Science and Journalism in Society

Brandeis University JOUR 130B

Author: Beverly

A Video Game Serving As A Digital Lab

Typically running an experiment with 216 variables is ridiculous, but not when you’re a scientist with 67 million subjects and 27 million more every day. League of Legends, an online video game super giant, is notorious for its toxic environment. The game’s company, Riot has been very transparent with their research and even assist other researchers by offering their large fan base as subjects for other tests such as teamwork. A sample size of the million’s magnitude would normally be impossible for a scientist to obtain, but with Riot’s assistance a new avenue for widespread science to be performed as opened. Neuroscience PhD graduate and gamer Jeffrey Lin was hired by Riot, to find how to curb the foul mouthing and anger.

A large scale scan of chat logs from games found that 1% of players were consistently toxic, but the other 99% were simply frustrated people who were lashing out.
So the team tried to prevent the toxicity before it happened through priming, presenting images or texts to influence behavior toward a desired outcome. This is where the 216 variables come in: 24 in-game tips presented in three colors at different points in the game.

From Nature “Can a video game company tame toxic behaviour?”

They found negative messages warning “Teammates perform worse if you harass them after a mistake” when posted before a match in red reduced offensive language by 11%, but the same message in white text was only made a 1.3% decrease. Positive reinforcement shown before a match such as “Players who cooperate with their teammates win 31% more games” showed a less significant change with blue text decreasing offensive language by 6.2%.

After sifting through the 216 different combinations, Lin found that a cautionary tip combined with the color red that people often associate with warnings and a positive tip colored blue, a whimsical and creative color, shown before a match effectively deter negative behavior.

Despite the priming, a toxic environment persists in League of Legends. The problem may stem from the internet’s anonymous, non-consequential culture, or even the game’s inherent sexist character portrayal.

Nevertheless, Lin’s efforts are the first steps to mass refining a community and with such a large sample size, he’ll likely find out how faster than any psychologist or scientist could.



Conscious Coffee Drinker

A New York Times piece contemplated the benefits a non-coffee drinker is missing out on. There many scientifically proven pros, such as decrease risk of melanoma, cardiovascular disease, and colon cancer just to name a few. As any good article would, it also mentions the negative effects of daily coffee consumption. Coffee is a drug and is addictive so withdrawal occurs, and the user will need a cup to reach a normal state. Not to mention, there are side effects of insomnia, heart burn, and shakiness for some with a metabolism that doesn’t take coffee well.

Many articles list the benefits of coffee before workout, but a woman of 150lb should not have more than small cup (16oz) and the coffee should have milk and cinnamon to substitute cream and sugar.

The New York Times article fails to differentiate between black coffee and coffee with additives such as sugar, half & half, and name brand purchased cups that adds hundreds of calories to what was originally only 2 calories.

Don’t be fooled to believe that a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato a day will save you from illness and help shed some fat. A consistent amount, with little to no sugar and little to no milk, along with plenty of water and adequate sleep will make coffee a boon to the body.





Finding Dogs

Who let the dogs out: men or wolves? And more importantly, when did they get out?

Surprisingly little is known about how dogs came to be at man’s side. What is known is that they are descendants of wolves anywhere from over 30,000 to 15,000 years ago. Scientists still debate whether a brave hunter decided to tame a wolf puppy, or if wolves evolved to be friendlier towards prehistoric humans. After all, begging for scraps is easier than running down prey.

Much of the confusion is because of dog fans of the 19th century. Dog fanatics had a “giant whirlwind blender of the European crazy Victorian dog-breeding frenzy.” As a result, dog genes look like a truck hit them. Dr. Larson, who received his Ph.D. at Oxford, is leading a collaboration between nearly every canine geneticist to create a canine database to establish order and provide a bank of information for research to sprout from. The team travels the world to collect from fossils and hope to have 1,500 DNA samples.

With Dr. Larson’s information, we may be able to determine the dawn of the dog.




Gorman, James. The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From. The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 18 Jan 2016. Web. 1 Jan 2016.

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