Combating fake news by using the principle of herd immunity

The menace of fake news is now a widely accepted phenomenon. The internet, which is a vehicle of progress and holds promise of opportunities to billions of users, is now interspersed with fake news and sub-standard articles. This seemingly true looking, highly non-discernible fake news is a challenge to the sanctity of the internet and is one of the greatest threat to this vehicle of progress. Interestingly technologies which were tools for designers like Photoshop, video editing tools and not to mention Artificial Intelligence which apart from being used to make wonderful tools for mankind are being used to produce more and more realistic looking fake news day by day. Not only that algorithms of websites like the Facebook is being exploited to ensure fake news articles are well targeted and get the widest attention. The consequences are varied with different levels of intensity. At the individual level, it is leading to depressions, false reasoning, and radicalization. At higher levels consequences are taking an intense turn like mob lynching, riots and recently at the national level it resulted in false propaganda and radical election results. Eminent personalities, world leaders, state, civil societies, individuals- everyone has acknowledged the presence of fake news and the damage it is inflicting on people lives. Now the question is how can we combat this issue?

A lecture in my recent science class hit me with this idea which can be a probable solution to this issue. My science teacher was trying to explain how a high resistance is offered to the spread of a contagious disease within a population, if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease, especially through vaccination. He referred to the principle as herd immunity. The idea is simple. If suppose a community consists of three individuals A, B and C, among whom A and B are vaccinated against polio, the chances of C getting polio virus is drastically reduced. This is because A and B who are vaccinated act as death chamber to polio virus circulating in the community and thereby decreasing the chances of C getting infected by the virus. Now suppose instead of polio virus we as a community have to combat fake news. What required is we as a member of the community acting as death chamber to the fake news article. For this, we have to vet every news article that seems suspicious and report it so that such articles are removed. Rather than casually sharing every pleasing article that comes across us, we must ensure we have done some background check so that we are certain about the credibility of whatever we share online. When we perform such checks, it ensures such article is prevented from spreading and an individual or a society as a whole is saved from the consequences.  Seems like a lot of work given the variety and intensity of spreading fake news articles. But let’s face it- the internet as we use today became a resource by the contribution of not few people but millions of people. And we as a responsible user of the internet should ensure this repository is not spoiled and it does not end up being used as a tool against humanity and principles we stand for. Let us work together to redeem what we believe is the original purpose of the internet.

Citizen’s Manifesto- an instrument for expression of individual demands in a democracy

Recently elections were held in five states in India. Once again it was fought on the basis of agenda cropped up by various political parties with the only aim to grab power. The manifesto promises ranged from jobs to loan waiver for farmers and what not. That brought to my mind how can these parties claim to know what is good and bad for me without even consulting to me in person? The constitution has granted universal adult franchise based on the rational that an adult, irrespective of his/her background, is capable of deciding what is good for him and the society. This forms the basis of the democratic process adopted in our country which aims to empower each and every citizen to put forward his/her demand and participate in the development of the country. Then why am I not consulted in this democratic process? The process of election, which was designed in place to empower me as a citizen, is making me feel like I’m handing over my power to someone who claims to know what is good for me and my country. When I tried to find out the answer to these questions, it took me back to the first general election of the independent India from where this trend started to take a form.

Generally, a common man define something alien to him on the basis of his first-hand experience of that thing. Democracy which is defined and known to educated people as “a govt. by the people, for the people and of the people” got its field definition by common people in India during the first general election in 1951. And the definition that was ascribed to democracy by the people of India was this- an exercise of vote giving in an election. Not only that, if we closely examine few trends that we see or relate to an election nowadays, all got started cementing from this general election itself. One among such trends was the publication of manifestoes by political parties to gather support from the masses. The leaders at that time were visionary with the aim to develop the country and hence assumed it as their prerogative to publish the manifesto deciding what is good and what is bad for the masses at that time. Partly it can be considered reasonable given the high rate of illiteracy among the masses. Still, it defeats the faith posed by the constitution by granting universal adult franchise which considered voting as an expression of opinion by citizens rather than a mere selection between choices cropped up by someone else. The following image of democracy developed in the masses- that democracy is nothing but a ceremony of election carried over a small period of time in which we ultimately hand over our power to a representative who decides our and our country’s fate, which is published in the manifesto, and such a representative can be held responsible only for the next election. So democracy which is supposed to be a process of continuous participation of citizens in the working of the government is reduced to a few day carnival of the election fought among parties based on proximal and populist agendas. What citizen is supposed to do- vote and let their representatives decide upon everything. Nowadays this everything has expanded to include what to eat and what to wear! Etc. As election after the election took place this image of democracy got cemented in the mind of citizens. Now it is assumed totally the responsibility of parties to come up with the future course of our country. And the parties come up with as appealing and as reactionary policies to mobilize people and win the election. The true expression of people opinion is long disassociated from the democratic form of governance in India. The form of governance meant to empower people became a tool to drain away power to political parties and then they decide what to do and what not.  As citizens get more passive roles, they become less enthusiastic in participation. Low turnout in an election could be an outcome. Lack of trust from the system is another consequences. The motivation to be vigilant decreases and issues of corruption, inefficiency, inaction etc. increases.

So how to solve this problem of increasing passivity of citizens in a democracy? A radical solution to this is the citizen’s manifesto. A citizen’s manifesto is simply a manifesto released by the citizen to put forward their expectations from the elected government. It will be a continuously updated document in which demands of the people will be recorded. The advantages are many. First, it will repose the power to decide what is important to the people back in their hands. Now rather than parties telling people about the future course, citizen’s manifesto will be utilized to develop the future course of action. And it would get tough for parties to sway individuals based on populist agenda as each citizen will have his own list of agenda which they can use to crosscheck with the promises offered by the parties. Secondly, since the people have put forward these demands and the voting and subsequent election of representative was guided on those lines, they will be motivated to be vigilant about the implementation of those demands and hence one-time accountability will be gradually transformed into a continuous evaluation.

In the initial part part of this article, I discussed how democracy which was meant to empower people failed to achieve so due to its reduction to one-time action of voting. The above two prime arguments clearly show how that power is reposed back to the citizens and this will propel active participation of citizens in the democratic system. As ill effects like corruption, inefficiency, govt. inaction etc. were the outcome of increasing passivity of citizens in democracy, once this happens the ill effects will also slowly wither away. Thus citizen’s manifesto is that instrument which will motivate individual participation in the democracy and make it continuous, making us realize democracy in its true form. Isn’t the idea behind a vibrant democracy also nothing but this?

Celebrating Earth Hour every day

So it’s been 2 weeks since I had synced my daily schedule with Sunrise and Sunset. My main aim was to ensure I utilize daylight to the maximum extent. I’m a student, hence by utilization I mean devoting daylight to study and keeping things like meeting friends, talking on the phone etc. etc. to be done after the sunset. This resolution of mine to sync my schedule with Sunlight has the origin in a set of thoughts major and minor. These thoughts are discussed in the following paragraphs.

To start with, waking up in the early morning is a cherished experience on its own. The sun just coming up, spreading its light, sound of birds, cool breeze –there is a strange and fantastic sense of charm in the atmosphere in these early hours. The benefits of waking up early have not been denied by any literature or people since ages.

But for me, the prime push was my growing awareness about global warming, climate change and how decreasing energy use can mitigate such a crisis. This thought came to my mind when I understood reasons behind the adoption of daylight savings by countries away from the equator. Last year, Argentina changed its standard time so as to ensure daylight is not wasted. Such conscious effort by an entire nation inspired me to take initiative towards saving daylight hours and using it in the most efficient way as a daily exercise.

The latest push was on March 25th. On 25th March 2017, Earth Hour was celebrated. An article in Business Standard stated that around 237 MW of energy was saved in Delhi alone. Given the timing i.e. 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm and urban nature of Delhi, such massive reduction on electricity is obvious. That got me thinking – how about we celebrate Earth Day every day? And I came to know that yes it is possible and very simple to do so. Night time is when apart from other activities, lighting contributes to high energy demand and utilization. So I synced my schedule with daylight hours, I went to sleep early. This resulted in switching off the lights in my room 4 hours prior to what I used to do earlier. Isn’t that what Earth Day is about- saving energy by switching off lights?

A bit of internet research suggested that for 1MW electricity, 4000 tons of coal is burned per annum. Such huge amount of burning of coal drastically impair the atmospheric gaseous composition and result in a range of adverse climate and environment damage which is referred as Climate Change. If 1 hour of Earth Hour resulted in savings of 237 MW in Delhi region only, just imagine the amount of savings we, collectively will achieve if we go to bed a little early. I’m telling you the amount of energy saved will be enormous and subsequent coal burned will be reduced by millions of tons.

So my dear friends, let us pledge that we will save energy by utilizing daylight to the maximum extent. You will agree that such an effort will be a great contribution towards saving Mother Nature who gives us everything, without asking anything in return. Let’s decide Earth Hour is not an annual event and reducing carbon footprint is a daily habit.

So Happy Earth Hour day!!!!

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Recall vs Reason- a powerful technique to avoid silly mistakes

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I recently gave an MCQ based test in which I marked a known question wrong. Silly mistake. Later when I came home, I sat down and started thinking why I marked the wrong answer. I realized that the question although similar to what I read earlier had a twist and I didn’t notice it. If only I would have applied my reasoning faculty instead of just recalling what I learned earlier, I would have saved myself from the error. And from that instant I have been applying what I call as the doctrine of “Recall vs Reason”. In the following paragraphs, I’m going to talk about the same.
Our brain is capable of storing information in the form of depressions or ridge called gyri and sulci. When we revise what we read such depressions are reaffirmed and hence we are able to recall it for a longer duration. Recalling is not the only function that the brain performs. Another important function that the brain performs is the reasoning function. This important function is what gets overlooked and silly mistakes occur. Had I at that instant used my brain not only to recall but also to reason, so as to arrive at a proper answer, the mistake would have been avoided.

There is one more advantage (apart from several others) which I obtain from using this principle of recall and reason. Whenever I am in a situation where I can follow some quotes or wisdom that I read earlier I always try first to reason on its application. The benefits are two folds. One it helps to bring changes as required in the application. Second, it shifts the responsibility on us as we can’t point our finger to someone who told us to do so because at the end it was not blindly followed or coerced. In the Bhagwad Gita Lord Krishna himself profess to Arjuna that he should not just follow what is being told to him blindly. He should use his mind and make it his own.
So next time make sure you reason with anything that your brain recalls before you apply it to something. Let me know your thoughts on this.

A post result analysis of the UK referendum : what the numbers didn’t accounted for

I am writing this post 3 hours after the result of UK referendum is out and UK voted to leave EU. The result was a shock for people and market all over the world. It was a shock for who voted to “remain” in the EU, even the “leave” campaigners were surprised as till Thursday and early hours of Friday when the counting started the “remain” were leading. So what happened after that?

The early poll numbers clearly favored “remain” campaign. The huge consequences in the economy, trade, and money after “Brexit” were brought to the center of discussion. On the other hand “leave” campaign was buttressed over the figure of fund outflow to EU, immigration and loss in employment. The numbers were very clear and most of the people, to be precise, the onlookers all over the world made their decision based on those numbers. And why not will they have an opinion? It is easy to make a decision when we have separate columns of data.

I am an Indian citizen and I myself was surprised with the results. I like being part of the world politics and happenings and so was following the entire referendum since it’s momentum started after the meeting in Brussels in Feb 2016. I followed several articles to make myself understand whether I would vote for “leave” or “remain” if I were a citizen of the UK. I myself made my decision in support of “remain” based on the numbers in media and I feel this was where I went wrong.img_20160624_151746.jpg

A human being, unlike a robot, does not make decisions based on data only, especially when that human being is attached to a thing in more ways than what some mere stats and figures suggest.Our opinion was moulded by stats and facts given in the media. I do not say that the facts were wrong but I would say “Brexit” occurred due to a lot of other factors that did not take the shape of stats and the citizens of UK did take into account such factors that the number or stats did not
account for. That is why our opinion was not reflected in the UK referendum results this morning. The next question which arises is – what factors were absent in the stats? What factors went unaccounted in the figures? My take on this is – It is the conscience and emotion of the citizens that went uncounted in the stats which actually were the prime mover behind the shift of “Bremain” to “Brexit”. The emotions related with the ideas of sovereignty, liberty, and control which the citizens of UK felt that they had lost it to an unelected, non-responsible European Union which they cannot hold responsible for any situation good or bad, was uncounted and that is the reason “Brexit” happened. The union which started as a multilateral economic tie grew so big that it started affecting every aspect of the life of the people inside it. Human beings are considerate most of the time & they try to adjust with such changes or interferences. The citizens of the UK were hopeful that the elected government of the UK will cut a good deal or the EU will reform itself in the response of the growing skepticism. But one can be considerate only for a good amount of time.

A citizen cannot take government inaction as ok. The negotiation that started since Thatcher government has now ended with a clear mandate of the citizens of the UK. The message is clear: “Every institution which cannot be held accountable for it’s act will be unseated by a new institution which is more responsible than the former”. The market responded with GBP plunge because it fears uncertainty, but it is the citizens who have a larger concern.