Sad Sundays and Overconfident Surveys
David Berreby is the author of "Us and Them: The Science of Identity." He has written about human behavior and other science topics for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Smithsonian, The New Republic, Nature, Discover, Vogue and many other publications. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Paris, a Science Writing Fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory, a resident at Yaddo, and in 2006 was awarded the Erving Goffman Award for Outstanding Scholarship for the first edition of "Us and Them." David can be found on Twitter at @davidberreby and reached by email at david [at] davidberreby [dot] com.
A key assumption in many social sciences is that people have preferences, and that these are both knowable and stable. That's the point of surveys on every subject from whipped topping to the nature of happiness. We want to know what people want, or how they feel, or what they plan--so we ask, assuming the answers will be reliable.
But why should they be? People's moods rise and fall, their circumstances change all the time--and those shifts have a big impact on what they feel and what they want. Case in point: "Subjective well-being.'' Surveyers often ask people, for example, to pick a number between 0 and 10 to indicate how satisfied they are with their lives, all in all. The results have established the supposed facts that married people are happier than singles, that women in their 30's and 40's aren't too happy, and that beyond a basic floor of income, money doesn't buy happiness.
Trouble is, people's satisfaction with their lives seems to be sensitive to transient circumstances. Ask them three times, you'll get three different answers. For example, as Alpaslan Akay and Peter Martinsson found in this working paper last month, people's replies to the "how satisfied'' question changed depending on what day of the week they were asked. (Sunday, according to their analysis of data on German workers, is the glummest day.) Unless a poll asks the same people the same question over time, then, how do we know what it measures?
The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think
The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.
Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.
- Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
- As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
- If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
- Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
- By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
Journalism got a big wake up call in 2016. Can we be optimistic about the future of media?
- "[T]o have a democracy that thrives and actually that manages to stay alive at all, you need regular citizens being able to get good, solid information," says Craig Newmark.
- The only constructive way to deal with fake news? Support trustworthy media. In 2018, Newmark was announced as a major donor of two new media organizations, The City, which will report on New York City-area stories which may have otherwise gone unreported, and The Markup, which will report on technology.
- Greater transparency of fact-checking within media organizations could help confront and correct fake news. Organizations already exist to make media more trustworthy — are we using them? There's The Trust Project, International Fact-Checkers Network, and Tech & Check.
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