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Do newspaper presidential endorsements matter anymore?
Lots of newspapers endorse candidates, but why? Does it actually help?
- Lots of newspapers endorse presidential candidates, but the practice has been questioned in recent years.
- Perceived bias is a big part of the recent decline of trust in media.
- One study found endorsements can change people's minds, but only under certain circumstances.
Endorsements are an often-contentious part of the increasingly endless American election cycle. Most significant organizations of every kind give them out; including unions, business groups, civic groups, political action groups, and, of course, newspapers.
While it seems evident that the first few groups would be interested in endorsing candidates, it's less clear why newspapers would.
Why do newspapers make endorsements at all?
Consider it; it's kind of weird that newspapers endorse candidates at all. The rest of the time they report the news and maybe print a few opinion pieces, all the time claiming objectivity and neutrality. Then, every few years, they take up at least a full page to explain why they think you should vote for a particular person. Why does anybody do it?
If you ask a dozen editors that question, you'll likely get a dozen different answers.
Robert Greene of the Los Angeles Times told NPR that endorsements could serve as a statement of transparency and as a capstone to editorials on the various policy issues given before that point:
"Well, I think expressing your opinion is in some way an expression or a demonstration of transparency. The idea that on the editorial page is that after writing editorials about particular issues as they arrive and about candidates as they arise, that you don't also come to a conclusion about if you were going to vote which one you would vote for. I think it's a little disingenuous to say that you haven't reached that opinion. And if you've reached such an opinion, just in the interests of transparency, I think it's a good idea to express it and then to put it in front of the readers and see if they believe that you have justified that opinion properly."
Jeff Cohen of the Houston Chronicle suggested that endorsements are a vital part of the debate:
"We endorse candidates because most contemporary newspapers feel it is part of our public service mission even if some readers disagree with our point of view. We believe it is paramount for the community and electorate to be engaged and strongly advocate for participation. We think that editorial endorsements help provoke higher thought and cognition and is a motivation to partake in democracy."
Chuck Plunkett of the Denver Post appealed to history when justifying endorsements:
"The idea of that tradition that if you're going to go to the trouble to have a printing press and a newsroom and put your message out and try to cover public policy, then you also have the right as the owner of that paper to express your opinion. That's how an editorial page got started to begin with, in trying to make arguments that would be good for society. The reason we do endorsements is because we're trying to help people understand complicated political questions. Whether that's a candidate, as in a presidential endorsement, or an issue, like a ballot issue, where the devil is in the details."
Despite these lines of reasoning, some major newspapers have ended the practice. David Haynes of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explained why his paper stopped endorsing candidates to NPR:
". . . it really boils down to this notion of independence. We work very hard each day to provide a balance of views on our pages and on our website increasingly and mobile devices as well. And we work hard to be open-minded and approach issues that we're going to editorialize on independently. We pull good ideas from both major schools of political thought, and we're pragmatic. We back ideas we think will work. Ideology is really immaterial.
So then, we do all that for 364 days of the year and turn around and choose sides in a bitter partisan election? I think that tends to undermine this whole idea of independence, and it really undermines this idea of being an honest broker of opinion. Again, that forum, that's our real mission. The editorial is a part of that."
He is on to something; distrust of the media is at an all-time high in the United States. One 2018 study found that many of those surveyed blamed perceived bias. You can't help but wonder if part of that is because newspapers squander their credibility by endorsing a candidate with one hand and then claiming not to be biased in their reporting with the other.
Do endorsements bias the reporting?
For the last 100 years or so the opinion and editorial sections of every major newspaper have been completely seperate entities. The people who decide who to endorse report to different people than the journalists who write the news do. The journalists often don't know who is getting endorsed until you do.
However, despite explainers on this which grace almost every opinion page in major papers and that this was taught to anybody who wasn't asleep in middle school, many people still fail to grasp this fact. The pervasiveness of this misunderstanding is why USA Today doesn't endorse anybody.
Danny Funt of the Columba Journalism Review explained that "Editors told me they've spent their careers explaining to readers the very simple difference between news and opinion sections." He attributes this misunderstanding to both "media illiteracy" on the part of the readers and to a failure of the news media to adequately explain itself.
Do endorsements convince anybody?
All of these questions also demand another one be answered: Does it actually help anybody to be endorsed by a newspaper at all?
A 2008 study from Brown University indicated that endorsements can change people's opinions. However, the effect is limited if the endorsement is expected. If a major newspaper in a cosmopolitan city known for having a center-left leaning editorial board endorses a Democrat for president not much will happen. On the other hand, a neutral or even right-leaning editorial board doing the same thing can carry great weight.
Northwestern also did a report on prediction markets and found that there are changes in who is more likely to win the race for president as a result of newspaper endorsements. Like Brown, they found that surprising endorsements had the most effect.
This said, however, a study by Pew Research Center found that 70 percent of people didn't feel influenced by endorsements at all. The remaining percentage were split on whether the newspaper's support would make them more or less likely to vote for the candidate.
There is the question of local races, though. Endorsements may matter more when the election is one that has gotten less media coverage and the typical voter can't name all of the candidates. As the Columba Journalism Review puts it, "Fewer Americans may clip out endorsements from the paper to bring to the polls, but for down-ballot races, there simply are no other media willing to interrogate potential property appraisers for 90 minutes."
They also quote the opinion editor for the Houston Chronicle, who claimed "Calls from readers wanting a comprehensive list of our endorsements outnumber those who are complaining about the process five-to-one." There may still be something to be said for the endorsement of an entity that spends a great deal of time reporting on and interviewing the candidates and then even more time on the effects of their actions.
Claims that newspaper endorsements were one the way out or don't matter have proven to be exaggerated. While not everyone will be convinced by an endorsement and a few people might even stop trusting a paper over it, they are going to be part of our democracy for the foreseeable future.
All this from a wad of gum?
- Researchers recently uncovered a piece of chewed-on birch pitch in an archaeological dig in Denmark.
- Conducting a genetic analysis of the material left in the birch pitch offered a plethora of insights into the individual who last chewed it.
- The gum-chewer has been dubbed Lola. She lived 5,700 years ago; and she had dark skin, dark hair, and blue eyes.
Five thousand and seven hundred years ago, "Lola" — a blue-eyed woman with dark skin and hair — was chewing on a piece of pitch derived from heating birch bark. Then, this women spit her chewing gum out into the mud on an island in Denmark that we call Syltholm today, where it was unearthed by archaeologists thousands of years later. A genetic analysis of the chewing gum has provided us with a wealth of information on this nearly six-thousand-year-old Violet Beauregarde.
This represents the first time that the human genome has been extracted from material such as this. "It is amazing to have gotten a complete ancient human genome from anything other than bone," said lead researcher Hannes Schroeder in a statement.
"What is more," he added, "we also retrieved DNA from oral microbes and several important human pathogens, which makes this a very valuable source of ancient DNA, especially for time periods where we have no human remains."
In the pitch, researchers identified the DNA of the Epstein-Barr virus, which infects about 90 percent of adults. They also found DNA belonging to hazelnuts and mallards, which were likely the most recent meal that Lola had eaten before spitting out her chewing gum.
Insights into ancient peoples
The birch pitch was found on the island of Lolland (the inspiration for Lola's name) at a site called Syltholm. "Syltholm is completely unique," said Theis Jensen, who worked on the study for his PhD. "Almost everything is sealed in mud, which means that the preservation of organic remains is absolutely phenomenal.
"It is the biggest Stone Age site in Denmark and the archaeological finds suggest that the people who occupied the site were heavily exploiting wild resources well into the Neolithic, which is the period when farming and domesticated animals were first introduced into southern Scandinavia."
Since Lola's genome doesn't show any of the markers associated with the agricultural populations that had begun to appear in this region around her time, she provides evidence for a growing idea that hunter-gatherers persisted alongside agricultural communities in northern Europe longer than previously thought.
Her genome supports additional theories on northern European peoples. For example, her dark skin bolsters the idea that northern populations only recently acquired their light-skinned adaptation to the low sunlight in the winter months. She was also lactose intolerant, which researchers believe was the norm for most humans prior to the agricultural revolution. Most mammals lose their tolerance for lactose once they've weaned off of their mother's milk, but once humans began keeping cows, goats, and other dairy animals, their tolerance for lactose persisted into adulthood. As a descendent of hunter-gatherers, Lola wouldn't have needed this adaptation.
A hardworking piece of gum
A photo of the birch pitch used as chewing gum.
These findings are encouraging for researchers focusing on ancient peoples from this part of the world. Before this study, ancient genomes were really only ever recovered from human remains, but now, scientists have another tool in their kit. Birch pitch is commonly found in archaeological sites, often with tooth imprints.
Ancient peoples used and chewed on birch pitch for a variety of reasons. It was commonly heated up to make it pliable, enabling it to be molded as an adhesive or hafting agent before it settled. Chewing the pitch may have kept it pliable as it cooled down. It also contains a natural antiseptic, and so chewing birch pitch may have been a folk medicine for dental issues. And, considering that we chew gum today for no other reason than to pass the time, it may be that ancient peoples chewed pitch for fun.
Whatever their reasons, chewed and discarded pieces of birch pitch offer us the mind-boggling option of learning what someone several thousands of years ago ate for lunch, or what the color of their hair was, their health, where their ancestors came from, and more. It's an unlikely treasure trove of information to be found in a mere piece of gum.
The non-contact technique could someday be used to lift much heavier objects — maybe even humans.
- Since the 1980s, researchers have been using sound waves to move matter through a technique called acoustic trapping.
- Acoustic trapping devices move bits of matter by emitting strategically designed sound waves, which interact in such a way that the matter becomes "trapped" in areas of particular velocity and pressure.
- Acoustic and optical trapping devices are already used in various fields, including medicine, nanotechnology, and biological research.
Sound can have powerful effects on matter. After all, sound strikes our world in waves — vibrations of air molecules that bounce off of, get absorbed by, or pass through matter around us. Sound waves from a trained opera singer can shatter a wine glass. From a jet, they can collapse a stone wall. But sound can also be harnessed for delicate interactions with matter.
Since the 1980s, researchers have been using sound to move matter through a phenomenon called acoustic trapping. The method is based on the fact that sound waves produce an acoustic radiation force.
"When an acoustic wave interacts with a particle, it exerts both an oscillatory force and a much smaller steady-state 'radiation' force," wrote the American Physical Society. "This latter force is the one used for trapping and manipulation. Radiation forces are generated by the scattering of a traveling sound wave, or by energy gradients within the sound field."
When tiny particles encounter this radiation, they tend to be drawn toward regions of certain pressure and velocity within the sound field. Researchers can exploit this tendency by engineering sound waves that "trap" — or suspend — tiny particles in the air. Devices that do this are often called "acoustic tweezers."
Building a better tweezer
A study recently published in the Japanese Journal of Applied Physics describes how researchers created a new type of acoustic tweezer that was able to lift a small polystyrene ball into the air.
Tweezers of Sound: Acoustic Manipulation off a Reflective Surface youtu.be
It is not the first example of a successful "acoustic tweezer" device, but the new method is likely the first to overcome a common problem in acoustic trapping: sound waves bouncing off reflective surfaces, which disrupts acoustic traps.
To minimize the problems of reflectivity, the team behind the recent study configured ultrasonic transducers such that the sound waves that they produce overlap in a strategic way that is able to lift a small bit of polystyrene from a reflective surface. By changing how the transducers emit sound waves, the team can move the acoustic trap through space, which moves the bit of matter.
Move, but don't touch
So far, the device is only able to move millimeter-sized pieces of matter with varying degrees of success. "When we move a particle, it sometimes scatters away," the team noted. Still, improved acoustic trapping and other no-contact lifting technologies — like optical tweezers, commonly used in medicine — could prove useful in many future applications, including cell separation, nanotechnologies, and biological research.
Could future acoustic-trapping devices lift large and heavy objects, maybe even humans? It seems possible. In 2018, researchers from the University of Bristol managed to acoustically trap particles whose diameters were larger than the sound wavelength, which was a breakthrough because it surpassed "the classical Rayleigh scattering limit that has previously restricted stable acoustic particle trapping," the researchers wrote in their study.
In other words, the technique — which involved suspending matter in tornado-like acoustic traps — showed that it is possible to scale up acoustic trapping.
"Acoustic tractor beams have huge potential in many applications," Bruce Drinkwater, co-author of the 2018 study, said in a statement. "I'm particularly excited by the idea of contactless production lines where delicate objects are assembled without touching them."
Australian parrots have worked out how to open trash bins, and the trick is spreading across Sydney.
- If sharing learned knowledge is a form of culture, Australian cockatoos are one cultured bunch of birds.
- A cockatoo trick for opening trash bins to get at food has been spreading rapidly through Sydney's neighborhoods.
- But not all cockatoos open the bins; some just stay close to those that do.
Dumpster-diving trash parrots
In a study about these smart birds just published in Science, researchers define animal culture as "population-specific behaviors acquired via social learning from knowledgeable individuals."
Co-lead author of the study Barbara Klump of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany says, "[C]ompared to humans, there are few known examples of animals learning from each other. Demonstrating that food scavenging behavior is not due to genetics is a challenge."
An opportunity presented itself in a video that co-author Richard Major of the Australian Museum shared with Klump and the other co-authors. In the video, a sulphur-crested cockatoo used its beak to pull up the handle of a closed garbage bin — using its foot as a wedge — and then walked back the lid sufficiently to flip it open, exposing the bin's edible contents.
Major has been studying Cacatua galerita for 20 years and says, "Like many Australian birds, sulphur-crested cockatoos are loud and aggressive." The study describes them as a "large-brained, long-lived, and highly social parrot." Says Major, "They are also incredibly smart, persistent, and have adapted brilliantly to living with humans."(Research regarding some of the ways in which wild animals adapt to the presence of humans has already produced some fascinating results and is ongoing.)
Clever cockie opens bin - 01 youtu.be
The researchers became curious about how widespread this behavior might be and saw a research opportunity. After all, says John Martin, a researcher at Taronga Conservation Society, "Australian garbage bins have a uniform design across the country, and sulphur-crested cockatoos are common across the entire east coast."
Martin continues, "In 2018, we launched an online survey in various areas across Sydney and Australia with questions such as, 'What area are you from, have you seen this behavior before, and if so, when?'"
Word gets around
Credit: magspace/Adobe Stock
Although the cockatoos' maneuver was reported in only three suburbs before 2018, by the end of 2019, people in 44 areas reported observing the behavior. Clearly, more and more cockatoos were learning how to successfully dumpster dive.
As further proof, says Klump, "We observed that the birds do not open the garbage bins in the same way, but rather used different opening techniques in different suburbs, suggesting that the behavior is learned by observing others." One individual bird in north Sydney invented its own method, and the scientists saw it grow in popularity throughout the local population.
To track individual birds, the researchers marked 500 cockatoos with small red dots. Subsequent observations revealed that not all cockatoos are bin-openers. Only about 10 percent of them are, and they are mostly males. The other cockatoos apparently restrict their education to a different lesson: hang around with a bin-opener, and you will get supper.
Thanks to the surveys, the researchers consider the entire project to be a valuable citizen-science experiment. "By studying this behavior with the help of local residents, we are uncovering the unique and complex cultures of their neighborhood birds."
The few seconds of nuclear explosion opening shots in Godzilla alone required more than 6.5 times the entire budget of the monster movie they ended up in.