Archive for October, 2008

Be Very Afraid: Online Voting Systems Fail Even for Political Bloggers

By Melissa Lafsky | October 23, 2008 4:07 pm

Voting and technology have nothing resembling a smooth relationship. And as Nov. 4th fast approaches with its expected record voter turnouts, there’s a pretty good (translation: 99.999 percent) chance that the computers and scanners we rely on to register our identities, store our personal information, and correctly record our votes will fail us—in fact, screw-ups are already being reported, and it’s not even the October home stretch.

Given this heartening news, the question is not “Will voting technology break down during this election?” but rather “How can I keep the cyberworld from chewing up and spitting out my vote before I’ve even cast it?” Thankfully, while voter databases and e-voting machines are apt—perhaps even destined—to crash and burn, voters have an ally in the Internet, which offers a means of keeping an eye on details like whether you’re registered correctly (or at all).

So how likely is it that your local voter database has already made an error? Well, to test the system we decided check our registration status in New York, RB’s home state. And while RB endeavors (ahem) to remain non-partisan, we were very not at all surprised to find the following error:
republican computer error

To avoid suffering the same fate, we suggest you check your registration status online (all voters in New York can use this link). Find any errors in your home state’s database? Let us know in the comments!


Wired: The Interactive Voting Problems Map

DISCOVER: Protect Your Vote with Invisible Ink
RB: Voting in America: Let the Pre-Game Mess Begin!
RB: Sarah Palin Still Butchering Science, Redux
RB: Rumors Aside, Sarah Palin Is Still Butchering Science
RB: Don’t Know Much About Technology: McCain Tackles ScienceDebate Questions

CATEGORIZED UNDER: The 2008 Election
MORE ABOUT: technology, voting

Drugonomics: Cash-Strapped Americans Taking Fewer Prescription Meds

By Melissa Lafsky | October 23, 2008 12:16 pm

The American health care rule for prescription drugs is generally: Ask (or just go online) and ye shall receive.

But with an economic meltdown comes serious resource reallocation, and lost jobs and slashed earnings/net worths mean less money to pay for all those Trazodone and Ativan refills. Consequently, as the New York Times reports, consumers are cutting back on prescription drug use in an effort to curb spending. And the effects are already hitting drug companies: Pfizer says that sales of Lipitor, the world’s largest-selling prescription med, has seen sales drop 13 percent in the third quarter, and Merck just announced it’s slashing 7,200 jobs.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons why this is bad:

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MORE ABOUT: doctors, economy, medication

California Sets "Green Jobs" Example; Rest of the Country (Hopefully) Follows Suit

By Melissa Lafsky | October 22, 2008 12:28 pm

green jobsThere’s a lot of talk about “green jobs” in this election. But for all the questions raised by the phrase—just how many jobs will be generated, where will they come from, how fast will they get here—so far we’ve had few definite answers.

Which is why it’s helpful to have at least one state paving the way as an example of how to incorporate energy efficiency and “greening” into the economic scheme, and save money and create jobs in the process. The state in question is California, and according to a new study out of U.C. Berkeley, its planned investments in fighting global warming and improving energy efficiency will create as many as 403,000 jobs and jack up household incomes by $48 billion in the next 12 years. These results are a big jump even from the state’s own estimates, which were around 100,000 new jobs and $14 billion in personal income.

The key to the mystical “green job,” according to the Berkeley study, is reallocation: When people use less energy, they spend less on energy bills, and thus have more cash to spend on other things, like consumer products. Cue economic growth and job creation.

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Campaign Ads in Battleground States May Confuse, Not Win, Swing Voters

By Melissa Lafsky | October 21, 2008 2:51 pm

In the final stretch before Nov. 4th, both the Obama and McCain camps have been hurling their efforts—not to mention cash—at key battleground states like Ohio, Colorado, and Florida. Most of the money has gone towards a near-nonstop rotation of TV and other ads, many of which consist of shoveling as much BS on your opponent’s head as possible in 30 seconds.

The ad game is all part of the conventional election wisdom, which goes something like, “Drown out the other guy’s messages with your own, and you’ll snag the voters.” But as it turns out, the barrage of competing ads may actually be having the opposite effect: A new study found that the more bombarded people are with different political messages, the more confused and ambivalent they become. In other words, all those clogged airwaves in Michigan and Ohio may be upping the chances that voters stay home on election day.

The study’s data consisted of surveys from the American National Election Study in 2000—which, as you’ll likely recall, was a particularly messy/disastrous/laughable example of politics in action. That year, the University of Michigan ran the survey, which included interviews with over 1,800 voters.

Study authors (and swing state voters) Luke Keele of Ohio State University and Jennifer Wolak of the University of Colorado, Boulder compared the survey results of voters in battleground versus sure-thing states, measuring levels of ambivalence based on the number of positive and/or negative items that the respondents listed about both Bush and Gore. The idea was that if a voter thought the two candidates were equally good/bad, it was a sign of that voter’s ambivalence. Keele and Wolak then cross-checked their results against the amount of TV each voter watched.

And the results?

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MORE ABOUT: mccain, obama, psychology, voters

What Would Einstein Do? Part XXI: David Hirsh

By Melissa Lafsky | October 21, 2008 11:36 am

What are the three most important things the next U.S. president needs to do for science? The DISCOVER Science Policy Project gave a group of the country’s most celebrated scientists and thinkers the chance to state their views. Today, renowned biotechnology innovator David Hirsh offers his advice for the coming administration. All past responses can be found here.

Executive Vice President for Research, Columbia University

First, there needs to be a redirection of funding to invest in fundamental discovery science—the applications will follow—especially in the areas of energy, “big physics,” the mind/brain and evolution.

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When Museums Get Political: New York Exhibit Targets Climate Change

By Melissa Lafsky | October 20, 2008 3:34 pm

globeSeeing as global warming is a defining issue of our time and all, it’s not a shock that museums would want to feature exhibits on the subject. But given that climate change is still (somewhat, on a dwindling basis) a politically-charged and controversial topic, what stance should a museum show take on the principal point of contention—specifically, whether or not the cause is mostly (or only) human activity?

That’s the dilemma that New York’s famed American Museum of Natural History is flirting with in its new show, “Climate Change: The Threat to Life and A New Energy Future.” The exhibition takes the definitive stance that human activities are primarily responsible for climate change. Museum curator Edmond Mathez, who first proposed the show several years ago, said the man-made direction was a deliberate move to educate the public on the real scientific consensus about climate change. Of course, it’s unlikely Mathez could have foreseen that the show would open during a presidential election in which one side’s VP nominee stomps on the very consensus the exhibit was built to promote—but then, all the more reason for an injection of fact into the public discourse.

So what does the show look like?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate Change, The 2008 Election

Medical Brain Drain Slams Iraq

By Melissa Lafsky | October 20, 2008 1:35 pm

The doctor shortage is looming in our future, and the exodus of top scientific talent out of the U.S. may be just a few years away. But imagine the scenario if you added a domestic war, ethnic violence, and an unstable (relatively speaking) government to the equation. Cue the current situation in Iraq, in which legions of educated workers—including doctors and other health professionals—are high-tailing it to safer pastures, as Newsweek reports. And who can blame them: Since the U.S. invasion began, doctors have been prime targets for violence, including assassination, ransom kidnapping, and torture.

Unsurprisingly, around 30,000 doctors, plus some dentists and pharmacists, have fled the country as a result, and despite the fact that things have calmed down since the near-chaos of 2006, only about 800 have returned. To put that number into perspective, the total population of Iraq is around 28 million, compared to over 300 million in the U.S. The expected American doctor shortage, which could be enough to throw our health care system into crisis, is projected to be 50,000 to 100,000 doctors—not that much more than what Iraq has already lost.

Then there’s the other urgent dilemma: With all the experienced doctors fleeing the country, who’s left to train the med students?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health Care, Science in Wartime
MORE ABOUT: doctors, Iraq

Lawrence Krauss Has Something to Say to the Next President

By Melissa Lafsky | October 17, 2008 4:33 pm

What are the three most important things the next U.S. president needs to do for science? The DISCOVER Science Policy Project gave a group of the country’s most celebrated scientists and thinkers the chance to state their views. Today, renowned theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss offers an essay outlining his advice for the coming administration. All past responses can be found here.

Theoretical physicist

Memo to the Next President:

“Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”
—Richard P. Feynman

Eighteen years ago, the former President of the United States, George H. W. Bush, addressed the National Academy of Sciences, stating:

“Science, like any field of endeavor, relies on freedom of inquiry; and one of the hallmarks of that freedom is objectivity. Now more than ever, on issues ranging from climate change to AIDS research to genetic engineering to food additives, government relies on the impartial perspective of science for guidance.”

It is hard to find a better statement of what the relationship between science and public policy should be. Science should be a tool to help policymakers understand the world as it is, and as it might be. Science itself doesn’t tell us to how to best organize our society to maximize opportunity and happiness, but it can help inform our decision-making.

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Weekly News Roundup

By Melissa Lafsky | October 17, 2008 12:09 pm

• Expert tells Texas voting officials: You’re Screwed.

• And if you do find yourself given the disenfranchisement middle finger on Nov. 4, be sure to report it on Wired‘s interactive voting booth map!

• The one place where the economy is still strong and credit flows like rivers: Second Life.

• Sure, we’ve got Joe the Plumber slapped on every headline these days, but how about “Joe the Solar Guy“?

• Your complete guide to claiming green tax credits in 2008—perhaps the only money you’ll squeeze from the government this year.

• Pfizer settles all those pesky class actions over Celebrex and Bextra, to the tune of $894 million.

• Like tuna tartare? Better get it while it lasts (hint: won’t be long now).

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health Care, The 2008 Election

Politicians v. Technology: Obama, McCain Battle the Internet

By Melissa Lafsky | October 16, 2008 5:05 pm

obama adEven with all the melee over hockey moms and plumbers and fake registration cards, technology has been a dominating story in this campaign. The candidates have used it, and benefited from it, in varying degrees (campaign ads in video games may take the cake), and the Web has taken its place as a major game changer in American politics. But there was always the lingering downside: Just as the Internet can build you up, so can it rip you down.

Now, CNN has a report on the measures the candidates are taking to mop up the rumors, attacks, and lies that bubble like oil through the airwaves—and yes, there’s a lot of them.

In fact, this campaign has seen the highest number of Internet smears in history—hardly surprising given the continually-increasing reach and scope of the medium. So how do these intrepid (and extremely overworked) political staffers manage to scour the reaches of the Internet and counter all the garbage thrown at their candidates?

A source inside Obama’s campaign spoke to DISCOVER, and explained the Democratic team’s strategy as follows:

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MORE ABOUT: mccain, obama, technology
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