Tag Archives: politics

State politics affect greenhouse gas emissions

It seems rather obvious to me, but there was a lot of debate regarding how a country’s politics affect its emissions – for better or for worse. A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that environmental policies in the US have had a significant impact on emissions from 1990 to present days.

Image via Environment Magazine.

Despite growing resistance, environmentalists and “green” politicians should not give up on their efforts – because they are making a difference. Co-Author, Kenneth Frank, a sociologist said that in all states where environmental policies were implemented, emissions have been reduced.

“The movement is having an effect — it’s just happening on a state-by-state basis,” he said.

His colleague, sociologist Thomas Dietz, the lead author of the study, has been studying what affects CO2 emissions, and has uncovered the two main factors behind this: a country’s population and its affluence. Generally, the more people a country has, the more they emit, and the same goes for affluence, the abundance of money and material goods.

“We’ve used new methods developed over the years and new innovations Ken has developed to add in the politics – and find that politics and environmentalism can mediate some environmental impact,” Dietz said. “Environmentalism seems to influence policies and how well policies that are in place are actually implemented, and it also influences individual behavior and the choices people make.”

Two notable examples were New York and Vermont, where strong eco-policies have been implemented, and the air is much cleaner than two decades ago. Comparing the two states with Texas and and Wyoming, the differences are clear: the latter are much more reluctant to implement this type of policies, and the results are evident.

Rachael Shwom, an environmental sociologist at Rutgers University who was not involved in the study praised the study as the first to quantify the effects that environmental policies have on a state-by-state level.

“Lots of people who study culture and politics think they are important [drivers of emissions levels], but it hasn’t been demonstrated with data in the past,” she said. “That they found the strength of the environmental movement mattered … is a really important finding.”

All in all, there are reasons to be optimistic – CO2 emissions are generally on the rise in the US, but a 1 percent increase in environmentalism tends to curb the carbon emissions by more than enough to compensate that growth.

“Efforts to mitigate emissions take a variety of forms at the state and local level, and may have a substantial impact, even in the absence of a unified national policy,” the study reported. “If we increase environmentalism at about the same scale as economic growth, we can offset the impact,” Thomas Dietz said.


Echo and Narcissus (1903), a Pre-Raphaelite interpretation by John William Waterhouse

Grandiose narcissist U.S. Presidents make for more effective leaders, study shows

Echo and Narcissus (1903), a Pre-Raphaelite interpretation by John William Waterhouse

Echo and Narcissus (1903), a Pre-Raphaelite interpretation by John William Waterhouse. Wikimedia Commons

In Greek mythology, Narcissus fell in love with himself after gazing upon the splendor of his own reflection. A pathological admirer of his beauty, Narcissus eventually died of grief for not being able to reach the beautiful young man in the water. When thinking of Narcissus, whose story birthed the term narcissism to describe inordinate fascination with oneself or vanity, it’s hard to equate him with powerful leadership skills. Despite this, a new study found that grandiose narcissism in U.S. presidents is associated with ratings by historians of the overall greatness of presidencies.

There are two times of narcissism according to psychology: there’s vulnerable narcissism where the individual is marked by excessive self-absorption, introversion, and over-sensitivity; and there’s grandiose narcissism which characterizes extroverted, self-aggrandizing, domineering, and flamboyant personalities. Quite a few U.S. presidents share this latter personality trait and apparently it had something to do with how well they ran the country, according to Emory University psychologists.

“Most people think of narcissism as predominantly maladaptive,” says Ashley Watts, a graduate student of psychology at Emory “but our data support the theory that there are bright and dark sides to grandiose narcissism.”

For their study, the psychologists analyzed 42 presidents, up to and including George W. Bush, using data garnered from the insights of 100 experts, including biographers, journalists, and scholars who have established authority on one or more U.S. presidents. This data was then used to establish standardized psychological measures of personality, intelligence, and behavior. Presidency term performance in history was scored using data from the C-SPAN (2009) and Siena College (2010) surveys.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest politician of them all?

Their results show that presidents overall exhibit an elevated level of grandiose narcissism compared to the general population and that in recent times the U.S. has had ever more grandiose narcissist presidents. This may be attributed to the rising importance of media charisma associated with higher popularity in election poles that favors candidates that are more attention-seeking and outgoing.

Former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson scored the highest on the grandiose narcissism scale.

Former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson scored the highest on the grandiose narcissism scale.

Current U.S. President Barrack Obama wasn’t included in the study, however, considering during his inaugural speech President Obama referred to himself 144 times and wrote two autobiographies before the age of 45, with not that much to show for prior to publishing, chances are that he too may be eligible for inclusion in this fine roster.

However, while the study suggests that a lot of U.S. presidents were rather shallow, this didn’t affect their leadership capabilities quite on the contrary. Former President Lyndon B. Johnson scored the highest of all former presidents, and although he failed to withdraw the nation from the Vietnam war, he did in fact run an ambitious slate of progressive reforms aimed at alleviating poverty and creating what he called a “Great Society” for all Americans. an ambitious slate of progressive reforms aimed at alleviating poverty and creating what he called a “Great Society” for all Americans.

“It’s interesting to me that these are memorable presidents, ones that we tend to talk about and learn about in history classes,” Watts says. “Only rarely, however, do we talk about most of those who had low ratings for grandiose narcissism, like Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore.”

Lyndon Johnson’s mixed presidential legacy reflects both positive and negative outcomes tied to grandiose narcissism,  Scott Lilienfeld, Emory professor of psychology says. “Johnson was assertive, and good at managing crises and at getting legislation passed. He also had a reputation for being a bit of a bully and antagonistic.”

Johnson is followed by the grandiose narcissism presidential ranking by Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy.

“In U.S. history, there is an enormous variety in presidential leadership style and success,” Lilienfeld says. “One of the greatest mysteries in politics is what qualities make a great leader and which ones make a disastrous, failed leader. Grandiose narcissism may be one important part of the puzzle.”

Previously, the same team determined that fearless dominance associated with psychopathy is an important personality trait that may predict who gets elected for the presidency. Add narcissism to the equation and, well, this can only make you think.

The study was reported in the journal Psychological Science.


Appointed judges outperform elected ones


Princeton University political scientists have found as part of a recent study looking to assess the performance of state supreme court justices that appointed justices generally bring a higher quality of information to the decision-making process, are less biased and are generally less prone to error as elected justices.

For their study,  Matias Iaryczower, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton, along with colleagues, analyzed some 6,000 state supreme court rulings nationwide between 1995 and 1998. The data gathered from this time frame was then subjected to a theoretical model, which enabled them to reach their conclusion that appointed justices are typically better at their jobs than elected ones.

“Judges may be appointed to state supreme courts, elected in competitive elections or face retention elections. We wanted to see whether these selection methods can be associated with differences in the attributes of the judges themselves and with differences in the ways these judges interact with each other in the court,”  said Iaryczower.

According to the researchers the information quality for justices who don’t face voters is on average 33 percent larger than that of justices who face retention elections at some point after being appointed and 39 percent larger than that of justices who are elected. Now these numbers might seem huge, but remember these are percentages relative to a certain reference point. The relative error justices make during their court rulings is a whole less discrepant.  Justices appointed for life and appointed justices with political reappointment on average have a probability of reaching an incorrect decision of 0.1 percent, while  justices who face retention elections  reach 0.5 percent and justices who are elected 0.3 percent.

What does information quality means for a supreme court justice , however?

“We can think of each judge as endowed with two key components for decision-making, which can vary depending on the characteristics of the case and the individual justice,” Iaryczower said. “The first is a bias parameter, representing the justice’s individual preferences (coming from ideology, a legal position, personal experiences, etc). The second is a parameter measuring the quality of the justice’s information: her ability to go from the facts of the case to a correct decision under the law.”

The present research is part of a large project Iaryczower and colleagues are currently pursuing to establish the level of bias in the current US system of justice – a system that many have labeled as being incredibly biased. To be more exact, they’re looking at the workings of deliberations in appeals courts and the impact of campaign contributions to decision-making in courts.

“A longstanding question in economics and political sciences involves whether public officials should be elected or appointed. A theoretical literature has argued that elections may serve to discipline public officials but may also provide incentives for officials to inappropriately pander to shifts in public opinion,” said Brian Knight,  a professor of economics at Brown University and co-editor of the paper. “The research by Iaryczower, Lewis and Shum provides one of the first efforts to quantify these advantages and disadvantages of elections.”

A few years ago, I wrote a post on how biased justice can be. Then, a study looked at a few hundred parole appeal cases, albeit in Israel, and found that the presiding judges had an extremely different proportion of rulings during a day. In the beginning of the day the chance a prisoner had of a parole being granted was around 65%, only to plummet to nearly 0% towards mid-day – just before lunch-break!

Iaryczower’s findings were reported in the Journal of Public Economics.

source: Princeton University/ image source: PBS

NASA’s 2012 budget – $18.7 Billion

Earlier today Obama’s administration budget plan for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was proposed to $18.7 billion, at the same amount as in 2010, and puts predominance towards science research, exploration and commercial flight development. The $18.7 billion funding layout is $300 million less than the draft budget approved for 2011 in the NASA Authorization Act last year and $750 million less than the legislation’s blueprint for 2012.

In the layout, $1,8 billion is being diverted from the space operation program, which reflects the end of the space shuttle program, to the space research and technology division occupied with the human space program  (more than $1 billion)  and science division ($500 million). Part of these costs are intended to cover the overrun costs for the James Webb Space Telescope, which has already amounted $3 billion in spending, the innovative device intended to replace the famous Hubble sometime in the mid-decade.

Also, the White House proposes a $350 million increase in funding for commercial crew transportation programs to $850 million next year. The budget request would also initiate development of a heavy-lift rocket and Orion exploration capsule, calling for $2.8 billion in combined spending on those programs in 2012.

The $18.7 billion White House budget plan is significantly bolder than that of the Republicans, which propose to cut N.A.S.A. funding back to 2008’s level. Early analysis already reports this would mean a scrapping of the James Webb telescope, delay many of Obama’s earth sciences initiative and 75,000 contractors laid off by this September, as reported by the agency.

How much do you personally contribute to the N.A.S.A budget? For another interesting analysis, Space.com reports that a family with the median household income ($49,777 according to the U.S. Census Bureau), which pays $6,629 of federal taxes, pays the space agency … $33.

Image: source.

NIH Grants drastically rolled back by federal budget cuts

As if it wasn’t enough NIH funded grant applications are at a 20% low, according to a proposed federal discretionary civilian spending cut plan back to 2008 levels, biomedical researcher funds could drop by half, to a historical low of 10%.  National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins spoke in detail about the issue during his keynote speech during an annual meeting of the  American Society of Human Genetics. “There are certainly concerns, especially with some of the rhetoric you’ve heard since Tuesday,” when midterm elections took place, Collins said.

What might probably happen? Well for sure a significant number of labs will close down, unmotivated researchers and future talent left unfunded (today, approx. one in five grant applications get accepted – expect the ratio to get at least two times thinner). Why? Because of the Republicans’ vow to cut discretionary civilian spending, as if a nation’s deficit stands in progress and not in another economical sectors, like manufacturing and production. If you’re hungry, you don’t buy a fish, you learn to fish.

Let’s hope for the best as we wait for more news from the NIH.

Source: Science Mag

Charles Bolden Reveals Vision for NASA at Senate Confirmation Hearing

Charles Bolden, President Obama's pick for NASA chief.

Charles Bolden, President Obama's nominee for NASA chief.

NASA’s immediate future will likely have an emphasis on Earth science, using the International Space Station for research and development, and making space exploration more of an entrepreneurial venture. Those were the main themes touched on during the Senate confirmation hearing of Charles Bolden, President Obama’s nominee for NASA chief.

When discussing space entrepreneurship, Bolden used the example of a friend who is using venture capital for research into a rocket engine that could take people to Mars in roughly 39 days. He also noted that government cannot fund everything that needs to be done in connection with space exploration and development.

Bolden was nominated for the position in May of 2009. A retired U.S. Marine Corps major general and former NASA astronaut who has flown on four shuttle missions, he also said that NASA needs to inspire a new generation to help replace an aging workforce.

“Floating in the windows of the Shuttle, speeding across its great desert at 4 – 5 miles per second, I saw the beauty of the Middle East, appearing peaceful and serene in spite of the Earthly reality of violence in the region,” said Bolden during his senate confirmation hearing.  “From my window perch, I viewed with sadness the majestic Amazon Rain Forest, considered by many to be the model of serenity and peace, yet devastated by deforestation, leaving the area and its people facing some of the greatest environmental challenges of our day. l now dream of a day when any American can launch into the vastness of outer space and see the magnificence and grandeur of our home planet, Earth, as I have been blessed to do. I’m convinced this will inspire them to be more concerned for our environment and to strive to put an end to man’s inhumanity to man.”