Archive for February 21st, 2011
Wray Herbert writes in a Scientific American article titled “Border Bias and Our Perception of Risk” of a study by husband-and-wife team Arul and Himanshu Mishra at the University of Utah on how people perceive events within a bias of arbitrary political borders.
Asked to imagine a vacation home in either “North Mountain Resort, Washington, or in West Mountain Resort, Oregon” the study group was given details about a hypothetical seismic event striking a distance that vacation home, but details differing as to where the event occurred:
Some heard that the earthquake had hit Wells, Wash., 200 miles from both vacation home sites. Others heard that the earthquake had struck Wells, Ore., also 200 miles from both home locations. They were warned of continuing seismic activity, and they were also given maps showing the locations of both home sites and the earthquake, to help them make their choice of vacation homes.
The results revealed a bias in that people felt a greater risk when the event was in-state as opposed to out of state. A second study involved a not-in-my-backyard look at a radioactive waste storage site and the Mishras used maps with thick lines and thin dotted lines to help people visualize the distances and state borders. It isn’t hard to guess which lines conveyed a greater feeling of risk.
I recall a story my brother told me about 17 years ago in which he was helping an old friend change the oil in his farm tractor. My brother asked, “Hey, Jack, where do you want me to put this [the used oil]?” Jack said, “Pour it over there on the stone wall.” (We lived in Connecticut, where they grow those things everywhere). Brother Marshall said, “Jack, you can’t do that anymore.”
Jack thought a short second or two, and said, “Yeah, you’re right. Better pour it on the other side.”
Here’s how it happened. If you read the entire account by Peter White, you’ll be dismayed, though not surprised:
Comcast met behind closed doors with the FCC to map out the future of broadband service and video streaming over the Internet. Anyone who wonders how federal banking regulators got captured by the financial industry, or how lawmakers got neutered by the insurance companies on the health care bill, or how big money is going to buy the next presidential election, should study the Comcast merger. It is a cautionary tale of things gone awry in Washington, where corporate speech is heard and heeded and the voices of actual citizens are ignored.
According to this article by M. Mitchell Waldrop, the Templeton Foundation (endowment of $2B) seems to be making an adjustment away from religion and toward traditional science:
Towards the end of Templeton’s life, says Marsh, he became increasingly concerned that this reaction was getting in the way of the foundation’s mission: that the word ‘religion’ was alienating too many good scientists. This prompted a rethink of the foundation’s research programme — a change most clearly seen in the organization’s new website, launched last June. Gone were old programme names such as ‘science and religion’ — or almost any mention of religion at all (See ‘Templeton priorities: then and now‘). Instead, the foundation has embraced the theme of ‘science and the big questions’ — an open-ended list that includes topics such as ‘Does the Universe have a purpose?’
Yale professor Joshua Knobe has gathered various findings suggesting that the personality trait of openness correlates with moral relativism. These findings suggest “we can start out with facts about people’s usual ways of thinking or talking and use these facts to get some insight into questions about the true nature of morality.”
Congressional conservatives are working hard to strip all federal funding from Planned Parenthood. What will be the effect? USA Today reports on a study by the well-respected Guttmacher Institute:
Publicly funded family planning prevents nearly 2 million unintended pregnancies and more than 800,000 abortions in the United States each year, saving billions of dollars, according to new research intended to counter conservative objections to expanding the program. The data are in a report being released Tuesday by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health think tank whose research is generally respected even by experts and activists who don’t share its advocacy of abortion rights.
Some have characterized this as but one item on an ongoing Republican war on women. I see it as a war on almost everything but warmongering. For instance, the House just voted to de-fund the IPCC, a celebrated international Nobel Prize winning scientific organization providing definitive information about the state of the climate. The $13 million/year federal dollars that supported this organization is the equivalent of the money we waste every hour in Afghanistan.