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.

Deep learning nails correlation. Causation is another matter.

Why do people with bigger hands have a better vocabulary? That's one question deep learning can't answer.

Videos
  • Did you know that people with bigger hands have larger vocabularies?
  • While that's actually true, it's not a causal relationship. This pattern exists because adults tend know more words than kids. It's a correlation, explains NYU professor Gary Marcus.
  • Deep learning struggles with how to perceive causal relationships. If given the data on hand size and vocabulary size, a deep learning system might only be able to see the correlation, but wouldn't be able to answer the 'why?' of it.
Keep reading Show less

Is NASA ignoring proof of Martian life from the 1970s?

One of the scientists with the Viking missions says yes.

Image source: David Williams/NASA
Surprising Science
  • A former NASA consultant believe his experiments on the Viking 1 and 2 landers proved the existence of living microorganisms on Mars
  • Because of other conflicting data, his experiments' results have been largely discarded.
  • Though other subsequent evidence supports their findings, he says NASA has been frustratingly disinterested in following up.

Gilbert V. Levin is clearly aggravated with NASA, frustrated by the agency's apparent unwillingness to acknowledge what he considers a fact: That NASA has had dispositive proof of living microorganisms on Mars since 1976, and a great deal of additional evidence since then. Levin is no conspiracy theorist, either. He's an engineer, a respected inventor, founder of scientific-research company Spherix, and a participant in that 1976 NASA mission. He's written an opinion piece in Scientific American that asks why NASA won't follow up on what he believes they should already know.

In 1976

Image source: NASA/JPL

Sunset at the Viking 1 site

As the developer of methods for rapidly detecting and identifying microorganisms, Levin took part in the Labeled Release (LR) experiment landed on Mars by NASA's Viking 1 and 2.

At both landing sites, the Vikings picked up samples of Mars soil, treating each with a drop of a dilute nutrient solution. This solution was tagged with radioactive carbon-14, and so if there were any microorganisms in the samples, they would metabolize it. This would lead to the production of radioactive carbon or radioactive methane. Sensors were positioned above the soil samples to detect the presence of either as signifiers of life.

At both landing sites, four positive indications of life were recorded, backed up by five controls. As a guarantee, the samples were then heated to 160°, hot enough to kill any living organisms in the soil, and then tested again. No further indicators of life were detected.

According to many, including Levin, had this test been performed on Earth, there would have been no doubt that life had been found. In fact, parallel control tests were performed on Earth on two samples known to be lifeless, one from the Moon and one from Iceland's volcanic Surtsey island, and no life was indicated.

However, on Mars, another experiment, a search for organic molecules, had been performed prior to the LR test and found nothing, leaving NASA in doubt regarding the results of the LR experiment, and concluding, according to Levin, that they'd found something imitating life, but not life itself. From there, notes Levin, "Inexplicably, over the 43 years since Viking, none of NASA's subsequent Mars landers has carried a life detection instrument to follow up on these exciting results."

Subsequent evidence

Image source: NASA

A thin coating of water ice on the rocks and soil photographed by Viking 2

Levin presents in his opinion piece 17 discoveries by subsequent Mars landers that support the results of the LR experiment. Among these:

  • Surface water sufficient to sustain microorganisms has been found on the red planet by Viking, Pathfinder, Phoenix and Curiosity.
  • The excess of carbon-13 over carbon-12 in the Martian atmosphere indicates biological activity since organisms prefer ingesting carbon-12.
  • Mars' CO2should long ago have been converted to CO by the sun's UV light, but CO2 is being regenerated, possibly by microorganisms as happens on Earth.
  • Ghost-like moving lights, resembling Earth's will-O'-the-wisps produced by spontaneous ignition of methane, have been seen and recorded on the Martian surface.
  • "No factor inimical to life has been found on Mars." This is a direct rebuttal of NASA's claim cited above.

Frustration

Image source: NASA

A technician checks the soil sampler of a Viking lander.

By 1997, Levin was convinced that NASA was wrong and set out to publish followup research supporting his conclusion. It took nearly 20 years to find a venue, he believes due to his controversial certainty that the LR experiment did indeed find life on Mars.

Levin tells phys.org, "Since I first concluded that the LR had detected life (in 1997), major juried journals had refused our publications. I and my co-Experimenter, Dr. Patricia Ann Straat, then published mainly in the astrobiology section of the SPIE Proceedings, after presenting the papers at the annual SPIE conventions. Though these were invited papers, they were largely ignored by the bulk of astrobiologists in their publications." (Staat is the author of To Mars with Love, about her experience as co-experimenter with Levin for the LR experiments.)

Finally, he and Straat decided to craft a paper that answers every objection anyone ever had to their earlier versions, finally publishing it in Astrobiology's October 2016 issue. "You may not agree with the conclusion," he says, "but you cannot disparage the steps leading there. You can say only that the steps are insufficient. But, to us, that seems a tenuous defense, since no one would refute these results had they been obtained on Earth."

Nonetheless, NASA's seeming reluctance to address the LR experiment's finding remains an issue for Levin. He and Straat have petitioned NASA to send a new LR test to the red planets, but, alas, Levin reports that "NASA has already announced that its 2020 Mars lander will not contain a life-detection test."

Physicists solve a 140-year-old mystery

Scientists discover the inner workings of an effect that will lead to a new generation of devices.

Credit: IBM
Surprising Science
  • Researchers discover a method of extracting previously unavailable information from superconductors.
  • The study builds on a 19th-century discovery by physicist Edward Hall.
  • The research promises to lead to a new generation of semiconductor materials and devices.
Keep reading Show less