After 20 grueling hours, Maickel Melamed finished the Boston Marathon

Maickel Melamed, a college professor from Venezuela, crossed the finish line for the Boston Marathon at 4:00 this morning, a grueling 20 hours after the starting gun went off yesterday morning.

The 39-year-old suffers from muscular dystrophy, which attacks his muscles and nervous system, yet he’s a seasoned marathon runner who has completed in races around the world. He’s traveled to New York, Berlin, Chicago, and Tokyo to compete in the 26.2-mile leg-taming event.

As he drew closer to the finish line, the crowd around him grew despite the late hour. They were eager to see him through to the end, which they did:

Speaking to ABC News after a similar finish in the Chicago Marathon in 2013, Melamed explained the motivation behind his participation: “If you know you can do it, you have to do it.” Melamed wants to “spread a message of human dignity” by competing in and finishing these unlikely events, though he expects this morning’s finish to be his last before hanging up the racing shoes.

The rhetoric of the Boston Marathon is forever altered after the 2013 bombings that claimed lives and limbs of some runners. This year, bombing victim Rebekah Gregory successfully finished the race after losing her leg in the attack two years ago.

Actor and director Sean Astin had a similarly emotional experience finishing his long-distance run through Beantown. He dedicated his marathon to the youngest victim of the 2013 bombing, 8-year-old Martin Richard.

Moon Landing Faked!!!—Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories.

moon-landing-faked-why-people-believe-conspiracy-theories_1New psychological research helps explain why some see intricate government conspiracies behind events like 9/11 or the Boston bombing

Did NASA fake the moon landing? Is the government hiding Martians in Area 51? Isglobal warming a hoax? And what about the Boston Marathon bombing…an “inside job” perhaps?

In the book “The Empire of Conspiracy,” Timothy Melley explains that conspiracy theories have traditionally been regarded by many social scientists as “the implausible visions of a lunatic fringe,” often inspired by what the late historian Richard Hofstadter described as “the paranoid style of American politics.” Influenced by this view, many scholars have come to think of conspiracy theories as paranoid and delusional, and for a long time psychologists have had little to contribute other than to affirm the psychopathological nature of conspiracy thinking, given that conspiricist delusions are commonly associated with (schizotype) paranoia.

Yet, such pathological explanations have proven to be widely insufficient because conspiracy theories are not just the implausible visions of a paranoid minority. For example, a national poll released just this month reports that 37 percent of Americans believe that global warming is a hoax, 21 percent think that the US government is covering up evidence of alien existence and 28 percent believe a secret elite power with a globalist agenda is conspiring to rule the world. Only hours after the recent Boston marathon bombing, numerous conspiracy theories were floated ranging from a possible ‘inside job’ to YouTube videos claiming that the entire event was a hoax.

So why is it that so many people come to believe in conspiracy theories? They can’t all be paranoid schizophrenics. New studies are providing some eye-opening insights and potential explanations.

For example, while it has been known for some time that people who believe in one conspiracy theory are also likely to believe in other conspiracy theories, we would expect contradictory conspiracy theories to be negatively correlated. Yet, this is not what psychologists Micheal Wood, Karen Douglas and Robbie Suton found in a recentstudy. Instead, the research team, based at the University of Kent in England, found that many participants believed in contradictory conspiracy theories. For example, the conspiracy-belief that Osama Bin Laden is still alive was positively correlated with the conspiracy-belief that he was already dead before the military raid took place. This makes little sense, logically: Bin Laden cannot be both dead and alive at the same time. An important conclusion that the authors draw from their analysis is that people don’t tend to believe in a conspiracy theory because of the specifics, but rather because of higher-order beliefs that support conspiracy-like thinking more generally. A popular example of such higher-order beliefs is a severe “distrust of authority.” The authors go on to suggest that conspiracism is therefore not just about belief in an individual theory, but rather an ideological lens through which we view the world. A good case in point is Alex Jones’s recent commentary on the Boston bombings. Jones, (one of the country’s preeminent conspiracy theorists) reminded his audience that two of the hijacked planes on 9/11 flew out of Boston (relating one conspiracy theory to another) and moreover, that the Boston Marathon bombing could be a response to the sudden drop in the price of gold or part of a secret government plot to expand theTransportation Security Administration’s reach to sporting events. Others have pointed their fingers to a ‘mystery man’ spotted on a nearby roof shortly after the explosions. While it remains unsure whether or not credence is given to only some or all of these (note: contradicting) conspiracy theories, there clearly is a larger underlying preference to support conspiracy-type explanations more generally.

Interestingly, belief in conspiracy theories has recently been linked to the rejection of science. In a paper published in Psychological Science, Stephen Lewandowsky and colleagues investigated the relation between acceptance of science and conspiricist thinking patterns. While the authors’ survey was not representative of the general population, results suggest that (controlling for other important factors) belief in multiple conspiracy theories significantly predicted the rejection of important scientific conclusions, such as climate science or the fact that smoking causes lung cancer. Yet, rejection of scientific principles is not the only possible consequence of widespread belief in conspiracy theories.  Another recent study indicates that receiving positive information about or even being merely exposed to conspiracy theories can lead people to become disengaged from important political and societal topics. For example, in their study, Daniel Jolley and Karen Douglas clearly show that participants who received information that supported the idea that global warming is a hoax were less willing to engage politically and also less willing to implement individual behavioral changes such as reducing their carbon footprint.

These findings are alarming because they show that conspiracy theories sow public mistrust and undermine democratic debate by diverting attention away from important scientific, political and societal issues. There is no question as to whether the public should actively demand truthful and transparent information from their governments and proposed explanations should be met with a healthy amount of scepticism, yet, this is not what conspiracy theories offer. A conspiracy theory is usually defined as an attempt to explain the ultimate cause of an important societal event as part of some sinister plot conjured up by a secret alliance of powerful individuals and organizations. The great philosopher Karl Popper argued that the fallacy of conspiracy theories lies in their tendency to describe every event as ‘intentional’ and ‘planned’ thereby seriously underestimating the random nature and unintended consequences of many political and social actions. In fact, Popper was describing a cognitive bias that psychologists now commonly refer to as the “fundamental attribution error”: the tendency to overestimate the actions of others as being intentional rather than the product of (random) situational circumstances.

Since a number of studies have shown that belief in conspiracy theories is associated with feelings of powerlessness, uncertainty and a general lack of agency and control, a likely purpose of this bias is to help people “make sense of the world” by providing simple explanations for complex societal events — restoring a sense of control and predictability. A good example is that of climate change: while the most recent international scientific assessment report (receiving input from over 2500 independent scientists from more than a 100 countries) concluded with 90 percent certainty that human-induced global warming is occurring, the severe consequences and implications of climate change are often too distressing and overwhelming for people to deal with, both cognitively as well as emotionally. Resorting to easier explanations that simply discount global warming as a hoax is then of course much more comforting and convenient psychologically. Yet, as Al Gore famously pointed out, unfortunately, the truth is not always convenient.

Source: scientific American


Video Analytics Could Flag Crimes Before They Happen.

Boston-Video-AnalyticsSoon after the investigation into Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings began, law enforcement urged the public to e-mail any video, images or other information that might lead them to the guilty party. “No piece of information or detail is too small,” states the F.B.I.’s Web site. Picking through all of this footage in search of clues has been no small task for investigators, given the size of the camera-carrying crowd that had assembled to watch the race, not to mention the video surveillance already put in place by the city and local merchants.

Law enforcement now say they have found video images of two separate suspects carrying black bags at each explosion site and are planning to release the images Thursday so that the public can help identify the men, the Boston Globe reports.

Whereas software for analyzing such video can identify and flag objects, colors and even patterns of behavior after the fact, the hope is that someday soon intelligent video camera setups will be able to detect suspicious activity and issue immediate warnings in time to prevent future tragedies.

A team of New York University researchers is working toward that goal, having developed software they say can measure the “sentiment” of people in a crowd. So far, the technology has primarily been tested as a marketing tool at sporting events (gauging what advertisements capture an audience’s attention, for example), but the researchers are eyeing homeland security applications as well. The U.S. military, which is funding much of the N.Y.U. research, is interested in knowing whether this software could detect when someone is approaching a checkpoint or base with a weapon or explosives concealed under their clothing.

“So far, we can detect if they’re eating or using their cell phones or clapping,” says N.Y.U. computer science professor Chris Bregler. It’s not an exact science, but monitoring crowd behavior helps marketers understand what creates a positive crowd response—whether they are high-fiving action on the field, responding to a call for “the wave” or laughing at an advertisement on the scoreboard. The software is programmed to detect only positive sentiment at this time. Negative sentiments—booing and impolite gestures–are next on the researchers’ agenda.

The key to analyzing video in real time is programming the accompanying analytical software to look for certain cues–a rigid object under soft, flowing clothing, for example–and issue immediate alerts. First, the software must be “trained,” Bregler says. This is done with the help of Internet services such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk digital labor marketplace, where participants are paid to analyze and tag video footage based on what’s on the screen. Bregler and his team load these results into a computer neural network—a cluster of microprocessors that essentially analyzes relationships among data—so that the software can eventually identify this activity on its own.

One challenge for the researchers is developing its analytical software so that it can examine a variety of different types of video footage, whether it’s professional-quality camerawork on the nightly news or someone recording an event with a shaky cell phone camera. “The U.S. military wants us to look at, say, Arab Spring footage and large demonstrations for early signs that they will turn violent,” Bregler says.

Bregler’s earlier research to identify specific movement signatures (see video below) used the same motion-capture technology used for special effects in the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies. Bregler’s motion-analysis research attracted the attention of the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2000 as a possible means of identifying security threats. Following 9/11 his researched ramped up thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Office of Naval Research. Law enforcement and counterterrorism organizations already had facial-recognition technology but were looking for additional ways to better make sense of countless hours of surveillance footage.

Given that people don’t normally walk around in tight-fitting motion-capture suits laden with reflective markers, the N.Y.U. team developed their technology to focus more on scanning a camera’s surroundings and identifying spots that are unique, such as the way light reflects off a shirt’s button differently than it does off the shirt’s fabric. The researchers’ goal is for their software to be able to identify a person’s emotional state and other attributes based on movement.

Without such advanced video analytics, investigators must essentially reverse-engineer the action depicted in the video they receive, Bregler says. In the case of the Boston Marathon, the researchers have been analyzing video of the explosions and then working backward to see who was in the area prior to the bombing. “Most likely the data needed to figure out what happened exists,” he adds. “Investigators just need to find it, which is difficult given the volume of the video coming in.”

Source: Scientific American