In 2012, the enthusiasm for poll averaging reached a fever pitch. Very few people were critical of it and instead talked about how science had taken over predictive politics. (1)
I was critical of the accuracy and swam against the tide of those in media gushing about the new frontier opened up by New York Times statistical pundit Nate Silver and others, which posited that we could now predict outcomes with unprecedented accuracy. 'They don't do any polls,' I noted, 'So we are supposed to believe there is some miracle of weighting they do in polls done by someone else.' It's the same flaw we find in epidemiology when a scholar does an unweighted random effects meta-analysis to conclude organic strawberries taste better or whatever.
“Here’s my bet: the kids are going to win and when they do, it’s going to matter,” prophesized environmentalist Bill McKibben about fossil fuel divestment in 2013
If so, they are going to be led by Quakers, who were among the first to officially say no to fossil fuel stocks. Though Quakers were considered anarchists in the Old World, in America they banned slave ownership way before government did and created Pennsylvania as a commonwealth without social elites, established churches, tithes, high taxes or compulsory military service. Are they thought leaders once again?
Organic food has managed to wrap itself in both a health and ethical halo and a lot of the credit for that has to go to outstanding marketing and the work of trade groups that represent organic farmers. They have turned what was once a niche market focused on a different process into a $100 billion juggernaut where mothers chide other mothers as bad parents if they don't buy organic.
That will be taught in business classes for decades.
It's Halloween and I am in New York and I wanted to do something local. But since Sleepy Hollow does not have a way to get there by subway (I don't even know where I would rent a car in Manhattan, I suppose I could get there by bus, but even using a subway is a populist stretch for me) I instead decided to get up and create a Ghostbusters tour. Why? Because even though only three actual weeks of filming took place here, it is strongly associated with the city.
Fortunately I am just a few blocks from Spook Central where all of the real action takes place, and almost all of it was on a subway line, minus some technology hiccups.(1)
In 2014, one person confirmed with Ebola set off a panic in the United States. Though 28,000 people died of heart disease while media attention focused on that outbreak, and anti-vaccine parents on the West Coast were suddenly prepared to spend any amount of money to get their kids immunized against it, what happened with pandemic preparation after the fear subsided was...not much.
The fact is, we tend not to think about disaster preparedness unless disaster is already upon us. This makes some sense, of course, because people may be hungry right now so there isn't much point to spending money worrying about a volcano - but pandemics are so devastating and so rapid in their effects that it almost demands there be some level of preparedness.
If you are in Manhattan or one of the five boroughs or New Jersey or Long Island and want a free beer and to talk about science communication, you are invited to join me as guest of honor at the Science On Tap event, October 28th from 6:30-9:30 PM.
The location is Connolly's Pub&Restaurant at 121 West 45th Street.