Wednesday Round Up #57

The Pandemic Did Not Affect Mental Health the Way You Think

We were surprised by how well many people weathered the pandemic’s psychological challenges. In order to make sense of these patterns, we looked back to a classic psychology finding: People are more resilient than they themselves realize. We imagine that negative life events—losing a job or a romantic partner—will be devastating for months or years. When people actually experience these losses, however, their misery tends to fade far faster than they imagined it would.

The capacity to withstand difficult events also applies to traumas such as living through war or sustaining serious injury. These incidents can produce considerable anguish, and we don’t want to minimize the pain that so many suffer. But study after study demonstrates that a majority of survivors either bounce back quickly or never show a substantial decline in mental health.

‘Nobody’s winning’ as drought upends life in US West basin

“There’s water allocated that doesn’t even exist. This is all unprecedented. Where do you go from here? When do you start having the larger conversation of complete unsustainability?” said Jamie Holt, lead fisheries technician for the Yurok Tribe, who counts dead juvenile chinook salmon every day on the lower Klamath River.

“When I first started this job 23 years ago, extinction was never a part of the conversation,” she said of the salmon. “If we have another year like we’re seeing now, extinction is what we’re talking about.”

The extreme drought has exacerbated a water conflict that traces its roots back more than a century.

Beginning in 1906, the federal government reengineered a complex system of lakes, wetlands and rivers in the 10 million-acre (4 million-hectare) Klamath River Basin to create fertile farmland.

Suzana Herculano-Houzel: The Evolution of the Human Brain, and Darwin’s Descent of Man

The Dissenter YouTube channel provided that Hurculano-Houzel interview, and has an enormous number of interviews with a broad range of scholars interested in humans, brains, society, and more.

Uprooting the Drug War

The war on drugs has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives. Our government criminalizes people who use drugs instead of providing education and addiction health services, including treatment. Rather than invest in communities, public officials invest in surveillance, policing, and punishment tactics that disproportionately target and impact people of color, low-income people, and non-citizens. Though these tactics have fueled mass incarceration, that is not their only impact.

Finding Red Squirrels in Frozen Sweden 🇸🇪 | Diaries of a Wildlife Photographer – Dani Connor

Why some biologists and ecologists think social media is a risk to humanity

Social media has drastically restructured the way we communicate in an incredibly short period of time. We can discover, “Like,” click on, and share information faster than ever before, guided by algorithms most of us don’t quite understand.

And while some social scientists, journalists, and activists have been raising concerns about how this is affecting our democracy, mental health, and relationships, we haven’t seen biologists and ecologists weighing in as much.

That’s changed with a new paper published in the prestigious science journal PNAS earlier this month, titled “Stewardship of global collective behavior.”

Seventeen researchers who specialize in widely different fields, from climate science to philosophy, make the case that academics should treat the study of technology’s large-scale impact on society as a “crisis discipline.” A crisis discipline is a field in which scientists across different fields work quickly to address an urgent societal problem — like how conservation biology tries to protect endangered species or climate science research aims to stop global warming.

The paper argues that our lack of understanding about the collective behavioral effects of new technology is a danger to democracy and scientific progress. For example, the paper says that tech companies have “fumbled their way through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, unable to stem the ‘infodemic’ of misinformation” that has hindered widespread acceptance of masks and vaccines. The authors warn that if left misunderstood and unchecked, we could see unintended consequences of new technology contributing to phenomena such as “election tampering, disease, violent extremism, famine, racism, and war.”

Kestrel Chicks Thriving Despite Brutal Barn Owl Attack – Robert Fuller

All six kestrel chicks are now thriving, despite a very shaky start. This film takes a look back at their extraordinary story and pays tribute to the resilience and determination of their parents, two formidable falcons Mr & Mrs Kes.

What Gaming Does to Your Brain—and How You Might Benefit

Video game research truly kicked off in the late ’90s, with Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green leading the charge while at the University of Rochester. They began to explore the unconventional idea that video games could impact and perhaps even aid with neuroplasticity—a biological process where the brain changes and adapts when exposed to new experiences.

After years of research, they found that action games in particular—games where reflexes, reaction time, and hand-eye coordination are challenged, like in the now-retro classics Doom and Team Fortress Classic—provided tangible cognitive advantages that help us in everyday life. As Bavelier and Green noted in the July 2016 issue of Scientific American: “Individuals who regularly play action games demonstrate improved ability to focus on visual details, useful for reading fine print in a legal document or on a prescription bottle. They also display heightened sensitivity to visual contrast, important when driving in thick fog … The multitasking required to switch back and forth between reading a menu and holding a conversation with a dinner partner also comes more easily.

What If Regulating Facebook Fails?

Facebook was designed for better animals than humans. It was designed for beings that don’t hate, exploit, harass, or terrorize each other—like golden retrievers. But we humans are nasty beasts. So we have to regulate and design our technologies to correct for our weaknesses. The challenge is figuring out how.

First, we must recognize that the threat of Facebook is not in some marginal aspect of its products or even in the nature of the content it distributes. It’s in those core values that Zuckerberg has embedded in every aspect of his company: a commitment to unrelenting growth and engagement. It’s enabled by the pervasive surveillance that Facebook exploits to target advertisements and content.

Mostly, it’s in the overall, deleterious effect of Facebook on our ability to think collectively.

That means we can’t organize a political movement around the mere fact that Donald Trump exploited Facebook to his benefit in 2016 or that Donald Trump got tossed off of Facebook in 2021 or even that Facebook contributed directly to the mass expulsion and murder of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. We can’t rally people around the idea that Facebook is dominant and coercive in the online advertising market around the world. We can’t explain the nuances of Section 230 and expect any sort of consensus on what to do about it (or even if reforming the law would make a difference to Facebook). None of that is sufficient.

Facebook is dangerous because of the collective impact of 3 billion people being surveilled constantly, then having their social connections, cultural stimuli, and political awareness managed by predictive algorithms that are biased toward constant, increasing, immersive engagement. The problem is not that some crank or president is popular on Facebook in one corner of the world. The problem with Facebook is Facebook.

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