No Democracy Without Comprehension: Political Unintelligibility as A Democratic Problem


Paper by Daniel Innerarity: “Democracy is possible because of an increase in the complexity of society, but that same complexity seems to threaten democracy. There is a clear imbalance between people’s actual competence and the expectation that citizens in a democratic society will be politically competent. It is not only that society has become more complex but that democratization itself increases the degree of social complexity. This unintelligibility can be overcome through the acquisition of some political competence—such as improving individual knowledge, diverse strategies for simplification or recourse to the experts—that partially reduce this imbalance. My hypothesis is that despite the attraction of de-democratizing procedures, the best solutions are those that are most democratic: strengthening the cooperation and the institutional organization of collective intelligence. The purpose of this article is not to solve all the problems I touch on, but rather to examine how they are related and to provide a general framework for the problem of de-democratization through misunderstanding….(More)”.

Power to the People


Book by Kurth Cronin on “How Open Technological Innovation is Arming Tomorrow’s Terrorists…Never have so many possessed the means to be so lethal. The diffusion of modern technology (robotics, cyber weapons, 3-D printing, autonomous systems, and artificial intelligence) to ordinary people has given them access to weapons of mass violence previously monopolized by the state. In recent years, states have attempted to stem the flow of such weapons to individuals and non-state groups, but their efforts are failing.

As Audrey Kurth Cronin explains in Power to the People, what we are seeing now is an exacerbation of an age-old trend. Over the centuries, the most surprising developments in warfare have occurred because of advances in technologies combined with changes in who can use them. Indeed, accessible innovations in destructive force have long driven new patterns of political violence. When Nobel invented dynamite and Kalashnikov designed the AK-47, each inadvertently spurred terrorist and insurgent movements that killed millions and upended the international system.

That history illuminates our own situation, in which emerging technologies are altering society and redistributing power. The twenty-first century “sharing economy” has already disrupted every institution, including the armed forces. New “open” technologies are transforming access to the means of violence. Just as importantly, higher-order functions that previously had been exclusively under state military control – mass mobilization, force projection, and systems integration – are being harnessed by non-state actors. Cronin closes by focusing on how to respond so that we both preserve the benefits of emerging technologies yet reduce the risks. Power, in the form of lethal technology, is flowing to the people, but the same technologies that empower can imperil global security – unless we act strategically….(More)”.

The Behaviourally Informed Organization


Book by Dilip Soman and Catherine Yeung: “…This edited volume represents the first output from this international partnership. The book is designed to reflect our conceptual thinking, outline some early results from the partnership and an agenda for research and practice, and provide roadmaps to help both practitioners and academics converge in the common quest of developing behaviorally informed organizations. The book is divided into four parts.

In Part 1, “The Behaviorally Informed Organization,” four chapters lay out an agenda for what such an organization should be and could be. In chapter 1, Soman talks about the science of using behavioral science by developing a brief history of the field of behavioral science, outlining organizational realities, and generating a research agenda to help develop BIOrgs. In chapter 2, Feng and colleagues further develop an understanding of organizational realities and outline what resources and capabilities organizations need to develop in order to be truly behaviorally informed. In particular, they develop the notion of the cost of experimentation and make the point that driving down the cost of experimentation is key in developing behaviorally informed organizations. In chapter 3, Vinski asks and answers the question, “Why should organizations even want to be behaviorally informed?”; and in chapter 4, O’Malley and Peters add to that question by further addressing why organizations might actively resist the need to be behaviorally informed.
Organizational settings provide existing tools and also additional complexities, and in Part 2, “Overarching Insights and Tools,” four chapters address some of these organizational realities. Chapter 5 talks about “sludge” – small aspects of an organizationally created context that create impedance for end-users. If sludge is not cleared, the effectiveness of behavioral interventions will be constrained, and hence this chapter makes a case for identifying and eliminating sludge. In chapter 6, Duncan and colleagues provide a
guide to writing guidelines, an important tool for most policymakers and businesses as they attempt to provide helpful information to their citizens and customers. Given that organizations have multiple interactions for multiple products and services with their endusers, a binary classification into econs and humans is not feasible or helpful. Therefore, in chapter 7, Ireland talks about the boundedly rational complex consumer continuum, a nuanced framework for segmenting recipients of behavioral interventions. Given that endusers are inundated with information and other types of stimulus from organizations, it is unclear that they will attend to it all. In chapter 8, Hilchey and Taylor write about the psychology of attention and its implications for helping end-users make better decisions….(More)”.

A New Way to Inoculate People Against Misinformation


Article by Jon Roozenbeek, Melisa Basol, and Sander van der Linden: “From setting mobile phone towers on fire to refusing critical vaccinations, we know the proliferation of misinformation online can have massive, real-world consequences.

For those who want to avert those consequences, it makes sense to try and correct misinformation. But as we now know, misinformation—both intentional and unintentional—is difficult to fight once it’s out in the digital wild. The pace at which unverified (and often false) information travels makes any attempt to catch up to, retrieve, and correct it an ambitious endeavour. We also know that viral information tends to stick, that repeated misinformation is more likely to be judged as true, and that people often continue to believe falsehoods even after they have been debunked.

Instead of fighting misinformation after it’s already spread, some researchers have shifted their strategy: they’re trying to prevent it from going viral in the first place, an approach known as “prebunking.” Prebunking attempts to explain how people can resist persuasion by misinformation. Grounded in inoculation theory, the approach uses the analogy of biological immunization. Just as weakened exposure to a pathogen triggers antibody production, inoculation theory posits that pre-emptively exposing people to a weakened persuasive argument builds people’s resistance against future manipulation.

But while inoculation is a promising approach, it has its limitations. Traditional inoculation messages are issue-specific, and have often remained confined to the particular context that you want to inoculate people against. For example, an inoculation message might forewarn people that false information is circulating encouraging people to drink bleach as a cure for the coronavirus. Although that may help stop bleach drinking, this messaging doesn’t pre-empt misinformation about other fake cures. As a result, prebunking approaches haven’t easily adapted to the changing misinformation landscape, making them difficult to scale.

However, our research suggests that there may be another way to inoculate people that preserves the benefits of prebunking: it may be possible to build resistance against misinformation in general, rather than fighting it one piece at a time….(More)”.

Regulation of Algorithmic Tools in the United States


Paper by Christopher S. Yoo and Alicia Lai: “Policymakers in the United States have just begun to address regulation of artificial intelligence technologies in recent years, gaining momentum through calls for additional research funding, piece-meal guidance, proposals, and legislation at all levels of government. This Article provides an overview of high-level federal initiatives for general artificial intelligence (AI) applications set forth by the U.S. president and responding agencies, early indications from the incoming Biden Administration, targeted federal initiatives for sector-specific AI applications, pending federal legislative proposals, and state and local initiatives. The regulation of the algorithmic ecosystem will continue to evolve as the United States continues to search for the right balance between ensuring public safety and transparency and promoting innovation and competitiveness on the global stage….(More)”.

Revenge of the Experts: Will COVID-19 Renew or Diminish Public Trust in Science?


Paper by Barry Eichengreen, Cevat Aksoy and Orkun Saka: “It is sometimes said that an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic will be heightened appreciation of the importance of scientific research and expertise. We test this hypothesis by examining how exposure to previous epidemics affected trust in science and scientists. Building on the “impressionable years hypothesis” that attitudes are durably formed during the ages 18 to 25, we focus on individuals exposed to epidemics in their country of residence at this particular stage of the life course. Combining data from a 2018 Wellcome Trust survey of more than 75,000 individuals in 138 countries with data on global epidemics since 1970, we show that such exposure has no impact on views of science as an endeavor but that it significantly reduces trust in scientists and in the benefits of their work. We also illustrate that the decline in trust is driven by the individuals with little previous training in science subjects. Finally, our evidence suggests that epidemic-induced distrust translates into lower compliance with health-related policies in the form of negative views towards vaccines and lower rates of child vaccination….(More)”.

Reddit Is America’s Unofficial Unemployment Hotline


Ella Koeze at The New York Times: “In early December, Alex Branch’s car broke down. A 23-year-old former arcade employee in southern Virginia, Mr. Branch had been receiving unemployment benefits since he was laid off in March, and figured he would have no problem paying for the repairs. But when he checked his bank account, he was troubled to find that the payments had stopped.

He had failed to get useful information from his state’s unemployment office before, so he turned to the one place he figured he could get an explanation: Reddit.

“I’m very confused and have no idea what to do,” Mr. Branch wrote on r/Unemployment, a Reddit forum whose popularity has skyrocketed during the pandemic.

The next day, another user commented on Mr. Branch’s post, using a common abbreviation for Extended Benefits, an emergency unemployment program. “Were you on EB? If so, EB was cut off Nov 21.”

Mr. Branch hadn’t realized he had been on Extended Benefits, which kicked in after he exhausted 26 weeks of regular unemployment plus 13 additional weeks granted in the March pandemic stimulus bill. Virginia stopped payments because the state’s unemployment rate had fallen under 5 percent, triggering an end to federal funding for the Extended Benefits program.

“I didn’t know about it,” he said in an interview. “That’s the biggest frustration that I had about it was the fact that I never received the email that it was going to be shut off.”

For many of the millions of Americans like Mr. Branch who lost jobs because of the coronavirus, the stress of being unemployed in a pandemic has been compounded by the difficulty of navigating disorganized and often antiquated state and federal unemployment systems. Information from overwhelmed state offices and websites is often confusing, and reaching an official who can answer questions nearly impossible….

Post after post on r/Unemployment conveys bureaucratic problems with endless variations: how to file a claim depending on your circumstances, what to do if you made a mistake on your claim, what different statuses on your claim might mean, how to navigate confusing and glitch-prone online portals and even how to speak to an actual person to get issues resolved….

Many people come to r/Unemployment to offer answers, not just find them.

Albert Peers, who had been working in a call center in San Diego until the pandemic, spends time every day trying to answer questions about California’s system. He lives alone and can’t easily return to work because he has a lowered immune system. After first visiting the site when he encountered a hitch in his own unemployment benefits, Mr. Peers, 56, was shocked by the number of people who had no idea what to do.

The thought that someone might go hungry or miss rent because they were simply stymied by the system was unacceptable to him. “At that point I just made a decision,” he said. “You know what, like a couple hours every day, because I just can’t turn away.”…(More)”.

Nudging at scale: Experimental evidence from FAFSA completion campaigns


Paper by Kelli A. Bird et al: “Do successful local nudge interventions maintain efficacy when scaled state or nationwide? We investigate, through two randomized controlled trials, the impact of a national and state-level campaign encouraging students to apply for financial aid for college. The campaigns collectively reached over 800,000 students, with multiple treatment arms patterned after prior local interventions in order to explore potential mechanisms. We find no impacts on aid receipt or college enrollment overall or for any subgroups. We find no evidence that different approaches to message framing, delivery, or timing, or access to one-on-one advising affected campaign efficacy. We discuss why nudge strategies that work locally may be hard to scale effectively….(More)”.

Inside the ‘Wikipedia of Maps,’ Tensions Grow Over Corporate Influence


Corey Dickinson at Bloomberg: “What do Lyft, Facebook, the International Red Cross, the U.N., the government of Nepal and Pokémon Go have in common? They all use the same source of geospatial data: OpenStreetMap, a free, open-source online mapping service akin to Google Maps or Apple Maps. But unlike those corporate-owned mapping platforms, OSM is built on a network of mostly volunteer contributors. Researchers have described it as the “Wikipedia for maps.”

Since it launched in 2004, OpenStreetMap has become an essential part of the world’s technology infrastructure. Hundreds of millions of monthly users interact with services derived from its data, from ridehailing apps, to social media geotagging on Snapchat and Instagram, to humanitarian relief operations in the wake of natural disasters. 

But recently the map has been changing, due the growing impact of private sector companies that rely on it. In a 2019 paper published in the ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information, a cross-institutional team of researchers traced how Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and other companies have gained prominence as editors of the map. Their priorities, the researchers say, are driving significant change to what is being mapped compared to the past. 

“OpenStreetMap’s data is crowdsourced, which has always made spectators to the project a bit wary about the quality of the data,” says Dipto Sarkar, a professor of geoscience at Carleton University in Ottawa, and one of the paper’s co-authors. “As the data becomes more valuable and is used for an ever-increasing list of projects, the integrity of the information has to be almost perfect. These companies need to make sure there’s a good map of the places they want to expand in, and nobody else is offering that, so they’ve decided to fill it in themselves.”…(More)”.

Social penumbras predict political attitudes


Paper by Andrew Gelman and Yotam Margalit: “To explain the political clout of different social groups, traditional accounts typically focus on the group’s size, resources, or commonality and intensity of its members’ interests. We contend that a group’s penumbra—the set of individuals who are personally familiar with people in that group—is another important explanatory factor that merits systematic analysis. To this end, we designed a panel study that allows us to learn about the characteristics of the penumbras of politically relevant groups such as gay people, the unemployed, or recent immigrants. Our study reveals major and systematic differences in the penumbras of various social groups, even ones of similar size. Moreover, we find evidence that entering a group’s penumbra is associated with a change in attitude on group-related policy questions. Taken together, our findings suggest that penumbras are pertinent for understanding variation in the political standing of different groups in society….(More)”.