• The Russian connectionThe dangers of weaponized narratives, and how to respond to them

    Criticism of Facebook began last week after a news report said the social network enabled advertisers to seek out self-described anti-Semites and, revealed this week, published Russian-bought divisive political ads. The company responded by saying that it would restrict how advertisers targeted their audiences and actively work with the U.S. government on its Russian-interference investigations. Google also came under fire at the same time after news that it allowed the sale of ads tied to racist and bigoted keywords. Google responded by claiming it would work harder to halt offensive ads. Weaponized narrative is the new global battle space, one expert said: “America and other Western democracies — and indeed the very Enlightenment — are under attack.”

  • Fake newsCountering misinformation and correcting “fake news”

    It is no use simply telling people they have their facts wrong. To be more effective at correcting misinformation in news accounts and intentionally misleading “fake news,” you need to provide a detailed counter-message with new information—and get your audience to help develop a new narrative. A new study, the first conducted with this collection of debunking data, finds that a detailed counter-message is better at persuading people to change their minds than merely labeling misinformation as wrong. But even after a detailed debunking, misinformation still can be hard to eliminate, the study finds.

  • IslamophobiaIslamophobia: racism mixed with cultural intolerance, not merely religious bias

    Islamophobia represents a form of racism mixed with cultural intolerance as a whole, rather than simply intolerance of Muslims and Islam, according to a new study. The author refutes the argument that Islamophobia is a form of religious bias that oppresses U.S. Muslims on the grounds that Islam is nefarious and antithetical to American values. “We often hear that because Muslims are not a race, people cannot be racist for attacking Muslims,” Rice University’s Craig Considine says. “This argument does not stack up. It is a simplistic way of thinking that overlooks the role that race plays in Islamophobic hate crimes.”

  • CrimePsychopathic brains’ wiring leads to dangerous and violent actions

    Researchers have found that psychopaths’ brains are wired in a way that leads them to over-value immediate rewards and neglect the future consequences of potentially dangerous or immoral actions. Psychopaths “are not aliens, they’re people who make bad decisions,” one researchers said. “The same kind of short-sighted, impulsive decision-making that we see in psychopathic individuals has also been noted in compulsive over-eaters and substance abusers.” Psychopaths are “exactly what you would expect from humans who have this particular kind of brain wiring dysfunction.”

  • TerrorismStudying public reaction before and after a terror attack

    It is a rare opportunity when public policy professionals have information at their fingertips for comparing public views around a traumatic event before implementing new policies. A new study examine how those exposed to local terrorist acts through media sources perceive the risk of terrorism before and immediately after an event—and discuss how that difference in perception may shape measures that are proposed in response.

  • Mass traumasMass trauma’s emotional toll can disrupt children’s sense of competence

    Traumatic events can have a profound effect on communities. Whether it is a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado, the aftermath can have lasting effects, especially on children. How children respond in the wake of mass traumatic events is related to their perceptions of competence – or how they view their ability to control a situation. An overwhelming challenge, such as a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, can disrupt the development of that sense of well-being.

  • CollapseTipping points: When natural or social systems reach a point of no return

    A tipping point is a critical threshold at which a dynamical system undergoes an irreversible transformation, typically owing to a small change in inputs or parameters. This concept is very broad and can refer to the extinction of an animal or a plant species, the depletion of a water source, or the financial collapse of an institution, among many other natural and social phenomena. Researchers provide a better understanding of the characteristics of this point of no return and what happens to a system after its occurrence.

  • TerrorismBee colonies-inspired tool to help dismantle terrorist cells, criminal social networks

    Researchers have designed an algorithm, inspired by the intelligent and social behavior of bee colonies, which allows law enforcement to attack and dismantle any type of social network that poses a threat, whether physical or virtual, such as social networks linked to organized crime and jihadist terrorism. The possible applications of this new bio-inspired algorithm, which helps to make optimal decisions in order to dismantle any type of social network, are many and varied: from dismantling a criminal network to facilitating the design of vaccination strategies capable of containing the spread of a pandemic.

  • DoomsdayAs the world ends, people remain calm and prosocial: Video-game study

    As the world ends, will you lock arms and sing “Kumbayah” or embark on a path of law-breaking, anti-social behavior? A new study, based upon the virtual actions of more than 80,000 players of the role-playing video game ArcheAge, suggests you will be singing. “We realize that, because this is a video game, the true consequences of the world ending are purely virtual. That being said, our dataset represents about as close as we can get to an actual end-of-the-world scenario,” says one researcher.

  • TerrorismHow political science helps combat terrorism

    Richard Nielsen, an MIT expert on Islamic terrorism, estimates that about 10 percent of Muslim clerics on the Internet are jihadists. “I don’t know if this number should strike readers as high or low; it’s higher than I expected,” he says. The question he tackles is the internet changing the nature of religious authority in Islam? “The problem of modern jihadism is rooted in an ongoing crisis of Islamic authority brought about by the rise of media — first print, then cassette tapes, and now the online Fatwa Bank.” He adds that data show that the odds of dying violently are lower now than they’ve ever been. “This isn’t to say that terrorism isn’t a problem, but we should keep the true level of threat posed by terrorism in perspective.”

  • Emerging threatsPsychological “vaccine” could immunize public against fake news on climate change

    New research finds that misinformation on climate change can psychologically cancel out the influence of accurate statements. However, if legitimate facts are delivered with an “inoculation” – a warning dose of misinformation – some of the positive influence is preserved.

  • Psychopathology & leadershipPresidential candidates may be psychopaths – but this is not necessarily a bad thing

    Oxford University’s Dr. Kevin Dutton has spent much of his career looking at psychopaths and researching psychopathic traits, identifying those which can be of benefit and those which can lead to incarceration. He contends that being a psychopath is not an all-or-nothing affair. Instead, psychopathy is on a spectrum along which each of us has our place. In a new study, Dutton finds that Donald Trump ranks above Adolf Hitler and only just below Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and Henry VIII. Hillary Clinton ranks between Napoleon and Nero.

  • GunsApplying public health models to gun violence

    Research treats shootings like an epidemic — by applying public health models. Data indicate an individual’s odds of being a gunshot victim increase with exposure to gun violence. The work focuses not on mass shootings or isolated incidents of violence – rather, the researchers have worked to gather data on populations that face persistent threats of gun-related attacks and homicides, often connected to gang and drug activity.

  • Post-conflictPost-conflict reconciliation led to societal healing, but worsened psychological health

    Civil wars divide nations along social, economic, and political lines, often pitting neighbors against each other. In the aftermath of civil wars, many countries undertake truth and reconciliation efforts to restore social cohesion, but little has been known about whether these programs reach their intended goals. A new study suggests reconciliation programs promote societal healing, but that these gains come at the cost of reduced psychological health, worsening depression, anxiety, and trauma.

  • MuslimsCalls for banning Muslims from entering U.S. impractical, harmful: Expert

    Duke sociologist Christopher Bail, who studies how anti-Muslim organizations use social media, says that calls to ban immigration of Muslims to the United States are missing two important points. First, there is no conceivable mechanism whereby the United States could identify Muslims — short of visual cues such as headdress or religious garb, which are not worn by most Muslims. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it is surprising that people think that groups such as ISIS could not disguise terrorists they want to send to the United States as non-Muslims.