Facebook removes 200+ accounts linked to Russian “troll factory”

by STEPHEN JOHNSON  bigthink.com

Facebook says it has removed 138 pages, 75 accounts, and 65 Instagram accounts tied to the Internet Research Agency—a Russia-based “troll factory” with a history of spreading disinformation.

Alex Stamos, chief security officer at Facebook, announced the news on Tuesday in a blog post: “The IRA has repeatedly used complex networks of inauthentic accounts to deceive and manipulate people who use Facebook, including before, during and after the 2016 US presidential elections. It’s why we don’t want them on Facebook.”

According to the post, the 138 Facebook pages had more than 1 million followers, the 65 Instagram accounts had about 493,000 followers, and 95 percent of all suspended accounts and pages targeted Russian speakers. Facebook says its employees spent months identifying the pages and accounts tied to the IRA, which had reportedly spent $167,000 on ads across both of the social media platforms since 2015.

“We removed this latest set of Pages and accounts solely because they were controlled by the IRA—not based on the content,” Stamos wrote. “We know that the IRA—and other bad actors seeking to abuse Facebook—are always changing their tactics to hide from our security team. We expect we will find more, and if we do we will take them down too.”

Stamos provided some examples of IRA content.

In October last year, Facebook reported that an estimated 10 million people in the U.S. had seen ads bought by accounts tied to Russia, nearly half of which appeared before the November 2016 presidential election. Facebook said most of the content focused on “divisive social and political messages.”

The Internet Research Agency appears to have been established in 2013 when it registered itself in Russia as a corporate entity. Later that year, a woman called Natalya Lvova posted an account of her experience working at the agency on social media. She got the job after responding to an ad offering work as an “internet operator,” and said that during her tenure she was instructed to write 100 online comments per day, with a focus on supporting or slandering particular Russian politicians.

In 2015, the IRA had become well known in the U.S. thanks to a NYTimesarticle titled ‘The Agency’. The piece outlined how the IRA used fake social media accounts, misleading articles, and outright hoaxes to confuse the public and destroy the reputations of anyone who posed a threat to pro-Kremlin causes.

“Russia’s information war might be thought of as the biggest trolling operation in history, and its target is nothing less than the utility of the Internet as a democratic space,” Chen wrote.

A joint report issued in January 2017 by the CIA, FBI, and NSA says that Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the disinformation effort.

In February of this year, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller issued an indictment of 13 Russian citizens linked to the IRA who are accused of having conducted “interference operations targeting the United States.”

The indictment outlines how, as early as 2014, the defendants used false personas or stolen identities from U.S. citizens to post “derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”

One remarkable thing about the IRA is that, by many accounts, working at the agency seems to have been just another 9-to-5 job.

“That’s what makes this all so chilling,” Brian Barrett wrote in an article for Wired. “The people chiseling away at the foundations of US democracy weren’t zealots, or necessarily even true believers. They were collecting a paycheck, presumably doing just enough not to catch hell from middle management. America faced—and continues to face—not a fevered onslaught, but a swarm of interchangeable corporate drones.”

Facebook’s removal of IRA-linked accounts comes during the ongoing scandal over user privacy concerns and the social media platform’s past interactions with the data firm Cambridge Analytica.



Agents of revolution: How 500 years of social networks shaped humanity

from bigthink.com


Historian and Author
Facebook might be the biggest social network but it’s far from the first, despite what those in Silicon Valley will have you believe. Stanford University fellow and Oxford University historian Niall Ferguson argues that social networks have been around for centuries and the most prominent of which — the Freemasons — could very well be responsible for democracy as we know it. Started in the 1700s in England and carried over to what would later become America, it was a place where class and social strata didn’t count and people could exchange ideas freely… and its members included none other than George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Niall’s latest book is the tantalizing The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.

“Shark Tank” Auditions Coming to the ‘Burgh


The ABC show will hold its first-ever Pittsburgh casting call at the end of March.

from Pittsburgh Magazine

Experts say the best way to deal with a shark is to punch it as hard as you can, right between the eyes. That technique isn’t going to work for these sharks.

Producers from ABC’s “Shark Tank” are coming to Pittsburgh to search for the next great entrepreneur with a genius idea. An open casting call for the show’s 10th season begins at 9 a.m. on March 28 at Rivers Casino.

The show’s judges, one of whom is Mt. Lebanon native Mark Cuban, will not attend — the producers will field the first round of pitches from applicants on site in the casino’s second-floor banquet space. Those who impress the producers at the casting call will then have a chance to pitch their venture to the “Sharks” — the judges — on the show in the hopes of securing their support and investments.

“We’re always on the hunt for entrepreneurs with an exciting business or product who are full of passion and personality,” supervising casting producer Mindy Zemrak said in a statement. “We’ve been hearing a lot about Pittsburgh lately, so it seems like the time is right to come and see what all the excitement is about.”

Interested applicants under age 21 must pre-register for the call by March 26. Casino visitors must show government-issued ID for entry (as usual), and those under 21 will only be allowed inside until noon. Contestants may start lining up for entry at 8 a.m. on the 28th, one hour before the call begins. Further details about the call can be found on the Rivers Casino website.

The “next big thing” could be here in Pittsburgh, says Rivers Casino manager Bill Keena.

“Pittsburgh has a well-established track record for business startups,” Kenna said in a statement. “There’s a ton of creative, entrepreneurial talent here.”

No date has been set yet for the premiere of season 10. “Shark Tank” airs locally on WTAE-TV.

Are the Olympic Games an Overall Benefit for Their Host Countries and Cities?

The 2018 Winter Games are scheduled for Feb. 9 – Feb. 25 in PyeongChang, South Korea. The host cities for four future Games have already been selected: Tokyo Summer 2020, Beijing Winter 2022, Paris Summer 2024, and Los Angeles Summer 2028. [1] The host city for the 2026 Winter Olympics has yet to be determined. [2] The International Olympic Committee selects a host for each Games from the cities that remain after a multi-step bidding process that gauges public support and evaluates the vision and planning proposed by each city, among other factors. [48][49]

People who say the Olympic Games are an overall benefit to their host countries and cities state that the Games increase valuable tourism, which can boost local economies; create a sense of national pride; and increase a country’s global trade and stature. People who say the Olympic Games are not an overall benefit to their host countries and cities state that the Games are a financial drain on host cities; force host cities to create expensive infrastructure and buildings that fall into disuse; and displace and burden residents of the host country and city.


Are the Olympic Games an Overall Benefit for Their Host Countries and Cities?

Pro 1

The Olympics increase valuable tourism, which can boost local economies. The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games had a global audience of five billion with the Games broadcast in 200 countries. [3] More than 56% of foreign visitors to Brazil for the 2016 Games were new visitors and Brazil set tourism records with 6.6 million foreign tourists and $6.2 billion dollars. [4][5] England welcomed more than one visitor every second in June 2013 after the 2012 London Summer Olympics, a 12% increase over 2012. [6] Those tourists also spent more: $2.57 billion in June (a 13% increase) and $12.1 billion in the first half of 2013. [6]

The 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics made a profit, helping to revitalize the city and transform it from an “industrial backwater” into the third best city in Europe, according to Travel + Leisure magazine. [7][8][9] The 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles netted the city a $215 million operating surplus and $289 million in broadcasting fees. [10] The Olympics brought a record 43.2 million tourists to Los Angeles County that year, an increase of 9.3% over 1983. [50]

Con 1

The Olympics are a financial drain on host cities. No Olympic Games since 1960 has come in under budget. [16] Bent Flyvbjerg, PhD, and Allison Stewart, MBA, both at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, stated that “in the Games the budget is more like a fictitious minimum that is consistently overspent.” [17] Each host city is responsible for these cost overruns, in addition to their original budgets. The average cost overrun for host cities from 1968 to 2010 was 252% for the Summer Olympics and 135% for the Winter, with the 1976 Montreal Summer Games running over the most by 796%. [17] Montreal’s 1976 cost overrun took 30 years to pay off, and the people of Quebec still pay $17 million a year to maintain Olympic Stadium, which is still without a roof 42 years later and also needs $300 million worth of repairs. [17][18][19]

The 2014 Sochi Games ran between $39 and $58 billion over the $12 billion budget, an amount that is more than spent on all previous winter Olympic games. [20] The 2004 Athens Summer Games’ 60% overrun worsened the 2007-2012 Greek financial crisis. [17][21][22]

Pro 2

The Olympics increase a host country’s global trade and stature. Host countries tend to be invited to prestigious global economic organizations. According to economics professors Robert A. Baade, PhD, and Victor A. Matheson, PhD, “the very act of bidding [for the Games] serves as a credible signal that a country is committing itself to trade liberalization that will permanently increase trade flows.” [9] China negotiated with the World Trade Organization, opening trade for the country, after being awarded the Beijing 2008 Summer Games. [14]

After a successful 1955 bid for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy joined the United Nations and began the Messina negotiations that led to the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC). [14] The 1964 Tokyo Summer Games led to Japan’s entry into the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the OECD. [14] The 1968 Summer Olympics allowed Mexico to make “the leap into the ranks of industrialized nations,” according to Dr. David Goldblatt, sociologist and sports writer. [15] Spain joined the EEC within a year of the 1986 Barcelona Summer Olympics. [14] Korea’s political liberalization coincided with winning the bid for the 1988 Seoul Summer Games. [14] One economic study found that “the Olympic effect is robust; hosting the games tends to increase a country’s openness substantively and permanently.” [14]

Con 2

The Olympics force host cities to create expensive infrastructure and buildings that fall into disuse. Robert A. Baade, PhD, and Victor A. Matheson, PhD, Economic professors, stated, “host cities are often left with specialized sports infrastructure that has little use beyond the Games” and that the cities must maintain at great expense. [9] Many Olympic venues worldwide sit empty, rusted, overgrown with weeds, covered with graffiti, and filled with polluted water. [23] The $78 million Olympic Stadium in PyeongChang for the 2018 Winter Games was set for demolition before the 2018 Games even began. [24] Sydney’s 2000 Olympic Stadium will be demolished in 2019 in favor of a smaller, more useful venue. [25]

Bejing’s 2008 Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium costs the city $11 million a year to maintain, and the stadium that seats 91,000 mostly sits unused. [26][27] In Rio de Janeiro, the $700 million athletes village for the 2016 Games was turned into luxury apartments that are now “shuttered” and the Olympic Park is “basically vacant” after failing to attract a buyer. [23][28] Sofia Sakorafa, Greece MP and former Olympian, stated of the 2004 Athens Games venues, “We are left with installations that are rotting away because we don’t even have the money to maintain them. A lot of entrepreneurs and property developers got rich very quickly.” [29]

Pro 3

The Olympics create a sense of national pride. According to a global poll, a majority of people in 18 of 21 countries stated their nations’ performance at the Olympics was “important to their national pride,” including 91% of Kenyans, 86% of Filipinos, and 84% of Turks. [11] Roger Bannister, the first person to ever run a mile in under four minutes and a 1952 Helskinki Olympian, stated of his country’s performance at the 2012 London Summer Games: “Team G[reat] B[ritain]’s heroic success seems to have reawoken in us our sense of national pride… a realisation perhaps that, as a people, we have the ability, the drive and the determination to be great.” [12]

Moorad Choudhry, MBA, PhD, Treasurer of the Corporate Banking Division of the Royal Bank of Scotland, stated, “A genuine feel-good factor [of hosting the Olympics] can be very positive for the economy, not just in terms of higher spending but also in productivity at work, which in turn boosts output.” [13] Lee Ji-seol, who lives in PyeongChang, said that fellow residents celebrated their selection as the 2018 Winter Games host city: “The entire town was out dancing.” [53]

Con 3

The Olympics displace and burden residents of the host country and city. Bryan C. Clift, PhD, and Andrew Manley, PhD, lecturers at the University of Bath, stated, “To make way for Beijing’s 2008 Olympic infrastructure, an estimated 1.5m[illion] people were forcibly evicted from their homes with minimal compensation. The neighbourhoods were destroyed and residents removed to the outskirts of the city far from friends, family and places of work.” [30]

Residents near Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympic Stadium, whose homes were set to be demolished, were forcibly removed in a “bloody confrontation between police and residents” that reportedly involved the use of rubber bullets and percussion grenades. [31] Lee Do-sung, a local restaurant owner, expressed concern about the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, “What good will a nicely managed global event really do for residents when we are struggling so much to make ends meet? What will the games even leave? Maybe only debt.” [32]


The Olympic Games were first held in Olympia, Greece, in 776 BC as a religious festival to honor Zeus. The first Olympic Stadium was in an area thought to have been cleared when Zeus hurled down a lightning bolt. When not in use as a stadium for the Games the area (which never contained an actual building) was a wheat field. [1][33][34] The early games included sports for male athletes only such as pankration (a combination of boxing and wrestling with only two rules: no biting and no gouging), along with boxing, chariot racing, running, wrestling, and field events. [51]

Paul Christesen, PhD, Professor of Ancient Greek History at Dartmouth College, stated, “It is hard for us to exaggerate how important the Olympics were for the Greeks. The classic example is that when the Persians invaded Greece in the summer of 480 (BC) a lot of the Greek city states agreed that they would put together an allied army but they had a very hard time getting one together because so many people wanted to go to the Olympics. So, they actually had to delay putting the army together to defend the country against the Persians.” [51]

The Games occurred every four years for 1,168 years from 776 BC to 393 AD, when they were ended by Emperor Theodosius I. [35]

A single luger competes in the PyeongChang Olympic venue.
Source: Republic of Korea, “Viessmann Luge WorldCup Men 06,” flickr.com, Feb. 19, 2017

A French nobleman, Pierre de Coubertin, revived the Games after becoming interested in physical education. [36] The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in Apr. 1896 and included 241 athletes from 14 countries competing in 43 events. [52] The Games have been held since, with five canceled due to the World Wars. [37][38] The first modern Winter Games were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France. [33] Beginning with the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994, Games were held every two years, alternating between Summer and Winter. [33]

The 2018 PyeongChang Games will include 102 events across 15 sports, making the 2018 Winter Games the first to surpass 100 medal events. [39] Six new medals across four new events will debut: big air snowboarding, mixed doubles curling, mass start speed skating, and mixed team alpine skiing. [39]

A record number of over 90 countries is expected to compete, with Russia notably banned by the International Olympics Committee (IOC) for doping in prior Games, though Russian athletes may participate under the neutral Olympic flag. [40] Six countries are set to make their Winter Games debut, including Ecuador, Eritrea, Kosovo, Malaysia, Nigeria (whose three female athletes are also the first ever Africans to compete in bobsled), and Singapore. [41][42][43][44][45][46]

PyeongChang sits about 80 miles from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates South Korea from North Korea. 22 North Korean athletes, 15 women and 7 men, will compete in ice hockey, ice skating, and skiing. North and South Korean athletes will compete on a joint women’s hockey team under the Korea unification flag. [47]

Akuoma Omeoga, Seun Adigun, and Ngozi Onwumere are Nigeria and Africa’s first bobsled team to compete in the Olympics.
Source: Jacob Lauing, “Three Former Track Stars Created Nigeria’s First Bobsled Team,” mashable.com, Dec. 3, 2016

Augmented evolution: Why the definition of “human” is about to change

Astronomy, Science Communication
the following article is from bigthink.com
If there are intelligent alien civilizations out there, would they look like us? To answer that question, we first have to ask another: Is our species about to take an evolutionary leap? “I think that the definition of being human is about to change a lot in the next century,” says Michelle Thaller, astronomer and Assistant Director for Science Communication at NASA. Over the next few decades, Thaller speculates that humanity’s augmented evolution will begin as we start to merge with A.I.s. Our biological bodies might just be a first step in human evolution, says Thaller, and high-tech implants and neural interfaces may make it possible for us to design our own bodies. “When you design your own body to suit any environment you want, why look like a human? Maybe you want to—[or] maybe you want to be a piece of foil that spreads itself across square kilometers to fly on solar winds and actually move around through solar systems. Maybe you look nothing like a human. Maybe you have nothing like a human life.” So what does this have to do with aliens? Thaller posits that any advanced civilization that is more evolved than us would also have left its biological evolution behind. Expecting humanoid extraterrestrials might be too narrow minded. Maybe aliens are algorithms. Maybe we shouldn’t even be looking for DNA and microbial life. Perhaps ET is a flat sheet of foil cruising through the universe on solar winds.
To see a discussion of these concepts check out this video

How to Outfox Someone Who’s Smarter Than You

Game Theorist
from bigthink.com
If you want to win, it’s best to think crazy like a fox. Nobody knows this better than Kevin Zollman — a nationally recognized expert in game theory and associate professor of philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University — who suggests that perhaps the best way to get ahead of your opponent is to think completely counterintuitively. This works especially well in poker, where breaking the flow (say, bluffing when you have nothing) can keep your foes from guessing your next move. A little dose of crazy goes a long way. Zollman is the co-author of The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting: How the Science of Strategic Thinking Can Help You Deal with the Toughest Negotiators You Know — Your Kids, with Paul Raeburn.

Everything We Know About Physics in One Neat Infographic

 by TEODORA ZAREVA @www.bigthink.com

Map of Physics by Dominic Walliman

Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. But DON’T PANIC. Physics is on it. And if you’ve ever wondered which part of physics covers which part of space, fret no more. Here is an awesome map that lays it all out.

Dominic Walliman, “youtuber, science writer and physicist,” has created a wonderful infographic that shows the many branches of physics and how they all come together. He has accompanied it with a brief but informative video that gives a chronological overview of each branch and explains the matters (and energies) it is concerned with. 

You may learn, for example, that Condensed Matter Physics describes the quantum physics of many atoms together in solids and liquids and is where technologies like computers and lasers come from. You may also learn that Quantum Field Theory is the closest we’ve gotten to bridging the gap between quantum physics and the Special Theory of Relativity but Quantum Field Theory has not yet found a way to include gravity (!) in it. (That feels like a pretty big gap.)

map of physics
Credit: Dominic Walliman / Full resolution image here.

Walliman made the map to help people who may feel lost in physics like he once was. 

“When you are learning a new subject, I think the single most useful thing is a good mind map that lays out all the subject areas so you know where the information you are learning fits in. I can remember so many times, sitting in a lecture, having no idea what the prof was talking about and how it related to other subjects.

I think this is often the case when I’m explaining physics to other people. I know physics really well (one would hope so after doing it for such a long time), so I thought I would make a map of all of physics as it is now. This is all the stuff we know about physics – and a few things we know we don’t know.”

He has created several other mind maps and videos, like a map of chemistry, a map of mathematics and a map of computer science.

While the map of physics sure seems daunting as is, it actually only covers scientific fields that describe about 5% of the universe. With dark energy and dark matter making up the other 95%, there are many new branches of physics we can be expecting in the future. 

A Device to Increase Human Memory Has Been Implanted, and It Works

Article Image

It’s a matter of some debate exactly how many neurons we have in our brains, though it’s somewhere in the millions, billions, or trillions. You’d think with all the possible connections in there, we’d have enough storage available to remember everything we ever experience. Alas, it’s not so. Sure, you remember all those song lyrics, but where are your keys? For many, though, it’s much more than a nuisance — for sufferers of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other memory-stealing conditions, the past crumbles way, making life increasingly difficult. For some time, scientists have been wondering if it would be possible to implant a device in the human brain that could improve its biological storage capacity. Now, scientists from USC have actually done it. Team member Dong Song presented their research this month at a Society of Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C., according to New Scientist.

Song calls the device a “memory prosthesis.” The Parylene C — a biocompatible USP class VI polymer — neural probe sports an electrode array for detecting and ultimately reproducing electrical firing patterns in the hippocampus.

implant appearance

What an earlier version of the prosthesis, for rats, looks like (USC)

implant operation

How the rat prosthesis worked (USC)

USC implanted their device in the brains of 20 volunteers who were already having electrodes implanted in their brains for the treatment of epilepsy.

The subjects were given a memory test in which they had to pick out odd, blobby shapes they’d been shown between 5 and 75 seconds earlier. The idea was to track the use of short-term and working — the type of recall you need to accomplish tasks — memory.

The implants recorded neuronal activity in each subject’s hippocampus during the test, allowing researchers to discern the electrical stimulation patterns associated with the memory tasks.

Finally, the subjects took another memory test during which the implants reproduced the firing patterns seen earlier in the hopes of enhancing subjects’ memorization abilities.

The improvement they achieved in subjects’ scores was startling: Short-term memory improved by 15% and working memory by roughly 25%.



While further testing is necessary, this memory prosthesis technology could represent a breakthrough for patients with memory disorders. For these people, a 15% or 20% improvement in the ability to remember could be slow the progress of their conditions, potentially helping them hold on to their precious memories. 

The Highest Paid Athlete in History Actually Lived in Ancient Rome

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Circa 50 BC, A chariot race at the Circus Maximus, Rome.Original Artwork: A print in the collection of Manchester City Art Gallery, after a painting by Professor Alex Wagner. Original Artwork: The Boy’s Own Paper (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Soccer maestro Cristiano Ronaldo‘s 2017 pay of $93 million makes him the world’s highest-paid athlete, according to Forbes magazine.The money that comes in from salary and endorsements make NBA great LeBron James second on that list with $86.2 million, while the $80 million earned by Lionel Messi, another soccer legend, rounds out the top three. But none of these amazing athletes can compare to the earning ability of the highest-paid athlete of all times – a Roman charioteer by the name of Gaius Appuleius Diocles, who got paid $15 billion in his lifetime.

Historian Peter T. Struck says that Diocles, a Lusitanian Spaniard who lived from 104 to 146 AD, earned 35,863,120 Roman sesterces in his lifetime – a figure that would amount to the $15 billion in today’s money. The number is inscribed on a monument in Rome, erected for Diocles by his fans at the end of a 24-year career. 

The most famous races took place at Circus Maximus, a sports arena in Rome. Drivers generally came from lower social classes and affiliated with teams. The colors of the team jerseys – Reds, Blues, Whites and Greens – made it easier for fans to keep up with and root for their favorites. For the large majority of his chariot-racing life, Gaius Appuleius Diocles was a Red.

Races began when the emperor dropped his napkin and ended seven breathless laps later. Those who didn’t get maimed or killed and finished in the top three took home prizes.

As a charioteer, Diocles was known for a strong final dash, says Struck. His wardrobe would have consisted of a leather helmet, protector for the chest, shin guards, a jersey and a whip. He’d also carry a curved knife to use on opponents or if he got tangled up in the reins as a result of a fall.

From 4,257 four-horse races in which he competed in, Diocles won 1,462. He also placed in an another 1,438 races (mostly second place)

If you’re in the mood for some chariot racing, here’s the classic clip from the 1959 film Ben Hur:


And here’s a clip from the most recent Ben Hur movie version from 2016:

NASA Invites You to Nickname a Mysterious Distant World

from bigthink.com

Article Image
Artists’ conception of upcoming flyby (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI/CARLOS HERNANDEZ)

Remember NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft and its amazing pictures of Pluto back in 2015? Its next photo target is an intriguing icy, small world — or it may be a binary orbiting pair of objects, or two stuck together — in the Kuiper Belt, four billion miles away, out near the edge or solar system. New Horizons will photograph whatever it/they is on New Year’s Day 2019. NASA wants us to be excited about this mission, and they feel the object’s current name, (486958) 2014 MU69, lacks a certain pizazz. So they’re going to let the public name it.

kuiper belt

Kuiper Belt (NASA)

But slow down, Readie McReaderson. No doubt to avoid the chaos surrounding the UK Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) name game for a research vessel they eventually dubbed — yawn — “RRS Sir David Attenborough,” NASA’s just letting us pick the world a new nickname to replace the current one, “MU69.” Cagey.

If you’d like to get involved, here’s the link you need. The SETI institute is hosting the contest. You have until 3 pm EST/noon PST on December 1, 2017 to submit a name — NASA and the New Horizons team will “review the top vote-getters and announce their selection in early January.”

The three most popular submissions as of this writing are:

  • Mjönir — AKA, Thor’s hammer
  • Z’ha’dum — a fictional planet in the Babylon 5 universe.
  • 3-way tie between peanutalmond, and cashew — since MU69 is a small, nut-shaped object(s). (Not listed: “macadamia.”)


Actually, if MU69 turns out to be binary, the dicotyledonous peanut would be kind of brilliant. (ARIARI)

SETI is updating the tally hourly, and SETI has posted background on the names under consideration.

Even though the contest may eventually devolve into comedy, NASA’s pride in New Horizon’s accomplishments is understandable. As its principle investigator Alan Stern says, “New Horizons has always been about pure exploration, shedding light on new worlds like we’ve never seen before. Our close encounter with MU69 adds another chapter to this mission’s remarkable story.”

new horizons

New Horizons (NASA)

SETI’s got a few members on the New Horizons team, and one of them, Mark Showalter, is spearheading the MU69 naming contest. He was previously in charge of the Our Pluto project in which the public suggested names for prominent features on Pluto and its moon Charon. “Some of the best names for features on Pluto were nominated by members of the public during the Our Pluto campaign,” says Showalter. “I am always amazed by the creativity and imagination of the public.” (The man could have a second career in diplomacy.)

Whatever happens, these naming contest are an effective way to engage people in research that is, after all, genuinely fascinating. As Big Think’s Laurie Vasquez wrote last year about NERC’s campaign, “By welcoming the public into the project, they become part of the project, plain and simple. Yes, it can be silly, as Boaty McBoatface has demonstrated, but it’s also allowed NERC’s project to spread farther than they could have hoped.”

Should Teachers Make $100K Salary? California Will Decide

by TEODORA ZAREVA  (Bigthink.com)

Voters in California may get to decide whether teachers’ salaries should match those of state legislators at the expense of a hike in the sales tax.

California Trust for Public Schools, an educational fundraising organization, will be collecting signatures for a new initiative measure called The Teacher Fair Pay Act that aims to amend the text of the Education Code and the Revenue and Taxation Code. If successful, Californians will get to vote on the pay raise in November 2018.

The proposal is to establish the California Achievement Trust Fund to supplement existing state and local funding. The money in the new fund will only be available to the State Department of Education for the purpose of ensuring that teachers’ salaries are competitive with the private sector and similar public sector professionals. 

The exact text reads that, “In no case shall a full-time teacher […] be paid less than a non-leadership member of the California State Legislature.”

Teachers protest budget cuts in LA.


Tanya Lentz, a teacher at Metropolitan High School, joins United Teachers Los Angeles and supporters in protesting state and local budget cuts on January 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. District officials say they are facing a gaping $500 million budget shortfall. The board of education earlier this month authorized nearly 2,300 layoffs, but the superintendent ruled midyear layoffs out. (David McNew/Getty Images)


In order to pay for the increase in salaries, the organization is proposing a new sales tax on all retailers at the rate of two percent of the gross receipts.

To back the proposal, California Trust for Public Schools cites some worrying trends. Over the next ten years 100,000 California teachers are expected to retire, yet new teachers leave the profession at a rate six times greater than other public employees while the number of college graduates preparing to become teachers has plummeted by seventy six percent over the last decade.

Young people have fewer and fewer incentives to become teachers, but effective teachers are the single most important factor in children’s education.




The latest report from the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) shows that while U.S. teachers out-earn their international colleagues with starting salaries of about $42,500 compared to under $31,000, U.S. teachers make less than 60 cents on every dollar made by others with their education level, which is the biggest gap of any OECD country. The report also found that U.S. teachers work longer hours, nearly 270 more hours of teaching than the international average.

Marc Litchman, the founder of California Trust for Public Schoolssaid for Education Week:

“‘If we want the best and the brightest teachers in our classrooms, we have to pay competitive salaries. Adjusted for inflation, a teacher should make $125,000 today to make what they did in 1960,’ and added that teacher salaries lag 17 percent behind salaries in the private sector and comparable public sector professions.”

Litchman also points out that “unlike legislators, being a teacher requires a college education, an advanced degree, and ongoing professional training, and, unlike legislators, teachers often work in dangerous, challenging, and substandard conditions in schools that can be poorly maintained and woefully underfunded.”

Proponents of the measure will need to collect 365,880 signatures in 180 days to get it on the ballot. Then it will be up to the voters to decide whether to make it active starting January 1, 2020.

Surprise! Scientists Discover the Human Brain Has a Lymphatic System.

Surprise! Scientists Discover the Human Brain Has a Lymphatic System.

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At the dawn of the 19th century, when Paolo Mascagni hired Clementi Susini to help him make wax models of the human lymphatic system including the brain, he probably had no idea he was setting himself up for centuries of ridicule. In a 2003 piece about 18th-century science in The Lancet, his “mistake” was condescendingly explained: “Mascagni was probably so impressed with the lymphatic system that he saw lymph vessels even where they did not exist — in the brain.” That sentiment reflects what scientists have long believed. And then lymphatic vessels were foundin the dura mater, the membrane covering the brain, of mice by a team from University of Virginia in 2015. The researchers noted, “The discovery of the central-nervous-system lymphatic system may call for a reassessment of basic assumptions in neuroimmunology.” Ah, sweet vindication, 300 years later.


Mascagni’s wax brain model (THE LANCET)

The human lymphatic system transports lymph, a fluid in which our cells bathe and that carries away waste, toxins, and other cellular debris. Lymph is also an important element in our immune systems, containing white blood cells for fighting infection, and the lymphatic system delivers them to the 600-700 lymph nodes around the body, and to organs, to fight off infections.

lymphatic system (LIVE SCIENCE)

The human brain’s lymphatic vessels were discovered by a team led by NIH neurologist and radiologist Daniel Reich, who specializes in multiple sclerosis. Since patients’ immune systems seemed somehow to be involved in inflammatory brain disease, and central nervous system cells produce waste like other cells do, he wondered why the brain wouldn’t have a lymphatic system that could account for both things. How was that waste being washed away anyway?

When a study was published in 2015 announcing the discovery of “a macroscopic waste clearance system that utilizes a unique system of perivascular channels, formed by astroglial cells, to promote efficient elimination of soluble proteins and metabolites from the central nervous system,” it seemed like he might have the beginning of an answer. Since it was also found that the system transported lipids, glucose, lipids, neurotransmitters, and amino acids, it was dubbed a “glymphatic system.” However, since “the central nervous system (CNS) completely lacks conventional lymphatic vessels,” exactly how the system worked was not yet understood.

Mindful of the dura mater lymphatic vessels in mice, Reich’s team developed an MRI method for imaging the brains of humans and marmosets that could identify lymphatic vessels — carefully differentiated from similar-looking blood vessels — in their dura mater. (They believe their findings would also be verifiable with autopsy tissue.)

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The marmosets and human volunteers were injected with gadolinium, a dye-like fluid that normal blood vessels can’t hold — it leaks out of them. On the other hand, lymph vessels cansuccessfully contain gadolinium. Once the gadolinium reached the dura mater, it became relatively easy to separate out the lymphatic vessels from the blood vessels: They were the ones that showed up on the MRIs as bright white areas containing gadolinium. As a double-check, they injected another dye that blood vessels can hold onto, and found that it never found its way out of them and into the suspected lymphatic vessels.

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Now that we know the brain has lymphatic vessels, it becomes, as Reich’s team states, “possible to study how the brain removes waste products and circulates white blood cells, and to examine whether this process is impaired in aging or disease,” and that the discovery, after all this time, of lymphatic vessels in the dura mater of humans “holds promise for better understanding the normal physiology of lymphatic drainage from the central nervous system and potential aberrations in neurological diseases.”


It’s #NationalComingOutDay

Coming out can be hard. There is no easy path.

That’s why celebrating National Coming Out Day is so special. It’s important for all of us to share our strength with those who may be thinking about taking a big step forward. Take a look at some tips in our video and infographic below. Please forward or share this with someone who needs this today.




Stuck for An Idea? Try Listening to Some Happy Music

from: http://bigthink.com  


Creative thinking has long fascinated us. In the Middle Ages, creativity was believed to have a divine source, appearing only in people with an open line of communication with God. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that creatives were given credit for their work. Modern studies have shown that this kind of thinking is simply something the normal human mind is capable of, though there aresome studies that suggests that we’re actually becoming less creative than we used to be. In any event, everybody seems to want to enhance creative thinking, and the psychologists behind the new study were interested in seeing what role music could play since there’s been a fair amount of research into music’s impact on the brain. 

A study just published in PLOS One suggests that happy music can be the key that unlocks divergent thinking, the kind of thinking that results in creative solutions and ideas. Psychologists studied 155 people in their late teens and 20s and found a clear correlation between how they thought and what they were listening to.




For the new study, Simone Ritter from Radboud University in Nijmegen and Sam Ferguson at the University of Technology in Sydney assessed their subjects for two types of thinking:

  • Convergent thinking — This type of thinking, as its name suggests, involves putting together a set of choices to assess their relative value and select the best option. It’s a way of concentrating on something where you already have the information you need and simply need to arrive at the best conclusion.
  • Divergent thinking — This type of thinking goes wide in search of new possibilities. The mind opens up, or diverges, from the basic task, free to dream up completely new ideas or develop a fresh synthesis of, or angle on, existing ones.

To demonstrate why we’d want to enhance divergent thinking, the study’s authors cite an example: The problem not having enough resources to repair high-tech incubators in developing countries with high neonatal death rates. Convergent thinking, or digging deeper, might involve improving the technology to make the incubators more reliable, or train more local people to repair them. Divergent thinking might lead to the designing of new incubators based on car parts with which locals are already familiar.

The researchers had their subjects attempt to solve a series of puzzles that required one of the two types of thinking to solve.

The Puzzles

There were three types of tests for convergent thinking:

  • Idea selection task — in which subjects were asked to select the three most creative objects from 10 kitchen inventions they were shown.
  • Remote associates task — in which subjects were asked ten times to come up with a fourth word after hearing a seemingly unrelated three-word combination.
  • Creative insight task — in which participants were presented with two physical puzzles. The first posed the “two-string” problem in which two strings hanging from the ceiling need to be tied together, even though they’re spaced too far apart to be grabbed at the same time. (The solution is to swing one like a pendulum to bring its end closer to the other.). The other was the “Duncker candle problem,” in which a candle must be stuck to a wall and lit without dripping wax on the floor using only matches and box of thumbtacks. (Tack the box to the wall, put the candle in the box, and light it with a match.)

For divergent thinking, subjects were given an Alternate Uses Task that instructed them to find many uses as they could for a common household brick.

The Music

As subjects worked, pieces of classical music were played in the background. Each was selected for its emotional effect as determined by previous study.

music selections(RITTER/FERGUSON)

The Findings

First off, none of the music had any discernible effect on the performance of convergent tasks. Divergent thinking, though, was another story altogether.

Using a an Overall Divergent Thinking scale (ODT), where high scores are better, subjects listening to happy music had a rating of 93.87. Working in silence? A paltry ODT rating of 76. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for the win.


The research didn’t get into why this happens, though its authors suggest that divergent thinking may provide the only way out of a sticky problem, “When getting stuck in a rut, it can be helpful to, instead of digging deeper, dig elsewhere.”

Six Apps That Combat Depression and Anxiety

 by DEREK BERES (from http://bigthink.com)

Add a couple thousands of apps to your netbook...
Add a couple thousands of apps to your netbook in one click. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Smartphone addiction creates many problems: car accidentspoor educational performanceinsomniarelationship issuesanxiety, and depression.2 As with any technology—as with anything, really—too much is too much. Inattentiveness is a chronic problem. Yet the benefits to technology are also undeniable, which is why medical app makers are using this medium to fight back. 

Smartphones may help provoke depression and anxiety, but new research from top Australian institutes explores apps that are helping users reduce the symptoms and even combat the roots of these disorders. Researchers chose eighteen randomized controlled trials, fourteen of which were published in the last two years, which cover 3,414 men and women between the ages of 18-59. Participants suffered from depression, insomnia, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and other related disorders. 

In this meta-analysis the researchers discovered these apps have a moderate positive effect over inactive controls and a small positive effect over active control conditions. In terms of apps themselves, cognitive training apps proved more efficient than apps focused on mental health. 

When combined with traditional methods such psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals, this new wave of apps could become standard protocol in an integrative approach to battling depression, anxiety, and related disorders. Regardless of each app’s specific focus, researchers conclude “smartphone devices are a promising self-management tool for depression.”

Here are some of the apps showing promise: 

Project: EVO. This app is designed to improve symptoms of inattention, executive function, and working memory. The company is testing others to help address Alzheimer’s disease, brain injury, and autism. Research from earlier this year showed that the app might help children with cognitive impairments, including sensory processing disorder. Another study found that the video game interface might treat underlying causes of depression and not only just manage the symptoms. 

Moodhacker. Moodhacker’s interactive platform encourages healthy habits, targeting sleeping patterns, nutrition, exercise, and social support. By tracking patterns and moods it aims to help users better understand the flow of their day and make better decisions. A studyof 300 employees found that it helped promote work productivity, reduced absence from work, and lowered workplace distress, when compared to other depression-related websites. 

MONARCA. This bipolar disorder app tracks user’s activity, moods, sleep patterns, medication adherence, stress levels, and alcohol consumption, as well as noticing triggers and early warning signs. It then shares the data with clinicians. Of course, there are dangers with self-assessments, but one study of 78 participants found that MONARCA users showed fewer manic symptoms after six months when compared to a group using a placebo app. 

Headspace. This mindfulness meditation app has dominated the meditation market since its launch. It takes advantage of years of research on the benefits of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy programs, especially when it comes to reducing anxiety and depression. I also appreciate co-founder Andy Puddicombe’s thoughtful guidance and welcoming voice. 

myCompass. This Australian intervention app helps you create a personalized program targeting feelings and behaviors that lead to depression and anxiety. One study of 135 participants found that this app might help astronauts deal with depression in space. If it helps people deal with hurtling through space at ungodly speeds, just think of us with our feet on the ground.

PTSD Coach. One of the great advancements in understanding psychology has been the recognition of post-traumatic stress disorder. This app, designed by the National Center for PTSD, allows you to track your symptoms, provides tools for handing stress when it arises, and links to immediate, human help. While scientific studies for this app are scant, research by the US Department of Veteran Affairs found that nine out of ten users find it beneficial. 

Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

Just-Discovered Papyrus Reveals How the Great Pyramid Was Built

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The Great Pyramid in Egypt is the last of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. The tomb for Pharaoh Khufu — “Cheops” in Greek — sits on the Giza plateau about 3 kilometers southwest of Egypt’s capitol Cairo, and it’s huge: nearly 147 meters high and 230.4 meters on each side (it’s now slightly smaller due to erosion). Built of roughly 2.3 million limestone and rose granite stones from hundreds of kilometers away, it’s long posed a couple of vexing and fascinating mysteries: How did the ancient Egyptians manage to get all of these stones to Giza, and how did they build such a monumental object? All sorts of exotic ideas have been floated, including assistance from aliens visiting earth. Now, as the result of an amazing find in a cave 606 kilometers away, we have an answer in the form of 4,600-year-old, bound papyrus scrolls, the oldest papyri ever found. They’re the journal of one of the managers who helped build the great pyramid. It’s the only eye-witness account of building the Great Pyramid that’s ever been found.

It was written by a man named Merer, who reported to “the noble Ankh-haf,” Khufu’s half-brother. It describes, among other things, a stop of his 200-man crew in the Tura, or Maaasara, limestone quarries on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Suez, and filling up their boat for the 13-17 km trip back up the river to Giza. Since this type of limestone was used for the pyramid’s outer casing, the journal is believed to document work on the tomb during the final year of Khufu’s life, around 2560 BCE.



In 1823, British explorer John Gardner Wilkinson first described the caves in Wadi al-Jarf on the eastern coast of the Red Sea: “Near the ruins is a small knoll containing eighteen excavated chambers, beside, perhaps, many others, the entrance of which are no longer visible.” He described them as being “well cut and vary from about 80 to 24 feet, by 5; their height may be from 6 to 8 feet.” Two French pilots also noted presence of the 30 caves in the mid-1950s, but it wasn’t until Pierre Tallet interviewed one of the pilots that he was able to pinpoint the caves’ location during a 2011 dig. Two years later, the papyri were discovered. Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass called it “the greatest discovery in Egypt in the 21st century.” 

Prior to the work of Tallet and others, the ancient Egyptians weren’t thought to be seafarers, but abandoned ports unearthed along the Gulf of Suez and the Read Sea tell a different story.


In the Egyptian resort town Ayn Soukhna, along the west coast of the Suez, Egyptian heirogplyhs were first found on cliff walls in 1997. “I love rock inscriptions,” Tallet told Smithsonian, “they give you a page of history without excavating.” He read one to the Smithsonian: “In year one of the king, they sent a troop of 3,000 men to fetch copper, turquoise and all the good products of the desert.”



That would be the Sinai desert across the Red Sea, and Wadi al-Jarf is only 56 km away from two of a group of ports. Tallet has uncovered the remains of an 182-meter, L-shaped jetty there, along with 130 anchors. He believes it, like Ayn Soukhna, were part of a series of ports, supply hubs, bringing needed materials into Egypt. The caves were apparently built for boat storage, as they have been elsewhere around the edges of ancient Egypt. It appears Wadi al-Jarf was only in use a short while, during the building of the pyramid — it likely supplied the project with Sinai copper, the hardest metal of is time, for cutting stones. 

The second part of the Great Pyramid mystery — who built it? — may have been solved in the 1980s by Mark Lehner, who uncovered a residential area capable of housing some 20,000 people just meters from the pyramids. Prior to that find, there was scant evidence of the massive population of workers that would have been required for building the tomb. Studying the “cattle-to-pig” ratio revealed the diversity of the population that lived there,: Beef was the food of the elite; pigs of the working person, and Lerhner discovered “the ratio of cattle to pig for the entire site stands at 6:1, and for certain areas 16:1,” a plausible distribution for the construction team.

Lehner visited Wadi al-Jarf and concurs with Tallet about its meaning: “The power and purity of the site is so Khufu,” he told Smithsonian. “The scale and ambition and sophistication of it — the size of these galleries cut out of rock like the Amtrak train garages, these huge hammers made out of hard black diorite they found, the scale of the harbor, the clear and orderly writing of the hieroglyphs of the papyri, which are like Excel spreadsheets of the ancient world—all of it has the clarity, power and sophistication of the pyramids, all the characteristics of Khufu and the early fourth dynasty.” He believes the pyramid stones were transported by boat from ports like Wadi al-Jarf and Ayn Soukhna via canals to the construction site in Giza, the ancient Egyptians having been master builders of such waterways for the purposes of irrigation.

from: http://bigthink.com/robby-berman/a-just-discovered-papyrus-reveals-how-the-great-pyramid-was-built?utm_source=Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=d9f330a97c-Daily_Newsletter_092817&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_45b26faecc-d9f330a97c-43773525

Performance Goes Down When People are Separated from Their iPhones

by NATALIE SHOEMAKER from www.bigthink.com

One could argue that people’s smartphones are an extension of themselves—these devices hold so much of ourselves from reminders for important occasions to phone numbers that if we didn’t have them, part of our minds would become inaccessible, like a focused form of amnesia. So, what happens when you take someone’s smartphone away? Erin Blakemore from the Smithsonianwrites on a study that answers just this question.

Researchers from the University of Missouri wanted to know how people performed when their iPhones were taken away from them. So, they found 41 students–quite a small sample–that owned iPhones through a survey on “media usage.” These participants were then put in a cubicle (with their iPhones in tow) to solve a series of word search puzzles. Researcher monitored their anxiety levels, heart rate, and blood pressure during this first part.

The researchers then announced that the participants’ iPhones were causing Bluetooth interference with the blood pressure cuffs, so they had to move their phones. The smartphones were placed nearby, within earshot of the participants. While the participants continued to work on the word search puzzles, the researchers called their phones, during which time they noted the participants’ anxiety levels, heart rates, and blood pressures. There was a “significant increase” in all three and a decline in puzzle performance.

Russell Clayton, a graduate student at the university’s School of Journalism and lead author of the study, said in the paper:

“Our findings suggest that iPhone separation can negatively impact performance on mental tasks. Additionally, the results from our study suggest that iPhones are capable of becoming an extension of our selves such that when separated, we experience a lessening of ‘self’ and a negative physiological state.”

This may help explain why we become so distraught when our smartphones become lost or accidentally left behind when we go to work—a part of us feels like it’s missing. Some have been even reported feeling “phantom vibrations” while away from their phones.

Read more at the Smithsonian

How Reading Rewires Your Brain for More Intelligence and Empathy

from bigthink.com

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Fitness headlines promise staggering physical results: a firmer butt, ripped abs, bulging biceps. Nutritional breakthroughs are similar clickbait, with attention-grabbing, if often inauthentic—what, really, is a “superfood?”—means of achieving better health. Strangely, one topic usually escaping discussion has been shown, time and again, to make us healthier, smarter, and more empathic animals: reading

Reading, of course, requires patience, diligence, and determination. Scanning headlines and retweeting quips is not going to make much cognitive difference. If anything, such sweet nothings are dangerous, the literary equivalent of sugar addiction. Information gathering in under 140 characters is lazy. The benefits of contemplation through narrative offer another story.


The benefits are plenty, which is especially important in a distracted, smartphone age in which one-quarter of American children don’t learn to read. This not only endangers them socially and intellectually, but cognitively handicaps them for life. One 2009 study of 72 children ages eight to ten discovered that reading creates new white matter in the brain, which improves system-wide communication. 

White matter carries information between regions of grey matter, where any information is processed. Not only does reading increase white matter, it helps information be processed more efficiently. 

Reading in one language has enormous benefits. Add a foreign language and not only do communication skills improve—you can talk to more people in wider circles—but the regions of your brain involved in spatial navigation and learning new informationincrease in size. Learning a new language also improves your overall memory.

In one of the most fascinating aspects of neuroscience, language affects regions of your brain involving actions you’re reading about. For example, when you read “soap” and “lavender,” the parts of your brain implicated in scent are activated. Those regions remain silent when you read “chair.” What if I wrote “leather chair?” Your sensory cortex just fired. 



Continuing from the opening paragraph, let’s discuss squats in your quest for a firmer butt. Picture the biomechanics required for a squat. Your motor cortex has been activated. Athletes have long envisioned their movements—Serena Williams’s serve; Conor McGregor’s kicks; Usain Bolt’s bursts of speed—to achieve better proficiency while actually moving. That’s because their brains are practicing. That is, they’re practicing through visualization techniques. 

Hard glutes are one thing. Novel reading is a great way to practice being human. Rather than sprints and punches, how about something more primitive and necessary in a society, like empathy? As you dive deeper into Rabbit Angstrom’s follies or Jason Taylor coming of age, you not only feel their pain and joy. You actually experience it. 

In one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

This has profound implications for how we interact with others. When encountering a 13-year-old boy misbehaving, you most likely won’t think, “Well, David Mitchell wrote about such a situation, and so I should behave like this,” but you might have integrated some of the lessons about young boys figuring life out and display a more nuanced understanding in how you react. 


Perhaps you’ll even reconsider trolling someone online regarding their political opinion, remembering that no matter how crass and inhumane a sentiment appears on screen, an actual human is sitting behind the keyboard pecking out their thoughts. I’m not arguing against engaging, but for the love of anything closely resembling humanity, argue intelligently. 

Because reading does in fact make us more intelligent. Research shows that reading not only helps with fluid intelligence, but with reading comprehension and emotional intelligence as well. You make smarter decisions about yourself and those around you.

All of these benefits require actually reading, which leads to the formation of a philosophy rather than the regurgitation of an agenda, so prevalent in reposts and online trolling. Recognizing the intentions of another human also plays a role in constructing an ideology. Novels are especially well-suited for this task. A 2011 studypublished in the Annual Review of Psychology found overlap in brain regions used to comprehend stories and networks dedicated to interactions with others. 

Novels consume time and attention. While the benefits are worthwhile, even shorter bursts of prose exhibit profound neurological effects. Poetry elicits strong emotional responses in readers and, as one study shows, listeners. Heart rates, facial expressions, and “movement of their skin and arm hairs” were measured while participants listened to poetry. Forty percent ended up displaying visible goose bumps, as they would while listening to music or watching movies. As for their craniums: 

Their neurological responses, however, seemed to be unique to poetry: Scans taken during the study showed that listening to the poems activated parts of participants’ brains that, as other studies have shown, are not activated when listening to music or watching films.

These responses mostly occurred near the conclusion of a stanza and especially near the end of the poem. This fits in well with our inherent need for narrative: in the absence of a conclusion our brain automatically creates one, which, of course, leads to plenty of heartbreak and suffering when our speculations prove to be false. Instead we should turn to more poetry:

There is something fundamental to the poetic form that implies, creates, and instills pleasure.

Whether an Amiri Baraka verse or a Margaret Atwood trilogy, attention matters. Research at Stanford showed a neurological difference between reading for pleasure and focused reading, as if for a test. Blood flows to different neural areas depending on how reading is conducted. The researchers hope this might offer clues1for advancing cognitive training methods. 

I have vivid memories of my relationship with reading: trying to write my first book (Scary Monster Stories) at age five; creating a mock newspaper after the Bernard Goetz subway shooting when I was nine, my mother scolding me for “thinking about such things”; sitting in the basement of my home in the Jersey suburbs one weekend morning, determined to read the entirety of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which I did. 

Reading is like any skill. You have to practice it, regularly and constantly.3 While I never finished (or really much started) Scary Monster Stories, I have written nine books and read thousands more along the way. Though it’s hard to tell if reading has made me smarter or a better person, I like to imagine that it has. 

What I do know is that life would seem a bit less meaningful if we didn’t share stories with one another. While many mediums for transmitting narratives across space and time exist, I’ve found none as pleasurable as cracking open a new book and getting lost in a story. Something profound is always discovered along the way.


Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.