On Saturday night at the United States Olympic trials, sprinters Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh did something the sport had never seen before: tie on camera. Both runners crossed the finished line at exactly 11.068 seconds — see the photo above — and not even the high speed camera capturing 3,000 frames per second at the sideline could reveal a difference. Since this situation had never happened before, US Track and Field didn’t have any rule in place for how to deal with it. 24 hours later, they created a new rule: the athletes would be given the choice of breaking the tie with a coin toss or runoff, with runoff being the default if the athletes disagreed.
For decades, researcher Mina Bissell pursued a revolutionary idea — that a cancer cell doesn’t automatically become a tumor, but rather, depends on surrounding cells (its microenvironment) for cues on how to develop. She shares the two key experiments that proved the prevailing wisdom about cancer growth was wrong.
Mina Bissell studies how cancer interacts with our bodies, searching for clues to how cancer’s microenvironment influences its growth. Full bio »
An old farmer named Clyde had a car accident. In court, the trucking company’s fancy lawyer was questioning Clyde. “Didn’t you say at the scene of the accident, ‘I’m fine,’?” asked the lawyer.
Clyde responded, “Well, I’ll tell you what happened. I had just loaded my favorite mule, Bessie, into the……”
“I didn’t ask for any details,” the lawyer interrupted. “Just answer the question. Did you not say, at the scene of the accident, “I’m fine!’?”
Clyde said, “Well, I had just got Bessie into the trailer and was driving down the road….”
The lawyer interrupted again and said, “Judge, I am trying to establish the fact that at the scene of the accident, this man told the Highway Patrolman on the scene that he was just fine. Now several weeks after the accident he is trying to sue my client. I believe he is a fraud. Please tell him to simply answer the question.”
By this time, the Judge was fairly interested in Clyde’s answer and said to the lawyer, “I’d like to hear what he has to say about his favorite mule, Bessie.”
Clyde thanked the Judge and proceeded, “Well… as I was sayin’, I had just loaded Bessie, my favorite mule, into the trailer and was drivin’ her down the highway when this huge semi ran the stop sign and smacked my truck right in the side. I was thrown into one ditch and Bessie was thrown into the other. I was hurtin’ real bad and didn’t want to move. However, I could hear ole Bessie moanin’ and groanin’. I knew she was in terrible shape just by her groans.
“Real soon a Highway Patrolman came on the scene. He could hear Bessie moanin’ and groanin’, too. So, he went over to her. After he looked at her, he took out his gun and shot her between the eyes. Then the Patrolman came across the road, gun in hand, looked at me, and said, ‘How are YOU feeling?’
“Now what the heck would you say?”
The hullabaloo surrounding this weekend’s 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic means a whole generation of youngsters is slowly realizing that the disaster was more than a figment of James Cameron’s imagination.
A fascinating short film about how the now-iconic “Keep Calm and Carry On” WW2 propaganda poster went unseen by the public for decades before being discovered and distributed by a small secondhand bookshop in Alnwick, Northumberland, called Barter Books.
In the brutal world of online commerce, where a competing product is just a click away, retailers need all the juice they can get to close a sale.
Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
Some exalt themselves by anonymously posting their own laudatory reviews. Now there is an even simpler approach: offering a refund to customers in exchange for a write-up.
By the time VIP Deals ended its rebate on Amazon.com late last month, its leather case for the Kindle Fire was receiving the sort of acclaim once reserved for the likes of Kim Jong-il. Hundreds of reviewers proclaimed the case a marvel, a delight, exactly what they needed to achieve bliss. And definitely worth five stars.
As the collective wisdom of the crowd displaces traditional advertising, the roaring engines of e-commerce are being stoked by favorable reviews. The VIP deal reflects the importance merchants place on these evaluations — and the lengths to which they go to game the system.
Fake reviews are drawing the attention of regulators. They have cracked down on a few firms for deceitful hyping and suspect these are far from isolated instances. “Advertising disguised as editorial is an old problem, but it’s now presenting itself in different ways,” said Mary K. Engle, the Federal Trade Commission’s associate director for advertising practices. “We’re very concerned.”
Researchers like Bing Liu, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, are also taking notice, trying to devise mathematical models to systematically unmask the bogus endorsements. “More people are depending on reviews for what to buy and where to go, so the incentives for faking are getting bigger,” said Mr. Liu. “It’s a very cheap way of marketing.”
By last week, 310 out of 335 reviews of VIP Deals’ Vipertek brand premium slim black leather case folio cover were five stars and nearly all the rest were four stars. The acclaim seemed authentic, barring the occasional indiscretion. “I would have done 4 stars instead of 5 without the deal,” one man bluntly wrote.
VIP Deals, which specializes in leather tablet cases and stun guns, denied it was quietly offering the deals. “You are totally off base,” a representative named Monica wrote in an e-mail.
But three customers said in interviews that the offer was straightforward. Searching for a protective case for their new Kindle Fire, they came upon the VIP page selling a cover for under $10 plus shipping (the official list price was $59.99). When the package arrived it included a letter extending an invitation “to write a product review for the Amazon community.”
“In return for writing the review, we will refund your order so you will have received the product for free,” it said.
Anne Marie Logan, a Georgia pharmacist, was suspicious. “I was like, ‘Is this for real?’ ” she said. “But they credited my account. You think it’s unethical?”
While the letter did not specifically demand a five-star review, it broadly hinted. “We strive to earn 100 percent perfect ‘FIVE-STAR’ scores from you!” it said.
The merchant, which seems to have no Web site and uses a mailbox drop in suburban Los Angeles as a return address, did not respond to further requests for comment. As of last week, the company (as opposed to its products) had received 4,945 reviews on Amazon for a nearly perfect 4.9 rating out of five.
Amazon is expected to sell 20 million Kindle Fire tablets this year, making the market for cases potentially enormous. But it is also bitterly competitive, with dozens of models in Amazon’s Kindle showroom. With a modest investment, VIP pushed its product far above the competition, none of which had so much enthusiasm with so little dissent. Customers like Ms. Logan, who got something they had genuinely wanted for only a small shipping charge, were of course thrilled. And Amazon racked up more revenue.
Even a few grouches could not spoil the party. “This is an egregious violation of the ratings and review system used by Amazon,” a customer named Robert S. Pollock wrote in a review he titled “scam.”
He was promptly chastised by another customer. This fellow, himself a seller on Amazon, argued that he had both given and gotten free items in exchange for reviews. “It is not a scam but an incentive,” he wrote.
Under F.T.C. rules, when there is a connection between a merchant and someone promoting its product that affects the endorsement’s credibility, it must be fully disclosed. In one case, Legacy Learning Systems, which sells music instructional tapes, paid $250,000 last March to settle charges that it had hired affiliates to recommend the videos on Web sites.
Amazon, sent a copy of the VIP letter by The New York Times, said its guidelines prohibited compensation for customer reviews. A few days later, it deleted all the reviews for the case, which itself was listed as unavailable. Then it took down the product page itself.
Asked why Amazon did not seem to notice that at least a few consumers called into question the VIP deal on its own site, a spokeswoman declined to comment. Nor would she say exactly what happened to VIP’s other products, like the Vipertek VTS-880 mini stun gun, which also disappeared from the retailer.
The gun, like the Kindle case, received nearly all five-star reviews. “I bought one for my wife and decided to let her try it on me,” one man wrote in a typical display of the sort of effusiveness that VIP inspired. “We gave it a full charge and let me just say WOW! Boy do I regret that decision.”