Absolutely (NOT) Fake News!

We live in a strange time when the term Fake News is heard multiple times a day if you consume any sort of media regularly—TV, internet, magazines, etc. Our Dear Leader uses the term often, especially in his voluminous tweets. So how are we to figure out what’s real and what’s fake when it comes to news? Here is one fun tool that may help shed some light on the topic. Designed to foster certain tendencies in its users, the game Factitious is free on the web. The makers of the game, Game Lab at American University in Washington D.C. and JoLT, another cooperative of various departments at American University, hope to help raise player’s IQ when it comes to spotting the differences between fake and real news.

The game is easy to play. You log on and see this screen:

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You can either go right into the game via quick start or you can register via full start and enter your name, age, gender, educational level and email address to keep track of your progress. Either route you choose the game begins with this screen:

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You are shown a full, brief article that actually appeared somewhere on the web and asked to discern whether or not it is fake news. If you think it is fake, you either swipe left or check the red x. If you think it’s true, swipe right or click the green check mark. Pretty easy, right? Well, not so fast. The article in the second picture above sounds sensational, so it has to be fake right? How can you be sure? It just sounds implausible, right—eating brains has a health benefit?

As it turns out, there are clues, such as are there verifiable details in the story? Are there individuals mentioned by name that can easily corroborate the story? Is the story verified by other outlets running the same or similar stories? These are all good clues that a story is genuine. What are some earmarks of fake news? There are often few to no details for a fake news stories: anonymous sources make spurious claims, there are vague mentions of locations and many other specific details are lacking specifics. Additionally, many fake news stories fail to link to other, known reputable sites, such as major news networks or popular, widely read blogs, and many times the journalists are not mentioned by name.

As you go through the game you are given the opportunity to test how well you do or do not use these tools to make discerning choices in your reading material.  There are three rounds, and you’re given a score at the end of each round:

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By the time you finish you are given a final score and given some mild praise (note the confetti):

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This game is a good way to begin assuring yourself and others that you get your news from reputable sites and are not taken in by deceivers. The game can be tricky, with some outlandish stories proving true and other, more innocuous appearing stories exposed as fake. The real world will often present the same difficulties, so we have to do our best to help decide for ourselves, and others, what sources we can trust and what sources we cannot.

One problem with this site is that there aren’t enough stories loaded onto the site to play more than a few rounds before you start to see stories repeated. I have made a request to see if there is a planned upgrade, but as of this writing I have not heard back. I will update if this status changes.

All you ever wanted to know about government spending but were too afraid to ask.

Ex Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has opened a new site called https://www.usafacts.org/, which describes itself as “a new data-driven portrait of the American population, our government’s finances, and government’s impact on society.” It claims to be a non-partisan site that provides a public service.

Mr. Ballmer sees this endeavor as philanthropy, and also takes it seriously as an academic venture. The site has a team made up of experts from Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), the Penn Wharton Budget Model, and Lynchburg College that, the claim goes “help keep our data accurate and unbiased”. The site not only uses only numbers and data directly from government sources, but has a policy of information only: no judgments, no opinions—just the facts. They also intend to “engage a prominent accounting firm” to audit their processes and controls used to present the information on the site.

So, let’s say you want to see a breakdown of what was spent in 2014. You start with this screen:

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Once you decide to be curious about something else you follow the budget, which the site breaks down into categories found in the Constitution: Establish Justice and Ensure Domestic Tranquility, Provide for the Common Defense, Promote the General Welfare and Secure the Blessings of Liberty to Ourselves and Our Posterity.

2Choose which category that interests you, and you’ll be taken to the next screen that gives more detailed information. So, under “Promote the General Welfare” I chose “Health”. It gives raw numbers on the spending in that area,

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Then I can click to find an even more detailed breakdown of health spending.

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This site looks to become a go-to for seekers of accurate, helpful information on how the U.S. government spends our tax money.

If you’re interested in further reading NPR did a article on this site that may be found here.

Taking a High School Equivalency Test in Tennesse

Taking a High School Equivalency test in Tennessee

Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the GED—it’s the test that for years we have known one could take to earn a high school diploma instead of graduating in the conventional sense. Did you know that the GED is no longer offered in the state of Tennessee? The new official test is the HiSET (High School Equivalency Test).

It can be a bit confusing to figure out how to take the official HiSET and earn a diploma, so here is the process, according to Customer Service for the HiSET test.  Essentially one is required to first take the official practice test for the HiSET. For Memphis here are the official sites where one may do so:

Building Address City Zip Phone
Idlewild Presbyterian Church 1750 Union Avenue Memphis 38104 844-721-8800
Midtown Church of Christ 1930 Union Avenue Memphis 38104 844-721-8800
Randolph Library – Memphis Public Library 3752 Given Avenue Memphis 38122 844-721-8800
Memphis & Shelby County Office of Re-Entry 1362 Mississippi Blvd. Memphis 38106 844-721-8800
Workforce Investment Network 480 Beale Street Memphis 38103 844-721-8800
Sexton Community Center 1235 Brown Avenue Memphis 38126 844-721-8800

Once the practice test is officially passed, the tester will receive the paperwork necessary to schedule and take the official test. Once the official test is satisfactorily passed then the individual is now a holder of an official diploma, valid in all states!

StatsIndiana

http://www.stats.indiana.edu/

From the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, this site gives tons of statistics for census, unemployment, manufacturing, and many other subjects. The information includes an overview of the United States, along with results for all fifty states, not just Indiana. Comparisons by state are listed for the economy, education, income & taxes, population & housing, along with the workforce. State comparisons include: the number of patents issued and county business pattern establishments under the economy listing. The number of members of unions can be found under the workforce tab. Population, housing, income, and labor force statistics are listed by county and metro area. Much more information is also included on the site.

Paying for College

http://www.consumerfinance.gov/payingforcollege/costcomparison/

Paying for College is a new website from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It helps students calculate on a worksheet how much they would owe in student loans after graduating from college. A cost comparison guide on 7,500 different colleges and universities is provided. Estimated debt after going to school is listed. Average Grants and Scholarships are calculated into the price. Information on graduation and student loan default rates are also mentioned.

Colleges of Memphis

http://collegesofmemphis.org/

The colleges of Memphis website connects over thirteen universities and colleges that are in the Memphis area.  From this website, you will find directories to student life, on-campus housing, venues the city has to offer, and college admissions.  There is also an insider’s guide with links to all things Memphis such as places to eat, cultural offerings, and local current news.  The purpose of collegesofmemphis.org is to promote Memphis to prospective students.