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Fake news ‘vaccine’: online game may ‘inoculate’ by simulating propaganda tactics

By fpjl2 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 20, 2018.

A new online game puts players in the shoes of an aspiring propagandist to give the public a taste of the techniques and motivations behind the spread of disinformation – potentially “inoculating” them against the influence of so-called fake news in the process.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have already shown that briefly exposing people to tactics used by fake news producers can act as a “psychological vaccine” against bogus anti-science campaigns.

While the previous study focused on disinformation about climate science, the new online game is an experiment in providing “general immunity” against the wide range of fake news that has infected public debate.

The game encourages players to stoke anger, mistrust and fear in the public by manipulating digital news and social media within the simulation. 

Players build audiences for their fake news sites by publishing polarising falsehoods, deploying twitter bots, photo-shopping evidence, and inciting conspiracy theories in the wake of public tragedy – all while maintaining a “credibility score” to remain as persuasive as possible.

A pilot study conducted with teenagers in a Dutch high school used an early paper-and-pen trial of the game, and showed the perceived “reliability” of fake news to be diminished in those that played compared to a control group. 

The research and education project, a collaboration between Cambridge researchers and Dutch media collective DROG, is launching an English version of the game online today at www.fakenewsgame.org.

The psychological theory behind the research is called “inoculation”:

“A biological vaccine administers a small dose of the disease to build immunity. Similarly, inoculation theory suggests that exposure to a weak or demystified version of an argument makes it easier to refute when confronted with more persuasive claims,” says Dr Sander van der Linden, Director of Cambridge University’s Social Decision-Making Lab

“If you know what it is like to walk in the shoes of someone who is actively trying to deceive you, it should increase your ability to spot and resist the techniques of deceit. We want to help grow ‘mental antibodies’ that can provide some immunity against the rapid spread of misinformation.”

Based in part on existing studies of online propaganda, and taking cues from actual conspiracy theories about organisations such as the United Nations, the game is set to be translated for countries such as Ukraine, where disinformation casts a heavy shadow.

There are also plans to adapt the framework of the game for anti-radicalisation purposes, as many of the same manipulation techniques – using false information to provoke intense emotions, for example – are commonly deployed by recruiters for religious extremist groups.

“You don’t have to be a master spin doctor to create effective disinformation. Anyone can start a site and artificially amplify it through twitter bots, for example. But recognising and resisting fake news doesn’t require a PhD in media studies either,” says Jon Roozenbeek, a researcher from Cambridge’s Department of Slavonic Studies and one of the game’s designers.

“We aren’t trying to drastically change behavior, but instead trigger a simple thought process to help foster critical and informed news consumption.”

Roozenbeek points out that some efforts to combat fake news are seen as ideologically charged. “The framework of our game allows players to lean towards the left or right of the political spectrum. It’s the experience of misleading through news that counts,” he says.

The pilot study in the Netherlands using a paper version of the game involved 95 students with an average age of 16, randomly divided into treatment and control.

This version of the game focused on the refugee crisis, and all participants were randomly presented with fabricated news articles on the topic at the end of the experiment.

The treatment group were assigned roles – alarmist, denier, conspiracy theorist or clickbait monger – and tasked with distorting a government fact sheet on asylum seekers using a set of cards outlining common propaganda tactics consistent with their role.    

They found fake news to be significantly less reliable than the control group, who had not produced their own fake article. Researchers describe the results of this small study as limited but promising. The study has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Risk Research.

The team are aiming to take their “fake news vaccine” trials to the next level with today’s launch of the online game.

With content written mostly by the Cambridge researchers along with Ruurd Oosterwoud, founder of DROG, the game only takes a few minutes to complete. The hope is that players will then share it to help create a large anonymous dataset of journeys through the game.  

The researchers can then use this data to refine techniques for increasing media literacy and fake news resilience in a ‘post-truth’ world. “We try to let players experience what it is like to create a filter bubble so they are more likely to realise they may be living in one,” adds van der Linden.

A new experiment, launching today online, aims to help ‘inoculate’ against disinformation by providing a small dose of perspective from a “fake news tycoon”. A pilot study has shown some early success in building resistance to fake news among teenagers.   

We try to let players experience what it is like to create a filter bubble so they are more likely to realise they may be living in one
Sander van der Linden
A screen shot of the Fake News Game on a smart phone.

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Kettle's Yard is back

By sjr81 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 12, 2018.

We thought you might like a look inside the 'new' Kettle's Yard, which reopened to the public on Saturday, February 10, to learn more about its past – and future.

As Kettle's Yard opens its doors following a two-year, multi-million pound redevelopment and transformation of its gallery spaces, the work of 38 leading contemporary and historic internationally-renowned artists has gone on display in a spectacular opening show.

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Opinion: What Ancient Greece can teach us about toxic masculinity today

By ts657 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 08, 2018.

Comedy and tragedy masks

‘Toxic masculinity’ has its roots in Ancient Greece, and some of today’s most damaging myths around sexual norms can be traced back to early literature from the time, as Professor Mary Beard discusses in her latest book Women & power: a manifesto

Euripides Hippolytus has toxic masculinity on every page, Greek myths are populated by rapists who are monstrous or otherworldly while Medusa is an early example of victim blaming. Of course, in some texts, rapists are condemned and victims believed. But the ending is usually the same – triumph for the aggressor, tragedy for the survivor.

In Hippolytus, the titular male hero challenges sexual norms because he is celibate, by some counts asexual, preferring to spend his time outdoors.  He is also a pious young man devoted to Artemis, the goddess of the wilderness, and virginity. 

Aphrodite, as goddess of sexual love, is none too impressed.  Hippolytus refuses to worship her.  To seek her revenge, Aphrodite causes Hippolytus’ stepmother, Phaedra, to fall in love with him.  Phaedra sexually harasses him, and his resistance leads her to falsely accuse him of rape in her suicide note. Hippolytus flees in disgrace and is killed. A sad tale, and far more complex than this brief summary can show. 

My work training University of Cambridge students to be active bystanders, as part of the University’s Breaking the Silence campaign, has made me think more about Hippolytus and the concepts of masculinity that stretch back to ancient times.

Hippolytus’s father Theseus prefers to accept his son is a rapist rather than the fact he does not fit with the definition of a ‘real man’.  What kind of man doesn’t want sex after all; what young prince left at home with his young and beautiful stepmother wouldn’t be tempted to get in bed with her? When deciding sexual and gender norms, we often make emotionally based value judgments. These create false beliefs that are some of the most resistant to truth, according to one US study.

Challenging myths and stereotypes

I cannot help but wonder whether society’s restricted definition of masculinity is contributing to the staggering statistics we see about the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual violence on college campuses, as has been documented in the NUS report Hidden Marks. ‘Toxic’ norms of male behaviour are interrogated in anti-harassment programmes such as Cambridge’s Good Lad Initiative or the Twitter movement #HowIWillChange.

The images in popular culture, from men’s magazines to Hollywood movies, not to mention pornography so readily accessible on the internet, show a very restricted kind of masculinity.  The kind where aggression is rewarded and celebrated. 

Is it surprising, then, that so many of today’s young men seem to lack the confidence to be OK with taking things slow?  With not going out for the sole purpose of getting laid?  Isn’t that what everyone else is doing after all?

Challenging myths and stereotypes is also central to Cambridge’s bystander intervention programme.

We use social norms theory to show that what is perceived as the dominant view may well not be.  The ‘silent majority’ is strong.  And it only takes one or two people to stop being silent to change what is perceived to be normal and acceptable. 

We are empowering the students in our workshops to challenge the stereotypes, to see that it’s OK for them or their male friends to be a different kind of man.  Helping students to understand the culture, and perceptions, that enable sexual violence to take place is an important foundation for preparing them to be active bystanders.

Making a difference

Sex offender ‘monsters’ are as prevalent in today’s media as they were on the ancient stage. Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women coalition describes these stereotypes as unhelpful, allowing unacceptable behaviour short of sexual assault to be disassociated from perpetration. According to the coalition, most perpetrators “look normal, can be quite charming, and are often part of your group”. When we move away from the idea that perpetrators have to be monsters, we can begin to own and change unacceptable behaviours in our friends, our group and even ourselves.

It’s clear these are complex issues, and we know it’s not easy standing up to your friends, or going against the crowd.  Intervening may be awkward, and it may feel uncomfortable.  But it can make a real difference, not just for potential victims but also for potential perpetrators.

A recent study of London commuters shows that only 11% of women who were sexually harassed or assaulted on the Underground were helped by a bystander.

The report describes the devastation of finding that even when surrounded by people, they were unsafe. And bystanders witnessing their abuse and doing nothing left victims with the lifelong impression that no one cared.

There are also so many different ways to intervene, and it is not just about confronting people or taking a stand in a crowd.  The workshops help students practice intervention skills in realistic scenarios that could come up in their day-to-day university life, and explore the different options that may be available to them. 

It has been encouraging to see how the students participating have already started to gain not only confidence, but also awareness of how prevalent some of these situations are, and how what might seem like a very small action can make such a big difference.

Are we taking at least a small step to changing the culture at the University of Cambridge?  I certainly hope so.

Tori McKee is Tutorial Department Manager at Jesus College. Join this week's Breaking the Silence campaigning to increase bystander interventions to stop sexual harassment as part of National Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week 2018. Download materials here or at www.breakingthesilence.cam.ac.uk.

 Tori McKee, a PhD scholar in Classical Studies, looks at ancient and modern ways of being a man

When we move away from the idea that perpetrators have to be monsters, we can begin to own and change unacceptable behaviours in our friends, our group and even ourselves

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Artificial intelligence is growing up fast: what’s next for thinking machines?

By cjb250 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 06, 2018.

We are well on the way to a world in which many aspects of our daily lives will depend on AI systems.

Within a decade, machines might diagnose patients with the learned expertise of not just one doctor but thousands. They might make judiciary recommendations based on vast datasets of legal decisions and complex regulations. And they will almost certainly know exactly what’s around the corner in autonomous vehicles.

“Machine capabilities are growing,” says Dr Stephen Cave, Executive Director of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI). “Machines will perform the tasks that we don’t want to: the mundane jobs, the dangerous jobs. And they’ll do the tasks we aren’t capable of – those involving too much data for a human to process, or where the machine is simply faster, better, cheaper.”

Dr Mateja Jamnik, AI expert at the Department of Computer Science and Technology, agrees: “Everything is going in the direction of augmenting human performance – helping humans, cooperating with humans, enabling humans to concentrate on the areas where humans are intrinsically better such as strategy, creativity and empathy.” 

Part of the attraction of AI requires that future technologies perform tasks autonomously, without humans needing to monitor activities every step of the way. In other words, machines of the future will need to think for themselves. But, although computers today outperform humans on many tasks, including learning from data and making decisions, they can still trip up on things that are really quite trivial for us.

Take, for instance, working out the formula for the area of a parallelogram. Humans might use a diagram to visualise how cutting off the corners and reassembling it as a rectangle simplifies the problem. Machines, however, may “use calculus or integrate a function. This works, but it’s like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut,” says Jamnik, who was recently appointed Specialist Adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on AI.

“When I was a child, I was fascinated by the beauty and elegance of mathematical solutions. I wondered how people came up with such intuitive answers. Today, I work with neuroscientists and experimental psychologists to investigate this human ability to reason and think flexibly, and to make computers do the same.”

Jamnik believes that AI systems that can choose so-called heuristic approaches – employing practical, often visual, approaches to problem solving – in a similar way to humans will be an essential component of human-like computers. They will be needed, for instance, so that machines can explain their workings to humans – an important part of the transparency of decision-making that we will require of AI.

With funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust, she is building systems that have begun to reason like humans through diagrams. Her aim now is to enable them to move flexibly between different “modalities of reasoning”, just as humans have the agility to switch between methods when problem solving. 

 Being able to model one aspect of human intelligence in computers raises the question of what other aspects would be useful. And in fact how ‘human-like’ would we want AI systems to be? This is what interests Professor José Hernandez-Orallo, from the Universitat Politècnica de València in Spain and Visiting Fellow at the CFI.

“We typically put humans as the ultimate goal of AI because we have an anthropocentric view of intelligence that places humans at the pinnacle of a monolith,” says Hernandez-Orallo. “But human intelligence is just one of many kinds. Certain human skills, such as reasoning, will be important in future systems. But perhaps we want to build systems that ‘fill the gaps that humans cannot reach’, whether it’s AI that thinks in non-human ways or AI that doesn’t think at all.

“I believe that future machines can be more powerful than humans not just because they are faster but because they can have cognitive functionalities that are inherently not human.” This raises a difficulty, says Hernandez-Orallo: “How do we measure the intelligence of the systems that we build? Any definition of intelligence needs to be linked to a way of measuring it, otherwise it’s like trying to define electricity without a way of showing it.”

The intelligence tests we use today – such as psychometric tests or animal cognition tests – are not suitable for measuring intelligence of a new kind, he explains. Perhaps the most famous test for AI is that devised by 1950s Cambridge computer scientist Alan Turing. To pass the Turing Test, a computer must fool a human into believing it is human. “Turing never meant it as a test of the sort of AI that is becoming possible – apart from anything else, it’s all or nothing and cannot be used to rank AI,” says Hernandez-Orallo.

In his recently published book The Measure of all Minds, he argues for the development of “universal tests of intelligence” – those that measure the same skill or capability independently of the subject, whether it’s a robot, a human or an octopus.

His work at the CFI as part of the ‘Kinds of Intelligence’ project, led by Dr Marta Halina, is asking not only what these tests might look like but also how their measurement can be built into the development of AI. Hernandez-Orallo sees a very practical application of such tests: the future job market. “I can imagine a time when universal tests would provide a measure of what’s needed to accomplish a job, whether it’s by a human or a machine.”

Cave is also interested in the impact of AI on future jobs, discussing this in a report on the ethics and governance of AI recently submitted to the House of Lords Select Committee on AI on behalf of researchers at Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College and the University of California at Berkeley. “AI systems currently remain narrow in their range of abilities by comparison with a human. But the breadth of their capacities is increasing rapidly in ways that will pose new ethical and governance challenges – as well as create new opportunities,” says Cave. “Many of these risks and benefits will be related to the impact these new capacities will have on the economy, and the labour market in particular.”

Hernandez-Orallo adds: “Much has been written about the jobs that will be at risk in the future. This happens every time there is a major shift in the economy. But just as some machines will do tasks that humans currently carry out, other machines will help humans do what they currently cannot – providing enhanced cognitive assistance or replacing lost functions such as memory, hearing or sight.”

Jamnik also sees opportunities in the age of intelligent machines: “As with any revolution, there is change. Yes some jobs will become obsolete. But history tells us that there will be jobs appearing. These will capitalise on inherently human qualities. Others will be jobs that we can’t even conceive of – memory augmentation practitioners, data creators, data bias correctors, and so on. That’s one reason I think this is perhaps the most exciting time in the history of humanity.”

Our lives are already enhanced by AI – or at least an AI in its infancy – with technologies using algorithms that help them to learn from our behaviour. As AI grows up and starts to think, not just to learn, we ask how human-like do we want their intelligence to be and what impact will machines have on our jobs? 

Perhaps we want to build systems that ‘fill the gaps that humans cannot reach’, whether it’s AI that thinks in non-human ways or AI that doesn’t think at all
José Hernandez-Orallo
Artificial intelligence

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How Japan’s ‘salaryman’ is becoming cool

By sjr81 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 02, 2018.

Read more about the new research into 'Cool Japanese men.

Japanese men are becoming cool. The suit-and-tie salaryman remodels himself with beauty treatments and 'cool biz' fashion. Loyal company soldiers are reborn as cool, attentive fathers. Hip-hop dance is as manly as martial arts. Could it even be cool for middle-aged men to idolise teenage girl popstars? 

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Judges announced on BBC's short story awards with First Story and Cambridge University

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Dec 11, 2017.

The BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University (NSSA) today calls for submissions for the 13th year with television presenter, author and actress Mel Giedroyc chairing the judging panel for the 2018 award. Mel, who has co-hosted a myriad of television shows including The Great British Bake-Off, has written two books From Here to Maternity (2005) and Going Ga-Ga (2007). Mel’s counterpart on the BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University (YWA) is BBC Radio 1 and CBBC’s Book Club presenter Katie Thistleton, who will chair the judging panel for the teenage award as it opens for submissions for the fourth year.

Report highlights opportunities and risks associated with synthetic biology and bioengineering

By cjb250 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Nov 21, 2017.

Rapid developments in the field of synthetic biology and its associated tools and methods, including more widely available gene editing techniques, have substantially increased our capabilities for bioengineering – the application of principles and techniques from engineering to biological systems, often with the goal of addressing 'real-world' problems.

In a feature article published in the open access journal eLife, an international team of experts led by Dr Bonnie Wintle and Dr Christian R. Boehm from the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, capture perspectives of industry, innovators, scholars, and the security community in the UK and US on what they view as the major emerging issues in the field.

Dr Wintle says: “The growth of the bio-based economy offers the promise of addressing global environmental and societal challenges, but as our paper shows, it can also present new kinds of challenges and risks. The sector needs to proceed with caution to ensure we can reap the benefits safely and securely.”

The report is intended as a summary and launching point for policy makers across a range of sectors to further explore those issues that may be relevant to them.

Among the issues highlighted by the report as being most relevant over the next five years are:

Artificial photosynthesis and carbon capture for producing biofuels

If technical hurdles can be overcome, such developments might contribute to the future adoption of carbon capture systems, and provide sustainable sources of commodity chemicals and fuel.  

Enhanced photosynthesis for agricultural productivity

Synthetic biology may hold the key to increasing yields on currently farmed land – and hence helping address food security – by enhancing photosynthesis and reducing pre-harvest losses, as well as reducing post-harvest and post-consumer waste.

Synthetic gene drives

Gene drives promote the inheritance of preferred genetic traits throughout a species, for example to prevent malaria-transmitting mosquitoes from breeding. However, this technology raises questions about whether it may alter ecosystems, potentially even creating niches where a new disease-carrying species or new disease organism may take hold.

Human genome editing

Genome engineering technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 offer the possibility to improve human lifespans and health. However, their implementation poses major ethical dilemmas. It is feasible that individuals or states with the financial and technological means may elect to provide strategic advantages to future generations.

Defence agency research in biological engineering

The areas of synthetic biology in which some defence agencies invest raise the risk of ‘dual-use’. For example, one programme intends to use insects to disseminate engineered plant viruses that confer traits to the target plants they feed on, with the aim of protecting crops from potential plant pathogens – but such technologies could plausibly also be used by others to harm targets.

In the next five to ten years, the authors identified areas of interest including:

Regenerative medicine: 3D printing body parts and tissue engineering

While this technology will undoubtedly ease suffering caused by traumatic injuries and a myriad of illnesses, reversing the decay associated with age is still fraught with ethical, social and economic concerns. Healthcare systems would rapidly become overburdened by the cost of replenishing body parts of citizens as they age and could lead new socioeconomic classes, as only those who can pay for such care themselves can extend their healthy years.

Microbiome-based therapies

The human microbiome is implicated in a large number of human disorders, from Parkinson’s to colon cancer, as well as metabolic conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Synthetic biology approaches could greatly accelerate the development of more effective microbiota-based therapeutics. However, there is a risk that DNA from genetically engineered microbes may spread to other microbiota in the human microbiome or into the wider environment.

Intersection of information security and bio-automation

Advancements in automation technology combined with faster and more reliable engineering techniques have resulted in the emergence of robotic 'cloud labs' where digital information is transformed into DNA then expressed in some target organisms. This opens the possibility of new kinds of information security threats, which could include tampering with digital DNA sequences leading to the production of harmful organisms, and sabotaging vaccine and drug production through attacks on critical DNA sequence databases or equipment.

Over the longer term, issues identified include:

New makers disrupt pharmaceutical markets

Community bio-labs and entrepreneurial startups are customizing and sharing methods and tools for biological experiments and engineering. Combined with open business models and open source technologies, this could herald opportunities for manufacturing therapies tailored to regional diseases that multinational pharmaceutical companies might not find profitable. But this raises concerns around the potential disruption of existing manufacturing markets and raw material supply chains as well as fears about inadequate regulation, less rigorous product quality control and misuse.

Platform technologies to address emerging disease pandemics

Emerging infectious diseases—such as recent Ebola and Zika virus disease outbreaks—and potential biological weapons attacks require scalable, flexible diagnosis and treatment. New technologies could enable the rapid identification and development of vaccine candidates, and plant-based antibody production systems.

Shifting ownership models in biotechnology

The rise of off-patent, generic tools and the lowering of technical barriers for engineering biology has the potential to help those in low-resource settings, benefit from developing a sustainable bioeconomy based on local needs and priorities, particularly where new advances are made open for others to build on.

Dr Jenny Molloy comments: “One theme that emerged repeatedly was that of inequality of access to the technology and its benefits. The rise of open source, off-patent tools could enable widespread sharing of knowledge within the biological engineering field and increase access to benefits for those in developing countries.”

Professor Johnathan Napier from Rothamsted Research adds: “The challenges embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals will require all manner of ideas and innovations to deliver significant outcomes. In agriculture, we are on the cusp of new paradigms for how and what we grow, and where. Demonstrating the fairness and usefulness of such approaches is crucial to ensure public acceptance and also to delivering impact in a meaningful way.”

Dr Christian R. Boehm concludes: “As these technologies emerge and develop, we must ensure public trust and acceptance. People may be willing to accept some of the benefits, such as the shift in ownership away from big business and towards more open science, and the ability to address problems that disproportionately affect the developing world, such as food security and disease. But proceeding without the appropriate safety precautions and societal consensus—whatever the public health benefits—could damage the field for many years to come.”

The research was made possible by the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, the Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative (both at the University of Cambridge), and the Future of Humanity Institute (University of Oxford). It was based on a workshop co-funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation and the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. 

Reference
Wintle, BC, Boehm, CR et al. A transatlantic perspective on 20 emerging issues in biological engineering. eLife; 14 Nov 2017; DOI: 10.7554/eLife.30247

Human genome editing, 3D-printed replacement organs and artificial photosynthesis – the field of bioengineering offers great promise for tackling the major challenges that face our society. But as a new article out today highlights, these developments provide both opportunities and risks in the short and long term.

Reaching for the Sky

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Opinion: Charles Manson: death of America's 1960s bogeyman

By Anonymous from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Nov 21, 2017.

So, Charles Manson has died, aged 83, of “natural causes”. The con-man, musician and erstwhile cult leader, who came to embody mainstream American fears of the 1960s counterculture “gone wrong”, had an easier death at Kern County hospital in California than any of the seven people whose murders he orchestrated in August 1969.

Manson has been largely out of the public view since his conviction for the Tate-LaBianca killings in January 1971 alongside several members of his “family” – but there has been little diminution of his grisly fame. Earlier this year it was announced that Quentin Tarantino is making a film about the Manson murders. Big names such as Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt are among those said to be lining up for parts.

There remains something strange about the attention that Manson generated in life and now in death. It’s a level of interest which far exceeds matters of public record. As such, it’s difficult to know what to say by way of response to the news of his passing – or even what to say for the purposes of a tentative obituary. Difficult, because it’s hard to know precisely who (or what) the name Charles Manson is being used to describe.

Manson, born Charles Milles Maddox in 1934, spent most of his life behind bars. Before convening the cult-like group “The Family” in 1967, he had convictions for car theft and robbery. But it was towards the end of 1969 that he really came to public attention. He was arrested and put on trial for his role as the mastermind of a total of nine murders, including those of the actress Sharon Tate and four friends, and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca over the course of the weekend of August 8-9 1969. In March 1971 he was given the death penalty which was later commuted to commuted to life imprisonment.

According to testimony at his trial and that of his followers, Manson was not actually directly responsible for wielding a murder weapon at either of the two crime scenes (although there’s plenty to suggest he was involved in other murders at around the same time). But the court found he had masterminded and ordered the Tate-LaBianca killings, made all the more horrific by the fact that actress Tate had been pregnant at the time of her murder.

Different kind of celebrity

Whether you like it or not, from his conviction to his death, Manson was a celebrity. He became a celebrity when he made the cover of Life magazine in December 1969 and Rolling Stone in June 1970 – and subsequent novels, films, recordings, interviews, t-shirts and comic books have sought alternately to shore up this status and to demythologise it.

This Manson culture industry (which shows no signs of slowing down) has kept his name in public circulation for nearly half a century. It’s this material which invariably forms the basis of the analysis whenever Manson’s life and “career” is considered. What becomes visible is something of a schizoid split in which the name Charles Manson gains two points of reference.

There’s “Charles Manson” which effectively describes the life of Charles Milles Maddox, criminal – and then there’s “Charles Manson”, the potent symbol of evil, the name which in the words of one of his recent biographers has become a “metaphor for unspeakable horror”.

An early example of the latter came from the writer Wayne McGuire in 1970. Writing in his column for Fusion magazine, “An Aquarian Journal”, he speculated that at “some point in the future”, Manson would “metamorphose into a major American folk hero”. The comment was later used as the epigraph for The Manson File, a collection of Manson-related writings first published by Amok Press in 1988. The prediction was fully realised in 1997 with the inclusion of Manson in James Parks’ collection, Cultural Icons. Here, nestling between Lata Mangeshkar, Mao Tse Tung and Robert Mapplethorpe, Manson was identified as an “American Murderer” who “channelled his peculiar cocktail of black magic, drugs, sex and rock n roll into homicidal mania”. It is this “peculiar cocktail” that underpins Manson’s symbolic status.

What gives his crimes – and his name – a notoriety in excess of that held by the likes of the Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo and the unknown “Zodiac Killer”, who terrorised Northern California in 1968 and 1969, is that they simultaneously interact with a matrix of other powerful symbols that carry a greater cultural resonance than the breaking of a law, however severe.

Hollywood meets the crazies

Tate’s murder brought into collision two heavily mediated zones: Hollywood and the counterculture. Manson’s interest in The Beatles and use of their song title “Helter Skelter” as a blood-drenched slogan further intensified this disturbing elision of murder and popular culture. As with The Rolling Stones’ concert at the Altamont Speedway in December 1969 – at which a member of the audience was murdered by a Hells Angel – the Manson murders, once filtered through media sensitive to their range of connections, become emblems for the “end” or even “death” of the 1960s.

Whether viewed as catalyst or symptom, they are events that stand in for explanations of economic shift, geopolitical crisis and social inequality which describe the decade’s apparent decline into death, violence and what Hunter S. Thompson called “bad craziness”.

If anything it was the Tate-LaBianca murders that carry the metaphorical currency, while the name “Manson” now probably signifies something else. It’s a name to conjure with. “Manson” brings to mind the shadow-side of the 1960s: the incipient violence that lay beneath the counterculture’s day-glo optimism and the lost potential of a decade’s calls for peace and pacifism. When viewed from the vantage point of seeing the long, strange and violent life laid out, it refers also to someone who understood and was able to exploit the potency of the popular culture around him.

There’s very little to celebrate here, but maybe there’s something to learn about what it means to be a celebrity.

James Riley, Fellow and College Lecturer in English, Girton College, Cambridge, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Charles Manson, one of America's most notorious criminals and cult leaders, has died. In an article written for The Conversation, James Riley from Cambridge's Faculty of English discusses Manson and the nature of celebrity. 

Charles Manson 2014

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Archaeologists uncover rare 2,000-year-old sundial during Roman theatre excavation

By sjr81 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Nov 08, 2017.

Not only has the sundial survived largely undamaged for more than two millennia, but the presence of two Latin texts means researchers from the University of Cambridge have been able to glean precise information about the man who commissioned it.

The sundial was found lying face down by students of the Faculty of Classics as they were excavating the front of one of the theatre’s entrances along a secondary street. It was probably left behind at a time when the theatre and town was being scavenged for building materials during the Medieval to post-Medieval period. In all likelihood it did not belong to the theatre, but was removed from a prominent spot, possibly on top of a pillar in the nearby forum.

“Less than a hundred examples of this specific type of sundial have survived and of those, only a handful bear any kind of inscription at all – so this really is a special find,” said Dr Alessandro Launaro, a lecturer at the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge and a Fellow of Gonville & Caius College.

“Not only have we been able to identify the individual who commissioned the sundial, we have also been able to determine the specific public office he held in relation to the likely date of the inscription.”

The base prominently features the name of M(arcus) NOVIUS M(arci) F(ilius) TUBULA [Marcus Novius Tubula, son of Marcus], whilst the engraving on the curved rim of the dial surface records that he held the office of TR(ibunus) PL(ebis) [Plebeian Tribune] and paid for the sundial D(e) S(ua) PEC(unia) (with his own money).

The nomen Novius was quite common in Central Italy. On the other hand, the cognomen Tubula (literally ‘small trumpet’) is only attested at Interamna Lirenas.

But even more striking is the specific public office Tubula held in relation to the likely date of the inscription. Various considerations about the name of the individual and the lettering style comfortably place the sundial’s inscription at a time (mid 1st c. BC onwards) by which the inhabitants of Interamna had already been granted full Roman citizenship.

“That being the case, Marcus Novius Tubula, hailing from Interamna Lirenas, would be a hitherto unknown Plebeian Tribune of Rome,” added Launaro. “The sundial would have represented his way of celebrating his election in his own hometown.”

Carved out from a limestone block (54 x 35 x 25 cm), the sundial features a concave face, engraved with 11 hour lines (demarcating the twelve horae of daylight) intersecting three day curves (giving an indication of the season with respect to the time of the winter solstice, equinox and summer solstice). Although the iron gnomon (the needle casting the shadow) is essentially lost, part of it is still preserved under the surviving lead fixing. This type of ‘spherical’ sundial was relatively common in the Roman period and was known as hemicyclium.

“Even though the recent archaeological fieldwork has profoundly affected our understanding of Interamna Lirenas, dispelling long-held views about its precocious decline and considerable marginality, this was not a town of remarkable prestige or notable influence,” added Launaro. “It remained an average, middle-sized settlement, and this is exactly what makes it a potentially very informative case-study about conditions in the majority of Roman cities in Italy at the time”.

“In this sense, the discovery of the inscribed sundial not only casts new light on the place Interamna Lirenas occupied within a broader network of political relationships across Roman Italy, but it is also a more general indicator of the level of involvement in Rome’s own affairs that individuals hailing from this and other relatively secondary communities could aspire to.”

The ongoing archaeological project at Interamna Lirenas continues to add new evidence about important aspects of the Roman civilization, stressing the high levels of connectivity and integration (political, social, economic and cultural) which it featured.

The 2017 excavation, directed by Dr Launaro (Gonville & Caius College) and Professor Martin Millett (Fitzwilliam College), both from the Faculty of Classics, in partnership with Dr Giovanna Rita Bellini of the Italian Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le Province di Frosinone, Latina e Rieti, is part of a long-standing collaboration with the British School at Rome and the Comune of Pignataro Interamna and has benefitted from the generous support of the Isaac Newton Trust and Mr Antonio Silvestro Evangelista.

Inset image: The find spot near the former roofed theatre in Interamna Lirenas

A 2,000-year-old intact and inscribed sundial – one of only a handful known to have survived – has been recovered during the excavation of a roofed theatre in the Roman town of Interamna Lirenas, near Monte Cassino, in Italy.

“Not only have we been able to identify the individual who commissioned the sundial, we have also been able to determine the specific public office he held in relation to the likely date of the inscription”
Alessandro Launaro
The sundial pictured after excavation

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Yes

Postgraduate Pioneers 2017 #4

By ta385 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Oct 31, 2017.

Yesim Yaprak Yildiz, PhD student

Fourth in the series is Yesim Yaprak Yildiz, a sociologist exploring the relationship between political violence, truth and reconciliation with a focus on Turkey.

My research sets out to 

My passion is to understand the relationship between truth and justice, more specifically whether revelation of truth about an atrocity would lead to justice. I set out to answer this question by examining the social and political effects of public confessions of state officials on past atrocities against civilians. I focus on Turkey and state violence against the Kurds in the 1990s. 

My motivation

I have been working on human rights violations in Turkey, particularly on torture and impunity, for over ten years. Turkey’s failure to account for the collective political violence in its history has been one of the main reasons which motivated me to pursue a PhD on this topic. Questioning approaches that establish a linear link between confession, truth and justice, I have sought to understand the workings of power in the confessional form of truth telling.

Day-to-day

I am currently in the final year of my PhD so I spend most of my time either at the library or at home writing my thesis. When I visit the department to meet my supervisor and fellow PhD students, I usually study at the ‘Attic’, the study space provided for PhD students in the department. It provides quite an appealing atmosphere thanks to student initiatives including writing groups and coffee breaks. Due to my part-time job at the Human Rights Consortium, School of Advanced Study at University of London, I also commute between London and Cambridge.
 
My best days 

Cambridge is a unique place not only to indulge in solitary intellectual work but also to socialize with fellow academics in a wide range of events. As one of the conveners of the Cambridge Interdisciplinary Performance Network, a research group at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, I also organise seminars on performance and performativity related themes. One of the seminars I recently organised featured Professor Leigh Payne from the University of Oxford. It was a particularly special occasion for me as I decided to study confessions after I heard her talk at a workshop in Denmark.
 
I hope my work will lead to 

I want to contribute to the academic literature on political violence, truth and reconciliation, and thereby inform decision makers, scholars and broader public on some specific aspects of achieving and keeping peace by addressing the need for justice. More importantly, I hope my research will make people reflect on the roots of denial not only caused by forms of silencing but also by certain forms of speech. 

While I am planning to pursue an academic career, I would like to continue working in grassroots movements and NGOs on human rights violations. My future projects will involve both elements of research and art. Through interactive and creative projects, I aim to reflect upon alternative ways of working through the past.  


It had to be Cambridge because

The best part of studying at Cambridge has been its fulfilling and vibrant intellectual environment. In addition to the wide-ranging academic events featuring renowned scholars and research methods courses, I also had the chance to attend a short film making course which enhanced my digital story-telling skills. I have been very lucky to have an inspiring environment in the department thanks to the encouragement and support of my supervisor, Professor Patrick Baert.

With our Postgraduate Open Day fast-approaching (3 November), we introduce five PhD students who are already making waves at Cambridge.

I'm planning to pursue an academic career while continuing to work in grassroots movements and NGOs on human rights violations.
Yesim Yaprak Yildiz
Yesim Yaprak Yildiz
Postgraduate Open Day

For more information about the University's Postgraduate Open Day on 3rd November 2017 and to book to attend, please click here.

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The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Yes

Postgraduate Pioneers 2017 #3

By ta385 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Oct 27, 2017.

Draško Kašćelan
Third in the series is Draško Kašćelan, a linguistics researcher hoping to help children with language development.
 
My research sets out to
 
I’m investigating figurative language understanding in bilingual children. Nowadays, speaking more than one language is becoming a norm worldwide. Similarly, using metaphors in everyday speech is more frequent than one might assume. This frequency of use helps the development of figurative language comprehension but since bilinguals don’t have equal exposure to both of their languages as corresponding monolinguals, there is a question of whether this lack of input affects how they understand metaphors. 
 
I am also looking into the level of autistic traits in children, since these traits are often related to the difficulties in figurative language comprehension. Hopefully, this research will give insight into how language understanding develops in bilinguals, but also offer directions for future investigation of language development in clinical populations. 
 
Day-to-Day
 
My work is split between office work and data collection. At the moment, I spend most of the time in my department but I sometimes prepare experimental tasks in a cafe. But when I’m collecting data that involves visiting primary schools outside of Cambridge which gives me a really interesting change of scene. This would typically include a session with a student in which he or she does a series of computer-based cognitive or language tasks designed to look like games. Some of the sessions also include act-out tasks with toys, which makes the whole data collection quite fun.
 
My best days
 
The most interesting day I’ve had so far was during the pilot of my study when I got to talk to several children about the work that I do. Explaining to primary school kids what linguistics actually is ended up being quite a challenge, especially when I was asked how long it takes to learn a language and why I don’t speak Elvish.
 
I hope my work will lead to
 
The improvement of support that bilingual children get when it comes to maintaining the use of their languages. Together with other experimental work in the field, I expect to make an impact on educational policies regarding foreign language learning, which is currently far from optimal in the UK. I also hope that the findings of my investigation will offer directions for future research of language development in both typically and atypically developing individuals.
 
It had to be Cambridge because
 
Apart from academic and financial support that Cambridge offers, one of the most valuable parts of this experience is the student community. Specifically, the college system offers opportunities to socialise with people from other academic fields and from various backgrounds. This is quite different from my undergraduate experience outside of Cambridge where I would mostly only interact mostly with people from my field, which sometimes makes engaging with other areas of interest harder.

With our Postgraduate Open Day fast-approaching (3 Nov), we introduce five PhD students who are already making waves at Cambridge.

I was asked how long it takes to learn a language and why I don’t speak Elvish.
Draško Kašćelan
Draško Kašćelan
Postgraduate Open Day

For more information about the University's Postgraduate Open Day on 3rd November 2017 and to book to attend, please click here.

Creative Commons License
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Yes

Polly Blakesley awarded Pushkin House Russian Book Prize 2017

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Jul 11, 2017.

School of Arts and Humanities Newsletter Lent Term 2017

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Mar 24, 2017.

School of Arts and Humanities Newsletter Lent Term 2017

Arts and Humanities appoints new Head of School

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Mar 16, 2017.

Emer Prof Baroness Onora O'Neill wins 2017 Holberg Prize

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Mar 15, 2017.

Vice Chancellor's Public Engagement and Impacts Awards are open!

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Mar 10, 2017.

The deadline for nominations to the Vice Chancellor's Public Engagement and Impact Awards is April 21st.

Masterclass: Coordinating Complex Funding Bids

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Mar 07, 2017.

Abandoned Liszt opera brought to life - 170 years later

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Mar 07, 2017.

Capitalism on the Edge Lecture - last in the series!

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Capitalism on the Edge - What can women do to change how capitalism works?

Sidgwick Site Equalities Improvement Network talk March 7th

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

The Future of the Professions

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 17, 2017.

David and Richard Susskins will talk about their latest book, The Future of the Professions, on February 23rd at CRASSH.

New book explores how articulating language is humans' greatest gift

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 14, 2017.

The Wonders of Language: How to make noises and influence people by Prof Ian Roberts (DTAL) was published last week by CUP and is now on display in the CUP bookshop.

Newton Awards deadline fast approaching!

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 03, 2017.

The deadline for the Newton International Fellowships, Newton Mobility Grants and Newton Advanced Fellowships is 15 March 2017

2017 Teaching Forum open for registration

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 03, 2017.

University launches 2017 Impact and Public Engagement Awards

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 01, 2017.

The 2017 University Impact and Public Engagement Awards are now open!

New starters in the Office of the School of Arts and Humanities

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 01, 2017.

DAAD Lecture: Imperial Violence and Mobilised Nations

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Jan 26, 2017.

Cambridge DAAD Hub: Lecture by Leibniz Prize winner Prof. Dr. Lutz Raphael, 23 February, 5pm, Room 2 Mill Lane Lecture Theatres

CRASSH Communications Manager Vacancy

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Jan 25, 2017.

Vacancy: Communications Manager in CRASSH

School welcomes new Council representatives

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Athena Swan Surgery Wednesday 25 January

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

First SSEIN Talk February 1st

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The first Sidgwick Site Equalities Improvement Network talk on Wednesday February 1st will be given by Jacqueline Scott on 'Gender Inequalities in Production and Reproduction'.

Opening Reception for Gormley Sculpture on Sidgwick Site

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Music Faculty Teaching Prizes 2016

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Congratulations to the 2016 winners of the Faculty of Music's Teaching Prize!

School Newsletter Michaelmas Term 2016

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Winners announced for the Inaugural Arts and Humanities Impact Pilot Fund

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Nov 17, 2016.

Cambridge support for MPs' position on the importance of language skills

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Oct 19, 2016.

On Monday 17th October, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages called on the UK Government to support languages education.

History of Art Department responds to the AQA decision to drop Art History A Level

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Oct 18, 2016.

Postgraduate Open Day - Wednesday November 2nd

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Oct 18, 2016.

Faculties and departments in the School of Arts and Humanities will be attending the University’s Postgraduate Open Day being held on Wednesday November 2nd 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM.

Ensuring Artificial Intelligence benefits all mankind

From School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Oct 18, 2016.

Ambitious new centre launches at University of Cambridge