LMTV LIVE | Year-End Panel Discussion
Check Your Social Media Security Settings (by Tony Fortunato)

The Smell Test (by Paul W. Smith)

Dog Nose Smell Test 2

If you’ve ever owned a pair of Adadas shoes or worn a Rollex watch, you probably grasp the appeal of fake stuff.  The Chinese are well-known for their addiction to fake stuff, although no one is really sure why.  It might be simple economics (fake stuff is cheaper), or it could be the lack of effective laws to combat faking.  Whether to impress or save money - or both - fake stuff is big in China as well as the rest of the world. 

The people who make fake stuff also grasp this, and they have parlayed that understanding into a $461 billion industry.  When it comes to shoes or handbags, it is a substantial economic threat that erodes innovation and dilutes brands.  When extended to pharmaceuticals or children’s toys, it can be dangerous. 

The Internet hasn’t made this any simpler.  Start searching for a new camera online, and you will quickly find a wide range of prices for what seems to be the same model.  Closer inspection might show that some of the good deals are actually grey market items, which can have more shades than Christian’s ties but are typically legal (though unauthorized by the original manufacturer.)  Most serious photographers are smart enough to avoid the remarkably good deal on a Nikkon. 

The Internet has transformed the landscape of fake through social media as well.  There are the creepers who pose as teenage girls, or the dating sites where the picture and the actual person are, shall we say, uncorrelated.  Though many of us have developed a reasonably good smell detector for the actual goods that comprise the fake industry, our social media urge often fuels the cognitive bias engine, leaving us to completely disregard information that doesn’t match our beliefs. 

Maslow anticipated this some 75 years ago, putting love and belonging right after physical wellness and safety on our list of primal life priorities.  As long as we’re safe and sound in front of our laptop, the urge to connect with others is free to roam.  The constant stream of novel stuff, fake or otherwise, keeps our pleasure center stimulated and our prefrontal cortex conveniently numbed.  Moments of joy, humor and beauty feed the fire and embolden us to filter out the stuff that doesn’t provide fuel, regardless of what is fake and what is not.  Our own sense of self-worth is an active participant as well, and only things that match up with our personal worldview are allowed to pass through. 

In many ways, participating in online social media is a bit like driving a car on a busy freeway.  Cars give us a sense of power and freedom, but they also provide some insulation from other drivers.  This can be a relaxing time to reflect on the journey, or it can empower us to new heights of anger.  You need look no further than the recent U.S. Presidential election to grasp the road rage on the information superhighway. 

Fake news is also in the news of late, and the problem is global.  Some Germans were shocked to discover that Chancellor Angela Merkel, Adolf Hitler’s daughter, was once in the East German Secret Police. American voters were stunned to find that the FBI agent implicated in the Hillary Clinton email leaks was found dead in an apparent murder-suicide.  Fake news is the new zombie journalism, ubiquitous and unkillable.

The driving force behind fake news, much like fake goods, is part deception but mostly profit.  People crave news about their favorite subjects, and click-bait abounds.  Sites like DenverGuardian.com, ABCnews.co.com, NationalReport.net, USAToday.com.co and WashingtonPost.com.co. really took off during the run up to the election, and all are fake.  One fake news entrepreneur, Jestin Coler of DenverGuardian.com fame, makes a comfortable six-figure income by exploiting a growing distrust in mainstream journalism.  Lying is morally wrong, but it becomes a real social problem when gullible people resolve to believe it. 

But fake stuff is not all bad, and not all “obvious” click-bait leads to fake information.  Consider this recent story in TheGuardian.com (the real one) – “Bomb Detector Works Better with Fake Dog Nose on the End.”  The dog’s sense of smell is legendary and the science from NIST is solid, but I would love to have been there when the first scientist proposed this idea to his colleagues. 

Feel free to share this story on Facebook.  The fake nose is real.

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Author Profile - Paul W. Smith, a Founder and Director of Engineering with INVENtPM LLC, has more than 35 years of experience in research and advanced product development.

Prior to founding INVENtPM, Dr. Smith spent 10 years with Seagate Technology in Longmont, Colorado. At Seagate, he was primarily responsible for evaluating new data storage technologies under development throughout the company, and utilizing six-sigma processes to stage them for implementation in early engineering models. He is a former Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, and currently manages the website “Technology for the Journey”.  

Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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