Category Archives: politics

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Congress’s Oversight of Domestic Spying Fails for Many Reasons, Scholars Say

At a Senate hearing in March, the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper (pictured in 2011), denied collecting data on millions of Americans. That was not true, but few members of Congress may have been in a position to challenge his assertion. (Bill Clark, Roll Call, Getty Images)

The revelations from Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency has been tracking the communications of millions of Americans seem to have surprised Congress as much everyone else.

“Snowden, I don…

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The Practical Politics of Turning Problems Into International Causes

Locals look at the wreckage of a Lusaka bound passenger service minibus that resulted in the death of 17 people after it collided with a heavy goods truck in Chibombo on April 30, 2013.

Locals look at the wreckage of a Lusaka bound passenger service minibus that resulted in the death of 17 people after it collided with a heavy goods truck in Chibombo on April 30, 2013. (Chibala Zulu, AFP, Getty Images)

Did you know that traffic accidents are a leading cause of death in the developing world? Or that more children there die from burns than from malaria? Chances are you didn’t. The organizations you depend on to tell you these things—like Amnesty International or the UN Commissi…

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Do Poor Career Prospects Radicalize Imams?

Students gather and read in the courtyard of the mosque at Al-Azhar U., in Cairo, where the country’s top clerics teach the next generation of religious leaders. (Thomas Brown)/>

Students gather and read in the courtyard of the mosque at Al-Azhar U., in Cairo, where the country’s top clerics teach the next generation of religious leaders. (Thomas Brown)

Muslim clerics hold a lot of power. As interpreters of the Koran, they issue religious rulings, or fatwas, that can sway millions of people. Yet in the study of religious extremism, remarkably little work has been done to determine why some clerics become radical and others do not.

Rich Nielsen, a doctoral student at Ha…

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Democracy and Terrorism

erica chenoweth

Erica Chenoweth, U. of Denver

San Francisco — If you’re looking for a conversation starter, calling your next book “Why Democracy Encourages Terrorism” would probably work. The idea behind the provocative title goes like this: Democracy allows interest groups and political parties to flourish, which then leads to competition. Among those groups that feel most marginalized in the ensuing din, some take extreme measures in the pursuit of attention.

In other words, the conventional wisdom that demo…

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Historians, Dabbling in Science Fiction, Evoke a Climate Collapse

Prepare yourselves, dear readers: The United States of North America is coming.

Writing in the newest issue of Dædalus, two historians of science, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, have taken on a quixotic task: imagining a future historian looking back at our time, in an effort to tease out how we failed to avert a climate-caused collapse. Or, as they put it, how it came to be that “a second Dark Age” fell “on Western civilization, in which denial and self-deception, rooted in an ideological fi…

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The Never-Ending War Over a Gun Statistic

In 1995 a study in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology estimated that Americans used guns to defend themselves 2.1 million to 2.5 million times a year. That sounds like a lot, too much really—and the authors, Gary Kleck and Marc G. Gertz, acknowledge that, though they argue that it’s “not implausibly large” when you consider that there are 200-million-plus guns in the United States.

Nearly two decades later, that statistic has been recited countless times, and it often comes up in the a…

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The Rise of the Poll Quants (or, Why Sam Wang Might Eat a Bug)

Sam Wang

If you watched Meet the Press this past weekend, you learned that the presidential election was “statistically tied” and could be a “photo finish.” The Associated Press predicted a “nail biter.” The Philadelphia Inquirer threw up its hands, saying the vote was just “too close to call.”

Sam Wang begs to differ. By day, Wang is a neuroscientist at Princeton University, where his lab uses lasers to monitor the chemical signals of cells in the cerebellum. He co-wrote a recent paper that fou…

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Can Storms Sway Elections?

President Obama explained at a news conference on Monday how the federal government was preparing for the impact of Hurricane Sandy. When he was finished, a reporter asked how the storm might affect the election. Here’s what the president said:

I am not worried at this point about the election. I’m worried about the impact on families. I’m worried about the impact on our first responders. I’m worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation. The election will take care of itself nex…

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The Researcher Behind the Ovulation Voting Study Responds

Kristina Durante

Last week CNN pulled a story about a study purporting to demonstrate a link between a woman’s ovulation and how she votes, explaining that it failed to meet the cable network’s editorial standards. The story was savaged online as “silly,” “stupid,” “sexist,” and “offensive.” Others were less nice. Most of the vitriol was directed at CNN and at the reporter, Elizabeth Landau, who pointed out on Twitter what should go without saying: She didn’t conduct the study.

The person who di…

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To the Trickster Go the Spoils

William H. Press had been messing around with the Prisoner’s Dilemma, the classic game-theory conundrum, as a sort of side project. That is apparently what you do in your spare time when you’re a computer scientist and computational biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, not to mention president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Press wrote a computer program to assist in this happy diversion, but it kept crashing and he couldn’t figure out why.

He was still mu…