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Lesson Ideas

Socially Important Scientific Research in 2024 Election Year

The 2024 election year is huge. Citizens in 76 countries will be voting for political leaders, including the U.S. president and the parliament of the European Union (itself a body uniting 27 European countries). Altogether, almost half of all people across the world will vote in 2024!

Election years are unique because they are a time of friction, change, and uncertainty as citizens consider who they want in control of their governments. Election years can have social impacts on the economy, consumer spending, and even criminal prosecution. They also impact the news we get: misinformation is used to influence the outcomes of these votes. So how can we ensure we act responsibly as voters during an election year?

This collection of adapted research articles provides students with approachable, empirical evidence of scientific research on the complex dimensions of social polarization and misinformation. Engage students with standards-matched adaptations, introductory video content, comprehension questions, and vocabulary to further your lesson outcomes. Each adapted article also comes with additional suggestions for activities to enhance student understanding and make the class more exciting.

1. How can humans and AI work together to detect deepfakes?

Fake news is not new on the internet, and people often change images and videos for a joke. However, deepfakes aren’t only meant to make you laugh. Instead, they can spread misinformation or discredit a person or a group. As more deepfakes find their way onto the internet, we need to find the best way to detect these harmful videos. Researchers tested whether the leading AI model or humans were better at detecting deepfakes online. They found that humans and the AI model were each good at identifying certain types of deepfakes. Maybe we could merge the abilities of both AI and humans to create the best deepfake detection model!

This article is suitable for high school school students. It includes a Lesson Idea video tutorial and an audio version.

  • Key terms: artificial intelligence, machine learning
  • Scientific figure: bar graph
  • Scientific method: experiment, scientific modeling

2. How well can a computer think?

What do chatbots, voice assistants, and predictive text have in common? They all use computer programs called language models. Large language models are new kinds of models that can only be built using supercomputers. They work so well that it can be hard to tell if something was written by a person or by a computer! Researchers wanted to understand how a large language model called GPT-3 worked. But they wanted to know more than whether GPT-3 could answer questions correctly. They wanted to know how and why. The researchers treated GPT-3 like a participant in a psychology experiment. The results showed that GPT-3 gets a lot of questions right. But they also learned that GPT-3 gets confused very easily. And it doesn’t search for new information as well as people do. Knowing how and why large language models come up with wrong answers helps us figure out how to make even better versions in the future.

This article is suitable for middle school students. It includes a Research Recap blackboard video and an audio version.

  • Key terms: artificial intelligence, psychology
  • Scientific figures: Venn diagram
  • Scientific method: experiment

3. How does fear speech spread on social media?

Are you on social media? There are lots of fun things on social media, but there are also some bad things. Social media platforms try to manage hurtful content like hate speech. But there are other types of hurtful content that are harder to manage. One of these is fear speech. This is when people use words to create fear about a group. Researchers wanted to know how common fear speech is on social media. So they created a model to identify fear speech and hate speech from 21 million social media posts. Then they examined things like how connected users were, how they interacted with people who didn’t post hurtful things, and the characteristics of their posts. They found that users who post a lot of fear speech are more connected to others. Fear speech posts also have a lot more activity than hate speech posts. This could contribute to the spread of fear speech on social media.

This article is suitable for middle school students. This article includes a Lesson Idea video tutorial and an audio version.

  • Key terms: social media
  • Scientific figures: bar graph, time series graph
  • Scientific method: case study, scientific modeling

4. How does the way we think affect our choices about vaccines?

Vaccines save millions of lives each year. Yet there are more and more people who are unsure about getting them. Why is that? So far, studies have looked at issues related directly to vaccines. But researchers think it might be something else. Could it have to do with how people’s minds work? To find out, these researchers asked 356 people different questions about what and how they think, and what they believe. What did they discover? People who like to trust their feelings and believe in supernatural things are more likely to be against vaccines. But those who think carefully and have some scientific knowledge generally trust vaccines. It seems the way our minds work can affect what we think about vaccines. This is important to remember when we talk about the importance of vaccines.

This article is suitable for middle school students. This article includes a Research Recap blackboard video and an audio version.

  • Key terms: disease control, immunity, psychology, vaccine
  • Scientific figures: bar graph
  • Scientific method: proxy data, representative sampling, scientific modeling, survey research

5. How does your address affect your chances of being evicted?

The idea of losing your home is scary. If a renter struggles to pay their landlord, the landlord may start the legal process of eviction. The renter has the opportunity to present their case in court, but they typically must show up in person and on time. And if they don’t? In some places, the landlord will receive a default judgment. This allows them to move forward with the eviction. Researchers wondered about renters traveling to the courthouse using public transportation. Does their travel time affect their probability of receiving a default judgment? The researchers studied 200,000 eviction cases across fifteen years in Philadelphia, PA. They found that renters with longer travel times to the courthouse are more likely to receive a default judgment in favor of their landlord. But this effect was not present during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is because renters could attend their court hearing virtually, via video call. These findings show that the location and accessibility of a courthouse can affect the outcomes of individual cases.

This article is suitable for lower high school students. This article includes a Research Recap blackboard video and an audio version.

  • Key terms: economics, inequality, politics, poverty
  • Scientific figures: line graph, map
  • Scientific method: policy analysis

That’s Not All!

Check out our complete collections of articles in Social Science fields, or topical collections on Politics, Psychology, Social Media, and Mental Health.

And we recommend this video playlist from Truth Labs designed to “inoculate” viewers against the five most common manipulation tactics.

Title image from Mikhail Nilov

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