There are certain languages that don't differentiate between the present and the future. Estonian is the classic example of a "futureless tongue." According to new research by Efrén O. Pérez, co-director of Vanderbilt University's Research on Individuals, Politics & Society Lab and Margit Tavits, professor of political science at Washington University, language has a sizable impact on how we think about future-oriented policies. As William S. Burroughs said, language is a virus. From their scientific paper in the American Journal of Political Science:
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Can the way we speak affect the way we perceive time and think about politics? Languages vary by how much they require speakers to grammatically encode temporal differences. Futureless tongues (e.g., Estonian) do not oblige speakers to distinguish between the present and future tense, whereas futured tongues do (e.g., Russian). By grammatically conflating “today” and “tomorrow,” we hypothesize that speakers of futureless tongues will view the future as temporally closer to the present, causing them to discount the future less and support future-oriented policies more. Using an original survey experiment that randomly assigned the interview language to Estonian/Russian bilinguals, we find support for this proposition and document the absence of this language effect when a policy has no obvious time referent. We then replicate and extend our principal result through a cross-national analysis of survey data. Our results imply that language may have significant consequences for mass opinion.
An internal memo from a key Democratic Party electioneering group tells candidates to listen but “don’t offer support” for the “concrete policy positions” of Black Lives Matter protesters—and offers tips on getting past it. Whatever you do, don't say all lives matter! "This is the worst response," the memo warns.
The 2015 memo was allegedly swiped by hackers supporting Russian efforts to influence election season in America.
“Presidential candidates have struggled to respond to tactics of the Black Lives Matter movement,” reads the memo, sent by a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staffer in November. “While there has been little engagement with House candidates, candidates and campaign staff should be prepared. This document should not be emailed or handed to anyone outside of the building. Please only give campaign staff these best practices in meetings or over the phone.” ...
If approached by BLM activists, campaign staff should offer to meet with local activists,” the memo reads. “Invited BLM attendees should be limited. Please aim for personal or small group meetings.”
“Listen to their concerns,” it continues. “Don’t offer support for concrete policy positions.”
The memo includes advice on what, exactly, to say to Black Lives Matter activists. It recommends avoiding phrases like “all lives matter” and warns not to bring up “black on black crime,” since the “response will garner additional media scrutiny and only anger BLM activists.”
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We are disappointed at the DCCC’s placating response to our demand to value all Black life. Black communities deserve to be heard, not handled.
Pew Research Center just released an interactive chart showing gaps between scientific consensus and public opinion. Refine results by gender, age, race, education, ideology, political party, and level of science knowledge. Read the rest
There is one justifiable use of a privately owned gun to kill a criminal for every 34 murders committed with a firearm in America. Looking at the horrible gun death statistics recently shared by the Violence Policy Center, I can only shake my head and wonder what it'll take to reform America's love of guns.
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Harvard/Chicago economist Luigi Zingales published a sharply argued, searing paper about the finance industry's reputation for corruption and social uselessness, concluding that it's largely deserved and that academic economists have a role to play in reforming it.
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NSA director Michael S Rogers says his agency wants "front doors" to all cryptography used in the USA, so that no one can have secrets it can't spy on -- but what he really means is that he wants to be in charge of which software can run on any general purpose computer.
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Cory Doctorow summarizes the problem with the idea that sensitive personal information can be removed responsibly from big data: computer scientists are pretty sure that's impossible.
You'll remember Derek Khanna as the Republican House staffer who got fired for writing a paper that used careful objective research to argue for scaling back copyright. Now, Khanna is a volunteer fellow at R Street, where he's expanded on his early work with a paper called Guarding Against Abuse:
Copyright [PDF], which tackles the question of copyright terms from a market-economics approach, citing everyone from Hayek to Posner to the American Conservative Union.
There are lots of critiques of copyright term and scope from the left, but this is not a left-right issue. Khanna is a rigorous thinker, a clear writer, and someone who shows that whether you're coming at the question from a business/markets perspective or one of free speech and social benefit, limits on copyright make objective sense.
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In March 2012, the National Science Foundation released the results of its "Business Research and Development and Innovation Survey" study, a rigorous, careful, wide-ranging longitudinal study on the use of trademark, copyright, and patents in American business. The study concluded that, overall, most businesses don't rate these protections as a significant factor in their success (in 2010, 87.2% said trademarks were "not important"; 90.1% said the same of copyright, and 96.2% said the same of patents).
What's striking about the survey is that even fields that are traditionally viewed as valuing these protections were surprisingly indifferent to them -- for example, only 51.4% of software businesses rated copyright as "very important."
In a very good post, GWU Political Science PhD candidate Gabriel J. Michael contrasts the obscurity of this landmark study with the incredible prominence enjoyed by a farcical USPTO study released last year that purported to show that "the entire U.S. economy relies on some form of IP" and that "IP-intensive industries" created 40 million American jobs in 2010. The study's methodology was a so sloppy as to be unsalvageable -- for example, the study claimed that anyone who worked at a grocery store was a beneficiary of "strong IP protection."
The NSF study doesn't merely totally refute the USPTO's findings, it does so using a well-documented, statistically valid, neutral methodology that was calculated to find the truth, rather than scoring political points for the copyright lobby. It's a study in contrasts between evidence-based policy production and policy-based evidence production. Read the rest
Victoria from the UK's Sense About Science writes in with news about its Ask For Evidence campaign, a structured system for demanding evidence of sciencey-sounding claims from governments and companies, such as claims that wheatgrass drinks accomplish something called "detox" (whatever that is). The campaign has been remarkably successful to date, and they're looking for people to carry the work on in their own lives.
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I was on CBC Radio 1's Day 6 last weekend, talking about some of the reasons why scientists can't answer key questions about guns
— whether current gun policies do anything to reduce violent crime, for instance, or whether more guns cause less (or more) violence. In a related debate, you should also read the article on the science of video games and real-life violence that Brandon Keim wrote for PBS' NOVA
. The truth is that this branch of science also has big problems connecting cause and effect and, as with gun policy research, the best kinds of experiments can't really be done for logistical and ethical reasons. Read the rest
This is a fascinating problem that affects a lot of scientific modeling (in fact, I'll be talking about this in the second part of my series on gun violence research) — the more specific and accurate your predictions, the less reliable they sometimes become. Think about climate science. When you read the IPCC reports, what you see are predictions about what is likely to happen on a global basis, and those predictions come in the form of a range of possible outcomes. Results like that are reliable — i.e, they've matched up with observed changes. But they aren't super accurate — i.e., they don't tell you exactly what will happen, and they generally don't tell you much about what might happen in your city or your state. We have tools that can increase the specificity and accuracy, but those same tools also seem to reduce the reliability of the outcomes. At The Curious Wavefunction, Ashutosh Jogalekar explains the problem in more detail
and talks about how it affects scientist's ability to give politicians and the public the kind of absolute, detailed, specific answers they really want. Read the rest
The state of gun violence research is poor, writes Maggie Koerth-Baker. Right now, whatever your beliefs on guns are, it’s incredibly difficult to back them up with any solid science at all.
I'm late getting to this (my own fault, I missed an important email), but We: Robot, the Robotics and the Law Conference at Stanford Law
School is still accepting papers until Jan 18. Last year's event was apparently smashing, and this year's CFP is quite enticing:
The following list is by no means exhaustive, but rather meant as an elaboration on conference themes:
Legal and policy responses to likely effects of robotics on manufacturing or the environment*
Perspectives on the interplay between legal frameworks and robotic software and hardware*
Intellectual property issues raised by collaboration within robotics (or with robots)*
Perspectives on collaboration between legal and technical communities*
Tort law issues, including product liability, professional malpractice, and the calculation of damages*
Administrative law issues, including FDA or FAA approval*
Privacy law and privacy enhancing technologies*
Comparative/international perspectives on robotics law*
Issues of legal and economic policy, including tax, employment, and corporate governance
In addition to scholarly papers, we invite proposals for demos of cutting-edge commercial applications of robotics or recent technical research that speaks one way or another to the immediate commercial prospects of robots.
Call For Papers: Robotics and the Law Conference at Stanford Law
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I was born in 1981 and, because of that, I largely missed the part of American history where our rivers were so polluted that they did things like, you know, catch fire. But it happened. And, all things considered, it didn't happen that long ago. The newspaper clippings above are from a 1952 fire on Ohio's Cuyahoga river. Between 1868 and 1969 that river burned at least 13 times.
That's something worth remembering — not just that we once let our waterways get that trashed, but also the fact that we've gone a long way towards fixing it. We took 200 years of accumulating sewage and industrial degradation and cleaned it up in the span of a single generation. At Slate, James Salzman writes about that reversal of environmental fortune, a shift so pronounced — and so dependent upon a functioning government in which a diverse spectrum of politicians recognize the importance of investing in our country's future — that it seems damned-near impossible today.
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... discharging raw sewage and pollution into our harbors and rivers has been common practice for most of the nation’s history, with devastating results. By the late 1960s, Lake Erie had become so polluted that Time magazine described it as dead. Bacteria levels in the Hudson River were 170 times above the safe limit. I can attest to the state of the Charles River in Boston. While sailing in the 1970s, I capsized and had to be treated by a dermatologist for rashes caused by contact with the germ-laden waters.
It's a familiar story line in America: the type of medical care people receive suffers because doctors are pressured to put profit before patients. In this Businessweek article
, a closer look at how many prostate cancer patients may not be receiving the optimal course of treatment for their disease, because care providers can bill more for certain forms of treatment.
The article begins with the story of Max Calderon, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010. His urologist recommended radiation therapy at a clinic in Salinas, CA. Calderon was 77 years old, lab tests suggested that his cancer had metastasized, and he was not the ideal candidate profile for the specific kind of treatment he was going to receive.
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BURN: An Energy Journal, the radio documentary series hosted by former NPR journalist Alex Chadwick, has a 2-hour election special out. It's the most powerful piece of radio journalism I've listened to since—well, since the last episode they put out. You really must do yourself a favor and set aside some time this weekend to listen to “The Power of One.”
Energy policy, defining how we use energy to power our economy and our lives, is among the most pressing issues for the next four years. In this special two-hour edition of BURN, stories about the power of one: how, in this election season, a single person, place, policy or idea can — with a boost from science — affect the nation’s search for greater energy independence.
The documentary examines how "individuals, new scientific ideas, grassroots initiatives and potentially game-changing inventions are informing the energy debate in this Presidential Election year, and redefining America’s quest for greater energy independence." It was completed and hit the air before Hurricane Sandy, but the energy issues illuminated by that disaster (blackouts, gas shortage, grid failure, backup power failure at hospitals) further underscore the urgency.
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