Even when drugs are approved by the FDA, it may not be entirely clear how they work, just that they do. And sometimes, the FDA label describing how they work is actually wrong, as is the case with the emergency contraceptive pill Plan B.
The pill and others like it, which are to be taken as a last-ditch birth control effort after unprotected sex, deliver a one-time dose of a hormone that prevents pregnancy. Because the label suggests that the pill may prevent pregnancy by keeping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, which falls under some definitions of abortion, Plan B and other emergency contraceptives have popped up in political debate, with Mitt Romney calling them “abortive pills” and other Republican politicians making similar statements. The New York Times investigated the claim on the label, however, and found that it had been placed there by the FDA despite the fact that there was no evidence that the drug did so. Citing confidentially, the FDA will not say why.
As we descend into another election year, it would be nice if we could remember that people across the political divide are, er, people too. Unfortunately, that’s harder than it sounds, according to a new study in Psychological Science. Democrats and Republicans both are less likely to empathize with people from the opposite end of the political spectrum.
Psychologists know that empathy is often dependent on similarity. It’s easier, for example, to empathize with Jack London’s characters when you’re reading about Yukon explorers at a snowy bus stop than on the beach in Cancun. The researchers devised a clever experiment where students at a Michigan bus stop in January were asked to do a “reading comprehension” test. The short story they read, about a hiker who gets lost without clothes, food, or water, also inserted some clues to the hiker’s political affiliations.
As the 2012 presidential race ramps up, campaigns are courting voters not only at the traditional county fairs and town hall meetings, but online—and generating, in the process, an enormous amount of data about who potential voters are and what they want. At CNN.com, Micah Sifry—an expert on the intersection of technology and politics—delves in the Obama team’s extensive efforts to mine and manage the data in a way that could help them better interact with voters and home in on important issues. He writes:
What’s the News: President Obama gave a major address outlining his plan for U.S. energy security yesterday. His major goal is quite ambitious: to cut American oil imports by one-third by 2025. And towards that goal, he listed a number of initiatives that many news organizations see as a rehashing of old ideas, however good they might be. According to The Economist, “it is hard to see his recycled list of proposals as anything more than a reassurance to the environmentally minded, and to Americans fretting about rising fuel prices, that the president feels their pain.”
When we last left Washington’s attempt at climate and energy legislation this summer, the House of Representatives had narrowly passed its bill, but the Senate’s crashed and burned. With the dust settling from from Tuesday’s midterm elections and Republicans preparing to assume majority in the House, what’s next?
Yesterday President Obama conceded that legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions is not going to happen under the incoming Congress.
“Cap-and-trade was just one way of skinning the cat; it was not the only way,” Obama said at a news conference Wednesday, a day after Democrats lost control of the House. “I’m going to be looking for other means to address this problem.” [AP]
Last week an account going by the name @PeaceKaren_25 was suspended by Twitter.com. We wouldn’t normally care about some spambot getting picked off, but PeaceKaren is important because she wasn’t peddling porn or popups–she was a political puppet.
Karen and her sister account @HopeMarie_25 are examples of political “astroturf,” fake Twitter accounts that create the illusion of a “grassroots” political movement. In the diagram above, the two accounts are connected by a very thick band, which indicates that Marie constantly re-tweeted everything Karen said. Together they sent out over 20,000 tweets in the last four months promoting the Twitter account and website of Republican congressional leader John Boehner.
Such messages were cataloged and analyzed by Indiana University’s Truthy project, which takes its name from Stephen Colbert’s concept of “truthiness.” The goal of the project is to seek out propaganda and smear campaigns conducted via false Twitter accounts.
Researchers are making the case that a person’s political views cause them to see with a tinted perspective.
Scientists showed undergraduate students a series of digitally darkened or lightened photos of President Barack Obama last fall, and asked them which photos best represented him as a person. The results were striking: while self-described liberals tended to pick the digitally lightened photos of the president, self-described conservative students more frequently picked the darkened images. The more one agrees with a politician, in other words, the lighter his skin tone seems; the less you agree, the darker it becomes [Newsweek]. The study will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
President Obama proposed new fuel efficiency standards today, establishing the first nationwide regulation for greenhouse gases [Washington Post]. The proposal is centered around the strictest plan ever for increasing fuel standards for passenger vehicles, sharply raising pressure on struggling automakers to make more efficient cars and trucks [Reuters]. Under the plan, cars would be required to reach an average efficiency of 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2016—four years earlier than the deadline imposed by the 2007 energy bill. Light trucks would be required to reach 30 mpg.
The new rules would pose a challenge for car manufacturers: the White House estimates the current average efficiency to be 25 mpg. The new standards would resolve the spat between California and auto manufacturers over implementing the state’s emissions regulations [ClimateWire]. In return for the strict national rules, California will drop its plans to impose strict state-wide standards for fuel efficiency, which had been bitterly resisted by both carmakers and President George Bush. In practice California’s rules tend to override milder national regulations, as it is cheaper to follow them than to produce different vehicles [The Economist].
The U.S. Interior Department announced new rules today that will allow the first offshore wind turbines to go up along the Atlantic Coast, including the site near Cape Cod that the Kennedy family famously opposed. In an Earth Day speech from Iowa, President Obama announced the new rules, which will set long-awaited guidelines for offshore leases, easements and royalty payments that the Bush administration worked on for years but did not complete [Los Angeles Times]. His administration will soon be able to begin leasing tracts off U.S. shores for electricity generation projects using wind and ocean currents [Bloomberg].
The Interior Department recently estimated that offshore wind turbines could someday supply more than enough electricity to meet the nation’s current demand [Los Angeles Times], an encouraging finding for Obama, who has been delaying the Bush-planned expansion of offshore oil drilling since entering office. The new plan is attractive because offshore winds are stronger and more reliable, and because the turbines would be closer geographically to large population centers—a key advantage since transporting wind-produced energy is still an obstacle to its large-scale development.
The Mojave Desert has become a battlefield for how President Obama’s clean energy goals should be moved forward, and conservationists and renewable energy advocates, usually natural allies, are now pitted against each other. California Senator Dianne Feinstein proposed legislation last week that would designate more than 800,000 acres of desert land a national monument, putting it off-limits to energy projects.
The area of concern to Feinstein is between the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park…. The area includes desert tortoise habitat, wildlife corridors, cactus gardens and the Amboy Crater [Los Angeles Times]. While many believe that the desert is an ideal location to establish solar and wind farms, conservationists say that such projects would destroy the ecosystem. David Myers, head of the Wildlands Conservancy, says, “How can you say you’re going to blade off hundreds of thousands of acres of earth to preserve the Earth?” [The New York Times].
Myers stands firmly on one side, while other environmentalists are working with the state on its renewable energy plans for the desert. “We have to accept our responsibility that something that we have been advocating for decades is about to happen. My job is to make sure that it happens in an environmentally responsible way” [The New York Times], says Johanna Wald of the Natural Resources Defense Council.