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Trying to Understand the Green New Deal

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I’ve made an affirmative decision not to pay too much attention to the “Green New Deal” until there’s at least a little bit of consensus about what it means, but today Matt Yglesias points me to a letter from 626 organizations—mostly small, local groups—that lays out one particular vision. For the most part, it’s pretty conventional: put an end to fossil fuels; transition to 100 percent renewable power by 2035; decarbonize transportation by 2040; and “harness the full power of the Clean Air Act.” This is followed by the inevitable shout out to “impacted communities” and indigenous rights, and it finally ends with this:

Further, we will vigorously oppose any legislation that: (1) rolls back existing environmental, health, and other protections, (2) protects fossil fuel and other dirty energy polluters from liability, or (3) promotes corporate schemes that place profits over community burdens and benefits, including market-based mechanisms and technology options such as carbon and emissions trading and offsets, carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, waste-to-energy and biomass energy. Fossil fuel companies should pay their fair share for damages caused by climate change, rather than shifting those costs to taxpayers.

I don’t get it. What’s wrong with cap-and-trade? What’s wrong with carbon capture? What’s wrong with nuclear power? What’s wrong with biomass energy? Why do they insist that fossil fuel companies be made to pay for their sins, but support the idea of helping out multinational automobile companies with federal credits for electric vehicles?

I suppose the idea here is that big companies will somehow game the system if they’re allowed to participate, but that doesn’t make sense. In any world where we have the political muscle to decarbonize everything over the next 20 years, we also have the political muscle to create a strong cap-and-trade system and to insure that money spent on carbon capture (for example) is spent wisely. If we’re unsure of our ability to do even those smallish things, what are the odds that we’ll be able to do gigantic things like ending the use of fossil fuels within two decades?

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benzado
40 minutes ago
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Maybe that stuff is there so that we can “compromise” to get cap-and-trade instead of “compromise” to take no action?
New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
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Dumb Stuff On The Internet

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Back in the old days, "the internet" and "the real world" were still sorta different places. It was easier to compartmentalize my life, though to some degree sucky blogs bridged the worlds. Now it's all one big goofy mess.
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benzado
48 minutes ago
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Yup.
New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
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Mercator Globe

jwz
1 Comment and 2 Shares

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JayM
2 hours ago
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Ha!
Atlanta, GA
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Biscuits Roses de Reims

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Reims is the unofficial capital of Champagne's grape-growing region, but the French city also boasts a namesake sweet designed for dunking in the area's world-famous wine. Local bakers created biscuits rose de Reims around 1690. Made from sugar, flour, egg, and salt, the twice-baked cookies have a crispness that keeps them from flaking when submerged in liquid. Rather, after going for a dip in a glass of champagne, biscuits rose de Reims melt in your mouth.

These biscuits' most prominent feature, however is their pink color. Carmine, a red dye made from pulverized cochineal insects, is behind the hue (it's labeled as "natural coloring E120" on the ingredients list). Bakers found that adding black vanilla bean to white biscuit dough resulted in an unappealing gray color. Their solution was to turn the batter pink, naturally.

Historically, locals dunked this traditional treat into glasses of champagne. However, no one will stop you from dabbling in pairings with coffee, hot chocolate, or other wines.

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hannahdraper
6 hours ago
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Washington, DC
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On GMO safety, the fiercest opponents understand the least

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Science is our most effective means of understanding the natural world, yet the public doesn't always accept the understanding that it produces. Researchers have been trying to figure out why there's a gap between science and the public for decades, an effort that is becoming increasingly relevant as the US seems to have a growing discomfort with facts in general. In some cases, the issue is clearly cultural: politics and religion appear to have strong influences on whether people accept the science on climate change and evolution, respectively.

It would be easy to think that the controversy over GMO foods is similar. After all, opposition to GMOs is often ascribed to liberal granola eaters. But several polls have suggested that's not the case, as there's as much discomfort about GMOs on the right as there is on the left. Now, a new study in Nature Human Behavior suggests an alternate explanation: opposition to GMOs is highest among those who know the least about genetics but have convinced themselves they're experts. Or as the authors put it, "Extreme opponents know the least but think they know the most."

Science literacy

A US-Canadian team of researchers started off by having a demographically diverse group of 500 US residents answer a series of questions. Participants were asked to rate their level of concern with and opposition to GMOs. As had been found in past surveys, there was a lot of uncertainty about the biotechnology; more than 90 percent of respondents reported concern, and a similar number were somewhat opposed to its use. But that opposition didn't break down along political lines: "there were no significant differences in extremity of opposition between self-reported liberals, moderates, and conservatives."

So what's going on? The researchers also included questions that tested how well the participants understood science in general and genetics in particular. And here, there was a very clear pattern: "As extremity of opposition increases, scientific literacy decreases." In other words, the people who are most strongly opposed to GMOs knew the least about science, and specifically, genetics.

In addition to assessing their scientific knowledge, the researchers had the participants rate their own. And here, something funny happened. At lower levels of opposition to GMOs, people were pretty good at understanding how well they understood science. But as opposition edged into extreme territories, things changed: people started consistently overrating their own level of knowledge. Again, the authors put it very succinctly, writing, "For extremists, knowing less is associated with thinking one knows more."

Going international

To replicate this finding and expand its scope, the researchers performed a similar survey in the US, Germany, and France. The results in the US were the same, and the researchers also saw genetic literacy go down as the vehemence of GMO opposition went up. But there was a subtle difference. In the two European countries, the gap between actual knowledge and self-assessed knowledge no longer correlated with the strength of opposition. In other words, the strongest GMO opponents in Germany and France may not have known much about genetics, but they were at least a bit more realistic about their lack of knowledge.

To get a closer look at Europe, the researchers turned to the European Commission's Eurobarometer survey, which involves interviews with 1,000 people in each EU country. In 20 of the 25 countries for which data was available, knowledge of genetics and strength of GMO opposition were anticorrelated—as one went up, the other went down. Unfortunately, the Eurobarometer data does not include self-assessed knowledge of genetics, so we can't see how often the Europeans suffer from Dunning-Kruger issues.

The researchers tidied up some loose ends, repeating the experiment while changing the order of questions (which had no effect). They also recognized that some opponents dislike GMOs because of issues like the behavior of agricultural corporations or the risks of crop monoculture, neither of which is directly related to the scientific consensus that GMO crops are safe. So they asked people about what their biggest issue with GMOs were. Overall, about 75 percent of the population chose health and safety concerns, and that percentage went up as strength of opposition increased. This really does seem to be a case of problems with understanding science.

The researchers also repeated the study in the US while swapping out GMOs and replacing the issue with gene therapy. Here, levels of opposition were much lower, but the same relationship existed among self-assessed genetic knowledge, actual genetic knowledge, and strength of opposition. Again, those who liked gene therapy the least also had lower genetic literacy but thought they knew a lot about the topic.

Implications

There is a lot going on here, so let's take some time to unpack it. To begin with, it would be easy to look at some of the eye-catching phrasing in the paper and write everything off as an example of Dunning-Kruger in action: the people who know the least are the most confident that they understand the subject, and this drives their opposition. But this pattern only clearly held in the US; in Europe, people seemed more aware of how little they knew but were still content to oppose GMOs despite that knowledge.

In addition, the study doesn't get into cause and effect issues at all. It could be that lack of genetics knowledge enabled people to latch on to misinformation about GMOs. But it could also be that a desire to demonize GMOs led people to latch on to questionable claims about the underlying technology, leading to their misinformed state. Finally, it's impossible to rule out a factor underlying both issues that hasn't been identified yet.

But if the causality goes from lack of knowledge to opposition, that should have testable consequences—improving people's genetic literacy should lower their belief that GMOs are unsafe. And the test could probably be done by simply doing some before-and-after polling of the opinions of a few colleges' worth of biology majors.

If that turned out to be the case, it could be an exceptional finding. There are a number of topics—climate change, evolution, gun safety regulations—where the opposition to scientific findings is largely cultural. In all cases, the scientific community's typical view of these matters is that, if we would simply educate the public better to make up for the deficit in their understanding, they would come around to the objective evidence. This has been termed the "deficit model" of public understanding, with education presented as its solution.

But in cases where the opposition is cultural, education tends to be useless. In the case of climate change, education actually makes matters worse, as people with a better scientific understanding tend to be more confident in dismissing information they don't want to believe. So, should GMO opposition end up being a case where the deficit model is accurate and provides a useful solution, that would be news.

In the big picture, however, these discussions drive home how there's a big flaw in how we think about the public's understanding of science. Advocates of various approaches to improving the public's understanding tend to present the issue as monolithic and, therefore, something that can be tackled by a single solution (generally the one they're advocating for). But this study and the past research it cites highlight how we have an entire collection of public misunderstandings, each with distinct causes, dynamics, and potential solutions.

There will be no single silver bullet that will kill the public's problems with scientific information. And this will mean a long struggle to identify and address a whole collection of issues that differ from problem to problem.

Nature Human Behavior, 2019. DOI: 10.1038/s41562-018-0520-3  (About DOIs).

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fxer
6 hours ago
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Bend, Oregon
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Microsoft’s fonts catch out another fraudster—this time in Canada

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The Calibri font. Don't use this if you're forging anything written before 2007.

Enlarge / The Calibri font. Don't use this if you're forging anything written before 2007. (credit: Peter Bright)

You'd think that people forging documents would have learned by now. Canadian Gerald McGoey was judged to have falsified documents in an attempt to protect certain assets from bankruptcy proceedings because—and stop me if you've heard this before—the documents used Microsoft's modern "C" fonts, which didn't become widely available until 2007. This would have been fine were it not for the minor detail that the documents were dated 2004 and 1995. Whoops.

McGoey was CEO of Look Communications when it collapsed and left him bankrupt. The company was liquidated, and McGoey was ordered to replay $5.6 million to creditors. McGoey claimed that the assets in question—homes, in this case—were held in trust by his wife and three children and hence beyond the reach of the courts. To prove this, he presented two signed documents. Unfortunately for him, he'd created the documents using typefaces that didn't exist at the time of the documents' purported creation.

The first trust document was dated 1995 and used the Cambria font. The second, dated 2004, used Calibri. Cambria was designed in 2004, while Calibri was between 2002 and 2004. But neither became widespread until 2007, when they were bundled with Windows Vista and Office 2007. That software included seven different fonts with names beginning with "C"—the "C fonts"—that were optimized for ClearType antialiasing. With their release, Microsoft changed Word's default font from the venerable Times New Roman to Calibri. Using the new fonts instantly betrays that a document wasn't written any time prior to 2007.

This isn't the first time that Microsoft's switch has caught out fraudsters. In 2017, the family of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif produced forged documents to justify the substantial fortune that Sharif had accumulated. Daughter Maryam Sharif presented a signed document dated to 2006 but made the same mistake as McGoey: she used Calibri.

And before that, in 2012 the Turkish government relied on documents written in Calibri and other C fonts to show that some 300 people were involved in a coup attempt. Only problem? The documents were dated 2003. Though the deceit was pointed out in court, it was to no avail, and the defendants were found guilty anyway.

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fxer
7 hours ago
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Calibri strikes again
Bend, Oregon
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Google Docs, Sheets, Slides and Sites on the web are going Material Design

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Google today announced that it has started the long-expected rollout of its Material Design update for Google Docs, Sheets, Slides and Sites, after first testing this update to the G Suite apps with its new design for Google Drive last year.

It’s worth noting that there are no new features or other changes here. Everything is still exactly where it used to be (give or take a few pixels). This is solely a design refresh.

What you can expect to see, when you get the update, is different interface fonts, slightly revised controls and some new iconography. There are also some fresh new colors here and there. But that’s about it.

Google started the rollout of this new design for G Suite subscribers on the Rapid Release schedule today and everybody who is on that should get it within the next 15 days. Those users whose admins are a bit more timid and are sticking to the Scheduled Release schedule will see the new design around February 11. Google doesn’t typically say when those features roll out to free users, but chances are you’ll see them within the next month, too.

Google has been rolling out updated designs for most of its web and mobile apps over the course of the last few months. Google Calendar was one of the latest apps to get this update, and with the addition of the G Suite productivity apps, the company has now mostly completed this project — until it released updated Material Design guidelines, of course.

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fxer
7 hours ago
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Bend, Oregon
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