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)”.

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)”.

Foresight and Design Fictions meet at a Policy Lab: An Experimentation Approach in Public Sector Innovation

Paper by Alexandre Pólvora and Susana Nascimento: “This paper depicts a theoretical and methodological experimentation approach developed at the EU Policy Lab of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. The approach is first framed by its larger institutional context and positioned in a back-end space of public sector innovation. With an internal and self-reflexive departure point, our purpose is to outline it as catalyst of future-oriented explorations, simultaneously nurtured by evidence-based knowledge, and its own transdisciplinary set of experimentation concepts and practices. In addition, to allow for its observation in a practical stage, the paper showcases an empirical illustration of the approach in a forward-looking project for policy advice.

#Blockchain4EU was an exploration of existing, emerging or potential applications of blockchain in industrial and non-financial sectors, with attention to plausible near future applications and scenarios, and focus on possible policy, economic, social, technical, legal and environmental impacts. The approach is anchored on desk and qualitative research throughout the project. But its primary outputs emerge from participatory foresight, collective vision building and co-creation workshops, and the prototyping of speculative artefacts through multi-stakeholder engagement. The purpose is to stimulate anticipatory governance frameworks in general, and push the frontiers of what is common practice in policy when considering emerging technologies….(More)”

Atlas of AI: Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence

Book by Kate Crawford: “What happens when artificial intelligence saturates political life and depletes the planet? How is AI shaping our understanding of ourselves and our societies? In this book Kate Crawford reveals how this planetary network is fueling a shift toward undemocratic governance and increased inequality. Drawing on more than a decade of research, award-winning science, and technology, Crawford reveals how AI is a technology of extraction: from the energy and minerals needed to build and sustain its infrastructure, to the exploited workers behind “automated” services, to the data AI collects from us. 

Rather than taking a narrow focus on code and algorithms, Crawford offers us a political and a material perspective on what it takes to make artificial intelligence and where it goes wrong. While technical systems present a veneer of objectivity, they are always systems of power. This is an urgent account of what is at stake as technology companies use artificial intelligence to reshape the world…(More)”.

Unravelling the New Plebiscitary Democracy: Towards a Research Agenda

Paper by Frank Hendriks: “Pushed by technological, cultural and related political drivers, a ‘new plebiscitary democracy’ is emerging which challenges established electoral democracy as well as variants of deliberative democracy. The new plebiscitary democracy reinvents and radicalizes longer-existing methods (initiative, referendum, recall, primary, petition, poll) with new tools and applications (mostly digital). It comes with a comparatively thin conceptualization of democracy, invoking the bare notion of a demos whose aggregated will is to steer actors and issues in public governance in a straight majoritarian way. In addition to unravelling the reinvented logic of plebiscitary democracy in conceptual terms, this article fleshes out an empirically informed matrix of emerging formats, distinguishing between votations that are ‘political-leader’ and ‘public-issue’ oriented on the one hand, and ‘inside-out’ and ‘outside-in’ initiated on the other hand. Relatedly, it proposes an agenda for systematic research into the various guises, drivers and implications of the new plebiscitary democracy. Finally, it reflects on possible objections to the argumentation….(More)”

The (il)logic of legibility – Why governments should stop simplifying complex systems

Thea Snow at LSE Blog: “Sometimes, you learn about an idea that really sticks with you. This happened to me recently when I learnt about “legibility” — a concept which James C Scott introduces in his book Seeing like a State.

Just last week, I was involved in two conversations which highlighted how pervasive the logic of legibility continues to be in influencing how governments think and act. But first, what is legibility?

Defining Legibility

Legibility describes the very human tendency to simplify complex systems in order to exert control over them.

In this blog, Venkatesh Rao offers a recipe for legibility:

  • Look at a complex and confusing reality…
  • Fail to understand all the subtleties of how the complex reality works
  • Attribute that failure to the irrationality of what you are looking at, rather than your own limitations
  • Come up with an idealized blank-slate vision of what that reality ought to look like
  • Argue that the relative simplicity and platonic orderliness of the vision represents rationality
  • Use power to impose that vision, by demolishing the old reality if necessary.

Rao explains: “The big mistake in this pattern of failure is projecting your subjective lack of comprehension onto the object you are looking at, as “irrationality.” We make this mistake because we are tempted by a desire for legibility.”

Scott uses modern forestry practices as an example of the practice of legibility. Hundreds of years ago, forests acted as many things — they were places people harvested wood, but also places where locals went foraging and hunting, as well as an ecosystem for animals and plants. According to the logic of scientific forestry practices, forests would be much more valuable if they just produced timber. To achieve this, they had to be made legible.

So, modern agriculturalists decided to clear cut forest, and plant perfectly straight rows of a particular species of fast-growing trees. It was assumed this would be more efficient. Planting just one species meant the quality of timber would be predictable. In addition, the straight rows would make it easy to know exactly how much timber was there, and would mean timber production could be easily monitored and controlled.

 Reproduced from

For the first generation of trees, the agriculturalists achieved higher yields, and there was much celebration and self-congratulation. But, after about a century, the problems of the ecosystem collapse started to reveal themselves. In imposing a logic of order and control, scientific forestry destroyed the complex, invisible, and unknowable network of relationships between plants, animals and people, which are necessary for a forest to thrive.

After a century it became apparent that relationships between plants and animals were so distorted that pests were destroying crops. The nutrient balance of the soil was disrupted. And after the first generation of trees, the forest was not thriving at all….(More)”.

Introducing Fast Government, an exploration of innovation and talent in public service

Fast Company: “Before he cofounded ride-sharing company Lyft, CEO Logan Green learned the intricacies of public transportation as a director on the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District board. Venture capitalist Bradley Tusk worked as a communications director for Sen. Chuck Schumer and served as deputy governor of Illinois. Aerospace engineer Aisha Bowe says her six years working at NASA were “instrumental” to founding STEMBoard, a tech company that serves government and private-sector clients.

For these business leaders, “government service” isn’t a pejorative. Their work in the public sector helped shape their entrepreneurial journeys. And many executives from Silicon Valley to Wall Street have served at the highest levels in government, including Mike Bloomberg (a three-term mayor of New York), Megan Smith (former Google executive who served as Chief Technology Officer of the United States), and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a former venture investor  nominated to be U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

Today Fast Company is launching an initiative called Fast Government that aims to examine the cross-pollination of talent and innovative ideas between the public and private sectors. It is a home for stories about leaders who are bringing entrepreneurial zeal to state, federal, and local agencies and offices. This section will also explore the ways government service helped shape the careers of business leaders at some of the world’s most innovative companies.

As Sean McManus and Brett Dobbs explain in this accompanying piece, the talent pipeline in government needs refreshing. A third of federal civilian employees are slated to retire in the next five years, and fewer than 6% are under the age of 30. Young leaders, especially purpose-driven individuals looking to make a difference, might perhaps want to consider a stint in fast government….(More)”.

Mini-Publics and the Wider Public: The Perceived Legitimacy of Randomly Selecting Citizen Representatives

Paper by James Pow: “There are two important dimensions to the membership of mini-publics that are distinct from the membership of conventional representative institutions: the selection mechanism (sortition) and the profile of the body’s eligible membership (‘ordinary’ citizens). This article examines the effects of these design features on perceived legitimacy. A survey experiment in the deeply divided context of Northern Ireland finds no evidence that variation in mini-public selection features has an overall effect on perceived legitimacy, but there are important individual-level differences….(More)”.

The Legal Limits of Direct Democracy

Book edited by Daniel Moeckli, Anna Forgács, and Henri Ibi: “With the rise of direct-democratic instruments, the relationship between popular sovereignty and the rule of law is set to become one of the defining political issues of our time. This important and timely book provides an in-depth analysis of the limits imposed on referendums and citizens’ initiatives, as well as of systems of reviewing compliance with these limits, in 11 European states.

Chapters explore and lay the scientific basis for answering crucial questions such as ‘Where should the legal limits of direct democracy be drawn?’ and ‘Who should review compliance with these limits?’ Providing a comparative analysis of the different issues in the selected countries, the book draws out key similarities and differences, as well as an assessment of the law and the practice at national levels when judged against the international standards contained in the Venice Commission’s Guidelines on the Holding of Referendums.

Presenting an up-to-date analysis of the relationship between popular sovereignty and the rule of law, The Legal Limits of Direct Democracy will be a key resource for scholars and students in comparative and constitutional law and political science. It will also be beneficial to policy-makers and practitioners in parliaments, governments and election commissions, and experts working for international organisations….(More)”.

Profiling Insurrection: Characterizing Collective Action Using Mobile Device Data

Paper by David Van Dijcke and Austin L. Wright: “We develop a novel approach for estimating spatially dispersed community-level participation in mass protest. This methodology is used to investigate factors associated with participation in the ‘March to Save America’ event in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021. This study combines granular location data from more than 40 million mobile devices with novel measures of community-level voting patterns, the location of organized hate groups, and the entire georeferenced digital archive of the social media platform Parler. We find evidence that partisanship, socio-political isolation, proximity to chapters of the Proud Boys organization, and the local activity on Parler are robustly associated with protest participation. Our research fills a prominent gap in the study of collective action: identifying and studying communities involved in mass-scale events that escalate into violent insurrection….(More)”.