Book Review: The Closing of the Net by Monica Horten

By Blog Admin In The Closing of the Net, Monica Horten confronts the issue of how corporate structural power has shaped the online world, transforming the ideal of the open internet into an increasingly closed, market-driven space with negative consequences for individual freedoms. Courteney J. O’Connor recommends this well-researched book as an extremely relevant addition to cyber-related literature that will also be of use to those working in the fields of politics, law and media. The Closing of the Net. Monica Horten. Polity. 2016. Find this book: Monica Horten’s The Closing of the Net is a factually dense but eminently readable introduction to the issue of corporate structural power over the modern internet. Focusing on the way that political issues and events affect how the internet works for the individual, The Closing of the Net pairs the identification of key events with an on-the-ball and easy to understand analysis of their run-on effects. It is also made clear throughout the volume that far from dictating the policies by which telecommunications (telecoms) providers must abide, governments are regularly being influenced by these and other corporate entities. In Chapter One, Horten begins with a discussion of the internet as both a source and tool of power for various parties (1-21). As a source of knowledge, the internet is a resource beyond compare. However, the telecoms providers that control both the physical infrastructure on which the Internet rests and our access to the internet itself have the power to control the extent of that access, including precisely what content the average user can find. Horten calls this the open internet vs. industrial control dichotomy, whereby commercial interests are negatively affecting the open internet empowerment narrative of earlier days (4). Knowledge is identified early in the text as the primary function of the internet. Its ‘knowledge function’ in the cyber age is inextricably linked with the so-called ‘security function’ of the net, because the data stored on and transmitted through the internet can and is utilised for surveillance and security purposes (6). The book openly identifies the links between commercial control over vast data streams and the utility of that data, not only for state surveillance and security, but also for commercial behavioural analysis and content personalisation. Horten concludes that net neutrality – or an internet wherein all data is transmitted without discrimination or prioritisation – is being negatively affected, and is becoming an increasingly unlikely outcome given the majority control that telecoms providers have over internet infrastructure. Image Credit: System Lock (Yuri Samoilov CC2.0) Having identified data as ‘the new ‘‘oil” of the global economy’ and a source of both knowledge and power (14), The Closing of the Net goes on to consider the legalities surrounding technologies such as cookie tracking and content filtering (because, yes, information exclusion can and does happen). Subsequent sections detail and analyse the influence of telecoms providers over both national and international law and policy pertinent to the collection, storage and sharing of data as well as cooperation Continue reading

Book Review: Happiness Explained: What Human Flourishing Is and How We Can Promote It by Paul Anand

By Blog Admin What is human happiness and how can we promote it? In Happiness Explained: What Human Flourishing Is and How We Can Promote It, Paul Anand argues that we should move beyond GDP to instead consider subjective wellbeing as a substantial, significant and necessary measure of national, governmental and individual success. While Jake Eliot suggests that the book does not always fully contend with the significant challenge of deploying this framework in the realm of public policy, it does sterling work of mapping the emergent territory of happiness and wellbeing and convinces of the need to move beyond narrow understandings of outcomes. Happiness Explained: What Human Flourishing Is and How We Can Promote It. Paul Anand. Oxford University Press. 2016. Find this book: Happiness policy has been on a seemingly irresistible march towards the mainstream. What began as think-tankers and academics swapping anecdotes about wellbeing in Nordic countries and Bhutan’s measure of ‘Gross National Happiness’ has matured to the point where the United Nations has published four World Happiness Reports, ranking nations by their reported happiness levels. While, in the UK, in 2010 the former coalition Government proposed a new national measure on wellbeing to ‘help government work out, with evidence, the best ways of trying to help to improve people’s wellbeing.’ Paul Anand’s latest book Happiness Explained: What Human Flourishing Is and How We Can Promoted It moves swiftly over this well-covered ground, setting out for the generalist reader the limitations of relying on measures of gross national income as indicators of the relative success of a country and its people. From this starting point, Anand builds his case that subjective wellbeing is a substantial, significant and necessary organising focus for government policy. The book’s theoretical framework is underpinned by the capability approach established by Amartya Sen and further developed by Martha Nussbaum. Rather than define human happiness by an amalgamation of the kind of outcomes measurable through wellbeing surveys, the capabilities approach emphasises more subjective and experiential aspects of wellbeing. Anand sets out how the capability approach can inform a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of happiness. In this book’s framework, wellbeing is contingent on resources – financial, natural, human and social – and the individual’s skills, abilities and opportunities to convert these resources into valuable outcomes. This focus on subjective wellbeing opens up space for Anand’s distinctive contribution in Happiness Explained, drawing on insights from social psychology to demonstrate how the capabilities approach developed by Sen and Nussbaum can create a framework for wellbeing for individual citizens and policymakers. As Anand observes, economists are well accustomed to regarding freedom and choice as important; but to explain happiness, freedom and choice need to be connected to a perceived sense of control in our day-to-day lives and the experience of making this manifest through the structured activities we engage in. Image Credit: (Rachel Kramer CC2.0) For anyone unfamiliar with the evidence base on subjective wellbeing, Anand conducts a masterful and rapid tour of studies from economics and psychology, Continue reading

Innovations are rarely (if ever) the product of a single individual

By Blog Admin Instead, they’re a product of our collective brains, people sharing thoughts and learning from each other, write Katie Dowbiggin and Michael Muthukrishna. We grow up learning about great inventions and scientific discoveries in history. Chances are, it won’t take you more than a few seconds to name the discoverer of penicillin, the formulator of the theory of evolution by natural selection, or the inventor of the telephone. These “lone geniuses” changed history through their individual brilliance, creativity, and tenacity. Right? Not exactly. For starters, as Muthukrishna and Henrich explain in Innovation in the Collective Brain, innovations are rarely (if ever) the product of a single individual. Fleming shared the Nobel Prize for the discovery of penicillin with Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain. Alfred Russel Wallace formulated the theory of evolution at the same time as Darwin. Elisha Gray even filed a patent for the telephone on the same day as Alexander Graham Bell (leading to a protracted Supreme Court battle between the two men). The “lone genius” myth may lend itself to fact books and film scripts, but the frequent controversy over who came first betrays a deeper truth: innovations don’t depend on the identified innovator. Drawing on evolutionary theory and a wide array of evidence, Muthukrishna and Henrich argue that instead, innovations are a product of our collective brains — organisations and social networks made up of people sharing thoughts and learning from each other (as we’ve evolved to do). Ideas flow in these collective brains, much like neurons fire in our individual brains. We see multiple ‘inventors’ of the same idea, because if the historical, cultural and conceptual conditions exist in the collective brain for an invention to emerge, inevitably there will be multiple individuals at the nexus of these conditions. Or to put it another way: Innovations don’t rely on a particular innovator any more than your thoughts rely on a particular neuron. So even if Alexander Graham Bell (or Elisha Gray) had never existed, we would still be telling our teenagers to put their phones away at the dinner table today. Understanding these processes is crucial to success in today’s organisations, where an innovative edge offers a key competitive advantage in the global marketplace (just look at the history of Apple). A strategy for innovation that simply relies on finding and hiring geniuses is unlikely to work. What does work? The answer lies in three processes underlying the emergence of innovation. First, and most commonly, innovations occur when we combine previously isolated ideas. Both Darwin and Wallace studied scientific papers on population size, learned about selective breeding techniques in farming, and travelled to islands where they observed variation in the native species. The theory of evolution by natural selection was the result of these combined insights. Darwin: lone genius or a nexus of the 19th century English collective brain? (Image Credit: Herbert Rose Barraud (1845 – 1896) Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain) Second, innovations often happen accidentally. Fleming ‘discovered’ penicillin when a window Continue reading

Social media and online communities expose youth to political conversation, but also to incivility and conflict.

By Blog Admin The internet and social media now mean that young people are more able to engage with, and participate in the political process. But does this engagement also expose young people to a greater risk of online abuse? In new research Ellen Middaugh investigates the exposure to conflict and incivility of young people who engage politically online. She finds that exposure to online conflict is common, and is associated with participatory media, and that many youth also see no problem with escalating language and personal insults in online political conversations. Political conversation plays an important role in helping young people develop their political identities. The conversations they hear and participate in can spark interest in issues, help them learn information, and motivate them to act. With the internet and participatory media, young people today have access to a large range of political conversation, far beyond their parents, teachers and geographically close peers. This has a lot of positive potential for fostering participation. However, as youth discuss political issues online, view news through participatory media, and participate in online communities, their exposure to incivility (arguments that rely primarily on inflammatory language and personal insults) also increases. With my colleagues Benjamin Bowyer of Mills College & Joseph Kahne of the University of California, Riverside, and the Civic Engagement Research Group, my research seeks to understand what impact this is having on the next generation of voters, and how educators can respond. Participatory media is an important socializing agent for young citizens Surveys suggest people of all ages increasingly rely on participatory media (media that invites participation through comments and circulation) for news and political involvement. When it comes to political posts, it is not hard to find examples of things getting out of hand, with accusations of personal and moral failings, peppered with swear words. For those of us who study youth political development, the question is whether this has a negative impact on whether and how they participate in politics. Adolescence and young adulthood is a time when people explore and consolidate their views on society and develop views of themselves as political participants. While adults of all ages use social media for news and political involvement, for youth, it is part of the landscape of their political identity development. If much of the political discourse they see online is uncivil, we may have a problem. This generation of new voters may be learning that personal attacks are normal, that political conversation is impossible, or that political engagement is distasteful. But not so fast. While examples of incivility are easy to find, research that analyzes political discussion groups finds that “flaming” or personal attacks are present, but limited—only about 14 percent of comments according to one study by Zizi Papacharissi. Furthermore, most young people are not active in such groups, leaving us unclear on how much exposure youth actually have to such conversations. Is exposure to incivility common? To answer this question, we used standardized scenarios modeled after comment Continue reading

Despite Trump’s falling fortunes, voters may yet decide not to grant the Democrats a third term.

By Blog Admin Are rumors (and predictions) of Donald Trump’s political demise greatly exaggerated? Some are hopeful that the Republican nominee’s end is indeed nigh, Ron Pruessen being one of them. But he also cautions against premature celebration. American political history offers plentiful evidence of the uphill and often unsuccessful struggle of presidential nominees seeking to extend their party’s control of the White House after an eight-year run. “You’re only the 1965 Rolling Stones once. The second time, it’s ‘You charge too much for your tickets.’” That was Steven Spielberg’s 2008 updating of Machiavelli’s advice to an earlier prince: “people are fickle by nature: it is easy to convince them of something, but difficult to hold them in that conviction.” Spielberg and Machiavelli are still worth a nod in 2016. Recent polls – plus attention to his campaign machinations and tweets – do seem to suggest that Donald Trump is flailing in the winds generated by his own bluster. Maybe Hillary Clinton doesn’t have to worry about a public appetite to shift the Democrats out of the White House after Obama’s eight-year residence. And yet. Since it is still only August – and since Clinton is not without chinks in her personal armor – it is not unreasonable to keep the American voter’s deeply traditional capacity for capriciousness in mind for at least a while longer. Adlai Stevenson in 1952, Richard Nixon in 1960, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, George H. W. Bush in 1992, Al Gore in 2000, and John McCain in 2008 all demonstrate the consequences of regular shifts in the electorate’s menu preferences. (Jimmy Carter, of course, shows that it doesn’t always take eight years for a fancy to pass.) References to mercurial voting often infuse a cynical perspective on democratic politics – with disdainful commentary on the risks of putting too much power in the hands of the uneducated/unrefined or the hoi polloi or what Sinclair Lewis called the “booboisie.” Suspicions are understandable in a year like 2016 – when watching Trump rallies can alone spark them. It’s far too easy, though, for doubts to become seriously unbalanced. The American political system (like any other democratic system) has also seen the havoc wreaked by the theoretically “best and the brightest,” after all. Leaving disdain aside for the sake of simple observation, then: After eight years in the White House, Obama and the Democrats are being blamed for many problems. This is far from fair, to be sure. Republican power in Congress, for example, has prevented action on gun control, immigration reform, and on many other challenges. And election fear (on both right and left) can inhibit recognition of needs that were meaningfully if not perfectly addressed (Obamacare, gay marriage, etc.). But there it is: for more than a century, at the least, it’s the president that serves as both Commander-in-Chief and lightning-rod-in-chief – and eight years along (as would be the case in any president’s tenure), there have been lots of damaging bolts. Then again, it is Continue reading

The Ballpark Extra Innings: Has Obama been a transformative president?

By Blog Admin In this installment of Extra Innings, we bring you behind the scenes of the US Centre and present a full lecture from University of Texas Austin Professor Jeffrey Tulis. Jeffrey examined Obama’s presidency and asked whether or not Barack Obama has been a transformative president. This event was held in collaboration with the Dahrendorf Forum. Further reading: Burnham, W.D., 1970. Critical elections and the mainsprings of American politics. Norton. Skowronek, S., 2008. Presidential leadership in political time: Reprise and reappraisal. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. There are lots of ways to catch-up with upcoming episodes of The Ballpark podcast: visit the website, the LSE’s audio channel, visit our SoundCloud page, subscribe on iTunes or iTunesU, or add this RSS feed to your podcast app. We’d love to hear what you think – you can send us a message on Twitter @LSE_Ballpark, or email us at [email protected]_ The Ballpark was produced with help from the LSE’S HEIF5 fund and the US Embassy in the UK. Our theme tune is by Ranger and the “Re-Arrangers”, a Seattle based gypsy jazz band. Note: This podcast gives the views of the interviews and co-hosts, and is not the position of USAPP – American Politics and Policy, the LSE US Centre, nor the London School of Economics. Featured image credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza Shortened URL for this post: http://bit.ly/2bkBCb3

Shorter shipping routes through the Arctic are not necessarily more climate friendly

By Blog Admin Long inaccessible to ships, as a consequence of global warming, much of the Arctic Ocean is now navigable in the summer months. While the newly ice-free Northern Sea Route cuts the distance of the journey between Northern Europe and Japan by 40 percent, recent research from Haakon-Elizabeth Lindstad and colleagues shows that it may not be more climate-friendly. Assessing the cost, emissions and climate impact of using the Northern Sea Route compared to the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal, they find that the impact of shipping-related greenhouse gas emissions in the Arctic region counteracts the benefits of the shorter voyage distance and lower fuel consumption. Although historically inaccessible to ships, global warming has made large parts of the Arctic free of sea-ice during the summer and autumn. For economic and political reasons, freight shipping has therefor begun to utilise shorter shipping routes across Arctic water. One popular route is the Northern Sea Route, which goes from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean along the Russian Arctic coast, and reduces the distance of the journey between Northern Europe and Japan by 40 percent. The number of recorded vessels passing through this route has increased drastically, from four in 2010 to 71 in 2013. This increase in traffic is likely to continue as the path becomes easier to traverse. Figure 1 shows the area covered by sea ice in March 2012 (left) compared to the ice cover in September 2012 (right). March represent here the month with the largest ice extent, i.e. 15 million km2 and September the month with the smallest sea ice extent, i.e. 7 million km2. Figure 1 – Total sea ice extent in March (left) and September 2012 (right). Magenta lines represent the median extent from 1979 – 2000. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data centre, 2012 Traditionally, climate assessments of maritime transport focus on CO2 emissions, which implies that with up to 40 percent reduction of distance, Arctic Sea Routes versus trades through Suez or Panama Canal gives lower fuel consumption and hence CO2 emissions (one to one relationship). However, the exhaust gas from ship engines also contains carbon monoxide, sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, methane, organic carbon and black carbon — all of which have adverse effects on climate. The impacts of emissions on climate are heavily linked to regional differences in atmosphere, sea ice and solar radiation. The Arctic is particularly sensitive to emissions and prone to large climate impact. In a recent study by myself and Professor Strømman and Dr. Bright at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) we assessed the cost, emissions and climate impact of using the Northern Sea Route versus trades through Indian Ocean and Suez Canal. The study measured the ‘climate impact’ of each of these emissions via Global Warming Potential (GWP), a metric that expresses emission impact as CO2 equivalents (the impact of each pollutant in terms of the amount of CO2 that would create the same amount of warming). This is a common Continue reading

Electing judges has mixed effects on whether or not people think they are legitimate.

By Blog Admin In the US, state Supreme Court judges are either appointed, elected, or more commonly, are subject to retention elections. Traditionally, electoral accountability boosts a court’s perceived legitimacy, but can this be undermined with the negative campaigning that can often come with elections? In new research, Benjamin Woodson examines this relationship, finding that the negative effects of campaigning can outweigh the positive boost provided through electoral accountability only in states with a large amount of campaign activity. Elections are a political institution that are revered in theory and loathed in practice by the American public. The reverence stems from them providing the essential foundation of legitimacy for any democratic system. The loathing comes from the campaigning and political machinations surrounding elections. This ambivalence applies to elections for executive or legislative positions but increases for elections to the judiciary, where many scholars (but not the majority of the American public) thinks it’s inappropriate for judges to be elected. One aspect of many scholars’ concern stems from the potential that elections and especially the campaigning that surrounds them may undermine the legitimacy of courts. My analysis of a survey administered by YouGov with a national sample of 819 respondents shows that these scholars are partially correct but do not take into account the multiple ways in which elections affect legitimacy perceptions. The ambivalence Americans feel toward judicial elections causes them to have two opposing effects on the amount of legitimacy the American public attributes to state Supreme Courts. Since elections are the foundation of democratic legitimacy, they provide a boost to a court’s perceived legitimacy through electoral accountability, but this effect is counteracted by the negative influence on perceived legitimacy caused by campaign activities such as attack ads and campaign donations. As a result, the overall effect of choosing judges through elections can be either positive or negative depending on the circumstances. In states where extensive campaigns by judges are rare, the positive effect caused by electoral accountability outweighs the negative effect caused by campaigning, and the system used to select judges in that state causes an overall increase in perceived legitimacy. In states where extensive judicial campaigns are common, the negative effect of campaigning is larger than the positive effect caused by electoral accountability, and the selection system causes an overall decrease in the perceived legitimacy of the judiciary. Any study of judicial selection systems is complicated by the many idiosyncratic ways in which the American states choose judges for their state Supreme Courts. This diversity is usually simplified into four categories. In appointment systems some other public official chooses the judges. In partisan election states two or more candidates vie for one position and the largest vote total wins. Other states use non-partisan elections, which are similar to partisan elections except no party label appears on the voting ballot. The fourth system called a retention election system or sometimes the merit system is the most common as well as the most complicated. In that system whenever a vacancy Continue reading

The federal Bureau of Prisons’ move to phase-out private prisons is a largely symbolic move.

By Blog Admin Last week, the Department of Justice announced that it would end its use of private prisons. Brett C. Burkhardt writes that while the move will eventually reduce the number of federal inmates in private facilities to zero, it will have no effect on the 90,000 held in state private prisons, and on Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the US Marshals Service which together hold 21,000 in private facilities. He also comments that one likely response to the move from the private prison industry will be to double-down on contracts for immigrant detention. The US Department of Justice has announced a plan to end its use of private prisons. Last week, the Department issued orders to the Bureau of Prisons to allow extant contracts to lapse without renewal and to cease future requests for new contracts. The plan will reduce the number of federal inmates in private prisons to roughly 14,000 by 2017, down from nearly 30,000 in 2013, and eventually bring the population to near zero. That said, the plan will actually leave the majority of private prison contracts untouched, and is also likely to mean that private prison providers will push even harder for contracts for the detention of immigrants Private prisons in the US – the story so far Prison privatization involves a contractual arrangement between a government and a private firm. Typically, the firm takes over all incarceration responsibilities in exchange for a fee from the government. The modern private prison industry emerged in the US in the 1980s. It was fueled by two developments. First, the prison population was beginning a steep and sustained increase that would continue for 30 years. The growing prison population (which coincided with declining crime rates) strained the existing prison stock, which could not accommodate the influx of new prisoners. Many jurisdictions responded by contracting with nascent private prison operators, which operated on a for-profit or not-for-profit basis. The second development fueling prison privatization was an ascendant conservative political ideology. In the era of the Reagan Revolution, policymakers became increasingly suspect of government operations and put their faith in the free market to solve pressing social problems. Private prisons, then, helped meet growing demand for prison beds, and they did so in a way that resonated with the politics of the time. Since those early years, the private prison industry has increased its “market share.” Private prisons operate in most states, and they hold over 130,000 prisoners: roughly 30,000 for the federal Bureau of Prisons, and the remainder for states. (It should be noted that this large figure only represents about eight percent of all inmates in the US.) In addition to convicted offenders, the private prison industry also detains roughly 14,000 immigrants for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and another 17,000 people for the US Marshals Service (USMS). The bulk of the market is cornered by three large for-profit firms: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation (MTC). The industry has come Continue reading

Political scientists predict Clinton will win 347 electoral votes in November

By Blog Admin The PollyVote project predicts the outcome of US presidential elections by combining forecasts from different methods, one of which are monthly expert surveys. Andreas Graefe writes that according to the latest survey, which now includes state-level experts; Hillary Clinton will win the election over Donald Trump with nearly 53 percent of the popular vote and 347 electoral votes. Asking experts to predict what is going to happen is probably one of the oldest forecasting methods available. When it comes to predicting election outcomes, we expect experts to have experience in reading and interpreting polls, putting them in historical context, and estimating the likely effects of upcoming campaign events. While the judgment of a single expert should be treated with caution, combining the opinions of several or many experts improves accuracy. We have conducted expert surveys as part of the PollyVote project since its launch in 2004. In these surveys, we asked experts to predict the national popular vote. As shown in the chart below, their forecasts have always added valuable information and thus contributed to the accuracy of the PollyVote. On average, adding expert judgment to the combined PollyVote reduced forecast error by 15 percent. Figure 1 – PollyVote error, with and without expert judgment For this year’s presidential election, we launched our first survey in December 2015. Since then, the experts’ average forecast always had former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the lead, with a predicted share ranging from 52.2 percent to 55.5 percent of the major party vote, which excludes votes for third-party candidates. The latest survey conducted in late July predicted Clinton to gain 52.7 percent of the vote compared to 47.3 percent for Donald Trump. Now, for the first time ever, we set out to conduct a state-level expert survey in order to predict the Electoral College. For this, we reached out to political scientists across the country and asked for their help. After respondents revealed their home state, they had to answer two short questions: What share of the vote do you expect the nominees to receive in your home state? What do you think is Hillary Clinton’s chance of winning the election in your home state? A total of 678 experts made estimates as requested. The number of experts by state ranged from one to 42. Figure 2 shows the number of respondents per state as well as the median answer for each question. We aim to recruit more experts in states with seven or fewer experts in future survey rounds. Figure 2 – Expert survey results by state Expert surveys don’t have to include many people to produce accurate forecasts. Prior research shows that eight to twelve experts are close to the optimum. For example, our previous survey of the popular vote has provided accurate forecasts with a sample of about twelve experts. Figure 3 below shows Clinton’s chance of winning per state. This expert survey predicts that Hillary Clinton will win 347 electoral votes, compared to 191 for Continue reading