For Some, the Tribe is More Important Than the Truth

Posted by – February 22, 2015

There are large differences between how scientists and the public perceive evolution, climate change, vaccination, and more. I have usually attributed this to scientists’ failure to communicate as much as the public’s misunderstanding, but Joel Achenbach’s recent WaPo editorial suggests the real reason is that people tend to choose positions that best align with their social group, regardless of scientific evidence. Achenbach cites a research paper by Dan Kahan, whose abstract states:

Seeming public apathy over climate change is often attributed to a deficit in comprehension. The public knows too little science, it is claimed, to understand the evidence or avoid being misled. Widespread limits on technical reasoning aggravate the problem by forcing citizens to use unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. An empirical study found no support for this position. Members of the public with the highest degrees of science literacy and technical reasoning capacity were not the most concerned about climate change. Rather, they were the ones among whom cultural polarization was greatest. This result suggests that public divisions over climate change stem not from the public’s incomprehension of science but from a distinctive conflict of interest: between the personal interest individuals have in forming beliefs in line with those held by others with whom they share close ties and the collective one they all share in making use of the best available science to promote common welfare.

Or, as former USGS head and current editor of the journal Science, Marcia McNutt, put it, it’s as if:

We’ve never left high school. People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science.

This suggests that, in addition to stating the evidence, scientists might also try pointing out how fellow group members accept the conclusions of scientific research – e.g., noting that Pope Francis has no problem with evolution.

-ddw

Bitter Christmas

Posted by – December 20, 2014

The HappyPlace blog at eCards provides the Christmas Graphic for 2014:

Just Who is This Guy?

And remember: always leave cookies out for the stoned burgler; the crumbs provide DNA evidence. Want more? Well, here are xAnalytica’s Christmas Graphics from previous years:

Happy Holidays!

-ddw

Best Map App

Posted by – November 16, 2014

Google Maps is still the gold standard for smartphone mapping apps, according to NY Times columnist Molly Woods, who recently compared three smartphone mapping applications – Google Maps (iOS, Android), Apple Maps (iOS), and Here (WinPhone, Nokia). Apple Maps has made progress since its failed 2012 debut, but, according to Woods, Google Maps is still the winner. All of these provide some version of turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, flyover and vector-based maps; given that they are all free, I’d suggest you try out whichever one is available for your smartphone to see which is best for you. My choice is None of the Above: I’ve used Scout, (free, iOS) for the past two years because I like its interface and its ability to share my ETA along with a link to a map of my current location. And, if you subscribe, you can download the OpenStreetMaps region of your choice and use Scout off-line – a real plus if you are out of cell range or during disaster responses.

-ddw

Facebook and Disasters

Posted by – October 22, 2014

Facebook's Safety Check
In a Oct 15 blog posting, Facebook introduced a new Safety Check feature that asks Facebook users within the vicinity of a disaster if they’re safe. Users that answer “I’m Safe” will have an automatically generated News Feed story posted to their Wall for their friends to see. This is one more way – in addition to the American Red Cross’ “Safe and Well” site – to let friends and family know you’re OK in the event of a disaster. (Via Emergency Management)

-ddw

Data the Best Preparation for Disasters?

Posted by – October 14, 2014

At a recent GovTech forum in Los Angeles, experts from the USGS, academia, and industry assessed that open data and analytics have become fundamental tools in disaster preparedness – but public officials aren’t using them enough. Citing examples of seismological data, post-Katrina New Orleans, and FEMA’s Disaster Assessment and Assistance Dashboard, the experts illustrated the value of data and analytics to protecting lives and property. They offered that the primary reasons to defer investment in emergency management tools and infrastructure stems from the mistaken beliefs that such expenditures are unjustifiable because they don’t serve immediate needs and large emergencies are infrequent.

-ddw

Fooled

Posted by – June 17, 2014

One website I visit repeatedly is the New York Times’ Upshot blog, edited by David Leonhardt, because I find its graphical analysis of politics and economics help me think and understand. For example, they take a look at the monthly employment statistics that are often cited as economic indicators, and show that the typical level of randomness in monthly jobs numbers masks the underlying trend. They illustrate this using an animated simulation of random errors added to an average or a trend – i.e., a Monte Carlo simulation of jobs numbers – showing how easy it is to be fooled by randomness. The Upshot’s interactive forecasting model of the upcoming Senatorial elections, created by Amanda Cox and Josh Katz, is also worth a look.

Monte Carlo Simulation of Jobs data
-ddw

First Responder Mobility

Posted by – May 17, 2014

Recent research by the Center for Digital Government shows that slightly under half of surveyed emergency respondents said they lack access to smartphones and tablets that could provide up-to-the-minute communications and data vital to emergency response. The report, sponsored by VMWare, assesses law enforcement and first responders’ adoption of mobile technologies, their mobility challenges and what they hope to gain from current and future devices. The research suggests that, although the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created FirstNet, an authority tasked with designing and building a national broadband network dedicated to emergency response, at this point, almost half of first responders would have to bring their own devices to access that network.

Note: On May 21, Emergency Management will host a free webinar discussing this research with its author, Joe Morris.

-ddw

Maslow 2.0

Posted by – April 18, 2014

An Internet-era update to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:
With thanks to Björn for the tip!

-ddw

My Network, Visualized

Posted by – March 31, 2014

The experts say effective networking begins with examining your existing network, so I thought I would see what InMaps, LinkedIn’s visualization tool, could reveal about my professional network. As you can see below, InMaps shows each of my connections as dots with lines showing how they are connected, colors denoting groups, and the dot’s size increasing with the number of cross-links within my network.
My LinkedIn Network

I was struck by how many of my connections are from my AAAS Fellowship in 2010 (blue); while these are valued contacts, it does prompt me to network outside of that group to expand my reach. You might note that my network is relatively small, (< 200 contacts), and that is because I find that can't keep up with a set much larger than this (probably related to Dunbar’s number, somehow).

LinkedIn has also developed Swarm, an animated word-cloud visualization of the most actively searched job titles and company names.

-ddw

P.S. Thanks to Alex for the tip!

Megafires

Posted by – March 9, 2014

Forest fires of great intensity, size, and consequence – megafires — are becoming the new normal, according to a paper in the journal of the Ecological Society of America by Stephens et al. The article, flagged by the Washington Post yesterday, attributes the increasing frequency of megafires to climate-change induced drought; housing developments encroaching on forests; and the U.S. policy to suppress fires rather than letting them burn naturally, reducing the brush that fuels future fires. An NPR series from 2012 provides more detail.

The above map, from the U.S. Forest Service’s excellent Wildland Fire Assessment System, shows the current Fire Danger Rating based on current and antecedent weather, fuel types, and both live and dead fuel moisture (the classes are explained here).

-ddw