negative channel out of that?”
Perhaps the strong glow of gamma rays reflects a source other than doomed cosmic rays. But physicists have struggled to imagine what. They’ve long suspected that the sun’s core might harbor dark matter — and that the dark matter particles, after being drawn in and trapped by gravity, might be dense enough there to annihilate each other. But how could gamma rays produced by annihilating dark matter in the core avoid scattering before escaping the sun? Attempts to link the gamma-ray signal to dark matter “seem like a Rube Goldberg-type thing,” Seckel said.
Some aspects of the signal do point to cosmic rays and to the broad strokes of the 1991 theory.
For instance, the Fermi Telescope detects many more gamma rays during solar minimum, the phase of the sun’s 11-year cycle when its magnetic field is calmest and most orderly. This makes sense, experts say, if cosmic rays are the source. During solar minimum, more cosmic rays can reach the strong magnetic field near the sun’s surface and get mirrored, instead of being deflected prematurely by the turbulent tangle of field lines that pervades the inner solar system at other times.
On the other hand, the detected gamma rays drop off as a function of frequency at a different rate than cosmic rays. If cosmic rays are the source, the two rates would be expected to match.
Whether or not cosmic rays account for the entire gamma-ray signal, Joe Giacalone, a heliospheric physicist at the University of Arizona, says the signal “is probably telling us something very fundamental about the magnetic structure of the sun.” The sun is the most extensively studied star, yet its magnetic field — generated by the churning maelstrom of charged particles inside it — remains poorly understood, leaving us with a blurry picture of how stars operate.Visualizations of the sun’s magnetic field on Jan. 1, 1997, June 1, 2003, and Nov. 15, 2013, based on measurements by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. Green indicates positive polarity and purple is negative.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
Giacalone points to the corona, the wispy plasma envelope that surrounds the sun. To efficiently mirror cosmic rays, the magnetic field in the corona is probably stronger and oriented differently than scientists thought, he said. However, he noted that the coronal magnetic field must be strong only very close to the sun’s surface so as not to mirror cosmic rays too soon, before they’ve entered the zone where the atmosphere is dense enough for collisions to occur. And the magnetic field seems to become particularly strong near the equator during solar minimum.
These fresh clues about the structure of the magnetic field could help unravel the long-standing mystery of the solar cycle.
“Every 11 years, the whole magnetic field of the sun reverses,” said Igor Moskalenko, a senior scientist at Stanford University who is part of the Fermi scientific collaboration. “We have south in the place of north and north in the place of south. This is a dramatic change. The sun is huge, and why we observe this change of polarity and why it is so periodic nobody actually knows.” Cosmic rays, he said, and the pattern of gamma rays they produce “may answer this very important question: Why is the sun changing polarity every 11 years?”
But there are no good guesses about how the sun’s magnetic field might create the dip in the gamma-ray spectrum at 10 trillion trillion hertz. It’s such an unusual feature that some experts doubt that it’s real. But if the absence of gamma rays around that frequency is a miscalculation or a problem with Fermi’s instruments, no one has figured out the cause. “It does not seem to be any instrumental effect,” said Elena Orlando, an astrophysicist at Stanford and a member of the Fermi team.
When Peter, Linden, Beacom and their collaborators found the dip in Fermi’s data last year, they tried hard to get rid of it before publishing their discovery. “I think there are 15 pages in the appendix of different tests we ran to see whether we were miscalculating,” Linden said. “Statistically, the dip appears very prominent.”
However, Orlando emphasized that the sun’s motion through the sky makes the data analysis very challenging. She should know; she and a collaborator discovered the stream of gamma rays coming from the sun for the first time in 2008 using the EGRET satellite, Fermi’s predecessor. Orlando has also been centrally involved in processing Fermi’s solar gamma-ray data. In her view, more data and independent analyses will be needed to confirm that the dip in the spectrum is real.
A solar panel malfunction kept the Fermi Telescope mostly pointed away from the sun for the last year, but workarounds have been found — just in time for solar minimum. The sun’s magnetic field lines are currently curving tidily from pole to pole; if this solar minimum is like the last, the gamma-ray signal is now at its most robust. “That’s what makes this so exciting,” Linden said. “Right now we’re just hitting the peak of solar minimum, so hopefully we’ll see higher-energy [gamma-ray] emission with a number of telescopes.”
This time, along with Fermi, a mountaintop observatory called HAWC (for High-Altitude Water Cherenkov experiment) will be taking data. HAWC detects gamma rays at higher frequencies than Fermi, which will reveal more of the signal. Scientists are also eager to see whether the spatial pattern of gamma rays changes relative to 11 years ago, since cosmic rays remain positively charged but the sun’s north and south poles have reversed.
These clues could help solve the solar mystery. HAWC scientists hope to report their first findings within a year, and scientists both within the Fermi collaboration and outside it have started to pore over its accruing data already. Since NASA is publicly funded, “anybody can download it if they want to glance through,” said Linden, who downloads Fermi’s new data almost every day.
“The worst that can happen here is that we find out that the sun is stranger and more beautiful than we ever imagined,” Beacom said. “And the best that could happen is we discover some kind of new physics.”

This rock-eating ‘worm’ could change the course of rivers

[[OK - now that it is in Science do you believe chazal?]] 
By Elizabeth PennisiJun. 18, 2019 , 7:01 PM
Shipworms have long been a menace to humankind, sinking ships, undermining piers, and even eating their way through Dutch dikes in the mid-1700s. Now, researchers have found the first shipworm that eschews wood for a very different diet: rock. The new shipworm—a thick, white, wormlike creature that can grow to be more than a meter long—lives in freshwater. Researchers first spotted the species (Lithoredo abatanica) in 2006 in thumb-size burrows in the limestone banks of the Abatan River in the Philippines. But it wasn’t until 2018 that scientists were able to study the organism in detail.
The rock-eating shipworm is quite different from its wood-eating counterpart, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Really clams, all shipworms have two shrunken shells that have been modified into drill heads. Hundreds of sharp invisible teeth cover the shells in the wood eater, but the rock-eating shipworm has just dozens of thicker, millimeter-size teeth that scrape away rock.
Marine shipworms store the wood they eat in a special digestive sack, where bacteria degrade it. Like other shipworms, the rock-eating shipworm still ingests what it scrapes away to make its protective burrow, but it lacks both the sack and its bacteria and likely doesn’t get much sustenance from the rock bits. Their ingestion may be a holdover from wood-eating ancestors. Instead, it seems to rely on other bacteria residing in its gills to produce nutrients or food sucked in by a siphon at the clam’s back end for nourishment.
Top of Form

Bottom of Form
The rock-eating shipworm does have one big thing in common with its wood-eating counterparts, however: Its burrowing may cause harm, in this case by changing a river’s course. But its burrowing does have an upside: The crevices it creates provide great homes for crabs, snails, and fish.

See also

Video 39a43539-0b19-4af0-8d51-befcdd8ea54e