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:


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:


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:


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


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.

You Can Conduct Your Own Pre-Employment Screening

US Citizenship and Immigration Services has a tool on their site that anyone may use to confirm their employment eligibility. When you go to the site: https://www.uscis.gov/mye-verify/self-check here is what you see:


When you click “start self check” you are taken to this screen:


This seems to indicate you must create an account, but if you scroll down a bit you’ll see there are some tools you may use without creating an account:


I clicked “self check” on the upper left portion of the window and it took me through a process in which I entered my full name, social security number and current address. It then gave me a short quiz (3 or 4 questions) about personal details known by the system, such as previous employers, phone numbers or other information that usually only the individual will know. After passing the quiz it did a check and confirmed my eligibility to work!



60% of Students Find Statistics Education Confusing

I just made that statistic up. What is not made up however is that many of us feel nervous and confused when confronted by statistics and those states are heightened if we are required to explain statistics. Fear not, the re are plenty of knowledgeable statisticians out there to help those of us who are statistically challenged.

The site Hyperstat Online Statistics Textbook is one such resource. It is a long running blog resource curated by David Lane, who is an Associate Professor of Psychology, Statistics, and Management at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

The site definitely looks dated, as if it was time-warped here straight from 1997. It is, however, full of up to date primers on many, if not all, of the basic components of statistical measurements: univariate and bivariate data, sampling distributions, ANOVA and more are all covered in their own chapters.

So this is how it works:


In the upper left hand corner is a classic, book style table of contents, listing 18 chapters. For our example let’s click chapter 10, Testing Hypotheses with Standard Errors, which takes you here:


I chose General Formula for Testing Hypotheses and it showed me this:


Now I cannot explain to you what this means, but Mr. Lane’s pedigree is outstanding, and the fact that this site remains online after so many years is a good sign. Additionally, he has plenty of links to other sites and volumes on statistics & related topics, which, as we all know, is a solid way to present a topic.

Comprehensive Career Services

Careeronestop.org, a site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, bills itself as “Your source for career exploration, training & jobs”.


But what can you actually do on the site? Well, it is a large site with many trails, so let’s imagine a scenario and work from there. Let’s say you just graduated from high school and you want to simply get a job. This is where you could click “Resources for” tab and you see this:


I selected “Entry Level Worker” and it took me here:


So you can see that it’s very easy to follow along. The site anticipates various questions that an entry level worker might have and provides answers. It’s very straightforward. They look to have as their mission helping any worker at any point in a career find guidance to beginning, augmenting or even changing a career. They also have a job search section that has everything from job listings to help with resumes and interviews as well as links to training, how to get local help (including information on how to file for unemployment) and lists of top videos, questions and links associated with the site.

Of special interest to students is the section on finding grants and scholarships, the scholarship finder:


Icon of Liberty: The Magna Carta

Whether or not you remember it from school, the Magna Carta has been one of the most influential documents of the last 800 years.  After all, it is the foundational legal document that promoted democracy in the 13th century, and still holds relevance and international esteem up to this day.

To learn about the rich, varied and long history of the document, the American Bar Association’s Division for Public Education has created the site Magna Carta: Icon of Liberty. The site was created with a grant from the Magna Carta Trust, who also hosts an informative site on the Magna Carta.

On the ABA’s Icon site you can read about the history of the Magna Carta, see artwork inspired by it, reproductions of the oldest extant copies of it, how the document has been displayed in public buildings, flags, crests and other public symbols internationally and even connect with entities on various social media platforms celebrating the importance of this valuable document.

What(‘s Going On) in the World?

The United Nations publishes a website called the UN iLibrary which is “the first comprehensive global search, discovery, and viewing source for digital content created by the United Nations.”

It is available to anyone who wants to access information published by the UN, as well as programs sponsored and/or funded by the UN. They plan to add around 500 titles annually and state that around 70% are published in English.

Searching the site is straightforward. You are offered the option of searching by country, topic, country & topic and by simply searching through their catalogue. Most of their publications may be bought in a tangible form in the bookstore. Also you may subscribe to the site for unlimited access, including pdf and browser versions of publications, but the subscription is cost prohibitive at $12,500 per year. Of course that is only practical for large institutions or metropolitan areas in which the site may be used regularly enough to justify such a price tag.

How Does the Federal Government Spend?

Most all of us at one time or another have complained or at least wondered about how the feds spend our hard earned tax money. We’ve all heard irritating stories about the Pentagon spending absurd amounts on mundane objects (here is an old LA Times article from 1986 on the topic of overspending in the Pentagon in particular mentioning a $7,622 coffee maker), pondered how the president spends his vacation time or had concerns about some other use of the public coffers that may be wasteful. After all, we don’t want our money spent frivolously or for some unethical government contractor to take advantage of such a huge, difficult to manage entity as the budget of the United States.

That’s where www.usaspending.gov/  comes in. As billed by the site itself: “USAspending.gov is the publicly accessible, searchable website mandated by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 to give the American public access to information on how their tax dollars are spent.”

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So you can check on this information in multiple ways. As one example, you may see how much money is spent in the state of Tennessee.

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State of Tennessee

It can be broken down in various ways as well. As can be seen here Davidson County receives well more than 1/3 of the just over $40 billion allocated to the state for Fiscal Year 2017, with a figure of $15,351,958,126. The next county, Shelby, receives $1,620,940,881, and is the only other county to receive $1 Billion or more.

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TN County Breakdown



There are many more ways to look up information beyond state by state breakdown. This site is just waiting for your curious fingers to enter new search terms or click on the numerous links on the site.