Cass Sunstein on attitudes to expert opinion in academia and government

It seems worth noting, to add a little context, that Sunstein ran the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for the first few years of the Obama-era, and at least per a Harvard press release in 2018 is by far the most-cited legal scholar in the US.

He's probably best known for "nudging", but some of his other research interests I think are at least as interesting and which may explain some of the blowback he's gotten. I'm thinking here of things like availability cascades and preference falsification (though the latter is better associated with former coauthor of his, Timur Kuran). If you're interested in trying to get an overview of his thought, he was recently a guest on the 80000 hours podcast discussing How Change Happens. He's also almost certainly the highest profile academic to have written for Quillette1, where he published Conformity and the Dangers of Group Polarization, an excerpt from a recent book of his.

  1. I should add that I was far from surprised to hear when waking up this morning that Quillette had finally been confirmed to have published a hoax article. I figured it was only a matter of time. That said, if you've got time to dig into things in some depth on a topic, I recommend oversampling the edge cases. That probably explains why it was Jacobin where I first heard this. Would always suggest reading sources like Jacobin or Quillette with a grain of salt though. ↩︎

Random links

Public opinion polls and perceptions of US human spaceflight
"A belief exists in the United States about public support for NASA’s human spaceflight activities. Many hold that NASA and the cause of the human exploration of space enjoyed outstanding public support and confidence in the 1960s during the era of Apollo and that public support waned in the post-Apollo era, only to sink to quite low depths in the decade of the 1990s. These beliefs are predicated on anecdotal evidence that should not be discounted, but empirical evidence gleaned from public opinion polling data suggests that some of these conceptions are totally incorrect and others are either incomplete or more nuanced than previously believed. "
China’s Marxist Tyranny Shouldn’t Be Ignored
A quote to ponder: "Because totalitarianism is often imagined as a decidedly 20th-century phenomenon, the notion that it can exist in a place as outwardly modern as China — with its skyscrapers and flat-screen TVs and high-speed rail lines — is sometimes hard to process. Yet the great totalitarian regimes of the past existed in what once seemed impressively futuristic societies, too. Indeed, this was a key element of their appeal."
Fantastic arctic fox: animal walks 3,500km from Norway to Canada
Technically from the Svalbard islands rather than continental Europe but still crazy!

Venkatesh Rao on ranting about "broken" systems

The whole thread is worth reading.

Random links

Does Apologizing Work? An Empirical Test of the Conventional Wisdom
"Overall, the evidence suggests that when a prominent figure apologizes for a controversial statement, the public is either unaffected or becomes more likely to desire that the individual be punished."
Flying first class on a single domestic round trip can contribute more greenhouse gas emissions than a year of driving
"The average annual carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per occupant of a light-duty vehicle (7,958 pounds) are about the same as the emissions per passenger from a round trip from San Diego to Frankfurt flying economy class (7,938 pounds), or from a round trip from Atlanta to Los Angeles flying first class (2,646 pounds times 3 equals 7,938 pounds)."
No funding for uncomfortable results
"In 1997 Latanya Sweeney dramatically demonstrated that supposedly anonymized data was not anonymous. ... In her paper Only You, Your Doctor, and Many Others May Know Sweeney says that her research was unwelcome. Over 20 journals turned down her paper on the Weld study, and nobody wanted to fund privacy research that might reach uncomfortable conclusions."


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