Category: Technology

How to Spot a Fake Review

We depend on product and service reviews to make responsible shopping decisions. But, according to a Cornell University study, consumers are horrible at discerning the difference between actual customer endorsements and fake reviews. And when pitted against Cornell’s computer program, that can detect fake hotel reviews with 90 percent accuracy, human research subjects could only spot the fake reviews 50 percent of the time.

Ugh. Really?

With 50 percent accuracy, why even bother reading reviews when we could just flip a coin and save ourselves a lot of time?

Luckily, we can train ourselves to be better at spotting fake reviews by using the same clues the Cornell software uses to sniff out online deceit. Here are some ways to spot spammy reviews.

1. The reviewer has a tiny internet presence

When it comes to researching a product, it’s important to review the reviewer. If you are shopping on Amazon, search for customer reviews marked “Amazon Verified Purchase.” Verified buyers are more likely to leave truthful comments. If you are shopping on eBay or Etsy, look at the feedback percentage. If you are using Yelp, is the reviewer a member of the Elite Squad that has been vetted by Yelp’s community managers? Are you using a site like Hotels.com that only allow reviews from customers who have actually booked rooms?

Since there’s a first time for everything, even writing reviews, if you want to check on a newbie reviewer’s credibility, just do some Google searches to put a face to the review. Many review sites require commenters to sign in through their Facebook or other social network accounts, so you can click on their profile to see that they’re a real person.

2. The review lacks detail

The Cornell study used online reviews for Chicago hotels to train their computer program to spot deceptive language. One of the extremely subtle tells of a fake hotel review is that the reviewer spends more time describing his vacation than the details of the hotel room. (Because how can you describe the mattress or the water pressure in the shower if you’ve never been there?)

Are you shopping for vacation accommodation right now? Use Cornell’s Review Skeptic to test the veracity of the hotel reviews.

3. The reviews vary wildly between websites

Get a second opinion on big-ticket items. If the majority of the reviews are glowing on one website, but a mixed bag on another, assume you are getting astroturfed and do more research before making your purchase.

4. The positive reviews were posted over a short timeframe

Does a new product have numerous five-star reviews that are time stamped to the same day or even the same hour? If so, beware. It’s likely that someone has been hired to write fake reviews to artificially boost that product’s reputation.

The exception to this rule books. Writers and publishers will send out Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of books just prior to their release date to professional book reviewers, librarians, book scouts, and popular book bloggers. While publishers and authors have been known to game the system, professional bookworms who regularly read Advance Reader Copies and manuscripts for work only receive a free book as compensation in exchange for their review, so there’s not much of an incentive to keep them from being brutally honest.

5. The review includes staged photographs

Are there a lot of similar-looking photographs included with the reviews? The editors of Wirecutter.com used fakespot.com — a lie detector for reviews — to test the authenticity of Amazon reviews for a new brand of the earbud. The Wirecutter team became suspicious when they noticed that many of the earbud reviews contained suspiciously similar photographs.


Tech-Forward Climbing Gear

Technology in climbing is nothing new—the industry is always evolving to assist humans with their mountain pursuits. That said, the tech keeps getting better. Gear is getting lighter, more durable, more functional and more fluid, giving climbers an edge while they are performing physically demanding feats. Having the right gear doesn’t just make climbing easier, it also makes it safer. New products features mean your outdoor adventures need not be death-defying. Here we have outlined some of the most exciting new gear to come out this year.

The GriGri+ ($150) is an assisted braking device from the French climbing company Petzl. Although the GriGri has been around for many years, the GriGri+ iteration has taken belaying to another level of safety. When used correctly, this product breaks with some assistance instead of traditional belay devices that are entirely manual. The new GriGri+ has two modes for either lead climbing (which feeds rope easier) and top rope (which catches and locks faster). It also has an anati-panic locking system in place when the lever is pulled too hard during descents. Thus making the GriGri+ an ideal tool for both novices and experts.

Black Diamond Equipment’s new Camalots (protection devices used in traditional climbing) have shaved 25 percent of their predecessors’ weight off. For longer routes, losing equipment weight can make a huge difference. Black Diamond was able to remove this weight off their Ultralight Camalots ($90 to $130) by replacing the steel cable with a stronger, lighter-weight Dyneema cord, smaller wires in the mechanism, and a lower profile sling.

American-made Sterling’s new Dry XP ropes ($90 to $370) far exceed the UIAA’s (International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation) water-repellent standard of less than 5% water-absorption. Water changes ropes over time, making them heavier and more susceptible to damage. It can also affect the stretch and the rebound of a rope, ultimately changing the performance of the rope. Dry XP works with a DryCore process for the internal fibers and an external nanoparticle coating called DeltaDry that’s environmentally friendly.


Scientists Finally Unlock the Recipe For Magic Mushrooms

Based on prior reporting from field work and various sources, this reporter can confidently conclude that magic mushrooms are very chill. There’s more than college weekends to back that stance up, though. Past research has suggested they can help with the existential anxiety of cancer, positively change personalities, and even help kick nicotine addictions.

You might wonder, then, why doctors don’t prescribe mushrooms’ active ingredient, psilocybin. Aside from being a schedule 1 drug, scientists haven’t fully understood the chemistry behind how mushrooms produce the chemical—until now. A new study may finally lay the groundwork for a medical-grade psilocybin patients can take.

“Given the renewed pharmaceutical interest in psilocybin, our results may lay the foundation for its biotechnological production,” the researchers write in the study published this month in the journal Angewandte Chemie (it’s German).

Living things make molecules through a series of chemical reactions, similar to how car makers produce cars on assembly lines. Enzymes act as the workers/robots, speeding up the reactions by helping put the pieces together. Actually making psilocybin requires mapping the biological factory.

A 1968 paper (obviously it was in 1968) offered a proposed order of events leading to a finished psilocybin molecule, by adding radioactive elements and watching what happened to them on the assembly line. The researchers thought that maybe tryptophan, the amino acid everyone wrongly says makes you sleepy, was the first piece, which then went through four successive steps to become the finished product.

The new study shows that the 1968 paper got the order wrong, and introduces the responsible genes and enzymes, the workers that do the specific task to get the final product. This time around, mapping the factory required sequencing the genomes of two magic mushroom species, Psilocybe cubensis and Psilocybe cyanescens. Then, the researchers found exactly which genes produce the required enzymes and spliced them into E. coli bacteria. Using those enzymes, they were able to rebuild the factory and create their own psilocybin. Hell yeah.

If you’re interested in the actual steps: It starts with a special kind of tryptophan molecule, with an extra oxygen and hydrogen stuck on, like an anglerfish with a big head and a tail and an extra piece hanging off like the headlight. An enzyme the researchers named PsiD first strips a carbon dioxide molecule off of the tail. Then, an enzyme they called PsiK phosphorylates it, meaning it replaces the headlight’s oxygen with a special setup of phosphorus with some oxygen attached. A final enzyme, called PsiM, works to replace two hydrogen atoms on the tail with methyl groups, or carbon atoms with three hydrogens attached.

There, now you know how to make psilocybin. Go crazy! Re-enact Breaking Bad!

Other scientists thought this was a praiseworthy advance, reports Chemical and Engineering News. “The new work lays the foundation for developing a fermentation process for production of this powerful psychedelic fungal drug, which has a fascinating history and pharmacology,” University of Minnesota, Twin Cities medicinal chemist Courtney Aldrich told them.

There are still regulatory hurdles, and it won’t be tomorrow that your doctor will prescribe lab-made psilocybin. But medical-grade magic mushroom pills could be closer than you think.


Japan scraps Zaha Hadid’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium

Zaha Hadid’s controversial plans for the 2020 Olympic Stadium in Tokyo have been scrapped.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has announced that the design of the stadium will be started again from scratch due to spiralling costs, according to the Guardian.

“We have decided to go back to the start on the Tokyo Olympics-Paralympics stadium plan, and start over from zero,” Abe told reporters. “I have been listening to the voices of the people for about a month now, thinking about the possibility of a review.”

Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) also released a statement confirming the news that the plans are being reviewed:

“Our teams in Japan and the UK have been working hard with the Japan Sports Council to design a new National Stadium that would be ready to host the Rugby World Cup in 2019, the Tokyo 2020 Games and meet the need for a new home for Japanese sport for the next 50 to 100 years.”

“It is absolutely right that the benefits and costs of the new National Stadium should be clearly and accurately communicated and understood by the public and decision-makers in Japan and we hope that this is one of the objectives of the review announced by the prime minister.”

The estimated cost of the London-based firm’s Japan National Stadium rose to £1.3 billion last year.

“The construction cost had been greatly inflated and there were criticisms from the public including the athletes on the plan,” said Abe. “This made me believe that we’ll not be able to host a game that everyone in this country will celebrate.”

“It is not the case that the recently reported cost increases are due to the design, which uses standard materials and techniques well within the capability of Japanese contractors and meets the budget set by the Japan Sports Council,” said ZHA’s statement.

“The real challenge for the stadium has been agreeing an acceptable construction cost against the backdrop of steep annual increases in construction costs in Tokyo and a fixed deadline.”

The design has received heavy criticism from high-profile Japanese architects including Toyo Ito, Sou Fujimoto, Kengo Kuma and Fumihiko Maki, who launched a petition for the project to be scrapped due to its scale.

Hadid hit back at the criticism in an interview with Dezeen in December, describing the architects as “hypocrites” and the situation as “embarrassing” for them.