A father and son send a toy train into space.
Are half of all the facts you know wrong? Maybe so, says journalist and author Ronald Bailey. As it turns out, very little peer reviewed research is ever replicated; and as science advances, many “truths” from decades-old research later turn out to be questionable or outright wrong. And that means that much of what you learned in grade school may be false—so all those half-remembered 6th grade social studies lessons may be real impediments to understanding how the world actually works. So what’s the reality-based community to do? One suggestion: just give up, and outsource your memory to the cloud. I’m not sure I agree, but the article is worth a read anyway.
Eduardo Porter in the New York Times has the rundown on the latest wrinkle in the heated (but somewhat non-ideological) debate over how the government defines poverty: should government spending on health care count as “income”? There are good arguments on both sides. Those who say yes point out that health care can be every bit as essential to life as food—and since we count food stamps as income, we should do the same for health benefits. Those who say no argue that what matters isn’t how much health care costs, but how much the recipients value it; and since the destitute probably wouldn’t spend much on health insurance until they could first afford a host of other necessities—decent food, safe shelter, clothing, heat, electricity, and so forth—it’s meaningless to call the full cost of government-provided health care “income.” (As a strained analogy—if the government started handing out golf clubs to the homeless, counting the cost of a free 5-iron as “income” would be absurd.) The debate may seem arcane, but world views hang in the balance: you can’t know how fast the gap between the haves and have-nots is growing unless you know how much the have-nots actually have.
The NYT takes a thoughtful look at the somewhat conflicted relationship between bike-sharing programs and bicycle helmet laws.
Oregon economist Ernie Niemi sketches a cost-benefit analysis for the coal export plans, and tallies far more costs than benefits.
I wish everyone in the United States (and those stewing in our media markets, such as southwest British Columbia) could transfer every minute that they are spending exposed to political advertisements this election season to reading just one book instead: Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson’s Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer–and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class. I read a pile of things during my three-month summer sabbatical this year, and this book was a standout. It illuminated much about the relationship between widening economic inequality in the United States and the breakdown and corruption of American democracy. It is a stunningly, screamingly, outrageously, overwhelming, cataclysmically important book: if only we had a billion dollars’ worth of 30-second spots to promote it!
Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, I found this particular political spot fascinating for its cutting use of satire. A friend pointed me to another example of reverse psychology in political campaigns, summarized in this video.
In her new project DecodeDC, former NPR correspondent Andrea Seabrook examines “political neuroscience.” She talks to progressive political consultant and cognitive linguist George Lakoff who explains that conservatives tend to study business and marketing (and learn how the brain actually works) whereas liberals tend to pursue studies where the classical notion of human rationality reigns (the way we wish the human brain worked). That’s why conservatives often tell stories and progressives often give policy laundry lists. She talks to conservative pollster and message guru Frank Luntz too who reminds us that “if something is repeated enough, you’ll come to believe it.” Seabrook also shares the Newt Gingrich axiom that “language is a key mechanism of control.”
Seabrook wonders in closing whether this acknowledgement of the power of language in our political discourse has made politicians more guarded in their speech, stifling open dialogue. She also wonders whether it’s meant that the rest of us have simply stopped listening…
To wit: This poll that shows that a majority of Americans are unfamiliar with failed solar panel maker Solyndra after a strong GOP push to make the federally backed company’s failure a political liability for President Obama.