Politics and Fear

The fastest way to dumb down a population is to scare them

Whipping up fear is a common tactic in politics. Providing stark, seemingly life or death choices, us versus them, scapegoating, creating a false bogeyman to distract from real problems, using lies and disinformation … fear is used because it often works.

Fear breeds anxiety and stress, and “anxiety increases the attention to negative choice options, the likelihood that ambiguous options will be interpreted negatively, and the tendency to avoid potential negative outcomes, even at the cost of missing potential gains.”

What does this mean? Why does fear work? Fear pushes people to see only the negative, to judge negatively even positive or neutral options, and to even act against their own best interests in order to avoid a suggested calamity.

Fear is corrosive; fear is the friend of dictators and authoritarian/totalitarian governments.

But, fear is also a state that we help create within ourselves. Just as we can allow fear to build and affect our lives, we can also disrupt it (though it is not easy to do that in times of high anxiety). One way to beat fear is through knowledge and understanding. Dig through the slogans and disinformation, get to the facts.

And, go to the source — Anxiety and Decision-Making (Catherine A. Hartley and Elizabeth A. Phelps, Biological Psychiatry, 2012).

See also —

Scapegoats and self-blame

Understand the context of information important to you; reduce the fear and anxiety

Clues to deception; who is telling the truth?

You have the power to make your own decisions about issues important to your life–use it!

Who do you believe?

Is there any privacy left in America?

Google's Sensorvault database tracks the locations of cellphone users
Google’s Sensorvault database tracks the locations of cellphone users

Google tracks the locations of cellphone users across the United States. Law enforcement increasingly uses this database (called “Sensorvault”) as part of trying to solve crimes.

But, innocent people are sometimes targeted–arrested and jailed. Is this collateral damage acceptable? Is it okay to victimize the innocent in the pursuit of the guilty? Would it be okay if it happened to you? Is there any privacy left in America? Do we care?

Read the article (Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, New York Times, 13 April 2019).

How to deal with single-use plastics

Elephants and plastic waste; single-use plastics are a big problem
Elephants and plastic waste; single-use plastics are a big problem

Single-use plastics (SUPs) are terrible for our environment. Humans have created an estimated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics since the 1950’s–79% of this has ended up in landfills, floating in the oceans, or otherwise lays about us as waste. By 2050, the amount could be 12 billion metric tons. “Most plastics don’t biodegrade … so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years.”

But, from a commercial standpoint, SUPs are great. Cheap, durable, and light, they work particularly well for food and beverage storage; they are used in huge amounts globally. And, they have become so inexpensive (and convenient) that they are mostly used just one time and then thrown away.

So, how can we begin to fix this problem of plastic pollution? How can we lessen the amount of SUPs that are used and produced?

Awareness of the problem is not enough; many people are aware of it. Pictures of plastic waste fouling beaches and animals killed by ingesting plastic abound, yet the problem and the SUP industry only grows.

Maybe the solution lies in disrupting SUPs economically. If the awareness was coupled with real out-of-pocket costs for consumers and industry to cover the actual cost of disposal and environmental damage (would you pay $0.75 more for your coffee order to properly dispose of that SUP cup?), then SUPs may become less cheap and less convenient. And, when technologies no longer have those advantages and are no longer quite so attractive commercially, then use and production often decline.

Read the article (Thales Teixeira, Scientific American, 3 April 2019).

And, go to the source — Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made (Roland Geyer, et al., Science Advances, 19 July 2017).

Were we scavengers rather than hunters?

Bone marrow may have been more important to early humans than meat
Bone marrow may have been more important to early humans than meat

For decades, the theory has been that the emergence of stone tools led early humans (around 2.6 to 3.5 million years ago) to hunt for increasingly larger animals and therefore to eat more meat–and that increase in nutrition led to the increase in human brain size. “Flaked tool use and meat eating became defining characteristics of the Homo genus.”

A newer theory, however, suggests that, instead of hunting and eating meat, early humans used those stone tools to scavenge carcasses left by large predators–to break bones to get at marrow and brain. Bone marrow (fat) may have been more important than the meat (protein) itself; marrow stays fresher longer, is obtained more easily than flesh-meat, does not require as advanced a tool, and is highly nutritious and involved with brain and eye development.

Early humans may have been scavengers rather than hunters …

Read the article (Richard Kemeny, Sapiens, 31 March 2019).

And, go to the source — Origins of the Human Predatory Pattern: The Transition to Large-Animal Exploitation by Early Hominins (Jessica C. Thompson, et al., Current Anthropology, February 2019).

Getting kids hooked on sugary beverages

Getting kids hooked on sugary beverages

The prevalence of obesity in the United States among those 40-59 and over 60 years of age is an extremely high 41-43% and about 19% for those under 20 (as of 2016). Rates of type 2 diabetes are rapidly increasing today for adolescents.

How did we get to this point?

One way–big Tobacco companies bought up food companies and manipulated and marketed heavily sweetened/artificial flavor beverages (like Tang, Capri Sun, Kool-Aid, and more) to children from the 1960’s through the early 2000’s (many of these brands have now passed to other companies … who are continuing this marketing today in the U.S. and globally).

“Cigarette companies were frequently introducing new flavored products, and many of the chemicals that went into cherry-scented chewing tobacco and apple-flavored cigarettes [as examples] found their way into children’s drinks.” The goal of these manipulations and marketing was “to leave people wanting more.”

People were hooked on sugary beverages. The very adult age groups in the United States with obesity rates in the 40% range today were children in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s.

Read the article (Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, 14 March 2019).

Trending science on Twitter (winter 2019)

Science and Twitter

Based on an analysis of the Twitter sites, Science Headlines and Headline Science, these were the topics that people were most and least engaged in between January and mid March 2019:

Most engaged:

  1. Rising sea levels
  2. Wasting food
  3. Limits to accurate weather forecasting
  4. Why do we crave sweets when stressed?
  5. Inflammation and Alzheimer’s/Parkinson’s

Least engaged:

  1. Increasingly unhealthy fast food
  2. Prejudice, empathy, and psychology
  3. Job automation
  4. Plastic waste
  5. Consumer ancestry and DNA testing

(Kevin Engel, 18 March 2019).