Category Archives: politics

Why Science Needs PR

Scientists needing to persuade society at large shouldn’t be relying on their data alone to persuade but instead should employ PR tactics, suggests Wired‘s Erin Biba (and a number of PR company employees, natch).

I don’t totally agree with the idea (scientific integrity and all that jazz) but some of the thoughts/suggestions are entirely valid and scientists could go far by listening to some of the advice and criticism.

For instance, this suggestion to remove science’s holier-than-thou attitude, replacing it with personal stories of those at its core (the scientists themselves):

It didn’t even occur to the [American Association for the Advancement of Science] panelists [at a recent climate change symposium] that someone might find that here’s-the-data-we’re-right attitude patronizing—and worthy of skepticism. “Until scientists realize they need us, we can’t help them,” [Kelly Bush, founder and CEO of PR firm ID] says. “They have to wake up and say: ‘I recognize it’s not working, and I’m willing to listen to you.’ It’s got to start there.” Science increasingly must make its most important cases to nonscientists—not just about climate but also evolution, health care, and vaccine safety. And in all of those fields, the science has proven to be incapable of speaking for itself. It’s time for those with true passion to get over the stigma, stand up, and start telling their stories.

Cryptic Crosswords and Face Identification

A study comparing the effects of various leisure activities on the recognition and identification of faces has concluded that eyewitnesses should not be permitted to do cryptic crossword puzzles prior to an identity parade.

The study, conducted by Cardiff University’s Michael Lewis, compared logic puzzles (sudoku), crossword puzzles (both cryptic and standard) and mystery novels (Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code) and found that performing cryptic crosswords reduced the reliability of recognising and identifying faces.

“The identification of an offender by a witness to a crime often forms an important element of a prosecution’s case. While considerable importance is placed by jurors on the identification of the offender by a witness (such as a suspect being picked out from an identity parade), research tells us that these identifications can often be wrong and sometimes lead to wrongful convictions.”

“It would be undesirable,” he writes, “to have witnesses doing something before an identity parade that would make them worse at picking out the offender … Consider what witnesses may do before an identity parade. It is possible that they might be doing something to pass the time (eg read or do a puzzle). It is possible that some of these potential activities may lead to a detriment in face processing.”

via @noahWG

Immigration Makes Cities Safer

Cities with large immigrant populations are some of the safest places to live, suggest the data and studies, especially those where the police “know how to work with [immigrants], not against them“.

The studies in question–including one extensive study by the FBI–go on to suggest reasons why immigrants reduce a city’s crime:

This is not just a matter of random correlation being mistaken for causation. A new study by sociologist Tim Wadsworth […] carefully evaluates the various factors behind the statistics that show a massive drop in crime during the 1990s at a time when immigration rose dramatically. In a peer-reviewed paper appearing in the June 2010 issue of Social Science Quarterly, Wadsworth argues not only that “cities with the largest increases in immigration between 1990 and 2000 experienced the largest decreases in homicide and robbery,” which we knew, but that after considering all the other explanations, rising immigration “was partially responsible.” […]

So, yes, there are pretty compelling data to support the argument that immigrants as such—even presumably “illegal” immigrants—do not make cities more dangerous to live in. But what mechanism about such immigration makes cities safer? Robert J. Sampson, head of the sociology department at Harvard, has suggested that, among other things, immigrants move into neighborhoods abandoned by locals and help prevent them from turning into urban wastelands. They often have tighter family structures and mutual support networks, all of which actually serve to stabilize urban environments. As Sampson told me back in 2007, “If you want to be safe, move to an immigrant city.”

Seven Threats to a Sustainable ‘Food Future’

In a hugely captivating and comprehensive look at the food supply chain in Britain, Jeremy Harding provides a look at “the future of food and its supply”–including food ethics, food security and the dire need for a sustainable future.

Harding’s case is the most cogent I’ve read and it offers much more than a condemnation of our current, unsustainable habits: the article focuses on what Harding dubs the “seven big stories”–the seven fundamental “looming threats” we must keep in mind when planning for a sustainable, efficient and secure ‘food future’.

  1. Population growth: The expected large-scale urbanisation of the future “poses big questions about land use (housing v. farming) and the production of food by a minority for a majority as the gap between the two gets wider”.
  2. ‘The nutrition transition’: As we move further away from a diet based on grains, pulses and legumes and toward one of meat and dairy (the transition from maize feeding us to maize feeding the animals) means that “global production of food – all food – will have to increase by 50 per cent over the next 20 years to cater for two billion extra people and cope with the rising demand for meat”.
  3. Energy: “The industrial production of food is sure to become more expensive as fuel costs rise. It takes 160 litres of oil to produce a tonne of maize in the US; natural gas accounts for at least three-quarters of the cost of making nitrogen fertiliser; freight, too, depends on fuel”.
  4. Land: “The amount of the world’s land given over to agriculture continues to grow, but in per capita terms it’s shrinking. As with oil, it’s possible to envisage ‘peak food’ (the point of maximum production, followed by decline), ‘peak phosphorus’ [and] ‘peak land’: the point at which the total area of the world’s most productive land begins to diminish (soil exhaustion, climate change) and marginal land comes up for reassessment”.
  5. Water: “Worldwide, one in three people face water shortages and by 2030 the ratio will have narrowed. […] Much of our fruit and veg comes from water-scarce countries and […] lack of water closes down food production and livelihoods”.
  6. Climate change: “Extreme weather events will […] jeopardise agriculture and the movement of food from one place to another”.
  7. Agricultural workers: More than half of the world’s 1.1 billion agricultural workers” own neither land nor machinery and live in a state of semi-slavery. The conditions of this new global underclass are at last a matter of concern: worldwide food production is set on a downturn as their wretchedness weakens their capacity to produce and earn, driving more people inexorably towards the cities.

I suppose you could call these the food equivalent of Jared Diamond’s twelve problems of societal sustainability.

India and the Definition of Middle Class

A newly proposed international definition of the middle class for developing countries, produced by the Center for Global Development for the World Bank, has some surprising conclusions for India.

The report, produced by the president of the Center for Global Development, Nancy Birdsall, suggests that “middle class” is defined as everyone with an income above $10 a day, excluding those in the top 5% of earners in the country… meaning India has no middle class.

This is a combination both of the depth of India’s poverty and its inequality. China had no middle class in 1990, but by 2005, had a small urban middle class (3% of the population). South Africa (7%), Russia (30%) and Brazil (19%) all had sizable middle classes in 2005. […]

In socio-political terms, the middle class is traditionally that segment of society with a degree of economic security that allows it to uphold the rule of law, invest and desire stability. They do not, unlike those defined as rich, depend on inheritances or other non-productive sources of income. […]

OECD countries define their poverty lines as 50% of median income which works out […] to about $30 day. In the US the poverty line for a single individual in 2008 was $29 per day and for each individual in a four-person household was about $14 per day.

However, people in developing countries living on even $10 a day still have extremely low social indicators. Economist Lant Pritchett has shown that infant mortality of households in the richest quintile in Bolivia was 32 and Ghana 58 per 1,000. Fewer than 25% of people in the richest quintile in India complete 9 grades of school, Pritchett showed. “An upper limit of the 95th percentile, while on the high side, is just about sufficient to exclude the countrys richest,” Birdsall adds.

via The Browser