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What Can Be Done About Super PAC Spending and Advertising?

What Can Be Done About Super PAC Spending and Advertising?

In January, super PACs out fundraised and spent their aligned GOP candidates.  Given that independent TV ads tend to be disportionately more negative than candidate ads, there has been a significant spike in negativity.  As the WPost  reports, "four years ago, just 6 percent of campaign advertising in the GOP primaries amounted to attacks on other Republicans; in this election, that figure has shot up to more than 50 percent, according to an analysis of advertising trends."  Fueling the spike is the Romney campaign and their aligned super PAC. Close to $15 million was spent on negative ads by the aligned organizations, compared to half that much in positive advertising.  


So what can be done?  Groups are readying and lining up strategies to overturn Citizens United, but the prospects remain limited.  This strategy also applies the mental model that the problem depends on limiting the supply of money in elections.  

Yet what if we flip the frame and focus on reducing the demand for money?  Options include dramatically shortening the primary season, moving the end of the primaries closer to election day, requiring that broadcasters provide free air time to candidates, and making it dramatically easier to vote.  Each measure would reduce the overall cost of campaigning.

In terms of limiting the spread of false information, the Annenberg Policy Center announced an innovative approach today. The approach  is in line with what social scientists and academics should be doing in helping society cope with the problem of polarization. In this case, we should be identifying and explaining a full scope of causes and proposing a broad menu of options that might be effective in addressing polarization.

See below from their announcement.

For Immediate Release: February 21, 2012 

Contact: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, 215.898.9400 or kjamieson@asc.upenn.edu

Jamieson is director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Penn’s Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FlackCheck.org Launches “Stand by Your Ad”  to Fight Deception in Super PAC and Other Third Party Political Advertising

TV and radio stations are required to air political ads by candidates for such federal offices as the presidency even if their content is blatantly deceptive. Not so the messages of outside groups. Instead, broadcasters have the right to bar so called “third party” ads or insist on the accuracy of those they decide to air. Ohio stations did just that when a group called “Building a Better Ohio” offered Ohio TV stations a deceptive ad last October. (To see the ad they rejected, go here.)

In the hope that local broadcasters around the country will follow the lead of these Ohio stations,  APPC’s FlackCheck.org, the sister-site of the award-winning FactCheck.org, is calling on them to insist on the accuracy of ads by super PACs, the political parties and all of the other outside groups that arrive at their doorsteps with cash in hand. In service of this goal, the project urges those in local markets to applaud responsible station action and decry business-as-usual.

To assist station managers and viewers, FlackCheck.org’s “Media Watch” page is both flagging deceptive presidential ads in primary and caucus states and identifying the stations airing them. To make it easier for viewers to send words of encouragement or dismay to station managers, the FlackCheck.org “Stand By Your Ad” initiative provides them with the names of station managers, the e-mail addresses of stations and a sample letter that can be amended and sent directly from the viewer’s account. 

“We urge broadcasters to insist on the accuracy of the third party ads, not just for the presidency, but across the board,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. “We hope that stations will take the same care in screening out deceptions in the political ads of outside groups that they take in protecting their viewers from problematic product ads.”

To locate the FlackCheck.org “Stand By Your Ad” page, click http://www.flackcheck.org/stand-by-your-ad/ and then click on “Stations.”

Radical innovation: Unlocking the future of human invention

Ready to see the future? Nanotronics CEO Matthew Putman talks innovation and the solutions that are right under our noses.

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Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.

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Your body’s full of stuff you no longer need. Here's a list.

Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.

Image source: Ernst Haeckel
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  • An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
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Quantum particles timed as they tunnel through a solid

A clever new study definitively measures how long it takes for quantum particles to pass through a barrier.

Image source: carlos castilla/Shutterstock
  • Quantum particles can tunnel through seemingly impassable barriers, popping up on the other side.
  • Quantum tunneling is not a new discovery, but there's a lot that's unknown about it.
  • By super-cooling rubidium particles, researchers use their spinning as a magnetic timer.

When it comes to weird behavior, there's nothing quite like the quantum world. On top of that world-class head scratcher entanglement, there's also quantum tunneling — the mysterious process in which particles somehow find their way through what should be impenetrable barriers.

Exactly why or even how quantum tunneling happens is unknown: Do particles just pop over to the other side instantaneously in the same way entangled particles interact? Or do they progressively tunnel through? Previous research has been conflicting.

That quantum tunneling occurs has not been a matter of debate since it was discovered in the 1920s. When IBM famously wrote their name on a nickel substrate using 35 xenon atoms, they used a scanning tunneling microscope to see what they were doing. And tunnel diodes are fast-switching semiconductors that derive their negative resistance from quantum tunneling.

Nonetheless, "Quantum tunneling is one of the most puzzling of quantum phenomena," says Aephraim Steinberg of the Quantum Information Science Program at Canadian Institute for Advanced Research in Toronto to Live Science. Speaking with Scientific American he explains, "It's as though the particle dug a tunnel under the hill and appeared on the other."

Steinberg is a co-author of a study just published in the journal Nature that presents a series of clever experiments that allowed researchers to measure the amount of time it takes tunneling particles to find their way through a barrier. "And it is fantastic that we're now able to actually study it in this way."

Frozen rubidium atoms

Image source: Viktoriia Debopre/Shutterstock/Big Think

One of the difficulties in ascertaining the time it takes for tunneling to occur is knowing precisely when it's begun and when it's finished. The authors of the new study solved this by devising a system based on particles' precession.

Subatomic particles all have magnetic qualities, and they spin, or "precess," like a top when they encounter an external magnetic field. With this in mind, the authors of the study decided to construct a barrier with a magnetic field, causing any particles passing through it to precess as they did so. They wouldn't precess before entering the field or after, so by observing and timing the duration of the particles' precession, the researchers could definitively identify the length of time it took them to tunnel through the barrier.

To construct their barrier, the scientists cooled about 8,000 rubidium atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. In this state, they form a Bose-Einstein condensate, AKA the fifth-known form of matter. When in this state, atoms slow down and can be clumped together rather than flying around independently at high speeds. (We've written before about a Bose-Einstein experiment in space.)

Using a laser, the researchers pusehd about 2,000 rubidium atoms together in a barrier about 1.3 micrometers thick, endowing it with a pseudo-magnetic field. Compared to a single rubidium atom, this is a very thick wall, comparable to a half a mile deep if you yourself were a foot thick.

With the wall prepared, a second laser nudged individual rubidium atoms toward it. Most of the atoms simply bounced off the barrier, but about 3% of them went right through as hoped. Precise measurement of their precession produced the result: It took them 0.61 milliseconds to get through.

Reactions to the study

Scientists not involved in the research find its results compelling.

"This is a beautiful experiment," according to Igor Litvinyuk of Griffith University in Australia. "Just to do it is a heroic effort." Drew Alton of Augustana University, in South Dakota tells Live Science, "The experiment is a breathtaking technical achievement."

What makes the researchers' results so exceptional is their unambiguity. Says Chad Orzel at Union College in New York, "Their experiment is ingeniously constructed to make it difficult to interpret as anything other than what they say." He calls the research, "one of the best examples you'll see of a thought experiment made real." Litvinyuk agrees: "I see no holes in this."

As for the researchers themselves, enhancements to their experimental apparatus are underway to help them learn more. "We're working on a new measurement where we make the barrier thicker," Steinberg said. In addition, there's also the interesting question of whether or not that 0.61-millisecond trip occurs at a steady rate: "It will be very interesting to see if the atoms' speed is constant or not."

Self-driving cars to race for $1.5 million at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ​

So far, 30 student teams have entered the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled for October 2021.

Illustration of cockpit of a self-driving car

Indy Autonomous Challenge
Technology & Innovation
  • The Indy Autonomous Challenge will task student teams with developing self-driving software for race cars.
  • The competition requires cars to complete 20 laps within 25 minutes, meaning cars would need to average about 110 mph.
  • The organizers say they hope to advance the field of driverless cars and "inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
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Mind & Brain

The dangers of the chemical imbalance theory of depression

A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.

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