Letting the public decide is key to Big Tech regulation

Article by Rana Foroohar: “Complexity is often used to obfuscate. Industries like finance, pharmaceuticals and particularly technology are rife with examples. Just as programmers can encrypt code or strip out metadata to protect the workings of their intellectual property, so insiders — from technologists to economists to lawyers — can defend their business models by using industry jargon and Byzantine explanations of simple concepts in order to obscure things they may not want the public to understand.

That’s why it’s so important that in its second major antitrust case filed against Google, the US Department of Justice last month asked not only that the company break up its advertising business, but that a jury of the people decide whether it must do so. This is extremely unusual for antitrust cases, which are usually decided by a judge.

It is a risky move, since it means that the DoJ’s antitrust division head, Jonathan Kanter, will have to deconstruct the online advertising auction business for lay people. But it’s also quite smart. The federal judges who hear such complex antitrust cases tend to be older, conservative types who are historically more likely to align themselves with large corporations.

As one legal scholar pointed out to me, such judges are reluctant to be seen as people who don’t understand complexity, even when it’s in a realm far outside their own. This may make them more likely to agree with the arguments put forward by expert witnesses — the Nobel laureates who construct auction models, for example — than average people who are willing to admit they simply don’t get it…

There are, of course, risks to policy by populism. Look at Britain’s departure from the EU after the 2016 referendum, which has left the country poorer. But that’s how democracy works. Allowing important decisions over key issues like corporate power and the rules of surveillance capitalism to be made by technocrats behind closed doors also carries dangers. The justice department is quite right that ordinary people should be able to hear the arguments…(More)”.

Conspiracy Theory: On Certain Misconceptions About the Uses of Behavioral Science in Government

Article by Cass R. Sunstein: “In some circles, there is a misconception that within government, the only or principal uses of behavioral science consist of efforts to nudge individual behavior (sometimes described, pejoratively and unfairly, as “tweaks”). Nothing could be further from the truth. Behavioral science has been used, and is being used, to help inform large-scale reforms, including mandates and bans directed at companies (as, for example, in the cases of fuel-economy mandates and energy efficiency mandates). Behavioral science has been used, and is being used, to help inform taxes and subsidies (as, for example, in the cases of cigarette taxes, taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, and subsides for electric cars). Behavioral science has been used, and is being used, to help inform nudges imposed on companies (with such goals as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving occupational safety, and protecting personal privacy). Some important interventions are indeed aimed at individuals (as with fuel economy labels, nutrition labels, and calorie labels, and automatic enrollment in savings plans); sometimes such interventions have significant positive effects, and there is no evidence that they make more aggressive reforms less likely. It is preposterous to suggest that choice-preserving interventions, such as nudges, “crowd out” more aggressive approaches…(More)”.

Democracy Index 2022

Economist Intelligence Report: “The average global index score stagnated in 2022. Despite expectations of a rebound after the lifting of pandemic-related restrictions, the score was almost unchanged, at 5.29 (on a 0-10 scale), compared with 5.28 in 2021. The positive effect of the restoration of individual freedoms was cancelled out by negative developments globally. The scores of more than half of the countries measured by the index either stagnated or declined. Western Europe was a positive outlier, being the only region whose score returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Alongside an explanation of the changes in the global rankings and an in-depth regional review, the latest edition of EIU’s Democracy Index report explores why democracy failed in Russia, how this led to the current war and why democracy in Ukraine is tied to its fight for sovereignty…(More)”.

Citizens’ assemblies: are they the future of democracy?

Article by Eva Talmadge: “…Citizens’ assemblies, a phenomenon that is gaining in popularity around the globe, date back to ancient Athens, where legislative panels, courts and councils were chosen via random selection. In a practice known as sortition, Greek citizens over the age of 30 were enlisted to debate governmental matters from city finances to military strategy. More recently, citizens’ assemblies have convened to hammer out solutions to such issues as homelessness in Los Angeles, the allocation of a $5bn budget in Melbourne, Australia, and the longstanding ban on abortion in Ireland.

In 2017, after meeting over the course of five weekends for deliberation, an Irish citizens’ assembly came up with a recommendation to legalize the procedure. Sixty-six per cent of Irish voters later approved the referendum, ending more than four decades of fruitless political debate.

Modern citizens’ assemblies are typically convened by legislative bodies, which work alongside non-profit groups to reach out to large numbers of citizens at random – sending letters like the one Bajwa received in the mail – then sorting the respondents who express interest according to social and economic factors. The result is a group of people who are randomly selected and reflect the demographics of the population as a whole.

Sortition, a word that might evoke the next chapter in the Hunger Games franchise, offers a revived spin on democracy. Instead of leaving the decision-making up to elected officials, citizens’ assemblies can offer a special interests-free alternative to politics as we know it.

The system is not unlike jury duty. With facilitators in place to provide background information on the issue at hand and encourage everyone’s participation, the group meets over the course of several days to learn about a problem, hear from a range of stakeholders and experts, and come up with recommendations for new legislation…(More)”

Because Data Can’t Speak for Itself

A Practical Guide to Telling Persuasive Policy Stories” by David Chrisinger and Lauren Brodsky: “People with important evidence-based ideas often struggle to translate data into stories their readers can relate to and understand. And if leaders can’t communicate well to their audience, they will not be able to make important changes in the world.

Why do some evidence-based ideas thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances of worthy ideas? In Because Data Can’t Speak for Itself, accomplished educators and writers David Chrisinger and Lauren Brodsky tackle these questions head-on. They reveal the parts and functions of effective data-driven stories and explain myriad ways to turn your data dump into a narrative that can inform, persuade, and inspire action.

Chrisinger and Brodsky show that convincing data-driven stories draw their power from the same three traits, which they call peoplepurpose, and persistence. Writers need to find the real people behind the numbers and share their stories. At the same time, they need to remember their own purpose and be honest about what data says—and, just as importantly, what it does not.

Compelling and concise, this fast-paced tour of success stories—and several failures—includes examples on topics such as COVID-19, public diplomacy, and criminal justice…(More)”

Big Data and Public Policy

Book by Rebecca Moody and Victor Bekkers: “This book provides a comprehensive overview of how the course, content and outcome of policy making is affected by big data. It scrutinises the notion that big and open data makes policymaking a more rational process, in which policy makers are able to predict, assess and evaluate societal problems. It also examines how policy makers deal with big data, the problems and limitations they face, and how big data shapes policymaking on the ground. The book considers big data from various perspectives, not just the political, but also the technological, legal, institutional and ethical dimensions. The potential of big data use in the public sector is also assessed, as well as the risks and dangers this might pose. Through several extended case studies, it demonstrates the dynamics of big data and public policy. Offering a holistic approach to the study of big data, this book will appeal to students and scholars of public policy, public administration and data science, as well as those interested in governance and politics…(More)”.

Measuring Partial Democracies: Rules and their Implementation

Paper by Debarati Basu,  Shabana Mitra &  Archana Purohit: “This paper proposes a new index that focuses on capturing the extent of democracy in a country using not only the existence of rules but also the extent of their implementation. The measure, based on the axiomatically robust framework of (Alkire and Foster, J Public Econ 95:476–487, 2011), is able to moderate the existence of democratic rules by their actual implementation. By doing this we have a meaningful way of capturing the notion of a partial democracy within a continuum between non-democratic and democratic, separating out situations when the rules exist but are not implemented well. We construct our index using V-Dem data from 1900 to 2010 for over 100 countries to measure the process of democratization across the world. Our results show that we can track the progress in democratization, even when the regime remains either a democracy or an autarchy. This is the notion of partial democracy that our implementation-based index measures through a wide-based index that is consistent, replicable, extendable, easy to interpret, and more nuanced in its ability to capture the essence of democracy…(More)”.

Prophets at a Tangent: How Art Shapes Social Imagination

Book by Geoff Mulgan: “This Element asks if the arts can help us imagine a better future society and economy, without deep social gulfs or ecological harm. It argues that at their best, the arts open up new ways of seeing and thinking. They can warn and prompt and connect us to a bigger sense of what we could be. But artists have lost their role as gods and prophets, partly as an effect of digital technologies and the ubiquity of artistic production, and partly as an effect of shifting values. Few recent books, films, artworks or exhibitions have helped us imagine how our world could solve its problems or how it might be better a generation or more from now. This Element argues that artists work best not as prophets of a new society but rather as ‘prophets at a tangent’….(More)”.

Social media is too important to be so opaque with its data

Article by Alex González Ormerod: “Over 50 people were killed by the police during demonstrations in Peru. Brazil is reeling from a coup attempt in its capital city. The residents of Culiacán, a city in northern Mexico, still cower in their houses after the army swooped in to arrest a cartel kingpin. Countries across Latin America have kicked off the year with turmoil. 

It is almost a truism to say that the common factor in these events has been the role of social media. Far-right radicals in Brazil were seen to be openly organizing and spreading fake news about electoral fraud on Twitter. Peruvians used TikTok to bear witness to police brutality, preserving it for posterity.

Dealing with the aftermath of the crises, in Culiacán, Sinaloans shared crucial info as to where roadblocks continued to burn, and warned about shootouts in certain neighborhoods. Brazilians opened up Instagram and other social channels to compile photos and other evidence that might help the police bring the Brasília rioters to justice.

These events could be said to have happened online as much as they did offline, yet we know next to nothing about the inner workings of the platforms they occurred on.

People covering these platforms face a common refrain: After reaching out for basic social media data, they will often get a reply saying, “Unfortunately we do not have the information you need at this time.” (This particular quote came from Alberto de Golin, a PR agency representative for TikTok Mexico)…(More)”

Global Renewables Watch

About: “The Global Renewables Watch is a first-of-its-kind living atlas intended to map and measure all utility-scale solar and wind installations on Earth using artificial intelligence (AI) and satellite imagery, allowing users to evaluate clean energy transition progress and track trends over time. It also provides unique spatial data on land use trends to help achieve the dual aims of the environmental protection and increasing renewable energy capacity….(More)”