Paige Jarreau’s blog is one to add to your lists of science blogs (I’m not the only one with a list right? Right?). Not only does it have cool science content, but it offers real insights for scientists about how to spread their work with the world.
Myles was great to have on the show, and his youtube channel is really wonderful. Not only is he good on debunking quacks, he also unravels conspiracy theories, the videos are well researched, and can be fun when he’s not dealing with the darkest of the dark online. Check ‘em out.
We didn’t get into the fine detail of Dr Naomi Smith’s research into the dynamics of Anti-vax communities online, but the research is fascinating, and vital to understand. I hope there’s more to come in the future.
To get a better idea of how anti-vaxxer Facebook communities function, Smith and co-researcher Tim Graham, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Australian National University, who has a joint appointment in the Research School of Social Science and the Research School of Computer Science, dug into the groups’ posts, likes, shares and comments. They found the following:
Anti-vaxxer posts are highly shared, meaning that people frequently “shared” posts on their own Facebook pages or on their friends’ pages, Smith said. In all, there were more than 2 million shares across the six groups during the two-year period, she said. “This means that the page’s reach is much greater than the number of people who ‘like’ it,” Smith said.
Participants were moderately active across several anti-vaccination Facebook pages, “suggesting that users’ activity on anti-vaccination is more than just a product of Facebook’s recommender system” — a system that recommends like-minded groups to people, Smith said.
Despite their large size and high levels of activity, anti-vaccination groups are relatively loose-knit. “That is, they do not necessarily function as close-knit communities of support with participants interacting with each other in a sustained way over time,” Smith said. [Top 10 Golden Rules of Facebook]
Even though they are “loose,” these groups show features of “small-world” networks. “In small- world networks, information diffuses quickly and easily through the network, in this instance through user-generated comments,” Smith said. However, it’s difficult to say whether these small-world effects are due to the nature of the anti-vaxxer movement itself, or are an artifact of Facebook, a platform that can help spread information quickly, Smith said.
The sentiments expressed in these Facebook pages were “quite negative in tone, suggesting that users of the anti-vaccination pages feel not only morally outraged about the practice of vaccination, but structurally oppressed by seemingly tyrannical and conspiratorial government and media,” Smith said. Moreover, many posts had conspiracy-style beliefs placing blame on the government and media, Smith said. A 2011 survey found that conspiracy-style thinking is common among the general public and more pronounced in anti-vaxxers, a 2014 study in the American Journal of Political Sciencefound.
Anti-vaxxers had concerns about state-sanctioned harm and interference with their autonomy. “In particular, anti-vaccination Facebook pages commonly compare vaccination to the Holocaust, illustrating a strong sense of persecution,” Smith said.
Supernormal stimuli could be produced for all major areas of animal behaviour. Instincts weren’t coded for a complex shape of what to nurture or mate with or attack. Animals responded to just a few simple characteristics that could easily be exaggerated. Territorial male stickleback fish ignored a real male to fight a dummy with an underside brighter red than that of any natural fish. Male butterflies ignored a receptive female to straddle small cardboard cylinders if their vibrations and stripes were more intense – the cylinders didn’t even need wings. These animal behaviours look funny to us… or sad. But just how different are they from our modern habits?
People sit alone in front of a plastic box streaming Friends instead of going out with their real buddies. They tend Farmville crops while shirking their real duties. Men have sex with two-dimensional screen images when a willing partner may be in the next room. Research finds the cutest babies – those with the largest eyes and smallest noses – get the most attention, but Hello Kitty beats any baby’s proportions.
Supernormal stimuli are a driving force in many of today’s problems, including obesity, addiction to television and video games, and war. The key is that supernormal stimuli reverse the natural relationship between instinct and object. “Trust your instincts” works only if we’re out hunting and gathering, not when we’re bumbling around shopping centres. Becoming aware of supernormal stimuli does more than alert us to how these unfettered instincts fuel dangerous excesses. Once we recognise how supernormal stimuli operate, we can craft new approaches to modern predicaments. Humans have one stupendous advantage over Tinbergen’s birds – a huge brain with an especially well-developed prefrontal cortex. This gives us the unique ability to exercise self-control, override instincts that lead us astray and extricate ourselves from civilisation’s gaudy traps.