Great risk for great gain: Immigrants and innovators are psychologically the same

Don't denigrate immigrants, says Jared Diamond. You are one.

JARED DIAMOND: Immigration in the United States is a controversial issue just as it is in most other countries of the world. Many other of not just first-world countries, like Japan, Australia, Western Europe are wrestling with immigration, but many developing countries. When I was last in Indonesia, Malaysia, Indonesia's neighbor, is having a problem with Indonesians migrating into Malaysia because the standard of living in Malaysia is higher than in Indonesia. And South Africa, an African country, is having issues with immigration with neighboring poorer African countries such as Zimbabwe sending immigrants into South Africa.

So immigration in the United States the fact is every American without exception, is an immigrant. Native Americans immigrated 13,000 years ago, and everybody else has immigrated within the last 400 years. My father immigrated at the age of 2 in 1904. My mother's parents immigrated around 1890. Most Americans are immigrants. If you look at the contribution of immigrants, if you ask yourself, do a thought experiment: take the citizens of any country in the world out there, take the citizens of Poland or Russia and divide them into two sets. Suppose you had a mechanism for dividing every citizen of Poland into either two categories. One category are those people who are healthy, ambitious, willing to take risks, willing to try new ways, young, strong. And the other category consists of those people who are weak, unwilling to take risks, unwilling to experiment, wanting to carry on in their old ways. In effect, dividing a country into those two groups is what's accomplished by the decision to emigrate. The decision to emigrate is made by people who are healthy, strong, willing to undertake risks, and face the unknown. And those who don't emigrate, on the average, lack those qualities. But willing to take risks and experiment, those are essential qualities for innovating. And the United States is a country of innovation. It's therefore, no surprise that the great majority of American Nobel Prize winners are either first-generation immigrants or the children of first-generation immigrants.

So immigration has made a strong contribution to the history of the United States. But it's controversial because whenever you get a batch of people who are there and then another batch people coming who are different the Vietnamese of the 1970s, etc. they are different and there are likely to be prejudices. There have been prejudices against immigrants throughout American history, beginning with the first non-British immigrants, the Irish and the Germans. And eventually, that settled down. Then the prejudice against the Eastern Europeans, the Japanese and Europeans of the late 1800s, and then the prejudice against the Vietnamese. So it's unsurprising that immigration is an issue in the United States today, but reflect on our history. Students of immigration say that the United States has benefited more from immigration than any other country in the world, and that for the United States, a higher percentage of our immigrants are highly trained, skilled people who contribute to our economy than the immigrants into any other country in the world. Yes, it's a problem for us. But we are better off than any other country with that problem.

  • Every American, without exception, is an immigrant. Native Americans immigrated 13,000 years ago, and everybody else has immigrated within the last 400 years.
  • The decision to emigrate is made by people who are healthy, strong, willing to undertake risks, and face the unknown. Those are also essential qualities for innovating.
  • It's no coincidence that the great majority of American Nobel Prize winners are either first-generation immigrants or the children of first-generation immigrants.



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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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