I read the same piece by Jacob Levy that Chris liked, but didn’t agree with the core argument. Below the fold, why: [click to continue…]


A trolley problem

by John Quiggin on July 26, 2017

I’ve generally been dubious about trolley problems and similar thought experiments in ethics. However, it’s just occurred to me that an idea I’ve tried to express in the economistic terms of opportunity cost, without convincing anybody, might be more persuasive as a trolley problem. So, let’s start with the standard problem where the train is about to kill ten people, but can be diverted onto a side track where it will kill only one.

In my version, however, there is a second train, loaded with vital medical supplies, which is about to crash. The loss of the supplies will lead to hundreds of deaths. You can prevent the crash, and save the supplies, by diverting the train to an alternative route (not killing anybody), but you don’t have time to deal with both trains. Do you divert the first train, the second train, or neither?

Hopefully, most respondents will choose the second train.

Now suppose that the first train has been hijacked by an evil gangster and his henchmen, who will be killed if you divert it, but will otherwise get away with the crime. As well as the gangsters, the single innocent person will die, but the ten people the gangster was going to kill will live.

The impending crash of the second train isn’t caused by anybody in particular. The region it serves is poor and no one paid for track maintenance. If the train doesn’t get through, hundreds of sick people will die, as sick poor people always have, and nobody much will notice.

Does that change your decision?

[click to continue…]


Evidence of childhood ambitions?

by Harry on July 24, 2017

England beat India in an absolute thriller yesterday. Ironically, given this post, I didn’t watch is – I’m in Spain, and was, during the most exciting part of the game, sitting in Barcelona airport awaiting the arrival of my daughter.
The BBC account includes this charming tweet, from Ian Shrubsole, with pictures of his daughter, Anya (who was the hero of the hour with 6/46) aged 9, at Lords:

The tweet immediately put me in mind of another picture (which is owned by Getty, and which I can’t insert, but think I am linking to here), of a similarly aged Harold Wilson standing outside number 10. When I first saw the picture (at a similar age myself) I thought that probably every PM had a picture of him or herself outside number 10 when a child (I bet Theresa May does), because I assumed they’d all have parents who were feeding their political ambitions, but in the many years since I’ve never actually seen one. So—any similar pictures/stories of children marking their future territory? I suppose there are obvious ones—Tiger Woods, and everyone who has ever succeeded in tennis—but non-obvious ones please?[Child actors not admissible]. Or, if you saw it, tell us about the World Cup Final.

[A sort of aside. When I was 12 my dad, to the consternation of my cousins, promised me 1000 pounds if I ever played at Lords. To his horror, within 3 months my school team had won the county cup, and entered into the national competition—we were four games short of a Lords final. Fortunately, we played Radley in the next round and were massacred. I think that he promised the same to my sister, which shows how optimistic he was about the progress of women’s cricket, or maybe he just thought it was a safe bet—in fact, she was playing for her County women’s team at 16, but, fortunately, like me, buggered off to the US to become a philosopher. So his money was safe]


Trump’s America

by Henry on July 22, 2017

(I took this photo with my phone in Dulles Airport a couple of weeks ago)


Can we get to 350 ppm? Yes we can

by John Quiggin on July 22, 2017

There’s been a fair bit of buzz about an article in New York Magazine with an apocalyptic picture of climate change over the next century. I’ll for a more complete response later. But as it happens, I was already preparing a much more optimistic view, arguing that, at least in the absence of political disasters such as a long-running Trump presidency, the world is likely to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations around 450 parts per million by 2050, and reduce that to 350 ppm by 2100.

On current models, stabilization at 450ppm gives us a 67 per cent chance of holding the long term increase in global temperatures below 2 degrees. Warming of 2 degrees would not be cataclysmic for humanity as a whole but it would be a disaster for many people and also for vulnerable ecosystems such as coral reefs. That’s why 350.org wants to reduce concentrations to 350 ppm from current levels above 400 ppm. Is that even possible? In my view, the answer is Yes.

[click to continue…]


Why Coase’s Penguin didn’t fly *

by Henry on July 21, 2017

This is a belated response to Cory’s post on Coase, Benkler and politics, and as such a class of a coda to the Walkaway seminar. It’s also a piece that I’ve been thinking about in outline for a long, long time, in part because of disagreements with Yochai Benkler (who I’ve learned and still learn a ton from, but whom I would like to see address concrete power relations more solidly).

As I said in my own contribution to the seminar, Cory’s arguments in this book are a kind of culmination of what I’ve called BoingBoing socialism – a set of broad ideas exploiting the notion that there is some valuable crossover between the politics of the left and the politics of Silicon Valley. Hence the aim of this post: not to deride that argument, nor to embrace it, but to think more specifically about its possibility conditions. [click to continue…]


Come work in Zurich

by Eszter Hargittai on July 21, 2017

Last week, I shared a bit about what my work day looks like. Want to come be a colleague? My department, the Institute for Mass Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich, has two open positions. Applications are due soon, rather out-of-sync with the usual US job market time line for this field, so I’m trying to spread the word. If you know of academics for whom these positions may be of interest, please share the info with them. One is a tenure-track assistant professor position in political communication, the other is an open-rank position in media politics/media policy. Knowledge of German is not required although an openness to learn it is. I teach all of my classes in English. Starting my fourth year I may be asked to do some of my teaching in German. It’s a great work environment and it’s a wonderful city!


Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the French leftist leader who I was hoping would beat Macron in the last election (as Chris knows, I’m really not a fan of Macron), sullies himself with this comment about French collaboration with the Holocaust. Responding to Macron’s speech in which Macron said France needed to take responsibility for its role in the roundup and extermination of the Jews (long a touchy subject in France), Mélenchon succumbs to the worst nationalist impulses to defend the honor of the French people.

Never, at any moment, did the French choose murder and anti-Semitic criminality. Those who were not Jewish were not all, and as French people, guilty of the crime that was carried out at the time! On the contrary, through its resistance, its fight against the [German] invader and through the reestablishment of the republic when the [Germans] were driven out of the territory, the French people, the French people proved which side they were actually on.

There’s an argument to be had (and one could see why in republican France some would want it to be had) about the relationship of the people to a collaborationist government under foreign occupation. Had Mélenchon simply said, look, the French people were divided, it’s hard to generalize, many collaborated, some resisted, Vichy wasn’t the official representative of the French people, let’s have a more textured understanding of history—that would be one thing. But that’s not simply what he says. (I’m not a reader of French, so I’m relying on the translations here. I’m also an outsider to French politics, and by no means an expert on all the local nuances and subtleties of this engagement. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) He goes further. With that last line in particular, he does more than try to remove the stain of collective guilt. He tries to claim collective innocence: what the Resistance did, that was France. What Vichy did, that wasn’t France. That was those evil ministers, forever betraying the French nation and the French people, who proved by the actions of the resisters who they really are.

Not only is what Mélenchon said an offense against the historical record, but it evinces all the worst features of nationalism that I loathe: the special pleading, the knee-jerk impulse to defend one’s own (with the implicit acknowledgment that the Jews aren’t thought of as one’s own), the retrograde identity politics (one might say the original form of identity politics), the offshoring of evil (though in this regard, Mélenchon ties himself in knots, saying, according to that Haaretz report, that Vichy wasn’t really France; France was off in London), the tribalism and groupiness. Even worse, this desire to assert and insist upon the purity of one’s group: deep down, we’re really good, it was those evil politicians, who weren’t really French in their hearts, who did the bad things. That kind of thinking is just the flip side of Bush-style axis of evil talk. The left should defend collectives, yes, but for God’s sake, let them be collectives based on justice rather than purity, and let them be collectives other than the French—or any other—nation.

This whole episode brings me back to a moment more than 25 years ago.

It was after my first year in grad school. I was spending the summer in Freiburg, learning German. At the language school where I was studying, I made a group of friends from Italy, France, Britain, and elsewhere. One guy, Pascal, and I really hit it off. He was from France, the south of France I think, and a hardcore leftist. Super sweet guy, with a German girlfriend named Claudia. I really liked them both.

One night, around the end of the summer, Pascal and Claudia had me over to dinner. They lived pretty far outside of the city, in the country. It was a lovely evening. We all spoke German (our one common language), with Claudia gently helping Pascal and me along when we needed help. There was a lot of wine.

Toward the end of the evening, the topic turned to French politics. Mitterrand in particular. This must have been some time around his second term as President. I don’t remember what prompted this, but at some point in the discussion, through my wine-sodden haze, I heard Pascal hissing that Mitterrand was a Jew. Everything bad that Mitterrand did—and Pascal really hated Mitterrand, from the left—was because Mitterrand was a Jew. It was a tirade: Jew this, Jew that. I think Pascal even began slipping into French: Juif, Juif.

(Mitterrand, incidentally, also liked to pull this line that France wasn’t responsible for the roundup of the Jews, that it was this alien, un-French presence called Vichy that did that.)

After a few minutes of this, I gathered myself, and said, as calm and composed as I could be (why is it so hard to assert one’s dignity in these situations?): Mitterrand is not a Jew, but I am.

It was a terrible moment: a wonderful summer’s friendship, across the barriers of language and nation, poisoned by this sudden extrusion of anti-Semitism. From the left.

I said I wanted to leave. They drove me home (as I said, we were way out of town). Claudia, the German, was scandalized by what her boyfriend, the Frenchman, had said and told him so. She couldn’t stop apologizing to me, up until the minute I got out of the car. He just drove, silently. That was the last I ever saw of them.

I’ve traveled a lot, have lived abroad, and have been friends with people from all across the globe. I’ve been involved in all kinds of anti-Zionist politics here in the US, with Jews, Muslims, Christians, Arabs, and atheists. But it’s only been among Europeans—I talked about my experiences in Britain here—that I’ve ever felt someone look at me and see: Jew Jew Jew.

The Jewish Question has always been, for me, a European question.


Lost Time

by Henry on July 18, 2017

Some months ago, I started listening to audiobooks while walking the dog. By and large, they’ve been serious audiobooks, because these days when I get to read fiction, it’s late at night, and I’m too tired to read anything that’s too demanding. Hence my need to assuage my guilt, and hence the reason I’ve been listening to Marcel Proust. [click to continue…]


What Sharks Are Left To Jump?

by John Holbo on July 17, 2017

On the one hand, we on the left are relieved that so much of the Trump administration so far has been reality TV-worthy bluster rather than something even worse. (This is not to deny that the Trump administration has accomplished some bad things, besides trolling us.) On the other hand, the bluster itself is sure to get worse and worse because that’s the nature of the media game. To keep everyone’s attention Trump needs to keep outraging expectations, so there’s a ratchet. Where does he have left to go? He can’t keep tweeting ’fake news!’ for four years (assuming he does stick around that long.) That wouldn’t be real news. Then what?


Morality Tale

by John Holbo on July 17, 2017

Hey, look! I published a short sf story.


Wait, so what is this science-a-thon thing?

by Eszter Hargittai on July 13, 2017

I’m nine hours into posting for science-a-thon and someone (thanks, DT!) finally asked me to clarify what the fundraising is for. I didn’t realize that accessing Tracey Holloway’s description of Science-a-thon—which is what I used for explanation—requires a LinkedIn login so I’ll copy her note here:

From Tracey Holloway:

Hi All –
You’ve probably heard about the study that over 80% of American’s can’t accurately name a living scientist—and my guess is that the numbers are similar when asking “what do scientists actually do?” Of course, we do lots of things – work in labs, go out in the field, teach classes, program computers – but the public doesn’t get to see this.

As a large-scale public outreach initiative, and the first major fundraiser for the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN), we’re launching Science-A-Thon. … an international “day of science” where participants share 12 photos over 12 hours of their day. From morning coffee through the ups and downs of a day in the life of a scientists (any scientist, any field of STEM, students, professionals – all are welcome).

We already have 100 scientists signed on – lots of earth scientists of course, but also cancer biologists, computer scientists, and more. Men and women, from 10 different countries so far. We’d love to have you! Just go to scienceathon.org/how to sign up. (And you’ll get a great “I love science” t-shirt)

If you’re not up for showcasing your own day, you can support ESWN and Science-A-Thon by sponsoring your favorite scientists (like me!)

Even if you’re not interested in donating to the cause, I highly recommend checking out the #scienceathon hashtag on Twitter as it’s a great way to get a sense of what a scientist’s day looks like. You can see my own Twitter photos here or on Facebook if that’s your preference. Or simply as updates to my earlier CT post today. Actually, I’ll make it easy and am copying the material to the bottom of this post.

Thanks to those who have contributed, I much appreciate it! Perhaps now that the goal is clearer, others will join in. You can donate here, any amount appreciated.

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How to Think about Digital Research

by Eszter Hargittai on July 13, 2017

As part of #scienceathon, I want to give some context to my work. My PhD is in sociology, but I work in a communication department (for 13 years I was at Northwestern University in the Department of Communication Studies, for the past year I have been at the Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich). In 2002, when I was on the job market, colleagues in communication seemed much more interested in my work than sociologists so I decided to pursue that route. Of course, some sociologists were very supportive, including my wonderful advisor, but others seemed to see any study of the Internet as a joke. I still remember an interaction in 2008 (!) where a well-known and very established sociologist introduced me to her sociologist colleague using very kind words to describe my work only to have said colleague laugh as though the introduction was meant as a joke since how could a sociologist possibly take the Internet seriously? A few awkward moments followed, but I wasn’t new to it (although a bit surprised for it to continue happening). In any case, I’ve very much enjoyed being in this line of work. But skepticism likely still exists. Although addressing the skeptics wasn’t really our goal, the introductory chapter [pdf] my co-editor Christian Sandvig and I wrote to our edited book Digital Research Confidential can serve as some guidance to such people as well. In it, we discuss the Internet as instrument and the Internet as object of study. We thought it was a helpful intro to the ten chapters that follow describing the behind-the-scenes details of how empirical social science about studying behavior online gets done. I thought it fitting to post about it as part of Science-a-thon since this day is about how researchers work and that entire volume is about the messy reality of everyday research endeavors as compared to the polished versions we see in published accounts.

You can contribute to Science-a-thon here.

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It’s Science-a-thon!

by Eszter Hargittai on July 13, 2017

As I mentioned a few days ago, I am participating in Science-a-thon today, which has two goals: show the world what the day in the life of a researcher looks like and raise money for science. I will be posting twelve images as updates to this post throughout the day. (I won’t overwhelm the feed by making each image a new post.) I will also be writing about issues related to doing research. My first image is of the main University of Zurich building that I passed with the tram this morning on my way to my office. (For those who’ve been reading CT for a while, yes, this is a change, I moved institutions and countries last year.) If you’d like to support science-a-thon, you can do so here: http://bit.ly/scienceathon. I’m 23% toward my goal of raising $1,000 as of this morning.

[click to continue…]


I got into a bit of a twitter fight with the always interesting Branko Milanovic yesterday. It was a second-hand fight, because he’d already been involved in one with Kate Raworth and had blogged about that. What was interesting to me was how Milanovic believed some things to be not only true, but obviously true, which I thought not just false but obviously false.

Milanovic’s claim is that limitless economic growth is both necessary and desirable in today’s societies. In fact, he puts the claim in the negative:

De-emphasizing growth is not desirable, and perhaps more importantly, is utterly unrealizable in societies like our modern societies.

He may be right or wrong about that. If such growth implies increased consumption of resources, then that’s a pretty bleak prospect for anyone who believes in ecological limits, worries about heat death from climate change and the like.

Still, more interesting to me was his reasoning:

the really important counter-argument to Kate is that her proposal fails to acknowledge the nature of today’s capitalist economies. They are built on two “fundaments”: (a) at the individual level, greed and the insatiable desire for more, and (b) on the collective level, competition as a means to achieve more. These are not necessarily most attractive ethical characteristics for either individuals or collectives but they are indispensable for capitalism to function—they provide the engine that pushes it ever further. … This extreme commodification is obviously linked with insatiability of our needs and by our desire to climb up in hierarchical rankings. Since today’s uber-capitalism accepts only one ranking criterion, money (and since all other possible ranking criteria can be, through commodification, converted into the money-metric), the desire for higher societal rank is almost entirely identified with the desire for higher income. And if everybody wants to have higher income, how can we then argue they our society should cease to place a premium on economic growth …. ? [click to continue…]