The Mandela Effect: Group False Memory

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about the problems with memory, but I realized recently I’d never done a post on the topic of group false memory, particularly the Mandela Effect. If you’ve never heard of that, it’s a term that was invented/popularized by this website discussing the phenomena of “…apparently real, alternate memories of a history that doesn’t match the documented history in this reality.” More specifically, these are very vivid memories about pop culture or world events, held by multiple people with no association to each other, that were not true.

Now unlike many things I write about here, the interesting part about these is that they are not motivated by anything in particular. No one gains any ego/political/social points by believing them. The phenomena was actually named when the woman who started site realized that she had erroneously believed that Nelson Mandela died in prison rather than in 2013. She thought she was confused, until she later heard a near stranger at a conference mention that they had believed the same thing.  Eerily, this was not a “I thought I heard that”, they both had full memories of news and seeing the funeral.

Some other common examples:

More here.

I specifically listed the three above because those are all memories I have, and I was surprised to find out none of them were real (well, I figured out my Billy Graham memory was wrong in February, but I was surprised to find out I wasn’t the only one who clearly “remembered” this). The chartreuse one particularly surprised me because I remember googling it when “Frozen” came out and Olaf mentions it. Maybe it’s because he says “crimson” right before, but I’m not clear how I looked that up and still remembered it incorrectly.

Anyway, there’s not a great theory for why this happens,  other than that alternate universes occasionally open up and drop alternate realities on us. Kidding. Sorta.

Seriously though, the best suggestion is that around some events there’s enough subtle cues that large numbers of people get them mixed up. Like the for the Berestain Bears, most of us have met people with a last name ending in -stein, so at some point we think it looks more correct. Combine that with the loopy handwriting from the books and the southern twang influenced pronunciation in the TV show theme song, and you’ve got a mass memory of a name that never existed.

The other idea is that events or people that are in the news at the same time might get conflated. For example this article points out that when asked to identify former US presidents, many people will say Alexander Hamilton was while missing actual former presidents. However,  we know that’s because most people learn about him at the same time they are learning about the founding fathers, so they associate him with that. It’s possible a similar thing happens with events. Did Nelson Mandela make headlines for something else around the same time someone else’s funeral was going on? Maybe! That would be really hard to track back, but it’s plausible. If even 1% of people seeing those headlines conflated them at some point later, that could seem pretty freaky…..especially now that they can gather on the internet.

You know, it’s that or we’re all on the hologram deck.

Weird Weather on Patriots’ Day

Well folks, tomorrow is Patriots’ Day/Marathon Monday here in Massachusetts, which means the kind of lousy weather we’re having is going to affect the Boston Marathon runners. That’s a pity, but I’m pleased that the weather was at least okay yesterday, as my son went to his first major league game with his dad and grandfather. Since he’s being raised in a mixed household (I’m a Red Sox fan as is his grandfather, his father is an Orioles fan), he went with an Orioles shirt/Red Sox hat outfit that apparently was quite a hit with the crowd. My husband was good natured about it, until he got stopped by the MASN camera crew who were wandering around trying to find a few Orioles fans in Fenway. He refused to risk being on an Orioles broadcast with a child in a Red Sox hat, so he pulled his spare Orioles hat out of his coat pocket and our kiddo got his TV debut. We haven’t been able to find the clip, but we’re still looking.

Anyway, with the weather going downhill today, my Dad and I started musing about the worst marathon weather we could remember. I mentioned 2012 when it got so hot that they proactively offered to defer entries, and my Dad mentioned that in 1976 it hit 96 degrees. This led me to a page on the Boston Athletic Association’s website about all the weird weather they’ve gone through over the years.

A few highlights:

  • 5 different years saw snow fall on the marathon
  • 1939 saw a partial eclipse
  • 3 years have seen driving rain
  • 1927 saw heat (84 degrees) and a newly paved road that melted under their feet
  • At least 4 marathons have been run in 90+ degree weather

I’m hoping that our weird weather gives hometown girl Shalene Flanagan an edge, as I’m cheering hard for her. The last time someone from Massachusetts won the Boston Marathon was Alberto Salazar in 1982, I think we’re due.

One interesting tidbit I never knew about Patriots’ Day: in Maine, it’s legally “Patriot’s Day”, which makes me incredibly happy. That is going to be my go to excuse if I screw it up at any point going forward.


Short Takes: Anti-Depressants, Neurogenesis, and #Marchforourlives

Three good articles, three different topics.

First up, the New York Times profiles people who are on anti-depressants long term and find they have trouble quitting. It’s an interesting article both because it impact a lot of people (7% of US adults have been on anti-depressants for 5+ years) and because it’s an interesting insight in to the limitations of our clinical trial/drug approval system. Basically, drugs get approved based off of a timeframe that can reasonably be done in a clinical trial: 6 to 9 months or so. In this case later studies went out as far as 2 years, but no further. This has caused issues when trying to get long term users back off. Some studies have reported 50-70% of longterm users reporting serious withdrawal symptoms, with many continuing on the medications just to avoid the withdrawal. I don’t really see a clear way around this….trials can’t go on forever…..but it is an unfortunate limitation of our current system.

Next up, Slate Star Codex does a somewhat unsettling review about adult neurogenesis.  He goes through dozens of highly cited papers talking about how useful/involved neurogenesis is in so many many things in our lives, just to follow it up with the new study that shows it probably doesn’t exist. Uuuuuuugh. Apparently a lot of the confusion started because it definitely exists in rats, and things kinda snowballed from there. It sounds like just another scientific squabble, but in the words of SSC “We know many scientific studies are false. But we usually find this out one-at-a-time. This – again, assuming the new study is true, which it might not be – is a massacre. It offers an unusually good chance for reflection.” Yikes.

Finally, some interesting stats about the March For Our Lives that took place recently, and who actually participated. Contrary to what I’d heard, this march actually had a higher average age (49) than many we’ve seen, and fewer than 10% of participants were under 18. Most interesting (to me) is that the first time protesters there were more likely to say they were motivated to march because of Trump (42%) than gun rights (12%).

Flashback: The Rise and Decline of the Datasexual

I mentioned a few days ago I was going to be taking a bit of a break and reposting things from my archives. Sifting through my old posts, I was intrigued to come across this one I did 6 years ago about the rise of the datasexual. My comments were based on this article called “Meet the Urban Datasexual”., which introduced the term as someone who is “preoccupied with their personal data” and “relentlessly digital, they obsessively record everything about their personal lives, and they think that data is sexy. In fact, the bigger the data, the sexier it becomes. Their lives – from a data perspective, at least – are perfectly groomed.”

With all the recent Facebook/data/etc concerns, I was curious if this term was still a thing. A quick Google suggests it is not. It made it as far as a mention in a TED talk in 2013, but the trail mostly goes cold after that. Google trends confirms that the Big Think article was the height of this term.

It’s interesting to note that this term was introduced at a time when interest in the quantified self movement was gaining steam, with interest in that term peaking about a year later. Since then, things appear to have died down a bit, which is odd considering there’s more ways than ever to track your data.

Part of me wonders if that’s why the interest waned. When you’re logging your own heart rate on a regular basis, you need a community to give you tips about where/when/how to log. Now that my Fitbit logs my heart rate and sleep and all my data can be accessed any time I want, is there really a reason to join a group to get tips on this?  With data and charts more easily available for everything, it seems like we all got a little more data in our lives.

Additionally, it appears the biggest concern now for most of us is not how to get our data, but how to keep it private. With some of the recent data privacy scandals, not as many people are as excited to broadcast their data obsession to everyone else.

Finally, it seems we’ve mostly stopped appending -sexual to things to describe things other than sexuality? I’m not really up on slang, but it seems like after metrosexual, that suffix kinda faded. Someone with teenagers let me know if that’s true.

Anyway, I wasn’t too sad to see that term go, but it is interesting to see what a difference a few years can make in how we view a topic. RIP datasexual.

Short Little Viral Vectors

Posting will probably be light in April. I’m dealing with some (hopefully easily resolvable) health issues, including some very low white blood cell counts that seem to be making me susceptible to every little thing that goes around. I felt like I was spending half my time sick, so it was fortuitous that I ran across this study that confirmed my fears: Community Surveillance of Respiratory Viruses Among Families in the Utah Better Identification of Germs-Longitudinal Viral Epidemiology (BIG-LoVE) Study.

In this study, they actually got 26 households (105 people total) to volunteer to get nasal swabs done once a week for a full year. They tested these swabs to see how often a viral infection was present, regardless of symptoms. The results were something every parent would intuitively guess…..households with kids had far more weeks with viruses present than those without:

I was interested to see that it’s the second kid that really ups things, and then the third and fourth don’t really add much viral load. 6 kids appears to just be madness.

Anyway, it’s a small sample size, but I am guessing this result would hold up pretty well.

Back to me….I may take a page out of the AVIs handbook and find a few old posts to bump, but other than that things may be light for a bit. Stay well everyone!

Easter and April Fools Day

Happy Easter to all of you out there who celebrate it and base your observance date on the Gregorian calendar! Happy April Fools Day to any of you out there who happen to enjoy that kind of thing!

I went on a Googling spree this morning because I couldn’t remember if these two dates had ever coincided before (or at least in my lifetime) and now I’ve learned all sorts of interesting facts about how often this happens. Even after 13 years of Baptist school I never quite got the hang of figuring out when Easter actually was going to be each year, so I realized I had no concept of how often it coincided with April Fools Day. Turns out it’s about 3-4 times/century, and the last time this happened was 1956.

I was curious if the 62 year gap was the longest gap that had taken place, but it turns out it’s not. That prize goes to the 68 year gap between 1736-1804. The shortest gap is 11 years, and it happens pretty frequently. For example, that’s the gap we have between this year and the next time the two days will coincide in 2029. The next one after that will be in 2040, and then not again until 2108.

Interestingly, for churches that adhere to the Julian calendar for scheduling Easter, the earliest Easter can be at this point is April 5th, so this won’t come up for them at all. If you’d like an overview of when Easter falls and why different churches put it on different days, try this link.

If you’d like to see one of the more amusing April Fools Day pranks done by a math teacher, watch this video:

Enjoy the day!

3 Control Groups I’m Pondering

One of the more important (but often overlooked) parts of research is the choice of control group, i.e. what we are comparing the group of interest to. While this seems like a small thing, it can actually have some big implications for interpreting research.  I’ve seen a few interesting examples recently, so I figured I’d do a quick list here:

First up, a new-to-me article about personality assessments in a traditional hunter-gatherer tribe. I’ve mentioned the problem of psychological research focusing too much on WEIRD (Westernized, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) countries before, and this study sought to correct that error. Basically, they used the “Big 5” personality testing model and then tried to assess members of a traditional South American tribe according to this “universal” personality measurement. It failed. While it seemed like extraversion and conscientiousness could actually translate somewhat, agreeableness and openness were mixed, and neuroticism didn’t translate all that well. They ended up with a “Big Two”, which were basically an agreeableness/extraversion mix (pro-sociality) and something like conscientiousness (industriousness). They talk a lot about the challenges (translation issues, non-literate populations, etc), but the point is that what we call “universal” relies on a very narrow set of circumstances. Western college kids don’t make a good baseline.

Second, a new dietary study shows that nutritional education can be an effective treatment for depression.  It’s a good study, and I was interested to see the control group was given increased social support/time with a trained listener/companion type person. At 12 weeks, almost a third of the diet group were no longer depressed, whereas only 8% of the control group were feeling better. Interesting to note though: this was advertised as a dietary study, so those who didn’t get the diet intervention knew they were the control group. There was a higher dropout rate in the control group (25% vs 6%), and interestingly it was the most educated people who dropped out. Gotta admit, part of me wonders if it was the introverts driving this result. Just wondering how many people really enjoyed the whole “hang out with a stranger who’s not a therapist” thing. I would be interested to see how this works when paired with some sort of “hour of general relaxation” type thing.

Finally, after putting up my pre-cognition post on Sunday, I realized there was a Slate Star Codex post a few years back about the Bem paper that I wanted to reread. It was called “The Control Group is out of Control” and took the stance that parapsychology was actually a great control group for all of science. Given that you have a whole group of people attempting to follow the scientific method to prove something that most people believe doesn’t exist, they end up serving as a sort of “placebo science”, or an indicator of what science looks like when it’s chasing after nothing.

He has some really interesting anecdotes here about the amount of evidence we have that researchers are influencing their own results in ways that seem nearly impossible to control for. For example, he talks about a case in which rival researchers who supported different hypotheses and had gotten different results teamed up to use the same protocol and watched each other execute the experiments to see if they could figure out where the other one was going wrong. They still both ended up proving their preferred hypothesis, and in the discussion section brought up the (mutual) possibility that one or the other of them had hacked the computer records. That’s an odd thing to ponder, but it’s even odder when you wonder what this means for every other study ever done.