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OpenLearn Live: 10th August 2016

Updated Wednesday, 10th August 2016

A project to paint the favelas; the magician who makes nothing disappear; and a new tool to check medical research. Free learning from across the day.

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OpenLearn Live connects the worlds of learning and research with the things that actually matter to you. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday, we discovered what went wrong with the Australian census and enjoyed the beauty of data generated by Boris bikes

On this day last year, we discovered how Reggie Perrin chimed with academics and celebrated 40 years of Rocky Horror

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

How do you tell good science from bad?

Did you know chewing on biro pen lids can extend your life by up to five years? Or simply purchasing a bicycle trebles your chances of dying from cancer?

Obviously, neither of those claims are true but we live in an age where over-excited headlines make broad claims about health risks and benefits, often based on misreadings of research data.

How can you avoid being taken in? Well, one way is to use a just-launched tool, Understanding Health Research:

Understanding Health Research is a tool designed to help people understand and review published health research to decide how dependable and relevant a piece of research is. The tool guides users through a series of questions to ask about specific types of health research, and helps users to understand what the answers to those questions say about the quality of the research they are reading.

The Useful information section provides introductions to health research concepts such as correlation and causation, scientific uncertainty and the use of statistics, and the External sources section provides links to helpful external resources.

You can try the tool for yourself online

Magic meets science

It's easy for a conjurer to make people think they've turned a solid item into thin air. But - wondered psychologists at Oxford - could a really good magician make people believe that they'd seen something disappear when there wasn't anything there to start with?

In the first four videos the magician would do something with an object, with the third video deliberately showing a non-magical action to check that people could distinguish whether something was or was not a magic trick and were not seeing a trick simply because they expected one. The first, second and fourth videos showed magic tricks.

The volunteers were split into five groups, each of which saw a series of video with a different object – a coin, a ball, a poker chip, a silk handkerchief or a crayon.

In the fifth video, the magician mimed making an object disappear. However, no object was ever shown in that video.

Nevertheless, 32% of people were convinced they had seen something disappear, with 11% of them naming the non-existent object. When asked to rate the trick, those who had not reported an object gave low scores for surprise, impossibility and magic; those who believed they had seen something gave higher scores, and those who could name the object gave the highest scores.

Matthew said: 'We think what may be happening is that people are effectively confusing their expectations with a true sensory experience. They expect to see another video with a crayon or a coin, for example, and this expectation is so vivid that it can actually be mistaken for a real object.

'The science of magic is a fascinating area, and there are important practical applications. For example, our work builds upon previous studies that have shown how eyewitness testimony can vary from the facts. In understanding how people can be fooled, we can gain better understanding of how our minds construct our conscious experiences.'

And that, to quote the late Paul Daniels, is magic.

Read at Oxford: Psychologist's magic makes a non-existent object disappear

Read the full research paper

Watch: the magic of misdirection

Rio 2016: A short reading list

Why is the diving pool green? How sexist are the Olympics in 2016? Will Rio be a happier place as a result of hosting this huge party? We dip into some of the latest expert commentary on the Games.

Explore the Rio 2016 reading list

A week in Rio: Painting the favelas

This week, we're turning our back on the sport in Rio to explore some other stories from the city. Yesterday, we heard how Roberto Burle Marx relandscaped the city. Today, we're telling the story of another way the look of Rio was changed - Haas and Hahn's repainting of the favelas.

Praça Cantão - favela painting project Creative commons image Icon André Sampaio under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license

Over a million and a half people live in Rio's favelas. Though the word 'favela' is often translated to suggest slums or shantytowns, that doesn't quite catch how the residents see their homes - there are some neighbourhoods which are incredibly poor, but in others, electricity, plumbing and well-built homes are the norm. Favela residents, according to at least one study, are better connected to the internet than those living in the formal city.

Nevertheless, the unplanned nature of the neighbourhoods can make for a less-than-attractive urban environment. It was to address this problem that Haas and Hann - Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn - created the Favela Painting Foundation.


The early projects were generally considered successful - as CoExist was told by the artists:

Haas & Hahn’s first project, in 2007, was a giant, mostly one-dimensional mural of a boy flying a kite. Their second undertaking involved painting a chain of staircases to look like a rushing river. And their landmark project—with hues of bright blues, greens, yellows, and pinks—transformed the facades of 31 buildings into a massive work of art. To do so, the team often builds up small-scale models of their sites, on which they project light to determine the colorful shapes so synonymous with their work.

"The interesting part is that it was a project born in Rio, and not anywhere else. It was never a theory turned into action, but action turned into theory," Urhahn says.

When speaking about this next iteration—an ambitious plan to paint an entire favela—Urhahn explains: "It’s not just growing in scale, but in depth as well; our goal is to make a maximum impact."

That large scale project involved seeking funding via a Kickstarter project. The money was raised, and the project got underway - albeit with a couple of challenges.


The project wasn't without critics, though. Some of those who kicked in funding complained on that they didn't feel their contributions were rewarded. More seriously, some wondered whether artists arriving from outside and tarting up people's homes was part of a broader drive in Rio to smooth the edges of the city to please sports sponsors and other corporations. Citylab caught these concerns:

Heck says many Santa Marta residents have also criticized the project for being just another form of maquiagem (makeup) — or a superficial cleanup of the slums. In advance of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, similar "makeup" projects have also included "Police Pacification Units" that reside in the favelas full-time, overhead cable cars, and gastronomy tours.

Meanwhile, the more urgent and pervasive problem in Santa Marta is still its inadequate sewage system, which lacks capacity and reach. Residents complain to city officials about inundations regularly.

"They have seen so many projects come and go without addressing the sewage system issue, that many of them are quite jaded about improving the appearance without improving the reality," writes Heck in an email. While Haas and Hahn’s new endeavor is bursting with good intentions, any notion that scaling up the favela painting project would improve living standards for an entire community would be flawed.

Fariha Rahman dug deeper into the impacts of painting the favelas:

The end goal of tourism for the Favela Painting project makes it appear rather misguided within the context of favela tourism. Austrian scholar Thomas Frisch notes that favela tourism is a growing industry with hints of “neo-colonialism” where aspects of low-income neighborhoods are “othered”, made static, and treated as essential to the integrity of visits to Brazil and other countries profiting from “slum tourism”. Beyond using residents for an end they do not benefit from, and instead pay for, slum tourism fails to respect and consider these communities as equally human and dynamic as those of tourists. Frisch includes an analysis of the growing complexity of favelas and the relevant political players as a result of tourism, suggesting that each additional “player” has their own ends in mind.

In the case of Favela Painting, these parties include drug cartels, Rio government seeking to increase favela tourism, Haas&Hahn, and NGOs such as IBISS. As something that brings in unnecessary cultural elements from a nonresidential group while failing to address drug-related violence and health issues, Favela Painting’s current existence in Rio favelas fails to create a positive impact.

Another author, Claire Williams of the University of Liverpool, focuses on “literary representations” of Rio favelas, writing, “The term favela, associated widely with poverty, crime, and violence, has become ‘a tropical prefix used to spice up western places and products’, ‘an international cultural phenomenon’, and ‘a trademark’ ” .

Her mention of the idea of a ‘trademark’ suggests that the term ‘favela’ in the context of international tourism communicates only one, flat meaning of a darkness used and sold to add complexity to Western life and culture, while its own reality is ignored. In addition to the favelas’ original role as the setting for Haas&Hahn’s artwork, these ideas can be found in the designers’ proclaimed goal of “redesign[ing] and thereby rebrand[ing] a community as a whole” with each project. To avoid the simple use of favelas as the backdrop for a “feel-good” Western project developed and designed by two Dutchmen, Haas & Hahn cannot simply focus on tourism, since all it can contribute, if favela culture is not genuinely representated in Favela Paintings, is one more way to “trademark” these areas.

Depending upon your view of the artwork, the subsequent New York exhibtion based on the paintings would either be a promotion of a different narrative of life in the favelas, or further Western appropriation of the culture of Brazilians. The New York Times was more in the former camp:

Architecture and saturated color are twains that only rarely meet, but they collide vigorously and in promising ways in this delirious exhibition. With light-box photographs, videos and other renderings, the show documents the favela paintings perpetuated over the last six years in the slums of Rio de Janeiro  by Haas & Hahn, a Dutch design team consisting of Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn . The pair first came to the city to shoot a hip-hop documentary and stayed to realize public painting projects, working with local youths to add colorful designs to the exteriors of decrepit housing and to alienating public spaces in a way that merges graffiti art, mural painting and installation art.





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