Logitech is launching two new gaming audio products that are built for the just-announced Oculus Quest 2. One of them is called the G333, and they’re Logitech G’s first in-ear headphones pictured above. The other announcement is Logitech’s G Pro wired gaming headset, which is an existing product that will now ship with two 3.5mm cables, one that’s long and another that’s small, suited for when you’re using VR. Logitech says it worked with Oculus to ensure that both will deliver a great experience for virtual reality.
The G333 earbuds house dual dynamic drivers that were made to deliver enough detail in the bass, mids, and highs to “accurately recreate the VR environment.” They will cost $49.99 and ship with three different sizes of silicone tips. The G333 connect via a 3.5mm port, and let you customize the cable length via included velcro straps so you don’t have too much cable slack getting in the way while you’re immersed. They will release in October, and you can pre-order them at Logitech’s site today. (The Oculus store page still says “notify me.”)
As for the $99 G Pro headset, which can be preordered now through Oculus, Logitech says this model features the “same core audio technology” of the original Pro, but it comes with a custom-length cable that makes it easy to connect with the Oculus Quest 2 without an unwieldy cable getting in the way. You can read more about them at Logitech’s site here.
Judge throws out defamation case against Tesla by former employee
A judge in Nevada has dismissed a defamation case by a former Tesla employee, who claimed the company spread a false rumor about him after he admitted leaking internal company information to a reporter in 2018.
Tesla argues in court documents that former employee Martin Tripp violated trade secrets and computer crimes laws when he told a Business Insider reporter that Tesla was wasting a significant amount of raw materials during production of its Model 3.
Tesla identified Tripp as the source of the leaked information, which Tripp later confirmed. He was fired, and Tesla filed a lawsuit claiming he had “unlawfully hacked the company’s confidential and trade secret information.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk emailed Tesla staff telling them an employee had tried to “sabotage” company operations.
Musk then reportedly emailed a reporter at The Guardian telling them a tipster had contacted Tesla to say that Tripp might “come back and shoot people,” at the Nevada Gigafactory. The local sheriff determined the threat was not real, but Tesla issued a press release which was picked up by several media outlets. Tripp later counter-sued Tesla for defamation.
In her ruling, Judge Miranda Du dismissed Tripp’s defamation claim, but refused to dismiss Tesla’s charge that Tripp violated computer crime law in Nevada. “Tripp had a duty not to disclose Tesla’s confidential information,” Du wrote, adding that Tripp knew he was not authorized to share the information with a reporter. “A rational trier of fact could reasonably find that Tripp acted in conscious disregard of Tesla’s rights.”
The case can now move forward to trial.
Hitting the Books: How social media keeps us clicking
Your Brain on Social Media
So our brains are wired to process social signals. What then happens to our brains on social media?
Neuroscientists at UCLA wanted to know, so they created an Instagram-style app to study how the brain reacts when we scroll through photos in our Instagram feed. The app displayed a series of photos in a row, just like on Instagram. The researchers then studied adolescents using fMRI machines and recorded which regions of their brains lit up as they used the researchers’ version of Instagram. They also experimentally manipulated the number of likes a photo got as well as what types of photos the participants saw, including whether they saw their own photos or others’ photos and whether the photos depicted risky behaviors (like drinking alcohol) or neutral behaviors. They’ve since corroborated their results in young adults and for giving as well as receiving likes. As a scientist and the father of a six-year-old, I found what they discovered intriguing and worrisome.
First, seeing photographs with more likes was associated with more activity in brain regions responsible for social cognition, rewards (the dopamine system), and attention (the visual cortex). When participants saw photos with more likes, they experienced greater overall brain activity, and their visual cortex lit up. When the visual cortex lights up, we are concentrating more on what we are looking at, paying more attention to it, and zooming in to look at it in greater detail. To ensure that differences in the images were not driving the results, the researchers randomized the number of likes across images and controlled for photographs’ luminosity and content. The results held true whether participants were looking at their own photos or others’ photos. In short, when we see social media images with more likes, we zoom in and inspect them in greater detail. We pay more attention to online information when it is valued more highly by others. You might think, Well, the photos that get more likes are probably more interesting. But the researchers randomly assigned the likes, which means it was the likes themselves, not the photos, that were triggering the activation of the visual cortex.
Second, having more likes on one’s own photos stimulated the mentalizing network—the social brain. When participants were looking at photos of themselves, they responded to those with more (randomly assigned) likes with significantly greater brain activity in regions associated with social skills. They also recorded greater neural activity in the inferior frontal gyrus, which is associated with imitation. When we view photos of ourselves, our brains activate regions responsible for thinking about how people view us and our similarities and differences with them. In other words, when we think about our own photos, we perceive them in their social context—we think about how other people are thinking about them.
Last, more likes on one’s own photos activated the dopamine reward system, which controls pleasure, motivation, and Pavlovian responses. The dopamine system makes us crave rewards by stimulating feelings of joy, euphoria, and ecstasy. When psychologists James Olds and Peter Milner gave rats the ability to stimulate their own reward system by pushing a lever, they found the rats would drop everything, stop eating and sleeping, and push that little lever again and again until they died from exhaustion.
Ivan Pavlov extended our understanding of rewards by proving he could condition dogs to associate a reward (like food) with an unrelated stimulus (like a bell) so that the stimulus alone would make the dogs salivate. This cognitive binding of stimulus and reward enabled Pavlov to stimulate the brain’s reward system with a symbol (a bell)—in the same way likes stimulate and reward us with social acceptance and digital praise. Seeing likes stimulates our dopamine system and encourages us to seek social approval online for the same basic reason that Olds and Milner’s rats kept pushing their levers, and Pavlov’s dogs salivated at the sound of a bell.
So our brains are wired to process and be moved by the social signals that the Hype Machine curates. But was the Hype Machine really designed with that in mind? Sean Parker answered that question about Facebook’s design in an interview with Mike Allen in 2017: “The thought process was all about, ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’ ” he said. “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever, and that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments. It’s a social validation feedback loop. . . . You’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
Social media is designed to be habitual. Not only do those “little dopamine hits” keep us coming back, but they are delivered to us on a “variable reinforcement schedule,” meaning they can happen at any time. That’s why we’re always checking our phones, to see if we received any social dopamine. Random reward delivery keeps us constantly engaged. And the rewards are tied to sounds, vibrations, and notification lights that make us salivate for social approval as Pavlov’s dogs salivated for food. These designs activate our desires for connection, competition, and avoidance of a “fear of missing out” (FOMO). When you put it all together, it’s a recipe for a habit.
The neuroscientific evidence suggests that our habitual use of social media is driven by the rewards and reputational signals we receive from it. One study showed, for example, that brain responses to increases in reputation relative to others’ reputations predicted Facebook use, while increases in wealth did not.
But when Dean Eckles, Christos Nicolaides, and I studied running, we found that social media’s influence on our habits could also be healthy. It depends which habits are supported. When we analyzed millions of people’s running behavior over many years, we found people’s social media connections and solidarity with their running peers over social media helped them stick with their running regimens and made their running habits resilient to disruption. The notifications and social signals played a key role in solidifying these good habits.
Our research reminded us that social media holds the potential for promise and peril, but it also taught us that we should care about how the Hype Machine stimulates our brains because, by doing so, it changes our behavior. How does the Hype Machine’s cognitive design affect our behavior? That is the next crucial question in the quest to understand the Hype Machine’s impact on our world. And my friend and colleague Emily Falk set out to answer it. She studies the neural basis of social influence—the relationship between the social signals the Hype Machine curates, the brain functions those signals activate, and the behaviors those brain functions relate to.
Coronavirus studies: why it’s important to look for their limitations
This week, I got to talk about vaccines and vaccine information with Natalie Dean, and The Sports Grind Entertainment’s Nicole Wetsman and Nilay Patel on The Sports Grind Entertainmentcast. It was a great conversation with Dean, who is an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida and an expert in infectious disease epidemiology who has worked on designing vaccine trials.
After the podcast, I got to ask something that had been on my mind: how did she — a person who works with scientific data every day — feel about the flood of early versions of scientific studies being posted online? And how much attention should the general public be paying to them?
Before we get to her answer, let’s take a quick step back to talk about what these early studies are. Scientists call them preprints, and they are studies that get posted online before they’ve been published in a scientific journal. They haven’t been fully vetted by other experts (a process called peer review). Preprints are helpful to scientists because they quickly put data out into the world that could be useful to other researchers.
The downside? They’re essentially first drafts, and conclusions could change after the researchers get feedback. Balancing the need for speedy data with the need for reviewing work before it goes public is especially tricky during the pandemic — and both the pace of publication and attention to preprints has definitely amped up in the past several months.
“There already were these preprint servers before, but they’ve never been used to this degree,” Dean says. For a long time, prestigious journals would refuse to publish a paper if it had been posted elsewhere, which meant scientists kept their research under wraps until they had their final draft.
That’s started to change over the last few years as journals have loosened their restrictions. Now there’s a flood of coronavirus-related papers available online, and some can attract a lot of attention — and confusion. Not all of that attention is a good thing, as Kelsey Piper wrote for Vox back in May:
The newer, faster pace could mean that badly flawed pre-prints get widely shared and covered in the media, fueling the spread of misinformation and forcing other scientists to waste valuable time by publicly debunking papers that would ordinarily be rejected in the peer-review process.
Piper pointed out that there were plenty of advantages to preprints, too — they force data to move at 21st-century speeds instead of staying stuck in the 19th century, and when lots of experts are actively participating in the process, they can cut out a ton of unnecessary downtime.
That’s especially true in a pandemic. “My feeling is the benefits outweigh the risks in the situation where time is of the essence, and we’re all learning from each other,” Dean says. And the pace of academic publishing is so slow, that I just don’t think it is still viable.”
But there’s still that one big disadvantage. “Scientists know how to evaluate the limitations of preprints. But it’s challenging for the public to do so,” Dean says.
She’s got a good tip to help readers start assessing news stories about preprints: look for the limitations. A story that tells you what the study doesn’t is helpful. This doesn’t just apply to preprints, either: it’s good advice for any story about a scientific paper. All studies have limitations; good reporters tell you what they are.
In other words, look for the peer review in a news story, especially when it comes to a preprint. Look for it on Twitter, where Dean and other researchers have thrown cold water on extraordinary claims. Look for it in dedicated volunteer efforts, like Johns Hopkins’ 2019 Novel Coronavirus Research Compendium which actively assesses papers that get a lot of media attention. Look for it at Rapid Reviews: COVID-19, an open-access journal explicitly devoted to peer-reviewing COVID-19 preprints. And most of all, as we keep wading through a flood of information, take a beat to look skeptically on claims that seem incredible.
“The more extreme a result seems, the more evidence we need to support that,” Dean says.
Here’s what else is going on this week:
Around 2 percent of Red Cross blood donors have COVID-19 antibodies
Only a small number of blood donors had antibodies to the coronavirus, a study from the Red Cross found. That indicates “that very few people in the United States have been exposed to the virus that’s ravaged the country,” Nicole Wetsman reports.
(Nicole Wetsman / The Sports Grind Entertainment)
Coronavirus May Increase Premature Births, Studies Suggest
New studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found some evidence that coronavirus infections in pregnant women could increase the rate of premature births, but other experts say a lot more information is needed.
(Roni Caryn Rabin / The New York Times)
Two Pharma Companies Released Their Coronavirus Vaccine Blueprints In A Bid To Regain Public Trust
This week, both Moderna and Pfizer released their “blueprints” for their respective clinical trials. The documents cover how the companies have mapped out their trials, and they provide a window into the vaccine development process at a moment when trust in that process is waning. (Stephanie M. Lee and Dan Vergano / BuzzFeed)
How to Ship a Vaccine at –80°C, and Other Obstacles in the Covid Fight
To get ready for a vaccine rollout, FedEx and UPS are installing freezers at hubs around the world. Also, there’s a dry ice shortage.
(David Gelles / The New York Times)
Lilly’s Covid-19 antibody helps some patients rid their systems of virus sooner in early analysis
Early data from a treatment study involving manufactured antibodies had some promising early results. But the results are very early and have not been peer reviewed.
(Matthew Herper and Damian Garde / STAT)
Pandemic isolation has killed thousands of Alzheimer’s patients while families watch from afar
In an effort to protect patients from the coronavirus, nursing homes have closed their doors to visitors. It’s been a devastating road for families trying to care for patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia. (William Wan / The Washington Post)
I Am Not a Brave Person. I Am Also Patient 1133.
Writer Molly Jong-Fast writes about her experience as a volunteer in Pfizer’s vaccine trial and why she chose to participate in the first place:
I am a normal, un-brave person. I am also a part of history now, part of a small group that may be protected from the deadly virus, or who may not be, but whose experience will have something to teach others. I no longer feel I’m simply waiting around to get sick.
(Molly Jong-Fast / The New York Times)
More than numbers
To the more than 30,316,394 people worldwide who have tested positive, may your road to recovery be smooth.
To the families and friends of the 948,367 people who have died worldwide — 198,306 of those in the US — your loved ones are not forgotten.
Stay safe, everyone.
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