Big Think Interview With Danny Rubin
Danny Rubin: There's so many parts to answering that question. I think the big idea, if there is a - the big think or the accidental happenstance was when I was trying to solve a story problem. If a person could live forever, if a person was immortal, how would they change over time? I was curious about whether one lifetime was enough for somebody. There are some people, those arrested development type men who can’t really outlive their - out grow their adolescence and I thought, well, maybe one lifetime isn’t enough. Maybe you need more.
So, I was just thinking through if a person could live long enough, how would they change and that seemed like a cumbersome experiment because of having to deal with changing history. So, I was trying to solve the problem how you can have a person be immortal without having history change from underneath him so that the movie would not - the story of the movie would not have to deal with the French Revolution and with the future and things like that.
And then, to solve that, I remembered an idea I had had about a year or two before that about a guy repeating the same day and I realized that having a person repeat the same day turns an eternity into a circle and that’s when all the dramatic possibilities came and the comedic possibilities and all the resonances with repetition. So, that was the idea like that.
I was actually getting ready to read one of Anne Rice’s novels about vampires and I was sort of thinking about why I thought that was interesting and the most interesting thing to me was that it was a different class of people. They were just like people except some of the rules were different and the most interesting one being that they were immoral and that’s what got me thinking about immortality. There, that’s all of it.
Question: Did you always conceive of it as a comedy?
Danny Rubin: Yeah, well I thought of the funny things first. The very first thing I thought of was the date scene, being able to use your superior knowledge to pick up women. As soon as I thought of that I knew I had a movie. That just seemed to me so extraordinarily interest and fun and funny. So, I guess I was approaching it in a comedic way, but it wasn’t a genre comedy. I was thinking of it more as just a whimsical entertainment.
Question: Did it have to be Groundhog Day, or could it have been another holiday?
Danny Rubin: This is one of those things that just kind of fell together. When I got the idea of a man repeating the same day over and over again, it was January 30th or 31st and so the first thing I thought of is, I’ve got to think of which day he repeats. Which day is it? And so, I just opened up the calendar and the first holiday day I came to was two days later, Groundhog Day and I was thinking about that saying, “Well, this is perfect. It’s a completely unexploited holiday. We can play it on TV every year like the Charlie Brown specials.” But, other things started to make sense immediately too, like I wanted him to be a character who went somewhere and was in unfamiliar territory. If he was on his home turf with his family and friends, it would be a completely different story. And, by making it Groundhog Day, I thought, “Okay, so maybe he’s a weather man and he comes from Pittsburgh and he drove to Punxutawney for the ceremony and the groundhog’s name is Phil, so I named him Phil and a bunch of things just started falling together in that way.
Question: How long did it take to write the script for Groundhog Day?
Danny Rubin: As I recall, it took me about seven weeks to brainstorm and figure out what the rules were and what I wanted the main characters to be in the story and the flow of the story and how I wanted it all to come out and after I’d figured that out, then I just sat down and wrote it and that took me about three or four days.
Question: What were the reactions to the script?
Danny Rubin: I had written one screenplay already and had sold it and that was the sum total of my Hollywood experience up until then. I had gone to a lot of meetings and my agent had pretty much said, “You really need to write something else and get it out there quickly before people tire of you,” and I had had this thought and I decided, you know what, I could write that one quickly. That’s a really good one. It’s a little movie. I can write it quickly and get it out there and use it as a writing sample just to show people when I walk in the room, here’s my latest script.
So, that was the purpose of it and then after it went out, I got a ton of meetings off of it because people liked the story and they liked the writing and I counted 50 different meetings and that’s what really got my feet wet in Hollywood. I got to meet a lot of these producers. I got a couple of jobs off of it. Nobody wanted to make Groundhog Day. In fact, kind of strangely, I was new to L.A. and I was going to these meetings and people would say, “Danny, glad to meet you. I loved Groundhog Day. Of course, we can’t make it,” and I would say, “Of course.” And nobody ever explained to me why and I didn’t ask why not because I was trying to just go along, get along to accept the industry on its own terms and they’d say, “Well, but what else have you got?” or, “We’ve got this list of ideas. See if you like any of those,” and then I got a couple of jobs and I was on my way and it wasn’t until my agent quit to become a school teacher, that I found myself without an agent, but I had this spec script that I was sending around to try and get a new agent and that’s how that script wound up at CAA with Richard Lovett.
He called me and said, “I love Groundhog Day. Of course we can’t represent you.” And I said, “Of course,” and he said, “But I have a client who I think might like this. Can I give it to him?” and he sent it to Harold Ramis and that’s how the movie got set up.
Question: How did the film change from the original script?
Danny Rubin: One thing that occurred to me is I wanted to do something fun with the movie and the first thing I thought was, “You know what? I don’t want to have to deal with how he got into this situation. I don’t want to deal with some kind of supernatural reason that he was stuck in the same day because then the movie becomes about the plot of his getting out from under it instead of about that existential quality of how does he just deal with it.”
And so, I thought, “Well, I know how I can avoid that. I’ll start in the middle. The first things that happens is you hear the clock radio come on with the “I Got You Babe” and then the DJs come on doing their little shtick and Phil is able to sort of mouth the words to what they're saying when he wakes up before he even knows what they're saying and the audience is thinking, “Huh, that’s strange. How does he know what's playing on the radio?” And then he goes downstairs and he knows what Mr. Lancaster is going to say before she says it, so he’s anticipating and the audience is thinking, “Wow, this is weird. How does this guy know what’s going to happen before it happens?”
Then he goes outside and this geeky goes, “Phil?” and Phil goes up to him and takes off his glove and he slugs him and we have no idea why that happened. And so, I set it up by beginning in the middle with this mystery. How does this guy have this supernatural ability and we go through meeting, you know, going through the Groundhog report and setting up the day and then he repeats the day and that’s when we know how the movie is set up and we understand how he knows what he knows.
That was the way I set it up and from the very beginning, they were - the studio was a little antsy about that. Harold Ramis, the director, said that he liked that. He tried to keep it, but eventually there was just this weight of convention where they really wanted to just establish who he is, set it up and then have this thing happen when he starts repeating the day. And so, I’d say that was the biggest thing that changed, was when the movie opened, the beginning of it.
And also, as part of having the movie start in the middle, I had a voice-over. Phil had a voice-over sort of leading the audience along so they wouldn’t feel too disrupted or too disoriented and kind of helping them bond with Phil and as soon as we straightened out the timeline to where it began a little sooner, that became unnecessary. So, on the face of it, the very two biggest changes were that it began soon, before the repetition and that there’s no voice-over.
Question: How did “Groundhog Day” become a classic film?
Danny Rubin: Well, it wasn’t an overnight success in that way. I mean, I think when it first came out, generally the reviews said, “Another comedy by Harold Ramis. It’s kind of cute.” Two, two and half star kind of reviews. But there were other places where people seemed to dig it right away. I was getting letters from Germany and from England. A lot of fans in England who just thought it was an extraordinary movie and my feeling was I felt justified. I was like, “Yeah, that’s what it was supposed to be.” And it was just very slowly that people realized that everybody was sort of saying, “Oh, have you seen Groundhog Day? It was really good.” And it was just sort of a buzz started developing and then little things started happening.
Like, there was a big Buddhist convention in San Francisco and somebody delivered a paper about Groundhog Day and Buddhism and people realized that people were - psychologists were showing it to their patients, prescribing it and all kinds of different religious disciplines were embracing it and giving sermons and lectures and writing important papers based on the philosophy of Groundhog Day.
And Harold Ramis was also getting letters and notes and the two of us would compare things and say, “Wow, this is really interesting.” And then, at some point, I guess Roger Ebert wrote, not a retraction, but a new review that sort of said, “I think we should revisit this movie. I think this is a little better than I thought.” And I know at the end of the year that it came out in’93, William Goldman, the screenwriter, was reflecting on movies of the past year and he was the one who wrote, “I think Groundhog Day is the one that will be - of all of the movies that came out this year, it’s the one that will be remembered in 10 years,” and perhaps that gave it some street cred or got some people thinking.
But, I don’t know. I think people just like it and a little bit at a time, it started to develop this, not exactly a following, but an awful lot of people who identified with it.
Question: What makes people identify so strongly with the movie?
Danny Rubin: I haven’t thought a lot about that, but everybody seems to have their own reason and that’s what makes it so remarkable. Everybody seems to bring their own way of thinking and their own discipline to bear on the ideas within it and would express this is absolutely describing the essence of Judaism. This is the essence of Nietzsche’s philosophy. This is the essence homeopathy. I mean, I’ve seen all of this. I think there's something about - I think we understand how people grow and develop. Okay, I have a few answers. I think I understand how people - we understand how people grow and develop in a linear time fashion. How you have an adolescence at a certain age and you start to develop adulthood and you start to mature. But, I think the movie shows that it is the repetition of days itself which pushes us forward in our own maturation as we start to encounter the same things over and over again.
And so, there's an element of truth to the fact that we are repeating the same day over and over again. But, I think the biggest thing that affects people is the fact that Phil is presented with the exact same day and the very first time he’s presented with it, it’s probably the worst day of his life. And, by the end of the movie, we see that it’s the exact same day but somehow this is probably the best day of his life. It’s the day he fell in love and she fell in love with him and everybody loves him and he was living a fulfilling life pursuing culture and things that he loved and appreciating the day and doing good works and contributing to society and it makes it very clear that we are in control of our day. We can control our future. There's something very empowering about it and Groundhog Day, it’s almost an experiment that says, “See? Here's a guy who is having a terrible day and he’s kind of a horrible person and just through the act of repetition and paying attention and remembering, he is forced to change who he is and by changing who he is, he changes the life that he experiences the world around him. That, I think, is the main thing that gets people very excited about the movie.
Question: How did you get into screenwriting?
Danny Rubin: I’ve always done writing as part of everything that I’ve done in the past, just various creative enterprises. I write songs and do music and write essays and short plays and sketch comedy and all these things and during my 20’s, I was living in Chicago and probably pursuing everything creatively that I could think of all at once and waiting for something to choose me.
I got a job right out of graduate school working for a local television show in Chicago and so I was doing writing for that, but I was also writing music and I was doing a little bit of performing. I was writing plays and also performing on stage and doing the music thing and playing coffee houses and blues clubs and, ultimately, I was just waiting for something to choose me and what happened was somebody suggested, “Well, why don’t you write a screenplay for a movie?” and I thought, “I like movies,” and so I wrote one and l looked at and said, “That was fun.” I didn’t like that particular screenplay and didn’t do anything with it, but then I wrote another one and sent it out and somebody bought it and all of a sudden I was screenwriter and I thought, “That was easy. I’ll do this.” And so, I just kept doing it and I haven’t had any reason to do anything else since.
Question: What’s the hardest part about writing a good screenplay?
Danny Rubin: Making it good, that good part. Writing a screenplay is not so hard. That’s all about knowing where the margins are. Writing a good screenplay is almost impossible.
I think it - part of it has to do with being original, trying to do something that feels fresh when there have been so many movies made and also particularly in Hollywood, a tendency to try and remake the same movies over and over again. So, it’s writing a movie that’s original that becomes really difficult and there's something very formal about the enterprise of writing a screenplay. It can’t be longer than two hours. So, the kind of story you tell, whatever it is, it has to be as engaging and as exciting as possible within that one and a half to two hour period and that forces certain kind of conventions on you. Places where we really want to have them gripped in the story by here or else they’re going to leave or change the channel or walk out of the theater.
There's a certain kind of efficiency built into screenwriting that’s very elegant, but that makes it as hard to craft as a very finely crafted piece of sculpture, furniture, something like that. And making it all come alive when you just start putting together all the pieces of things that you visualize that would wonderful. It all seems in your mind to be wonderful, but then when you look at what you’ve created on the page it’s like a Frankenstein’s monster. You’ve got a head, you’ve got the hands, you got the feet, you’ve got the body. You’ve thought of everything and when you look at it, it’s still just a bunch of dead meat lying there on the table and you're trying to get a pulse to go through the thing. What makes it real?
It’s complete artifice. It’s completely made up. It’s all these things from your head and your desires and dreams and it isn’t real yet and somehow, something has to spark off the page that makes you to join the life that’s going on in this world that you’ve created. And to make that smooth life feel real when the whole thing is artifice. It all has agenda. It’s all people you’ve created and worlds that don’t even exist. Making that feel real, that’s the absolute impossible thing. Being original, making it feel real and making it all fit. It’s the easiest thing in the world and it’s absolutely impossible.
Question: Do you consider screenwriting an art form?
Danny Rubin: Screenwriting is an art form, but it’s also a craft. It’s both of those things. It’s a commercial art and both of those things you need to be good at. If you just know the craft and you don’t have any sense of the art, that means you don’t have anything to say and you don’t have an interesting way to say it.
If it’s all art and no craft, then you’ve got these great ideas, but you aren’t able to articulate them in a way that makes it all work out as a good blueprint for building a great movie. So, I definitely think there's a great deal of artistry involved. I’ve never seen a good screenplay that was nothing but craft.
Question: Do screenwriters have to choose between writing either an indie passion project or a shallow blockbuster?
Danny Rubin: Yes and no. It’s a false choice because you never know what's going to work. Trying to guess what will please the industry, whether it’s the indie industry or the commercial industry is almost impossible and trying to do that is a fool’s errand. So, in the end, you should just do what you want and see who salutes it.
On the other hand, it’s constantly a choice. You're seduced by wanting to write a very blockbuster hit. The kind of thing that would have mass appeal and would be most likely to be accepted by the studios because that’s where most of the money is and the biggest chance of getting a thing produced. But, that’s not necessarily going to work. And same with going the indie route, the indie market is very particular. If you’ve got a story with a dysfunctional family or drugs or some weird kind of sexual relationship, you're in. That’s the indie world. If you're just trying to do a particularly intelligent commercial studio film, that’s what - I had a manager who called those the tweeners. The sort of between indie film and Hollywood films and it’s - nobody wants it. It’s going to be difficult to place. It all comes down to luck.
But, if it’s written skillfully, it all comes down to luck anyway. That skillful thing has a chance of making it and it might never be noticed at all. I’m constantly trying to figure out how to be as commercial as possible and still be original. Those are movies that I like. It’s not just because I’m trying to please some market. But, those are the movies I most enjoy and so that’s what I’m trying to create and it’s not - the other method that some writers take is one for me, one for them.
Okay, this is my heart project and I’m going to make it very true to myself and consistent with my beliefs and my artistic sensibilities. Maybe someone will make it, maybe someone won't, but I will feel good writing it and then I’ll finish that and then I’ll write a vampire movie. And so, one for me, one for them and you can write a screenplay quickly enough that that is an acceptable way to go through your professional like. You can get through year after year like that.
Question: What current trends in moviemaking do you dislike?
Danny Rubin: It does seem that it’s all about style. There's very little substance. It’s telling the same old stories, but with a new kind of visual panache and that’s okay, but that’s seems to - it’s like candy and that seems to be the tendency. Not to even attempt anything more ambitious content-wise, but they're always trying new ambitious things in terms of style. So, that’s kind of fun, but I’m tired of it and kind of like many people, growing cynical about movies and would like to see more movies of substance that have stories to tell that affect my life in some way.
Question: What are common mistakes of novice screenwriters?
Danny Rubin: The biggest mistake is over-reliance on dialogue. They remember their favorites lines and come into the enterprise thinking that it’s about writing lines of dialog for the actors when, in fact, it’s really about the structure. It’s about setting up the visual scene. It’s about putting the scenes together in what order actually tells the story and really taking advantage of the visual medium and the dialog often comes after that. It’s - the beginning writer will rely very heavily on dialog to give you all the information you need. So, characters are constantly telling each other things. “I think this, I intend that, I like that.”
Where it’s much better to find a visual way to get that idea across. It’s more elegant and it’s more filmic and it’s very, very obviously amateurish to an experienced writer to look at a screenplay that is all reliant on dialog.
Question: Does the development process tend to help or hurt a script?
Danny Rubin: In my experience, I’ve spent a lot of time in development on various projects and I’ve seen screenplays get worse and I’ve seen them get better and it’s the structure is the thing that usually has to change and when you change the structure you wind up having to change everything else too because what would happen in a scene changes, so the dialog changes. Everything does.
Sometimes it winds towards the juicy center and the notes you're getting are helping it become the screenplay it need to become. But, there's some point where it becomes like a hail Mary and it just has become very jumbled and messed up and mixed up themes and different peoples’ stories and you wind up with everybody looking at it. It’s not just you anymore. It’s you and a room full of people and everybody has a different opinion and sometimes they just say, “Well, try this,” because they just don’t know and then you realize the project is gone. It’s somehow gotten away from everybody.
And that’s not unusual and it’s not too hard for that to happen and it’s not really the fault of anybody. I found that development executives and producers are actually very smart and although there are have been many, many stupid and clueless and difficult and impossible notes I’ve gotten that I had to somehow solve, more often the notes are quite good and make a lot of sense and have been helpful.
Question: What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given as a screenwriter?
Danny Rubin: I don’t know. I don’t know that I can think of anything. Quit? Give up?
Recorded on May 12, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman
A conversation with the "Groundhog Day" screenwriter.
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Scientists do not know what is causing the overabundance of the gas.
- A new study looked to understand the source of methane on Saturn's moon Enceladus.
- The scientists used computer models with data from the Cassini spacecraft.
- The explanation could lie in alien organisms or non-biological processes.
Something is producing an overabundance of methane in the ocean hidden under the ice of Saturn's moon Enceladus. A new study analyzed if the source could be an alien life form or some other explanation.
The study, published in Nature Astronomy, was carried out by scientists at the University of Arizona and Paris Sciences & Lettres University, who looked at composition data from the water plumes erupting on Enceladus.
The particular chemistry, discovered by the Cassini spacecraft which flew through the plumes, suggested a high concentration of molecules that have been linked to hydrothermal vents on the bottom of Earth's oceans. Such vents are potential cradles of life on Earth, according to previous studies. The data from Cassini, which has been studying Saturn after entering its orbit in 2004, revealed the presence of molecular hydrogen (dihydrogen), methane, and carbon dioxide, with the amount of methane presenting a particular interest to the scientists."We wanted to know: Could Earthlike microbes that 'eat' the dihydrogen and produce methane explain the surprisingly large amount of methane detected by Cassini?" shared one of the study's lead authors Régis Ferrière, an associate professor in the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona.
Earth's hydrothermal vents feature microorganisms that use dihydrogen for energy, creating methane from carbon dioxide via the process of methanogenesis.
Searching for such microorganisms known as methanogens on the seafloor of Enceladus is not yet feasible. Likely, it would require very sophisticated deep diving operations that will be the objective of future missions.
So, Ferrière's team took a more available approach to pinpointing the origins of the methane, creating mathematical models that attempted to explain the Cassini data. They wanted to calculate the likelihood that particular processes were responsible for producing the amount of methane observed. For example, is the methane more likely the result of biological or non-biological processes?
They found that the data from Cassini was consistent with either microbial activity at hydrothermal vents or processes that have nothing to do with life but could be quite different from what happens on Earth. Intriguingly, models that didn't involve biological entities didn't seem to produce enough of the gas.
"Obviously, we are not concluding that life exists in Enceladus' ocean," Ferrière stated. "Rather, we wanted to understand how likely it would be that Enceladus' hydrothermal vents could be habitable to Earthlike microorganisms. Very likely, the Cassini data tell us, according to our models."
Still, the scientists think future missions are necessary to either prove or discard the "life hypothesis." One explanation for the methane that does not involve biological organisms is that the gas is the result of a chemical breakdown of primordial organic matter within Enceladus' core. This matter could have become a part of Saturn's moon from comets rich in organic materials.
It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.
This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.
For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.
The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.
The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.
One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.
Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.
Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).
Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.
A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.
We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.
"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.
What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.
The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.
A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.
This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.
If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.
Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.
"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."
A global survey shows the majority of countries favor Android over iPhone.
- When Android was launched soon after Apple's own iPhone, Steve Jobs threatened to "destroy" it.
- Ever since, and across the world, the rivalry between both systems has animated users.
- Now the results are in: worldwide, consumers clearly prefer one side — and it's not Steve Jobs'.
A woman on her phone in Havana, Cuba. Mobile phones have become ubiquitous the world over — and so has the divide between Android and iPhone users.Credit: Yamil Lage / AFP via Getty Images.
Us versus them: it's the archetypal binary. It makes the world understandable by dividing it into two competing halves: labor against capital, West against East, men against women.
These maps are the first to show the dividing lines between one of the world's more recent binaries: Android vs. Apple. Published by Electronics Hub, they are based on a qualitative analysis of almost 350,000 tweets worldwide that presented positive, neutral, and negative attitudes toward Android and/or Apple.
Steve Jobs wanted to go "thermonuclear"
Feelings between Android and Apple were pretty tribal from the get-go. It was Steve Jobs himself who said, when Google rolled out Android a mere ten months after Apple launched the iPhone, "I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."
Buying a phone is like picking a side in the eternal feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. Each choice for automatically comes with an in-built arsenal of arguments against.
If you are an iPhone person, you appreciate the sleekness and simplicity of its design, and you are horrified by the confusing mess that is the Android operating system. If you are an Android aficionado, you pity the iPhone user, a captive of an overly expensive closed ecosystem, designed to extract money from its users.
Even without resorting to those extremes, many of us will recognize which side of the dividing line that we are on. Like the American Civil War, that line runs through families and groups of friends, but that would be a bit confusing to chart geographically. To un-muddle the information, these maps zoom out to state and country level.
If the contest is based on the number of countries, Android wins. In all, 74 of the 142 countries surveyed prefer Android (in green on the map). Only 65 favor Apple (colored grey). That's a 52/48 split, which may not sound like a decisive vote, but it was good enough for Boris Johnson to get Brexit done (after he got breakfast done, of course).
And yes, math-heads: 74 plus 65 is three short of 142. Belarus, Fiji, and Peru (in yellow on the map) could not decide which side to support in the Global Phone War.
What about the United States, home of both the Android and the iPhone? Another victory for the former, albeit a slightly narrower one: 30.16 percent of the tweets about Android were positive versus just 29.03 percent of the ones about Apple.
United States: Texas surrounded!
Credit: Electronics Hub
There can be only one winner per state, though, and that leads to this preponderance of Android logos. Frankly, it's a relief to see a map showing a visceral divide within the United States that is not the coasts versus the heartland.
- Apple dominates in 19 states: a solid Midwestern bloc, another of states surrounding Texas, the Dakotas and California, plus North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
- And that's it. The other 32 are the United States of Android. You can drive from Seattle to Miami without straying into iPhone territory. But no stopovers in Dallas or Houston – both are behind enemy lines!
North America: strongly leaning toward Android
Credit: Electronics Hub
Only eight of North America's 21 countries surveyed fall into the Apple category.
- The U.S. and Canada lean Android, while Mexico goes for the iPhone.
- Central America is divided, but here too Android wins hands down, 5-2.
Europe: Big Five divided
Credit: Electronics Hub
In Europe, Apple wins, with 20 countries preferring the iPhone, 17 going for Android, and Belarus sitting on the fence.
- Of Western Europe's Big Five markets, three (UK, Germany, Spain) are pro-Android, and two (France, Italy) are pro-Apple.
- Czechia and Slovakia are an Apple island in the Android sea that is Central Europe. Glad to see there is still something the divorcees can agree on.
South America: almost even
Credit: Electronics Hub
In South America, the divide is almost even.
- Five countries prefer Android, four Apple, and one is undecided.
- In Peru, both Android- and Apple-related tweets were 25 percent positive.
Africa: watch out for Huawei
Credit: Electronics Hub
In Africa, Android wins by 17 countries versus Apple's 15.
- There's a solid Android bloc running from South Africa via DR Congo all the way to Ethiopia.
- iPhone countries are scattered throughout the north (Algeria), west (Guinea), east (Somalia), and south (Namibia).
Huawei — increasingly popular across the continent — could soon dramatically change the picture in Africa. Currently still running on Android, the Chinese phone manufacturer has just launched its own operating system, called Harmony.
Middle East: Iran vs. Saudi Arabia (again)
Credit: Electronics Hub
In the Middle East and Central Asia, Android wins 8 countries to Apple's 6.
- But it's complicated. One Turkish tweeter wondered how it is that iPhones seem more popular in the Asian half of Istanbul, while Android phones prevailed in the European part of the city.
- The phone divide matches up with the region's main geopolitical one: Iran prefers Android, Saudi Arabia the iPhone.
Asia-Pacific: Apple on the periphery
Credit: Electronics Hub
Another wafer-thin majority for Android in the Asia-Pacific region: 13 countries versus 12 for Apple — and one abstention (Fiji).
- The two giants of the Asian mainland, India and China, are both Android countries. Apple countries are on the periphery.
- And if India is Android, its rival Pakistan must be Apple. Same with North and South Korea.
Experts point to the fact that both operating systems are becoming more alike with every new generation as a potential resolution to the conflict. But as any student of human behavior will confirm: smaller differences will only exacerbate the rivalry between both camps.
Maps taken from Electronics Hub, reproduced with kind permission.
Strange Maps #1096
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A new government report describes 144 sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena.
On June 25, 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a much-anticipated report on UFOs to Congress.
The military has rebranded unidentified flying objects as unidentified aerial phenomena – UAPs – in part to avoid the stigma that has been attached to claims of aliens visiting the Earth since the Roswell incident in 1947. The report presents no convincing evidence that alien spacecraft have been spotted, but some of the data defy easy interpretation.
I'm a professor of astronomy who has written extensively on the search for life in the universe. I also teach a free online class on astrobiology. I do not believe that the new government report or any other sightings of UFOs in the past are proof of aliens visiting Earth. But the report is important because it opens the door for a serious look at UFOs. Specifically, it encourages the U.S. government to collect better data on UFOs, and I think the release of the report increases the chances that scientists will try to interpret that data. Historically, UFOs have felt off limits to mainstream science, but perhaps no more.
Three videos from the U.S. military sparked a recent surge in interest in UFOs.
What's in the UFO report?
The No. 1 thing the report focuses on is the lack of high-quality data. Here are the highlights from the slender nine-page report, covering a total of 144 UAP sightings from U.S. government sources between 2004 and 2021:
- “Limited data and inconsistent reporting are key challenges to evaluating UAP."
- Some observations “could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing, or observer misperception."
- “UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security."
- Of the 144 sightings, the task force was “able to identify one reported UAP with high confidence. In that case, we identified the object as a large, deflating balloon. The others remain unexplained."
- “Some UAP many be technologies deployed by China, Russia, another nation, or non-governmental entity."
UFOs are taboo among scientists
UFO means unidentified flying object. Nothing more, nothing less. You'd think scientists would enjoy the challenge of solving this puzzle. Instead, UFOs have been taboo for academic scientists to investigate, and so unexplained reports have not received the scrutiny they deserve.
One reason is that most scientists think there is less to most reports than meets the eye, and the few who have dug deeply have mostly debunked the phenomenon. Over half of sightings can be attributed to meteors, fireballs and the planet Venus.
Another reason for the scientific hesitance is that UFOs have been co-opted by popular culture. They are part of a landscape of conspiracy theories that includes accounts of abduction by aliens and crop circles. Scientists worry about their professional reputations, and the association of UFOs with these supernatural stories causes most researchers to avoid the topic.
But some scientists have looked. In 1968, Edward U. Condon at the University of Colorado published the first major academic study of UFO sightings. The Condon Report put a damper on further research when it found that “nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge."
However, a review in 1998 by a panel led by Peter Sturrock, a professor of applied physics at Stanford University, concluded that some sightings are accompanied by physical evidence that deserves scientific study. Sturrock also surveyed professional astronomers and found that nearly half thought UFOs were worthy of scientific study, with higher interest among younger and more well-informed astronomers.
If astronomers are intrigued by UFOs – and believe some cases deserve study with academic rigor – what's holding them back? A history of mistrust between ufologists and scientists hasn't helped. And while UFO research has employed some of the tools of the scientific method, it has not had the core of skeptical, evidence-based reasoning that demarcates science from pseudoscience.
A search of 90,000 recent and current grants awarded by the National Science Foundation finds none addressing UFOs or related phenomena. I've served on review panels for 35 years, and can imagine the reaction if such a proposal came up for peer review: raised eyebrows and a quick vote not to fund.
A decadeslong search for aliens
While the scientific community has almost entirely avoided engaging with UFOs, a much more mainstream search for intelligent aliens and their technology has been going on for decades.
The search is motivated by the fact that astronomers have, to date, discovered over 4,400 planets orbiting other stars. Called exoplanets, some are close to the Earth's mass and at just the right distance from their stars to potentially have water on their surfaces – meaning they might be habitable.
Astronomers estimate that there are 300 million habitable worlds in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and each one is a potential opportunity for life to develop and for intelligence and technology to emerge. Indeed, most astronomers think it very unlikely that humans are the only or the first advanced civilization.
This confidence has fueled an active search for extraterrestrial intelligence, known as SETI. It has been unsuccessful so far. As a result, researchers have recast the question “Are we alone?" to “Where are the aliens?" The absence of evidence for intelligent aliens is called the Fermi paradox. First articulated by the physicist Enrico Fermi, it's a paradox because advanced civilizations should be spread throughout the galaxy, yet we see no sign of their existence.
The SETI activity has not been immune from scientists' criticism. It was starved of federal funding for decades and recently has gotten most of its support from private sources. However, in 2020, NASA resumed funding for SETI, and the new NASA administrator wants researchers to pursue the topic of UFOs.
In this context, the intelligence report is welcome. The report draws few concrete conclusions about UFOs and avoids any reference to aliens or extraterrestrial spacecraft. However, it notes the importance of destigmatizing UFOs so that more pilots report what they see. It also sets a goal of moving from anecdotal observations to standardized and scientific data collection. Time will tell if this is enough to draw scientists into the effort, but the transparency to publish the report at all reverses a long history of secrecy surrounding U.S. government reports on UFOs.
I don't see any convincing evidence of alien spacecraft, but as a curious scientist, I hope the subset of UFO sightings that are truly unexplained gets closer study. Scientists are unlikely to weigh in if their skepticism generates attacks from “true believers" or they get ostracized by their colleagues. Meanwhile, the truth is still out there.
This article has been updated to clarify that the report was produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.