The Burning Man event is seeking a renewal of its 10-year permit to use the federally owned Black Rock Desert site managed by the Bureau of Land Management; the BLM has responded with a bizarre, overreaching Environmental Impact Statement that ignores the lavishly documented record of Burning Man's excellent safety and stewardship record.
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Sense About Science (previously) is a UK group that advocates for evidence-based policy; as part of that mission they give out the annual Maddox Prizes for people who brave political and social retaliation to infuse difficult public policy debates with factual evidence.
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Ajit Pai's Net Neutrality-killing order is scheduled to go into effect on April 23, and when that happens, it'll be open season on the free, fair and open internet.
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The World Health Organization's new report on cannabidiol (CBD) found that the compound (which does not produce any kind of high -- and may actually counteract the psychoactive properties of THC) is not addictive, has no potential for abuse, and shows promise in a number of medical trials.
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Jennifer Raff -- a bioanthropologist and geneticist who researches and teaches at U Kansas and U Texas -- provides some excellent advice and context on how to read a scientific paper, from figuring out which papers and journals are worthy of your attention to understanding the paper in its wider context in the relevant field. Read the rest
My new novel Walkaway (US tour/UK tour) is set in a world that is being torn apart by out-of-control wealth inequality, but not everyone thinks that inequality is what destabilizes the world -- there's a kind of free-market belief that says the problem is really poverty, not inequality, and that the same forces that make the rich richer also lift poor people out of misery, delivering the sanitation, mass food production, communications tools and other innovations that rescues poor people from privation. Read the rest
Last fall, I wrote about the strange case of Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, a left-wing billionaire heir to the Target fortune who came to power and reversed his Republican predecessors' Reagonomic idiocy, instead raising taxes on rich people, increasing public spending, and creating shared prosperity for the people of Minnesota. Read the rest
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee put out a public call for suggestions on subjects it should investigate and one of the three winning pitches came from Stephanie Mathisen, campaigns and policy officer at Sense about Science, who suggested an inquiry into transparency in algorithmic decision-making. Read the rest
By every measure, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton's five year run as governor has been a stellar success: while Tim Pawlenty, his tax-slashing, "fiscally-conservative" Republican predecessor presided over a $6.2B deficit and a 7% unemployment rate (the mere 6,200 jobs added under Pawlenty's 7-year run barely registered), Dayton added 172,000 new jobs to the Minnesota economy, brought Minnesota down to the fifth-lowest unemployment rate in the country, and brought the average Minnesotan income up to $8,000 more than the median US worker, while posting a $1B budget surplus. Read the rest
Kratom is a herb that has been in widespread use in Southeast Asia for centuries; it is chewed for to increase stamina, induce gentle euphoria and relaxation, and it has also been used with unheard-of success to help people kick their addictions to opioid painkillers. Read the rest
Remember when Texas governor Rick Perry and the GOP state government led an unprecedented assault on women's reproductive health in the name of preventing abortions, using dirty tricks to pass an unconstitutional law that led to a boom in unsafe home abortions and a black market for day-after pills, while ending Planned Parenthood's vital cancer-screening program, before defunding Planned Parenthood altogether? Read the rest
As the highly controversial deaths of black people at the hands of American law enforcement officers has crept into our public discourse this decade, so too has the revelation that no federal agency maintains statistics on killings by police officers, prompting The Guardian -- a UK-based newspaper -- to launch The Counted, a project to piece together a national picture of death-by-cop from the fragmentary evidence of press reports and open records requests. Read the rest
The Australian Productivity Commission has published its long-awaited, 600-page draft report on the country's copyright and patent laws, which are largely the product of diplomatic pressure from the US government, fronting for US entertainment industry associations. Read the rest
The Canadian Conservative government's war on science, statistics and evidence have been a great boon to its ability to create policy that helps its friends and destroys the country, but the deep and arbitrary cuts to science and statistics have eroded Canada's ability to know what is happening in the country to a terrifying extent. Read the rest
David Weinberger does a great job summarizing a paywalled report by Benoît Felten and Herman Wagter, who investigated ISP usage patterns in five-minute-increments to see if "bandwidth hogs" were really a problem for ISPs.
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They found that there is indeed a set of users who download a whole lot: “The top 1% of data consumers…account for 20% of the overall consumption.” But half of these “Very Heavy consumers” are doing so on plans that give them only 3Mbps, as opposed to the highest tier of this particular ISP, which is 6Mbps. So, even with their heavy consumption, their bandwidth usage is already limited. Further, if you look at who is using the most bandwidth during peak hours, 85.3% of the bandwidth is being used by those are not Very Heavy users.
Here’s the point. ISP assumes that Very Heavy users (= “data hogs” = “people who use the bandwidth they’re paying for”) are responsible for clogging the digital arteries. So, the ISPs measure data consumption in order to preserve bandwidth. But, according to Benoît and Herman’s data, the vast bulk of bandwidth during the times when bandwidth is scarce (= peak hours) is not taken up by the Very Heavy users. Thus, punishing people for downloading too much inhibits the wrong people. Data consumption is not a good measure of critical broadband usage.
Put differently: “42% of all customers (and nearly 48% of active customers) are amongst the top 10% of bandwidth users at one point or another during peak hours.” The problem therefore is not “data hogs.” It’s people going about their normal business of using the Net during the most convenient hours.
In a New Scientist op-ed, Henry Farrell and Cosma Shalizi take aim at the trendy idea of "nudging" people towards healthy, socially beneficial choices. The authors find the evidence for the effectiveness of nudging isn't supported by the literature, and policy-by-nudging misses the key to good governance: an informed citizenry who are part of the solution, not the problem to be solved.
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This points to the key problem with "nudge" style paternalism: presuming that technocrats understand what ordinary people want better than the people themselves. There is no reason to think technocrats know better, especially since Thaler and Sunstein offer no means for ordinary people to comment on, let alone correct, the technocrats' prescriptions. This leaves the technocrats with no systematic way of detecting their own errors, correcting them, or learning from them. And technocracy is bound to blunder, especially when it is not democratically accountable.
As political scientist Suzanne Mettler, from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, argues, libertarian paternalism treats people as consumers rather than citizens. It either fails to tell people why choices are set up in particular ways, or actively seeks to conceal the rationale. When, for example, Obama's administration temporarily cut taxes to stimulate the economy, it did so semi-surreptitiously to encourage people to spend rather than save.
Mettler uses experiments to show how ordinary people can understand complicated policy questions and reach considered conclusions, as long as they get enough information. This suggests a far stronger role for democratic decision-making than libertarian paternalism allows. People should be given information, and allowed to reach conclusions about their own interests, and how to structure choices to protect those interests.
You know how we hear so much about piracy destroying the entertainment industry? Well, not according to the industry itself. The Intellectual Property Alliance's report on the health of the industry paints a rosy picture, which begs the question: why are we prepared to sacrifice free speech, free assembly, privacy, and human rights for an industry that outperforms the US economy overall, nets more foreign profits than the pharmaceutical industry or the food sector, and is enjoying year-on-year growth?
The International Intellectual Property Alliance unveiled the new report today in association with the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus at an event in Washington, DC. The report doesn't even try to quantify losses to piracy anymore--last year, an official US government report concluded that such estimates were all deeply unreliable. Instead, it simply asserts without evidence that "piracy inhibits… growth in the US and around the world."
"Inhibits growth" doesn't quite equal "causes staggering job losses," the traditional anti-piracy rallying cry. Indeed, copyright industries are being "hard hit" by piracy in the way that plenty of other US industries are desperate to get "hit." (In this sense, the report is bit like the MPAA's routine announcements of record-setting box office revenues even as the movie studios conjure visions of apocalypse.)
During the recession of the last few years, the report shows that copyright-based businesses have far exceeded the US economy as a whole.
Piracy problems? US copyright industries show terrific health Read the rest