Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fact Checking

You've probably seen plenty of articles that sound something like "Lorde Gives Anti-Capitalist Speech at the Grammy's", "How GMOs are Doing _____ and We're All Going to Die",  or "Something Nuclear Happened and We're All Going to Doing." And while some of them are at least partially true (for instance, nuclear particles from the Fukushima meltdown are supposed to hit the west coast by, well, now and allegedly it won't have any negative impacts on humans or sea life, but maybe stay out of the water just in case?) a lot of them are exaggerated, misinterpreted, and sometimes straight-up fear mongering. Some articles are easy to disprove-- the Lorde example, for instance, was posted on a parody news website-- but when it comes to science-related things, it can be hard to tell what's correct if you yourself are not really scientifically (or statistically) educated. I'm obviously no expert, but here's what I look for when I try to fact check things beyond my scope of understanding:

Check the sources, author, research, etc. If the news comes from a website called something to the effect of "The Daily Sheeple", "Only Organic Foods", or anything referencing conservativism or liberalism, it's probably a biased, unreliable source. If the article got its information from something that has very little to do with what they're writing about, it's probably inaccurate. If the author is writing about the effects of nuclear waste but they're a nutritionist rather than a nuclear scientist (which has actually happened when I tried to fact check something), they probably can't be trusted to write about it accurately. And so on.

Google it. Not that this necessarily yields better sources, but I've found that a lot of scare articles were written based on misunderstandings or exaggerations by googling things. Or I've found mainstream news articles (which aren't necessarily much better) addressing the same subject and alleging to have consulted actual experts on whatever topic, which suggests that their story may be more accurate. If nothing else, googling certain headlines allows you to see what kind of news outlets are reporting the story-- and, if a majority of them are from places like The Daily Sheeple, you pretty much have your answer.

Snopes. I actually doubt that Snopes is the best way to fact check things, but generally Snopes gives you a definitive answer with lots of reasoning and sources. So you can always just fact check the fact checking.

Check the chart. There are a whole bunch of scientific/statistic procedures that may be completely meaningless to you if you haven't studied either subject in much depth, but the gist is that these procedures have a HUGE impact on the results. So, if they're not followed correctly, the results could very well be inaccurate. For the sake of convenience, I found a chart that pretty much outlines them.

Stay classy,

Monday, April 21, 2014

Pressure per unit area vs. deformation per unit length

So we're getting to the point in the semester when stress starts to get to us. Do you know the origin of the concept of stress? Hans Selye was an endocrinologist who developed much of the way we conceive of stress today. He was the first to study and describe the physical effects of stress. Selye was fluent in at least five languages, and chose the word "stress" to describe the process he was observing. It is said that, much later, he came to realize that, in his rough facility with English, he had made a bad choice. He was unaware that the word stress was used in physics, in dealing with elasticity. When a force, or stress, is applied to a surface, deformation, or strain, results. Selye realized that he had mixed the terms, and what he had called stress should rightly have been called strain. The term has stuck.

Stress should properly be considered as the pressure put on something; strain is the deformation that results. Stress comes to us (speaking on a mental/emotional level, not physical) in the forms of our obligations, responsibilities, our jobs, our schoolwork, or relationships, friends and family, unexpected emergencies, etc. Stress can affect us in many ways, and can have a negative effect on our health. It's important to remember it's not the pressure that hits us—it's whether that pressure bends us out of shape. Stress isn't the problem—strain is. Stress is a trigger for growth. As long as the stress is handled gradually, our mind and bodies can adapt to it, and grow stronger as a result. It's when the stress happens too quickly that we don't accommodate it, and we get strain. The system under strain breaks down.

We all need to learn how to manage our stress, to prevent it from becoming strain. Breathing exercises, physical exercise, meditation, yoga, massage, journaling, healthy eating, calming music, a trip to a favorite environment, etc. All good techniques for unwinding and decompressing.


Dave Roel.
Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us.
- Stephen R. Covey

Friday, April 18, 2014

Stay or go

I posted an article of ten signs you should leave a relationship. Someone commented that one should try to work it out, rather than give up. Sometimes it can be worked out, and sometimes it can’t. There are some cases where getting out is the right call. Sometimes it really is time to quit. Sometimes it can’t be fixed. Knowing when that’s the case, and when it’s taking the easy way out is not a science, it’s a judgement call. There's no blanket prescription for anything. Everyone has to make a judgement call on their situation. I have known some people who have been in truly terrible abusive relationships. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how strong your own drive to fix it is; if the other person is unwilling to work towards or is incapable of working towards improvement, then there is no possibility for fixing it. A relationship can’t be fixed by just one person. Sometimes the person you’re with can't be worked with. Sometimes all you can do is get away from them.

Sometimes people stay in a bad situation out of fear, out of lack of self-agency, lack of self-esteem, financial constraints, fealty to commitment, out of shame, etc. Unhealthy thinking leads to bad decisions. If we’re in a healthy, supportive place, mentally and emotionally, we can use that as a solid foundation from which we can make positive, healthy choices.

″Grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

It’s a cartoon!

Bibo from Anton Chistiakov on Vimeo.


Dave Roel.
The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.
- Epictetus

Monday, April 14, 2014


Whenever I’m asked about whether I believe in something, I always say the same thing. I say that it makes no sense to believe in anything. When you say you believe in something, you are saying that you are 100% certain that this is the case. We can’t be 100% certain of anything in this existence. There’s always some room for doubt, no matter how small. Godel proved that with his incompleteness theorem (that says that we cannot know 100% of the information of a given system), as did Heisenberg with his uncertainty principle (that says that we cannot know 100% of the information of a particle). There’s always some amount of incompleteness or uncertainty in our knowledge, and since we can never be 100% certain of anything in existence, it makes no sense to say that we believe in anything. We have our best guesses and our best stories and our best bets on what’s going on, but they are just guesses and stories and bets. We can always revise those theories upon the receipt of new information. This is the scientific approach.

When I say this, sometimes someone responds that that is a depressing worldview. I don’t see it as depressing in any way. I see it as a sane and rational way to approach the world. It leaves us open for new information, and prevents us from falling into mental traps of rigid, orthodox thinking. It seems to me to be a better way to live, anyway.


Dave Roel.
Basic human contact - the meeting of eyes, the exchanging of words - is to the psyche what oxygen is to the brain.
- Martha Beck