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OpenLearn Live: 2nd November 2016

Updated Wednesday, 2nd November 2016

Did a soldier in France shoot a ghost dead? No. Plus: National Stress Day; firstcarquote and can poor sleep make you fatter? Learning and research from across the day.

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OpenLearn Live dips into the world of learning and research, and pulls out some choice items. This page will be updated during the day.

Yesterday, we discovered Neil Gaiman's debt to Enid Blyton and found out where to wait out a zombie apocalypse

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Today's posts

Firstcarquote: Unlike

Admiral, the car insurance business, has had to put on hold plans to dabble around in your social media accounts to decide if you're a safe driver or not. The Guardian explains the plan:

Admiral Insurance will analyse the Facebook accounts of first-time car owners to look for personality traits that are linked to safe driving. For example, individuals who are identified as conscientious and well-organised will score well.

The insurer will examine posts and likes by the Facebook user, although not photos, looking for habits that research shows are linked to these traits. These include writing in short concrete sentences, using lists, and arranging to meet friends at a set time and place, rather than just “tonight”.

In contrast, evidence that the Facebook user might be overconfident – such as the use of exclamation marks and the frequent use of “always” or “never” rather than “maybe” – will count against them.

Read at The Guardian: Admiral to price car insurance based on Facebook posts

The plan was pulled at the last minute, though - the idea was a breach of Facebook's rules. Engadget reports:

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the company is enforcing its guidelines: "Protecting the privacy of the people on Facebook is of utmost importance to us. We have clear guidelines that prevent information being obtained from Facebook from being used to make decisions about eligibility.

"We have made sure anyone using this app is protected by our guidelines and that no Facebook user data is used to assess their eligibility. Facebook accounts will only be used for login and verification purposes. Our understanding is that Admiral will then ask users who sign up to answer questions which will be used to assess their eligibility."

Read at Engadget: Facebook blocks UK insurer from profiling users for discounts

The Open Rights Group approved of Facebook's swift action:

There are significant risks in allowing the financial or insurance industry to base assessments on our social media activity. We might be penalised for our posts or denied benefits and discounts because we don’t share enough or have interests that mark us out as different and somehow unreliable.  Whether intentional or not, algorithms could perpetuate social biases that are based on race, gender, religion or sexuality. Without knowing the criteria for such decisions, how can we appeal against them? Will we start self-censoring our social media out of fear that we will be judged a high risk at some point in the future?

These practices could not only change how we use platforms like Facebook but also have the potential to undermine our trust in them. It is sensible for Facebook to continue to restrict these activities, despite patents indicating that they may themselves wish to monetise Facebook data in this kind of way. 

Insurers and financial companies who are beginning to use social media data need engage in a public discussion about the ethics of these practices, which allow a very intense examination of factors that are entirely non-financial.

Read at Open Rights Group: Facebook is right to sink Admiral’s app

Of course, Facebook likes to think it knows who you are...

Can not sleeping make you obese?

It seems an odd question at first - is there a link between a poor night's sleep, and over-eating? King's College researchers, though, have found evidence that there may be a connection - not sleeping well one day might lead to you eating more the next:

Dr Gerda Pot, senior author from the Diabetes & Nutritional Sciences Division at King’s College London and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, said: ‘The main cause of obesity is an imbalance between calorie intake and expenditure and this study adds to accumulating evidence that sleep deprivation could contribute to this imbalance. So there may be some truth in the saying ‘early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy and wise’.  This study found that partial sleep deprivation resulted in a large net increased energy intake of 385 kcal per day. If long-term sleep deprivation continues to result in an increased calorie intake of this magnitude, it may contribute to weight gain.

‘Reduced sleep is one of the most common and potentially modifiable health risks in today’s society in which chronic sleep loss is becoming more common. More research is needed to investigate the importance of long-term, partial sleep deprivation as a risk factor for obesity and whether sleep extension could play a role in obesity prevention.’

A separate small scale study suggested that people who had a poor night's sleep went looking for food as a quick 'reward' - comfort eating - but the team at Kings say more research is needed before any solid conclusions are drawn.

Read more at King's College: Sleep deprivation may cause people to eat more calories

Changing attitudes to obesity through history

The politics of sleep

Stress Awareness Day

Today is Stress Awareness Day. If you're stressed, you're probably aware enough of it, but what about amongst the people you care for? Here's the founder of the day, Carole Spiers, talking about why we need a Stress Day:


We've got a lot of articles which could help you discover new ways to cope with stress - your own, and the stressed around you.

You could:

Hallowain't II: The ghost of Sathonay

This week, we're marking Halloween by telling some stories of the supernatural that, actually, aren't that supernatural. Yesterday, we met Count Cagliostro, whose claims to be able to change base metal into gold were unfounded. Today, we're heading to France.

A ghost (it isn't, obviously) Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: RafaelTalkar

Our story takes place on December 27th, 1863. A sergeant in the French Army - Sergeant Brosse - has ventured into a haunted wood near the camp at Sathonay. He hears a ghost coming in the distance - fortunately, he has in his hands his trusty musket. He fires to warn off the apparition.

A few minutes later, though, it seems as if the ghost has returned - and that the distance between spectre and sergeant is closing. Again, Brosse fires his musket; and once again. This time, the figure approaching him falls to the ground, quite dead.

Hang about a moment, though - if this was a ghost, wasn't he already dead? How do shoot dead something that is already dead?

The Sheffield Independent of February 8th, 1864, offered an explanation of the events, drawn from a military tribunal.

That Brosse was in the wood, and that he shot and killed a figure, was accurate. But the rest?

After passing the evening in drinking with several of his companions, and talking about the ghosts which were said to haunt a wood close to [the camp, Brosse] returned to his quarters intoxicated, charged his musket, and went out to look for the pretended ghosts.

This story isn't going to end well, is it?

Seeing a man moving about among the trees in the wood, he supposed him to be the ghost, and fired. The man fell, and the prisoner [Brosse], having reloaded his musket, fired a second time, and killed him. The deceased was a soldier, who had been sent out with others to examine the wood, a shot having been heard in that direction.

Bross was drunk, and - according to his defence - headwounds sustained during eighteen years' service left him "like a madman". Nevertheless, the tribunal found Brosse guilty of murder.

We'll leave it to sharper minds than ours to consider whether murder is possible if you truly believe the figure in front of you to be dead already.

The court took pity on Brosse, though - sentencing him to five years in prison and expelling him from the army, they then accepted a petition and commuted the punishment.

And the dead soldier? Did his spirit return, to haunt the wood, or to haunt Brosse - ironically, meaning that the thing Brosse feared most was brought into existence by the very act meant to destroy that fear? No.

Read more: Why are we fascinated with ghosts?

Read more from the 19th Century





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