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Election Post-Mortem: How Everything Came Up Trump

What should have killed Trump's political career, only made him stronger. Matt Taibbi marvels at Trump's immunity to scandal and baffling resilience to normal media strategies.

Matt Taibbi: Trump, his innovation was to recognize from the start that the campaign is really a bad reality show and he made it a good reality show. That's not saying that qualitatively he was a good person, I'm just saying that he knew how to make good television, he knew how to attract eyeballs. It's entertainment.

If you think about the financial incentives that everybody who's on the bus or on the campaign plane you have the candidates who are funded by a very small group of ultra powerful commercial donors and then you have the press and they're basically funded by advertising dollars. And so somewhere along the line there's a synergy between the person who is the most entertaining on the one hand and who is able to satisfy the donor class in the other hand. If you find that sweet spot in the middle of those two phenomenon that's usually where you're going to get your candidate, someone who is a little bit entertaining and also a little bit morally flexible. As a result of that at the outset of the campaign especially he was able to attract mountains, billions of dollars probably of free coverage at a period of the race when other candidates have to buy their own publicity

And he made it into a kind of a genuine revolt where his voters perceive themselves as the kind of the aggrieved victims of a conspiracy of elites that were represented by all the donors, the press, the two parties. And he managed to get past a lot of the kind of bull works that we usually had thrown up in the past to keep people like that out. Like for instance, normally when a candidate slips up and makes a mistake, a la Howard Dean when he made his scream or Gary Hart when he got busted with the monkey business photo, we typically used to descend upon a candidate. A reporter I know used to call it the seal of death where we would kind of swirl around a candidate with negative attention and that would really be it, a few hundred times show a damning clip and the person would just exit the scene, there would be a humiliating public apology and a drop in the polls and then a few weeks later you wouldn't hear from that candidate again.

That didn't happen this time, Trump managed to survive countless scandals like that and every time everybody expected him to go down in the polls he went up in the polls. And I think a lot of people in our profession were kind of flummoxed by that. He was sort of defying the usual laws of gravity and we just didn't know what to do about it.

 

How many lives does Donald Trump have, wonders political correspondent Matt Taibbi. Trump’s scandals and embarrassments on the campaign trail were enough to bury any normal politician several times over. And yet, he survived. Taibbi attributes Trump’s immunity to the political kiss of death to what he describes as the sweet spot: Trump was able to satisfy the media's thirst for advertising dollars while simultaneously satisfying his campaign donors, despite his many incidents – a rarity. When a presidential candidate has an excruciating media moment (like Howard Dean’s 2004 scream) it’s normally the beginning of the end; the media circles in on them, public pressure mounts, and they are dropped. It was not so for Trump, journalists knew what to do with a politician, but not an entertainer. "He was sort of defying the usual laws of gravity and [the media] just didn't know what to do about it," Taibbi says. Matt Taibbi's most recent book is Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the American Circus.


Matt Taibbi's most recent book is Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the American Circus.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

Videos
  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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