A run-down of items in Rhode Island political news for the week.
Here’s the sort of news I like to see:
People have been drinking coffee since at least the 15th century, and it’s been a staple of the workplace for more than a century. But it’s only fairly recently that science has explained some of its incredible health benefits.
As an avid coffee fan, I’ve written a lot over the years on new scientific studies about coffee’s health benefits. Here’s a quick recap of some of the best of them.
According to science, coffee is a veritable miracle drink that reduces your chance of death, lowers risk of heart disease, stroke, and suicide, burns fat, slows down the aging process, and maintains brain activity farther into old age. Clearly with results this good, we can reasonably expect that they must be accurate and will not be contradicted by future research.
Sure, there’s a chance that drinking over 35 ounces per day will begin to have some negative cardiovascular consequences, but that’s manageable. And besides, I’m skeptical of that one.
SPOILERS about Avengers: Endgame ahead.
I agree with Jonah Goldberg more than I disagree with him, but sometimes a guy has to stand firm in what he believes. Of all the complaints one can make about the last of the Avengers movies (at least in this cycle), inconsistency about its treatment of time travel is not one of them.
I should note that I think the movies’ conception of how time works is pure fantasy not applicable to reality, but if one accepts their physics framework, the story is just fine.
Seemingly in order to make a fun reference to the Back to the Future movies, the smarter characters explain that it isn’t possible to go back in the past in order to change the present. The heroes live in a world where the bad guy, Thanos, has used the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of all life in the universe. The problem is that the people whom they left behind when they went into the past would still be in a future in which Thanos had already accomplished his goal. It would be along a different time stream that Thanos had failed. Undoing what has already been done is a logical impossibility if we accept a tangible universe.
Jonah’s complaint is about the end of the movie. Once the world is saved, Captain America travels into the past to return the stones to their proper times, and he doesn’t return. It turns out he’d decided to stay in the past and live out a lifelong retirement with his one-time love. But then… there he is, as an old man sitting nearby a few seconds after the younger him had gone into the past. Weren’t we already told that changing things in the past put you on a different time stream?
Yes, but we’ve also seen evidence that two copies of the same person could exist alongside each other. Indeed, Captain America had to fight with himself! Jonah’s complaint is that Captain America’s staying in the past would have changed reality in all sorts of unpredictable ways, but as long as he stayed quiet and lived as a regular Joe far away from the action of the Avengers, he would have done nothing logically incompatible with the world of the story that we’ve been following over the past eleven years. For all we know, he was out there all along.
Planned Parenthood’s promotion of a higher minimum wage presents a multi-layered lesson on what it means to be “pro-choice.”
Articles with titles like, “Brains of 3 People Have Been Successfully Connected, Enabling Them to Share Thoughts,” always seem to overstate what has been accomplished:
Neuroscientists have successfully hooked up a three-way brain connection to allow three people to share their thoughts – and in this case, play a Tetris-style game.
The team thinks this wild experiment could be scaled up to connect whole networks of people, and yes, it’s as weird as it sounds.
It works through a combination of electroencephalograms (EEGs), for recording the electrical impulses that indicate brain activity, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), where neurons are stimulated using magnetic fields.
The researchers behind the system have dubbed it BrainNet, and say it could eventually be used to connect many different minds together, even across the web.
The details of the experiment suggest that researchers haven’t cracked the key questions that would be involved in actual mind-to-mind connections. Basically, the experiment involved two people communicating to a third person whether to rotate a Tetris block. In a completely ordinary world the two might shout across the room to the person with the controls. All the experiment did was to change that method of communication, such that the senders looked at one of two lights which would trigger a change in an EEG readout. On the recipient’s end, the readout triggered a visual flash in his or her brain, which the participant had been told how to interpret.
So, yes, there’s a neat quality to this, but it’s hardly telepathy, much less direct communication. Someday, maybe we’ll wake up to news that such things had been accomplished, but it still seems to be a good way off.
That said, the can is getting close enough that our society should begin contemplating the should. Do we want to become like the mind-merged creatures in Robert Heinlein’s Methuselah’s Children? In more practical terms, how do we enforce the boundaries that this technology will sweep away? People need to be able to enforce a firewall so that others can’t simply enter their brains, especially if it gets to the point of communicating thoughts more directly than flashes of phantom lights.
Way back in 2004, when same-sex marriage was still mostly on the periphery of public debate, I argued that the logic of contraception would eventually lead to a right for same-sex couples to create their own biological children with some sort of cloning. This story seems like a partway step between the final two steps in the progression that I described:
“Obviously, us being two women, we were like, ‘How can we make this happen?'” Ashleigh said. “We felt like there has to be a way.”
It turned out there was a way for both women to carry their child.
Fertility specialists Dr. Kathy Doody and her husband, Dr. Kevin Doody, of the CARE Fertility in Bedford, Texas, were the first to try reciprocal effortless in vitro fertilization using radical technology, which gave the Coulters a shot at motherhood.
“We were just talking one night at home and I said, ‘You know, I think we could use this for a same-sex couple,'” Dr. Kathy recalled. “And Kevin said: ‘I think you’re right. I think we could.'”
Using phrases like “passing the baton,” the article explains how both women carry a fertilized embryo. The egg comes from one, who carries the in vitro-fertilized embryo for a while. Then she hands it off to the other woman to carry to term.
Even if this weren’t an experimental procedure, one imagines there must be some risk associated with each step. As a parent, something about the whole thing seems cavalier to me.
Obviously, the experience of parenting is part of why men and women plan to have children in the modern world, but experimenting and taking risk with those children’s lives in order to enhance the experience for the parents suggests there’s a more fundamental change in social perspective going on here, and we ought to be aware of it.
An essay on NRO by Oren Cass is worth a read for the broad-ranging illustration it provides of the state of politicized science these days. His opening vignette is perfect:
The president of the United States had just cited his work with approval during a Rose Garden speech announcing a major change in American policy, and MIT economist John Reilly was speaking with National Public Radio. “I’m so sorry,” said host Barbara Howard. “Yeah,” Reilly replied.
This was not a triumph but a tragedy, because the president in question was Donald Trump. And the action taken was withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement.
Trump had cited Reilly’s work correctly, saying: “Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full” using Reilly’s economic projections, “. . . it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree . . . Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100.” But as Reilly explained on NPR, “All of us here believe the Paris agreement was an important step forward, so, to have our work used as an excuse to withdraw it is exactly the reverse of what we imagined hoping it would do.”
In other words, this isn’t about science, but about belief, and in this view, science is supposed to find evidence confirming progressive assumptions. That’s what it means to “believe in science.”
As Cass elaborates, this is especially a problem for people who profess to believe in data-driven public policy. If their data starts to raise doubts about their policies, and rather than adjust the policies, they look for new data, the whole thing begins to seem a bit like a scam. More from Cass:
Some check is needed on the impulse to slice and dice whatever results the research might yield into whatever conclusion the research community “imagined hoping” it would reach. In theory, peer review should do just that. But in this respect, the leftward lean of the ivory tower is as problematic for its distortion of the knowledge that feeds public-policy debates as it is for its suffocating effect on students and the broader culture. Peer review changes from feature to bug when the peers form an echo chamber of like-minded individuals pursuing the same ends. Academic journals become talking-points memos when they time the publication of unreviewed commentaries for maximum impact on political debates.
On the American campus, Catholics are forced out of their jobs in the name of presenting a diversity of ideas while hoax papers are published because academics really do believe that identity politics can tell us about the physical universe.
File this under “things you won’t hear proclaimed loudly in Rhode Island.” It appears that the United States is not the world leader in mass shootings:
[Criminologist Adam] Lankford’s study reported that over the 47 years there were 90 public mass shooters in the United States and 202 in the rest of world. Lankford hasn’t released his list of shootings or even the number of cases by country or year. We and others, both in academia and the media, have asked Lankford for his list, only to be declined. He has also declined to provide lists of the news sources and languages he used to compile his list of cases.
These omissions are important because Lankford’s entire conclusion would fall apart if he undercounted foreign cases due to lack of news coverage and language barriers.
When a researcher won’t provide the underlying data for his or her conclusions, that should be a major red flag. The new Crime Prevention Research Center report puts the U.S. as having the 61st most mass shootings, not the first, behind (among others, obviously) Norway, Finland, Switzerland, and Russia.
But don’t expect reasonable doubts about Lankford’s assertions to gain much play. His “findings” support a certain ideological position too cleanly.
The first, obviously, is why the results would be negative. In this case, the writers speculate that it could be statistical noise, with pre-K falsely identifying students as requiring special education, which would then affect expectations that they won’t perform as well in elementary school. Another explanation, that we’ve addressed in this space, before, is that the free pre-K option, while attractive in the moment for families, is not necessarily better for the children than the alternative of time at home with family or a more personalized day-care option. And yet another explanation we’ve touched on in the past is that being more advanced in an academic sense at the start of kindergarten creates boredom as the other kids catch up.
Perhaps all of these things are in play; the question then becomes whether it’s worth the expense and risk of unintended consequences to attempt to tweak the project. The hypothesis that pre-K will only work out if it’s universal can’t be proven without making it universal, at which point we may very well exacerbate the problem for children whose parents would have been happy to stay home with them.
The second question is the one on which Heriot focuses. Apparently, the study authors had difficulty publishing and received push-back in a way that seemed to have more to do with a policy preference than a scientific assessment. Heriot writes:
Here’s a question worth knowing the answer to: How much of the vitriol was coming from individuals with a financial stake in the continuation of government-subsidized pre-kindergarten programs for low-income children? As always, the more that gets spent on any government program, the harder it is to turn the spigot off.
Vitriol may also come from people invested in the notion that government needs to get children away from their backwards parents as soon as possible. Either way, anybody not on the take or ideologically invested should want policy decisions to be made on a firm basis, which means an openness to the possibility that meddling in people’s lives will have unintended consequences.
If the demon behind social media is “persuasive technology,” how do we petition for the aid of the corresponding angels?
Rhode Island should pause and think about what it really means to give the state government bureaucracy a mandate to analyze the pay differences of every employer within our borders.
Hallucinogenic drugs appear to help people to reevaluate what’s possible in their lives, which may tie more with the nature of reality than the 1960s ethos would suggest.
This Associated Press article doesn’t have much by way of detail, but it’s enough to be a head scratcher:
The state Department of Transportation is looking to get out in front of the self-driving vehicle movement with a plan to provide automated service for an underserved section of Providence.
The department on Monday announced that it is accepting proposals from companies who can test and eventually deliver such a service to fill a transportation gap between downtown Providence and Olneyville via the Woonasquatucket River corridor.
Rhode Islanders should be a little nervous when our state government starts talking about getting out ahead of the private sector with technological innovations. A subsequent update to the article seems to go in an entirely different direction:
In an interview Monday, DOT director Peter Alviti Jr. said his agency doesn’t want to limit what private innovative concepts companies might propose, by mandating particular types of vehicles, the projects costs or even the route, which he said is not limited to just the Woonasquatucket River corridor.
Alviti said the DOT expects autonomous vehicles will begin appearing on Rhode Island roads with traditional cars within five years and the pilot is intended to create “tangible interactions” with the technology so the government can better understand how to plan for it. …
Although the pilot program could theoretically take the form of a bus, Alviti said the intent is not to create an autonomous mass transit system.
So, it appears the idea is to contract with some company to brainstorm just about any way self-driving vehicles might affect or be incorporated into public transit. That’s a bit more open ended of an objective than we ought to accept, and a cynic might wonder who is going to turn out to be the owner of the company that gets this open-ended brainstorming project.
This, from a Weekly Standard article by Devorah Goldman, is terrifying:
In 2015, the Association of American Medical Colleges revised the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) for the first time in nearly 25 years, stretching the full exam-day experience from around five hours to eight or more. The test drew attention at the time for its sheer length; less widely noted was the explicitly ideological bent of the new exam.
The AAMC occupies a curious place in the world of medicine. It forms one-half of the only government-approved accrediting entity for U.S. medical schools, and it is solely in charge of administering both the MCAT and the national standardized medical school application. Unlike the American Medical Association, which represents physician groups without exercising much direct control over doctors, the AAMC has immediate and significant authority over its constituent medical schools and academic health centers. And in recent years, it has used this leverage to fundamentally alter the way medical schools assess applicants. …
In that address and others, [Dr. Darrell Kirch, president and CEO of the AAMC,] described the AAMC’s “Holistic Review Project,” which the organization launched in 2007 with the goal of “redefining what makes a good doctor.” The project’s objectives included revising the MCAT and a wide range of other reforms. A series of new guidelines (some of which have yet to be implemented) called on medical school admissions teams to place less emphasis on applicants’ grades, changed the requirements for letters of recommendation, and altered the standardized application by requesting a great deal more information about students’ upbringing and life experiences. The AAMC is also planning to add “situational judgment tests”—carefully crafted interviews in which applicants will be presented with a variety of hypothetical scenarios involving ethical conflicts—to the current admissions requirements. Along with the new MCAT, these changes are part of Kirch’s plan to shift the focus of medical-school admissions toward a “new excellence,” a standard based less on test scores and more on “the attitudes, values, and experiences” of applicants.
Sorry, but I’m much more concerned with whether my doctor knows how my body functions and how to fix it when things go wrong than what his or her attitude and values might be. Basically, if he or she values my business and my health, I’m good with whatever else he or she might believe.
As progressivism seeks to turn everything in our society to the single goal of political ends, it will seek not only to ensure that progressive doctors and other professionals are available to those who value them, but that no other options exist.
OK. Here’s one that’s a little outside of our usual content, here:
The headless chicken that found internet fame for surviving more than a week after being decapitated has now been adopted by monks.
Earlier this week the headless chicken made headlines around the world as it survived a beheading and was looked after by a kindly vet.
Take a look at the pictures (if you’re so inclined) and ask yourself: What does this say about the boundary of “life” between animals and plants?
From a purely materialistic standpoint, living thing can be defined as an entity that processes information internally. Weather can wear away a rock, but a plant can change what it does based on the information of the weather. What separates an animal, like a chicken? My view (broadly), is that animal life can deal in some level of abstraction; it takes in information from its senses and reacts in a way that adjusts from experience and predicts the future. This is the inchoate foundation of the soul, to be less materialistic.
So, without a head, what is the chicken doing? Can one train it to approach certain stimuli in the knowledge that it will receive food? Or is it just a biological machine?
On a metaphysical level, one could go either way. One could point to the chicken and still consider its animal life sacred and then conclude that plant life should be similarly sacred. Or one could suggest that a headless chicken raises doubts about how much of a leap there really is from plant to animal and whether we really should value animals more highly than plants simply for the fact of their being animals.
I’m not quite in the mood to place my marker on this game board, at this moment, but as the stories increase in frequency of activists and lawmakers’ going after people who treat animals without the most recently approved level of care, I’ve thought that folks should perhaps consider these deep questions a bit more thoroughly.
The next time some celebrity presumes to proclaim a principle as if his or her social status brings with it some sort of moral authority, remind yourself of this story by Hannah Sparks in the New York Post:
The Hollywood EGF Facial — a $650 treatment — involves a cleanse, chemical peel, microneedling, an “electrifying” face mask and a so-called “Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF)” — a serum that happens to be derived from the foreskin of Korean newborns. The substance supposedly helps generate collagen and elastin in the skin.
It’s just one of many borderline cannibalistic — and inevitably expensive — beauty products wooing the rich and vain these days.
As the article goes on to indicate (although without expressing it thus), this may be part of a progressively pushed envelope. The use of human secretions of one form or another has been a skin care strategy in the past, and moved on to the use of placentas and the customer’s own blood.
Along this trend line, utilizing discarded foreskins from other people’s children feels like a new level, in keeping with the use of young people’s blood in anti-aging experiments. This is a precarious and (yes) slippery slope, and we make a huge mistake in our society when we attribute a higher moral status to precisely the class of people who seem to have the least friction to their soles.
Here’s an interesting alternative view to the usual alarmism about the climate. Manhattan Institute Senior Scholar Oren Cass looks at a few studies with implausible conclusions. One predicts Iceland and Mongolia as future economic powerhouses. Here’s another interesting finding from a government agency:
One Environmental Protection Agency study estimates the potential increase in extreme-temperature deaths by looking at city-specific effects. It assumes that a day counting as unusually hot for some city in 2000 will cause a similar mortality increase in that city in 2100, even if climate change makes it no longer unusual.
The result is a projection that a hot day will kill massive numbers in Northern cities by 2100—though such temperatures are already routine at lower latitudes with no such ill effects. Pittsburgh’s extreme-temperature mortality rate is supposed to be 75 times as high in 2100 as that of Phoenix in 2000, though Pittsburgh will not be as hot then as Phoenix was a century earlier.
But if Pittsburgh’s climate steadily warms over the coming century, it will not react to a 100-degree day in 2100 the same way it did in 2000. Even if it didn’t warm, we should assume that economic and technological advancement will make the city and its residents more resilient to heat than they are today.
The absence of this sort of discussion is what makes many of us skeptical of alarmism. There are many steps between “the planet is warming” and “you have to restrain your economy and give up your freedom,” but we’re typically told that there’s no time for all that stuff.
Radical individualism, young conservatives’ political naivete, brain coupling, and disease in the social media city.
At the very first stages, what precisely constitutes a human life? Will our society even bother to think much about that question?
This news isn’t at all surprising:
The biggest differences between the Mensa group and the general population were seen for mood disorders and anxiety disorders. More than a quarter (26.7%) of the sample reported that they had been formally diagnosed with a mood disorder, while 20% reported an anxiety disorder—far higher than the national averages of around 10% for each. The differences were smaller, but still statistically significant and practically meaningful, for most of the other disorders. The prevalence of environmental allergies was triple the national average (33% vs. 11%).
Smart people are still human. Ultimately, they’re just applying more processing power to humanity’s hangups, and the intelligence doesn’t necessarily resolve those hangups, but can exacerbate them because much of life is irrational.
In my view, their ability to process information makes it more important for smart folks to reason their way to a “yes” on the binary question of whether the universe is governed by the divine. Such a view answers our human nature while giving some rational shape to life. The categorical alternative (allowing for individual variation) is to become something like a Vulcan from Star Trek and eliminate the irrational, including emotions.
This is also one area in which diversity is actually important. We ought to structure society in such a way that people of all different cognitive capacities interact with each other in a way that reinforces mutual respect, not the least because doing so fleshes out the principle that any moral philosophy must create space for everybody to lead fulfilling, significant lives.
Your processing power is useful, but it isn’t everything, and it doesn’t make you more equal than the other animals.
Felix Fernandes recently posted a video from Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show in which the host is debating a DNC advisor about federal transgender guidance for schools across the country. The short clip is definitely worth watching in full:
The most glaring point of interest is the extremity of the left-wing position: a simple statement of belief about your sex can change your sex. The only objective consideration that the DNC advisor will entertain is the fact that a person in front of you is, at this moment, telling you that he/she is a woman/man. Plainly put, this is an elevation of subjective feeling over any tangible reality.
Perhaps more important in the long term, though, is the guy’s response when Carlson takes the obvious step of pointing out the consequences when verifiable biology is made immaterial in the face of personal assertions. Can I proclaim the same about my race? Answer: No. What happens if I apply for loans, scholarships, sports teams, et cetera, dedicated to those whose biology is different? Answer: That’s an irrelevant question.
Carlson’s interlocutor just won’t acknowledge the validity of contrary claims — claims so irrefutable that they would have to be the basis of any logical consideration. Instead, he breaks out the totalitarian catch phrases of the Left that bully people into submission, even having the audacity to charge Carlson with pseudoscience for asking how it all relates to biology.
To the extent that progressives are able to pull our society along in this emperor-has-no-genitals delusion, we’re signaling a willingness to gamble our entire civilization on the premise that the entire universe is a flexible social construct. A much healthier path is simply to note that people who express such views are plainly insane. They’ve already ruled out debate and common ground, so the wise choice is to side with reality.
Walter Isaacson’s musings on the interests and methods of Leonardo da Vinci in the Wall Street Journal give the impression that da Vinci’s style might be difficult to replicate in modern times:
Leonardo knew that true observation requires not only the discipline of looking very closely at something but also the patience to process observations and patterns. While painting “The Last Supper,” he would sometimes stare at the work for an hour, finally make one small stroke, and then leave. He told the duke of Milan that creativity requires time and patience. “Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work least,” he explained, “for their minds are occupied with their ideas and the perfection of their conceptions, to which they afterwards give form.”
To be sure, such a mindset has always been easier for those of means and those with fewer other responsibilities. It seems self evident, however, that an era in which entertainment was sparse and labor and living generally were more tedious, the mind had more opportunity to wander. Of course, nothing stops us, these days, from taking the time to observe and think, but there are so many distractions.
Isaacson goes in a different direction, toward professional focus:
Today we live in a world that encourages specialization, whether we are students, scholars, workers or professionals. We also tend to exalt training in technology and engineering, believing that the jobs of the future will go to those who can code and build rather than those who can be creative.
About this point, I’m not so sure. After all, we are talking about Leonardo da Vinci, a singular man in history, and there are surely plenty of people with the inclination and smarts to pursue diverse interests. Perhaps the bigger challenge is that “Leonardo’s passion was to know everything there was to know about everything that could be known” was a more feasible goal in his day. There is so much more to know, these days; da Vinci’s waves of brilliance more readily crashed against the rocks of the unknown.
The graphic accompanying the Web page for this year’s honors colloquium at the University of Rhode Island appears to be ironic. It’s a sketch of a star with a face faded into it, all superimposed on a field of stars. Given that the title of the colloquium is “Origins: Life, the Universe and Everything,” one might assume the speeches would include some discussion of philosophy or even theology, but the list of presentations would seem to suggest otherwise. (An email to one of the coordinators for confirmation of this observation went without response.)
Basically, all 10 speakers are concerned with science of one form or another, which is fine as far as it goes, but it raises the question of what the underlying philosophy of the colloquium is. The fact that there must be such a philosophy implied can be seen in the advertisement that the speakers will help “to shed light on our current best understanding of humanity’s place in the cosmos.” Whatever useful information scientists might provide, that one is well outside of their purview.
Indeed, the insinuation that science can answer such questions seems like an attempt to smuggle in the academic elite’s popular variation of nihilistically tinged materialism. The extent to which scientists can tell us our “place in the cosmos” is precisely the extent to which they can do the same concerning rocks or elements. That is, they must first reduce us to mere things.
Worse, an institution that presumes to take up a topic such as the origins of everything without providing students some philosophical discourse as to (arguably) the most important question in their lives — not what or how, but why — does them a tremendous disservice. Even those who won’t attend such colloquiums will pick up the institutional message that this critical question for self-exploration and human development is unimportant.
That gets to a core reason I send my children to Catholic schools, and in keeping with my theme of today, it represents a disappointing missed opportunity.
The commentary of legislators supporting a ban on “conversion therapy” shows that they’re pushing an ideological agenda more than they’re trying to help actual people.
Allysia Finley recently wrote a fascinating interview article for the Wall Street Journal with cancer researcher Carl June about a new strategy for curing cancer. The conversation delves into the power of market forces and the undue burdens of regulation.
He’s also confident that economic competition will spur innovation. The University of Pennsylvania has licensed its CAR T-cell treatment to Novartis, and other pharmaceutical and biotech companies are racing for their own cures. “There are at least 40 companies right now making CAR T-cells . . . and they are incentivized to make it more cheaply,” he says. “The rate of innovation is so fast, patent life is going to be irrelevant for T-cells because it will be like your phone. Every two or three years, you buy a new phone because it’s better even though the patent hasn’t gone out.”
Regulators can’t possibly keep up with the rate of technological change and, beyond the likelihood that incumbent players will capture them in order to hinder competition, that gives them incentive to hold innovation back to a rate that they can tolerate. As June makes clear, the innovation and competition are more effective at regulation of products and prices than a handful of bureaucrats with their own incentive structures could be.
That was one of my central concerns when ObamaCare came online — that the anti-corporate, anti-profit Left, if allowed to dominate health care, would freeze our advances. In short, if you really want progress in some area of society, your best bet is to keep the progressives out of it.
Future reliance on artificial intelligence would be the fulfillment of the progressive vision that experts can guide society, so why is a Providence progressive an early opponent?
Yesterday’s Newport Daily News had on its front page an AP article about research into how best to translate new money into happiness. The sugar fix, so to speak, of a shopping spree doesn’t do it; rather, the key is to invest it in one’s own time:
“Money can buy happiness if you spend it right,” said University of British Columbia psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn, co-author of a study in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The right way is paying someone else to do the time-consuming drudge work that you don’t like, said study lead author Ashley Whillans at the Harvard Business School. When people do that, they report feeling greater life satisfaction in general and happier that day. But when they buy material objects, it tends not to bring people the happiness they expect, she said.
To some extent, this is just a description of how human economics work. A person labors toward his or her own greater happiness and satisfaction, and that in large part entails leaving behind work that he or she is happy to hand off to somebody for whom the money is currently of greater need than the time or who enjoys the work or who has found a more-efficient way to accomplish it.
Such findings seem to me to suggest a benefit of the “gig economy,” in which people use technology to piece together methods of freelance. Consider:
… if anything, the data suggested that people with less money were able to get a bigger happiness boost from time-saving purchases than those with more…
Yet, only 28 percent of the people surveyed spent money to save time, an average of $148 per month.
The small percentage may be a function of our consumer society, which constantly places objects for purchase before us, and we’re not adequately trained to figure out our own personal balance of time, money, and enjoyment. More to the point, though, it’s just easier to buy something than to hire somebody.
That’s where the gig economy could fill a gap, if it became easy and familiar simply to hire others for one-off tasks quickly and easily, more people would do it… and be happier.
This is perhaps a minor thing, and it’s certainly a little outside of my usual scope, here, but being a language guy, I found it to encapsulate the bias that many of us see in the news media. This is from text by the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker that appears as a brief sidebar in today’s Providence Journal. The Projo gave it the online headline, “White House blames Obama for failing to stop Russia collusion“:
The White House blamed the Obama administration Sunday for failing to tackle possible Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election, sticking with a new strategy to fault President Donald Trump’s predecessor for an issue currently facing the president himself as part of a widening FBI probe.
Either Parker and the Projo’s online headline writer are attempting to deceive readers or they don’t know what “collusion” means. They use the word to mean, broadly, Russian interference or meddling in the election, but it actually requires some sort of agreement, in this case between somebody in the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Even with all of the illegal leaks newspapers have published in the last however-many months, we’ve seen no evidence of collusion, and yet journalists are using that mere allegation as the characterization of the whole “widening FBI probe.”
This sort of peep-hole into the thinking and decisions of people who claim to be objective investigators gives an example of why so many of us are suspicious of all such claims. Consider the legislation that looks likely to become law this year to shield researchers in state institutions of higher education from public records requests.
Maybe there’s an argument to be made for the transparency exception on more procedural grounds — if serious scientists are avoiding employment in state institutions because having to divulge “preliminary drafts, notes and working papers” hobbles them in professional competition with other researchers, but that’s not how it’s being presented. It’s being presented as a mechanism for hiding the work on the hotly contested issue of climate change on behalf of a governing elite that has given the people no justification for trust.