2016 witnessed the election of Donald Trump thanks in a large part to Russian meddling in the American democratic process. One of the most effective things that the Russians did was lie and spread contradictory information to make it hard for people to discern reality. Trump’s marketing skills made use of these Russian efforts to convince people to vote for him (by a very small margin and still lost the popular vote). How do we get out from the propaganda launched by Russia, Trump, and others?
The answer might just be late night comedians. Yes, a country run by a celebrity famous for being born rich will be saved by other rich celebrities. At the very least it’ll be great to see elevated discourse!
This is all to show that there is now proof that the mainstreaming of lies in the Trump era is indeed rotting our brains. It was first thought that one way to prevent the spread of false information would be to flag it by third-party fact checking, but the study cited above showed that that effort did not sufficiently help.
And that’s where the comedians come in. Thus far there have been no studies that have compared cognitive processing of satire with cognitive processing of falsehoods. But there is significant research to show that it may well be true that the best cognitive defense against Trump era falsehoods is satirical comedy. We know, for instance, that those who consume sarcasm are smarter, more creative and better at reading context. All are useful tools to process lies.
What is most interesting is that processing falsehoods and processing certain types of satire appears to follow a very similar cognitive path. In both cases, the brain has to be able to distinguish between what is said and what is true. And in both cases the brain has to reconcile ambiguity, incongruence and the misuse of words. It further has to process tone, context and body language to infer meaning.
We knew back when Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were on Comedy Central that their viewers were among the most informed on issues of any group consuming news. But now the role of satire in informing the public may be even more important — satirists may be the one thing that is keeping analytical thinkers engaged.
When climate conferences occur and parties sign on to legal agreements like the Paris Agreement some industries are excluded. Historically aviation and shipping have been left out from many climate change agreements which has resulted in both industries being behind the times, inefficient, and down right bad for the planet. Already, climate change is harming coastal nations and these coastal nations usually favour shipping. The impact of increasing water levels, storm surges, and more has led to those shipping-friendly nations to better regulate international shipping practices.
The result is a deal that shipping industry will finally address their greenhouse gas emissions by reducing their emissions by 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels.
Mr Paul added: “This is history in the making… if a country like the Marshall Islands, a country that is very vulnerable to climate change, and particularly depends on international shipping, can endorse this deal, there is no credible excuse for anybody else to hold back.”
The UK’s shipping minister, Nusrat Ghani, described the agreement as ” a watershed moment with the industry showing it is willing to play its part in protecting the planet”.
A for-profit pharmaceutical company sells a hepatitis C cure for $84,000 in the United States, which means that the average person cannot afford it and international the cost of the treatment is out of reach. Globally hepatitis C causes 400,000 deaths a year and affects 71 million people. Pharmaceutical companies claim the high price of their drugs is due to research and development (they spend more on advertising than research), yet non-profits can do similar research for a lot cheaper. Maybe we should only buy medical drugs from non-profits.
The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a not-for-profit organisation, is working with the Egyptian drugmaker Pharco Pharmaceuticals to bring a combination treatment of two hepatitis C tablets, ravidasvir (a new drug) and sofosbuvir, to countries that cannot afford to pay the high prices charged by US companies Gilead and AbbVie. This is taking longer than expected but has moved a big step closer with the latest results.
The medicine has also been tested on 300 patients in Egypt, who have different genetic characteristics, with a 100% cure rate. Further studies are being carried out in South Africa and Ukraine to cover all six genotypes of the disease.
Since the late 1970s (coinciding with the rise of neoliberalism) wages have stagnated while executive pay keeps rising. This has led to inequality being one of the largest issues facing companies and countries in the 21st century. Accordingly, people sick of neoliberalism have been looking into ways to address inequality and the subsequent economic stagnation. One solution is to have workers sit on the board of their employer. This results in better treatment of the workforce while providing more opportunity for growth in efficiencies within the company.
Research has found that the setup reduces worker turnover, boosts salaries and productivity, and supports income equity. Shareholder returns do suffer slightly, but researchers largely agree that tilting the flow of revenue back toward workers is a good thing.
It stands to reason that the concept holds a great deal of sway over the American public. The gulf between CEO and shareholder earnings and that of employees is often as extreme as 25 to one. Wages for regular workers have held largely stagnant over the last three decades, as executive salaries have ballooned. Bringing actual employees to the table where these decisions are made could serve to flatten the cliff between management and workers.
Let’s be honest, people are bad at conveying their ideas on what streets can look like. Thankfully there’s an open source project designed to help people remix their local streets and share it with others. The web based design tool Streetmix provides a simple drag and drop interface to rethink your local roads, you don’t need an urban planning degree to figure out what should go where. Give it a try, generate some images, and go talk to your community about making your neighbourhood more people-friendly from the street up.
Why does Streetmix exist?
When city planners seek input from community meetings from the public on streetscape improvements, one common engagement activity is to create paper cut-outs depicting different street components (like bike lanes, sidewalks, trees, and so on) and allow attendees to reassemble them into their desired streetscape. Planners and city officials can then take this feedback to determine a course of action for future plans. By creating an web-based version of this activity, planners can reach a wider audience than they could at meetings alone, and allow community members to share and remix each other’s creations.
The goal is to promote two-way communication between planners and the public, as well. Streetmix intends to communicate not just feedback to planners but also information and consequences of actions to the users that are creating streets. Kind of like SimCity did with its in-game advisors!
Streetmix can be used as a tool to promote and engage citizens around streetscape and placemaking issues, such as Complete Streets or the Project for Public Spaces’ Rightsizing Streets Guide.
Check out Streetmix.