Polling the Occupation: What #occupywallstreet really wants

"There has been a lot said about the lack of vision, lack of specific demands, and a disparity of beliefs and goals among the Occupy Wall Street protesters in the media in the past several weeks," writes health care equity research analyst David Maris in a guest post on Forbes.com. Instead of adding to that random pool of pontification, though, Maris did something rather radical. To find out what protesters at Occupy Wall Street actually want, he went out and polled them.

The result: The protesters are a lot more unified, and reasonable, in their goals than they're being given credit for.

There are caveats here, of course. This was not a highly rigorous scientific poll (Maris doesn't say much about how he chose subjects), and it sampled only 50 people in New York City (about 5% of the estimated 1000 protesters who were out at the time and place Maris took the poll). It's also worth noting that, while Maris found lots of reasonable people with a pretty unified set of demands, his poll also documented the very real existence of the more off-the-wall characters that major media outlets have focused on, and he found as many tourists and journalists as protesters. So, while this poll gives us decent evidence that the crowds in New York aren't aimless and crazy, it doesn't necessarily tell us much else.

That said, here are the biggest things the protesters Maris surveyed agreed on:

80% of those polled said that the rich should pay higher taxes and that it’s fair that approximately the top 10% of tax payers pay more than 70% of the taxes in the US and about 40% of employed people pay no income tax.
93% say that student loan debt should be forgiven
98% believe that health care should be free
98% believe that Insurance companies make too much money and some of their profits should be taken to pay for more healthcare for others
95% believe that drug prices should be controlled
88% agree with the statement that “The government should put some controls on CEO pay – like limited to 20x or 30x the lowest paid employee.”
93% believe that communications like cell phone and internet access be a right and not just reserved for the rich and we should have free internet and cell phone service as a national goal.
84% said they think that if a bank decides to implement a $5 debit card fee, the government should not allow it, while 16% said let them do what they want – customers can move.

The other really interesting thing: The only companies the protesters have even a halfway decent opinion of are tech companies.

Another radioactive Boy Scout

My old employers, mental_floss magazine, have a new editor and some cool new stories out in their September/October issue. One is about a kid who built a nuclear reactor at age 14. No, not that kid. Meet Taylor Wilson, a kid who shares some hobbies with the more-famous "Radioactive Boy Scout" David Hahn, but with, apparently so far, less tragic results. (It helps that Wilson, unlike Hahn, discussed his plans with adults who helped set him up with the right safety environment to build his reactor in.) Another difference: Wilson's interests lie with fusion, not fission.

By the time Wilson stumbled across Fusor.net, 30 hobbyists worldwide had managed to produce the reaction; Wilson was determined to become the thirty-first. He started amassing the necessary components, such as a high-voltage power supply (used to run neon signs), a reaction chamber where fusion takes place (typically a hollow stainless steel sphere, like a flagpole ornament), and a vacuum pump to remove air particles from the chamber (often necessary for testing space equipment).

Wilson also funneled money collected from Christmases and birthdays toward buying radioactive items, many of which, to his surprise, were available around town. Smoke detectors, he learned, contain small amounts of a radio-active element called americium, while camping lanterns contain thorium. In antique stores, he found pottery called Fiestaware that was painted with an orange uranium glaze. Wilson trolled websites such as eBay for an array of nuclear paraphernalia, from radon sniffers to nuclear fuel pellets, and came to own more than 30 Geiger counters of varying strengths and abilities. Most of Wilson’s radioactive acquisitions weren’t dangerous, given their small quantities. But a few—vials of powdered radium, for example—could be fatal if mishandled, which is why he’s never opened them. (Although he’s been tempted.)

There's a longer preview of the story online. The rest is in the new print issue.

Image: Radiation Suit Minifigure, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from n8kowald's photostream