Category: The 2008 Election

Obama Wins; Science Rejoices

By Melissa Lafsky | November 5, 2008 12:32 pm

The new president-elect promises to usher in a “new era of scientific innovation” (of course, exactly how much funding that will entail/receive remains to be seen).

Alternative-energy industries, shrug off your wounds—there may yet be hope on the horizon.

Stem cell researchers, re-start your engines.

Another huge winner last night: The Internet.

Also consider it a huge win for academia: The president-elect, his vice president, and both their spouses have all worked in higher education.

The Senate and the House didn’t do so badly either.

And we hate to do this, but here’s the bad news.


Election Day Roundup: What to Read Once You're Back from the Polls

By Melissa Lafsky | November 4, 2008 2:38 pm

Technology’s Top Ten Election Lows—and yeah, they’re pretty low.

Sarah Palin’s health is “excellent.” Her running mate’s, less so.

Stop the presses! Study shows that political candidates may actually tend to keep their promises.

The “Bradley Effect” may have been neither from Bradley nor an effect. Discuss.

The latest in media bias research asks: Is it possible to quantify a partisan slant?

As it turns out, being alive is not always a prerequisite for having your vote counted—and perhaps rightfully so.

And this from Russia Today: “Supporters would sell soul to see Obama.” Hey, the selling-something-intangible strategy worked so well with credit default swaps.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: The 2008 Election
MORE ABOUT: mccain, media, obama, voting

E-Voting Put to the Ultimate Test

By Melissa Lafsky | November 4, 2008 12:29 pm

Chances are you’re not reading this, because you’re standing in some epic line at a polling place. Or maybe you’ve brought your iPhone, and you’re surfing the Web to pass the timed. Either way, the polls are jammed, lines are interminable across the country, and election officials, politicos, pundits, and just about everyone else are bracing themselves for the technological messes that are sure to ensue.

The good news, according to a recent report from Election Data Services, is that the number of ballots cast on electronic voting machines will drop today for the first time since DREs wormed their way into our lives. In the 2008 election, 32.6 percent of all ballots will be recorded on an electronic voting machine, compared to 37.6 percent in 2006.

Of course, 2006 wasn’t a presidential election year, particularly one with expected “record-shattering” turnouts. By comparison, 22 percent and 29.2 percent of votes were cast electronically in 2000 and 2004, respectively.

Then there’s the little matter of key swing states, including Ohio, Indiana, and Nevada—all of which are relying heavily on electronic voting machines.

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MORE ABOUT: technology, voting

Being Smart Makes You Vote, Or Vice Versa

By Melissa Lafsky | November 3, 2008 4:41 pm

So, yeah, there’s this election tomorrow, in case you hadn’t heard. And if you need any more incentive to head to the polls, here it is: A study out of Scotland’s University of Edinburgh found that people with higher IQs voted more often, regardless of their occupation. The data came from a U.K. study begun in 1970 that has tracked the recent voting habits of about 17,200 people born that year.

They found that for every 15 IQ points above a score of 100, a participant was “38 percent more likely than average to have voted in the United Kingdom’s 2001 election.” In addition, “[p]eople who took part in a political meeting or rally in the last year, those who took part in a public demonstration, those who signed a petition, and those who were fairly or very interested in politics had higher mean intelligence test scores at age 10.”

But did IQ make any difference in which way people voted? Any mention of this question in the past has usually been enough to incite a frothing frenzy. Here’s how ABC News summarized the latest findings:

“Childhood intelligence is associated with…support for political ideologies that are based on ecological sustainability and social liberalism,” conclude the Intelligence study authors. For example, voters were 32 percent more likely to vote for the UK’s more left-wing Liberal party over the Conservative party for every 15 IQ points they scored above average as children. They were more likely to be tree-huggers too, voting more often for environment-oriented parties.

So the smarter you are, the more you like trees—we report, you decide.

RB: Election 2008: Everything You Need to Know to Avoid Being Disenfranchised
RB: Voting in America: Let the Pre-Game Mess Begin!
RB: Voting in America, Redux: You Can’t Vote Here, But You Can Vote in Space

MORE ABOUT: intelligence, voting

Election 2008: Everything You Need to Know to Avoid Being Disenfranchised

By Melissa Lafsky | November 3, 2008 12:49 pm

voting booth ballotTomorrow, we vote. Estimates place the turnout at around 130 million or more, possibly the largest in American history. Of course, not everyone registered will necessarily be able to cast their ballot—and even uglier, not every ballot cast will necessarily be counted. Before you head to the polls tomorrow, here’s a list of all the facts you’ll need to ensure your vote doesn’t end up trapped forever in the bowels of the technology/Democratic leviathan.

Avoid being one of the 3 percent who cast ballots in error (and that’s without the machines messing up) by following these guidelines, compiled by researchers at the University of Maryland. (Hint: Beware the optical scanner.)

Last chance to check your registration! So far it’s been one of the biggest problems voters have faced at the polls.

Having trouble with your DRE or optical scan ballot? Look for a camera to document your woes: PBS and YouTube are joining forces to collect and stream user-generated video from polling places nationwide.

If there’s no video evidence, you can still exercise your right to protest crummy voting technology via the Internets.

Speaking of which, technology has enjoyed unprecedented domination over this election—which might continue into the next administration.

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

Weekly News Roundup: Special Halloween Edition

By Melissa Lafsky | October 31, 2008 3:57 pm

• Get in touch with your inner polar bear—and kick some climate change a$$.

• Attention: Cruddy voting machines = cruddy news for voters.

• The Economist smacks down pretty much the entire science journalism establishment. Don’t worry, we won’t mention how you weren’t exactly first in line to predict the financial crisis.

• We love voter databases (even if they don’t love us). Unfortunately, Ohio’s might not even make it through a single fraud check. Ask us how shocked we are.

• Man v. the Internet: Did the Web hinder (or help) the financial crisis?

• Obama’s groundbreaking Web campaign: “Controlled chaos” (that looks like it’ll work).

• And if you’re looking for last minute Halloween costume ideas, look no further.

Think You're an Undecided Voter? Your Brain May Disagree.

By Melissa Lafsky | October 31, 2008 12:33 pm

With less than a week before showtime, the polls are already jam packed. But the real stars of the eleventh hour are the undecided voters, who still (incredibly, miraculously) haven’t made up their minds. And apparently they’re more numerous than one might think, with one in seven voters saying they might go either way, according to a recent poll.

But are these vacillating voters really still deciding? Or could their minds have already formulated a choice, without their even realizing it? University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek suspects the latter is true, and has partnered with colleagues at Harvard and the University of Washington to test whether humans form mental associations that differ from what their conscious recognizes.

To do this, the researchers used the Implicit Association Test, which has been up and running for a decade now and has logged around 7 million responses. Since the 2008 presidential race began, the team has tested more than 25,000 voters on their implicit preferences concerning the two candidates. Of that group, around 4,000 (15 percent) declared themselves undecided. But the test results for a significant number of these so-called undecideds showed a clear implicit preference for Obama or McCain. Here’s how the team summarized their results:

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McCain's Chances of Winning Still Higher than His Chances of Melanoma Recurrence

By Melissa Lafsky | October 30, 2008 12:26 pm

Just how likely is it that McCain will die of cancer in the next few years? Do a little Web surfing, and you’ll find around a gazillion (and that’s a low estimate) different answers, very few of which rely on clear, unbiased fact. To cut through the jargon and get the real picture, check out my feature story on the truth about the Arizona Senator’s melanoma risk. (Spoiler: It’s low.)

It’s worth noting that not every member of the medical establishment was willing to discuss the Republican nominee’s health. In particular, the communications director of a prominent cancer foundation informed us that if the word “McCain” would be mentioned anywhere in the piece, not a single physician or expert would agree to comment. When pressed, she said that if she set up any interviews for a piece on McCain, even just to talk about melanoma on background without answering specific questions about the Senator’s condition, she would “definitely be terminated.”

So much for the freedom of medicine from political influence (not that we ever really thought it existed).

RB: The Truth About McCain’s Melanoma: He Faces a Very Low Risk

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health Care, The 2008 Election
MORE ABOUT: cancer, mccain, melanoma

Voting in America, Redux: You Can't Vote Here, But You Can Vote in Space

By Melissa Lafsky | October 28, 2008 5:10 pm

astronautOne week left ’til Election Day 2008, and voter turnout is expected to obliterate records. Of course, whether those record numbers of voters turn into record numbers of counted votes remains to be seen. In addition to the smorgasbord of disasters that could befall your vote before it gets tallied, the first hurdle will be voter registration, creating a gatekeeper you’ll have to pass just to get in the door.

Chances are, your voter registration information has been entered into a computer database run by your state. And chances also are that it’s been entered wrong—no, seriously, it has. As a result of all this error and confusion, just about everyone is worried that legions of voters could be turned away at the polls. Even the Association for Computing Machinery is getting in the act, stating the following in press release:

Experts from ACM’s U.S. Public Policy Committee (USACM) will be monitoring and analyzing the reliability of registration records and voting equipment around the nation as Election Day approaches.

ACM’s report on VRDs [voter registration databases] includes 99 high-level recommendations to help states establish best practices for computerized statewide electronic databases…For example, the ACM report recommends that when driver registration databases are used for eligibility checks, they should apply only to screening voters, not to automatically enrolling or de-enrolling them.

Yes, great idea! Call us when it’s implemented in 2012.

Of course, in the irony of all ironies, NASA is making sure that any Americans currently in orbit are able to vote from space, courtesy of a secure electronic ballot uplinked by the Johnson Space Center. This year, two men aboard the International Space Station plan to cast their ballots from 220 miles above the Earth. Let’s just hope they’ve been reading the news.

RB: Voting in America: Let the Pre-Game Mess Begin!
RB: Lose Your House, Lose Your Vote, Lose Your Self-Esteem
RB: Advocacy Group May Have Registered Phony “Voters.” But Does It Matter?
RB: Be Very Afraid: Online Voting Systems Fail Even for Political Bloggers

MORE ABOUT: space, voting

Rant of the Day: Hitchens Slams Palin on Science

By Melissa Lafsky | October 27, 2008 4:15 pm

Here at Reality Base, we’ve taken great pleasure in covering the irreligionist arguments of anti-theist writer Christopher Hitchens. We’ve also delved into the world of GOP VP nominee Sarah Palin, whose ruminations on science have been most…interesting. So when we saw that the former had taken on the latter today in Slate, on the subject of none other than science, we were about as thrilled as anyone with a 401K could be these days.

Hitchens takes the well-heeled (literally) candidate to task for recently denouncing fruit-fly research as a wasteful and unnecessary—not to mention “un-American,” since some of the research took place in France—expense. Fruit flies, or Drosophila, will likely ring a bell for most readers—as they should, since they’re one of the great laboratories of all genetics research. As Hitchens points out, the fly can be easily grown in a lab and is a valuable research tool because it lives for a very short time, breeds vigorously, and displays plenty of genetic mutation in each generation. He writes:

[S]ince Gov. Palin was in Pittsburgh to talk about her signature “issue” of disability and special needs, she might even have had some researcher tell her that there is a Drosophila-based center for research into autism at the University of North Carolina. The fruit fly can also be a menace to American agriculture, so any financing of research into its habits and mutations is money well-spent.

He then goes on to lambast Palin’s reported belief in creationism:

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MORE ABOUT: genetics, hitchens, palin
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