Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Epistemology


Conspiratorial ideation is the tendency of individuals to believe that events and power relations are secretly manipulated by certain clandestine groups and organisations. Many of these ostensibly explanatory conjectures are non-falsifiable, lacking in evidence or demonstrably false, yet public acceptance remains high. Efforts to convince the general public of the validity of medical and scientific findings can be hampered by such narratives, which can create the impression of doubt or disagreement in areas where the science is well established. Conversely, historical examples of exposed conspiracies do exist and it may be difficult for people to differentiate between reasonable and dubious assertions. In this work, we establish a simple mathematical model for conspiracies involving multiple actors with time, which yields failure probability for any given conspiracy. Parameters for the model are estimated from literature examples of known scandals, and the factors influencing conspiracy success and failure are explored. The model is also used to estimate the likelihood of claims from some commonly-held conspiratorial beliefs; these are namely that the moon-landings were faked, climate-change is a hoax, vaccination is dangerous and that a cure for cancer is being suppressed by vested interests. Simulations of these claims predict that intrinsic failure would be imminent even with the most generous estimates for the secret-keeping ability of active participants-the results of this model suggest that large conspiracies (≥1000 agents) quickly become untenable and prone to failure. The theory presented here might be useful in counteracting the potentially deleterious consequences of bogus and anti-science narratives, and examining the hypothetical conditions under which sustainable conspiracy might be possible.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mathematics, Epistemology, Hypothesis, Theory, Logic, Social psychology, Conspiracy theory


Open science describes the practice of carrying out scientific research in a completely transparent manner, and making the results of that research available to everyone. Isn’t that just ‘science’?

Concepts: Scientific method, Mathematics, Epistemology, Science, Research


Traditional fact checking by expert journalists cannot keep up with the enormous volume of information that is now generated online. Computational fact checking may significantly enhance our ability to evaluate the veracity of dubious information. Here we show that the complexities of human fact checking can be approximated quite well by finding the shortest path between concept nodes under properly defined semantic proximity metrics on knowledge graphs. Framed as a network problem this approach is feasible with efficient computational techniques. We evaluate this approach by examining tens of thousands of claims related to history, entertainment, geography, and biographical information using a public knowledge graph extracted from Wikipedia. Statements independently known to be true consistently receive higher support via our method than do false ones. These findings represent a significant step toward scalable computational fact-checking methods that may one day mitigate the spread of harmful misinformation.

Concepts: Truth, Epistemology, Graph theory, Knowledge, Logic, Path, Shortest path problem, Reason


Increasing public interest in science information in a digital and 2.0 science era promotes a dramatically, rapid and deep change in science itself. The emergence and expansion of new technologies and internet-based tools is leading to new means to improve scientific methodology and communication, assessment, promotion and certification. It allows methods of acquisition, manipulation and storage, generating vast quantities of data that can further facilitate the research process. It also improves access to scientific results through information sharing and discussion. Content previously restricted only to specialists is now available to a wider audience. This context requires new management systems to make scientific knowledge more accessible and useable, including new measures to evaluate the reach of scientific information. The new science and research quality measures are strongly related to the new online technologies and services based in social media. Tools such as blogs, social bookmarks and online reference managers, Twitter and others offer alternative, transparent and more comprehensive information about the active interest, usage and reach of scientific publications. Another of these new filters is the Research Blogging platform, which was created in 2007 and now has over 1,230 active blogs, with over 26,960 entries posted about peer-reviewed research on subjects ranging from Anthropology to Zoology. This study takes a closer look at RB, in order to get insights into its contribution to the rapidly changing landscape of scientific communication.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mathematics, Epistemology, Science, Research, Peer review, Technology, Scientific literature


Humans show a natural tendency to discount bad news while incorporating good news into beliefs (the “good news-bad news effect”), an effect that may help explain seemingly irrational risk taking. Understanding how this bias develops with age is important because adolescents are prone to engage in risky behavior; thus, educating them about danger is crucial. We reveal a striking valence-dependent asymmetry in how belief updating develops with age. In the ages tested (9-26 y), younger age was associated with inaccurate updating of beliefs in response to undesirable information regarding vulnerability. In contrast, the ability to update beliefs accurately in response to desirable information remained relatively stable with age. This asymmetry was mediated by adequate computational use of positive but not negative estimation errors to alter beliefs. The results are important for understanding how belief formation develops and might help explain why adolescents do not respond adequately to warnings.

Concepts: Psychology, Human, Critical thinking, Epistemology, Risk, Religion, Core issues in ethics, Philosophical terminology


Many choice situations require imagining potential outcomes, a capacity that was shown to involve memory brain regions such as the hippocampus. We reasoned that the quality of hippocampus-mediated simulation might therefore condition the subjective value assigned to imagined outcomes. We developed a novel paradigm to assess the impact of hippocampus structure and function on the propensity to favor imagined outcomes in the context of intertemporal choices. The ecological condition opposed immediate options presented as pictures (hence directly observable) to delayed options presented as texts (hence requiring mental stimulation). To avoid confounding simulation process with delay discounting, we compared this ecological condition to control conditions using the same temporal labels while keeping constant the presentation mode. Behavioral data showed that participants who imagined future options with greater details rated them as more likeable. Functional MRI data confirmed that hippocampus activity could account for subjects assigning higher values to simulated options. Structural MRI data suggested that grey matter density was a significant predictor of hippocampus activation, and therefore of the propensity to favor simulated options. Conversely, patients with hippocampus atrophy due to Alzheimer’s disease, but not patients with Fronto-Temporal Dementia, were less inclined to favor options that required mental simulation. We conclude that hippocampus-mediated simulation plays a critical role in providing the motivation to pursue goals that are not present to our senses.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Brain, Epistemology, Memory, Dementia, Operations research, Futures contract, Semantic memory


Widespread misperceptions undermine citizens' decision-making ability. Conclusions based on falsehoods and conspiracy theories are by definition flawed. This article demonstrates that individuals' epistemic beliefs-beliefs about the nature of knowledge and how one comes to know-have important implications for perception accuracy. The present study uses a series of large, nationally representative surveys of the U.S. population to produce valid and reliable measures of three aspects of epistemic beliefs: reliance on intuition for factual beliefs (Faith in Intuition for facts), importance of consistency between empirical evidence and beliefs (Need for evidence), and conviction that “facts” are politically constructed (Truth is political). Analyses confirm that these factors complement established predictors of misperception, substantively increasing our ability to explain both individuals' propensity to engage in conspiracist ideation, and their willingness to embrace falsehoods about high-profile scientific and political issues. Individuals who view reality as a political construct are significantly more likely to embrace falsehoods, whereas those who believe that their conclusions must hew to available evidence tend to hold more accurate beliefs. Confidence in the ability to intuitively recognize truth is a uniquely important predictor of conspiracist ideation. Results suggest that efforts to counter misperceptions may be helped by promoting epistemic beliefs emphasizing the importance of evidence, cautious use of feelings, and trust that rigorous assessment by knowledgeable specialists is an effective guard against political manipulation.

Concepts: Scientific method, Critical thinking, Truth, Epistemology, Science, Knowledge, Religion, Conspiracy theory


To demonstrate that six common errors made in attempts to change behaviour have prevented the implementation of the scientific evidence base derived from psychology and sociology; to suggest a new approach which incorporates recent developments in the behavioural sciences.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Epistemology, Behavior, Human behavior, Social sciences, Behaviorism, Behavioural sciences


Provenance is a critical ingredient for establishing trust of published scientific content. This is true whether we are considering a data set, a computational workflow, a peer-reviewed publication or a simple scientific claim with supportive evidence. Existing vocabularies such as Dublin Core Terms (DC Terms) and the W3C Provenance Ontology (PROV-O) are domain-independent and general-purpose and they allow and encourage for extensions to cover more specific needs. In particular, to track authoring and versioning information of web resources, PROV-O provides a basic methodology but not any specific classes and properties for identifying or distinguishing between the various roles assumed by agents manipulating digital artifacts, such as author, contributor and curator.

Concepts: Scientific method, Epistemology, Academic publishing, Philosophy of science, Controlled vocabulary, Peer review, Metaphysics, Semantic Web


BACKGROUND: This article aims to discuss the incorporation of traditional time in the construction of a management scenario for pink shrimp in the Patos Lagoon estuary (RS), Brazil. To meet this objective, two procedures have been adopted; one at a conceptual level and another at a methodological level. At the conceptual level, the concept of traditional time as a form of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) was adopted. METHOD: At the methodological level, we conduct a wide literature review of the scientific knowledge (SK) that guides recommendations for pink shrimp management by restricting the fishing season in the Patos Lagoon estuary; in addition, we review the ethno-scientific literature which describes traditional calendars as a management base for artisanal fishers in the Patos Lagoon estuary. RESULTS: Results demonstrate that TEK and SK describe similar estuarine biological processes, but are incommensurable at a resource management level. On the other hand, the construction of a “management scenario” for pink shrimp is possible through the development of “criteria for hierarchies of validity” which arise from a productive dialog between SK and TEK. CONCLUSIONS: The commensurable and the incommensurable levels reveal different basis of time-space perceptions between traditional ecological knowledge and scientific knowledge. Despite incommensurability at the management level, it is possible to establish guidelines for the construction of “management scenarios” and to support a co-management process.

Concepts: Scientific method, Epistemology, Management, Estuary, Lagoon, Commensurability, Lagoa dos Patos