Tania Lombrozo

About a dozen years ago, as I was preparing to leave Cambridge, Mass., for Berkeley, Calif., I took to carrying around a small camera on my walks to and from work and home.

I was hoping to capture something about the place and my time there before setting off for the West Coast.

During the past two years, fake news has been a frequent topic of real news, with articles considering the role of social media in spreading fake news, the advent of fake videos and the role these play in the political process.

Something less well-known, though, is that fake news has also become a topic of scientific investigation.

On March 7, 1907 — almost 111 years ago to the day — the English statistician Francis Galton published a peculiar observation.

At a county fair held in Plymouth, 800 visitors had participated in a competition to guess the weight of an ox. While most people's estimates were too high or too low — falling an average of 37 lbs. away from the true weight of 1,198 lbs. — the median of everyone's guess was off by only 9 lbs., or less than 1 percent of the true weight of the ox.

Tania Lombrozo is a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She writes about psychology, cognitive science and philosophy, with occasional forays into parenting and veganism. You can keep up with more of what she is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo

At a conference last week, I received an interesting piece of advice:

"Assume you are wrong."

The advice came from Brian Nosek, a fellow psychology professor and the executive director of the Center for Open Science. Nosek wasn't objecting to any particular claim I'd made — he was offering a strategy for pursuing better science, and for encouraging others to do the same.

A couple of years ago, at the peak of my children's reluctance to eat vegetables, I decided to try an experiment.

When the kids arrived home from daycare one afternoon, I had bowls of colorful vegetables cut up and ready to go: crunchy red and yellow peppers, bushy little florets of broccoli, tomatoes and mushrooms and olives. I gave them each a cheese pizza base to "decorate" for dinner, and they gleefully complied. My older daughter made a face with olive eyes, broccoli hair, and a bright, red-pepper mouth. My younger daughter loaded on veggies by the fistful.

Two recent books, one a manifesto by British classicist and Cambridge professor Mary Beard, the other a work of fiction by novelist and game designer Naomi Alderman, address — in different ways — the difficult relationship between women and power.

When are women's voices heard? When and how do women have influence in public and private spheres?

As many families prepare for a visit from Santa, some are facing questions about the jolly old man in the red suit.

The fact that children will (sometimes) accept counterintuitive claims, like the existence of Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, has led some theorists to marvel at their willingness to take others at their word.

Stephen Jay Gould famously described the relationship between science and religion as one of "non-overlapping magisteria," with science restricted to facts and theories about the empirical universe, and religion to questions of moral meaning and value.

This is one way to understand the relationship between science and religion: two compartments with a solid wall between them, fixed and non-porous.

But it's by no means the only, or even the most popular, approach.

In The Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce describes the mind as "a mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain," engaged in a futile attempt to understand itself "with nothing but itself to know itself with."

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