Kristin

I just read Naomi Klein’s No is Not Enough, which references the “Leap Manifesto” she and other leaders in Canada put together. It calls for 100% clean energy, a universal basic income to help pay for the important work of caretaking that is currently often unpaid or underpaid, paid for by a carbon tax, financial transaction tax, and cuts to military spending. Good stuff.

Do men look for a beautiful woman while women look for a breadwinner man? Only when the culture prevents women from being breadwinners. Research shows mating preferences among men and women look more similar in countries with greater gender equality.

So so so many great new sci-fi and fantasy books to read!

It’s in everyone’s interest to make sure that the next Einstein is able to reach his or her potential and make discoveries that will advance civilization. Yet, the United States is excluding huge swaths of promising children—women, African-Americans, Latinxs, Southernors, and low-and-middle-income children—in other words, most American children, from becoming innovators. We aren’t letting most kids reach their potential, and we all suffer for that failure.

Eric

I’m still trying to learn about about the effects of social media and the picture is not getting much prettier. Overwhelmingly, the research suggests that it’s pernicious—and maybe deeply so. (My previous installments on the topic are here, here, here, here, and here.) In this week’s edition, let’s take a look at new evidence from some rather unlikely sources:

First, Wired asks why teens aren’t partying anymore and found this:

The number of teens who get together with their friends every day has been cut in half in just fifteen years, with especially steep declines recently.

This might be the most definitive evidence that iGen’ers spend less time interacting with their peers face-to-face than any previous generation—it’s not just parties or craziness but merely getting together with friends, spending time hanging out.

An hour a day less spent with friends is an hour a day less spent building social skills, negotiating relationships, and navigating emotions. Some parents might see it as an hour a day saved for more productive activities, but the time has not been replaced with homework; it’s been replaced with screen time.

Second, even Facebook is admitting that spending too much time on the site could have a negative effect on your health. In a recent blog post on the topic, the company summarized some of the academic research, claiming to find both negative and positive effects. But if you actually read the underlying evidence cited by the company it looks like Facebook’s post lies somewhere on the continuum between creative writing and mendacity. To see how, let’s run through the citations one by one:

  1. Facebook says: “University of Michigan students randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on Facebook.” This is an accurate account of the study, but it fails to make clear that active users do not apparently feel better about themselves either—it’s just that they don’t feel quite as lousy as passive users.
  2. Facebook says: “A study from UC San Diego and Yale found that people who clicked on about four times as many links as the average person, or who liked twice as many posts, reported worse mental health than average in a survey.” This is consistent with the study’s findings.
  3. Facebook says: “A study we conducted with Robert Kraut at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who sent or received more messages, comments and Timeline posts reported improvements in social support, depression and loneliness.” Even though Facebook apparently paid for and oversaw this study, the company contorted its findings a little. Here’s what the study actually found: “Receiving targeted, composed communication from strong ties was associated with improvements in well-being while viewing friends’ wide-audience broadcasts and receiving one-click feedback were not.” Think about that for a moment. It’s not a bit surprising that receiving direct tailored communication from your close friends might improve your well-being, but it’s not at all clear how that relates to actual overall Facebook use (as opposed to just having friends IRL) and, in fact, the study did not seem to attempt to evaluate declines in mental health. Plus, the methodology seems fishy: all the participants were recruited via Facebook ads or emails.
  4. Facebook says: “The positive effects were even stronger when people talked with their close friends.” The citation here is to an unpublished dissertation by a philosophy student who was a co-author on the previous study. There’s no immediate reason to think the conclusion is wrong, but there’s also no reason to think that talking to your close friends online has anything to do with actual social media use.
  5. Facebook says: “Other peer-reviewed longitudinal research and experiments have found similar positive benefits between well-being and active engagement on Facebook.” Let’s take each in turn: A) The “longitudinal research” citation goes to an abstract of a 2015 study authored by two researchers in Belgium who found that active Facebook use may reduce loneliness and depression in adolescents, but that passive Facebook use makes the problems worse. (I didn’t spend the $36 to buy the full paper.) B) The “experiments” citation refers to a 2012 study finding that posting status updates on Facebook reduced loneliness, which is actually intriguing. (I didn’t the $36 to buy this paper either.) C) The “active engagement” citation links to a somewhat perplexing 2014 study conducted by four Australian researchers. One-day access to the full paper costs $42 that I didn’t part with, but the abstract suggests that the study is actually critical of Facebook usage, finding that, “participants who did not receive feedback on their updates had lower levels of belonging, self-esteem, control, and meaningful existence.” There’s no indication that this study found positive benefits from active usage of the site.
  6. Facebook says: “In an experiment at Cornell, stressed college students randomly assigned to scroll through their own Facebook profiles for five minutes experienced boosts in self-affirmation compared to students who looked at a stranger’s Facebook profile.” But a closer look at the study’s actual findings are not quite so flattering. From the abstract: “Facebook users gravitate toward their online profiles after receiving a blow to the ego, in an unconscious effort to repair their perceptions of self-worth.” So, according to this study, people are using their highly curated online profiles as a mechanism for self-affirmation. Is that really a good thing?
  7. Facebook says: “…our research and other academic literature suggests that it’s about how you use social media that matters when it comes to your well-being.” In this case the link goes to a 2017 lit review of academic research on social media. The conclusions are, however, a bit less sanguine than Facebook portrays them. The major findings are threefold: a) passive use is associated with reduced levels of happiness; b) active use may be associated with improved happiness but there’s mixed evidence about this; and c) passive use is far more prevalent than active use. It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for social networking.

Readers, if you have research-based evidence showing that social media is good for our well-being or our civic structures, please send it to me. I’ll likely be writing more on this in the weeks to come.

Ed

The Seattle Seahawks missed the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2011 and though it feels like only yesterday that they won the Super Bowl (and nearly won another), there are calls to retool the roster in a substantial way. This piece from The Ringer sums up the massive, but necessary, undertaking this might be. Familiar names like Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor might not be on the team next season. As a former Assistant Sports Editor at the Seattle Times, this stuff hits closer to home for me because a lot of my previous work involved coordinating Seahawks coverage, including editing a commemorative book after the Super Bowl win. Though I’m not a fan of the team, some of the more vivid, professional accomplishments from my nearly five years at the Seattle Times involved the Seahawks. There was never a dull moment with that mix of personalities, so there is a whiff of wistfulness for me as this era appears to be ending.

This is a holdover from before Christmas, but this was a powerful piece written by Lisa Olson about how the #MeToo movement has provided a long overdue reckoning in sports journalism. Olson was involved in one of the most notorious episodes of sexual harassment in sports media while she was a reporter covering the New England Patriots for the Boston Herald in 1990. Even if you’re not a sports fan, the themes of being able to talk about it in order to bring about meaningful change are universal.

And this is not so much reading as it is viewing: ten years ago this week, a US senator from Illinois named Barack Obama won the Iowa Caucus. I rewatched his victory speech from that night earlier this week, and was reminded of the Margaret Mead line: never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. It certainly feels harder to believe that in this current national political climate, but it’s good to remember what’s possible.

Anna

Bellingham, Washington (pop. 80K)—along with Walla Walla and Bellevue—has advanced with nine other mid-sized cities to the final round of the Georgetown University Energy Prize. The idea is that friendly competition among cities would prompt creativity and ingenuity. Finalists will be judged on innovation, potential for replication, likely future performance, equitable access, community and stakeholder engagement, and community education. The winner gets $5 million to fund their “dream project.”

ICYMI: France banned fracking.

Alan

Will future urbanists mark the advent of free-range bike share systems as 2017’s biggest change?

  • Or will that honor go the tax reform bill’s huge changes in the tax implications of home ownership? (A 25 percent lower cap for the mortgage interest deduction on new loans, a new $10,000 cap on the deductibility of property taxes, and a huge expansion of the personal exemption, which may slash the share of tax filers who claim the MID from 50 percent to just 14 percent, by one estimate. The net effect of these changes on home ownership, land values, and home prices is unknown but could be one of the few good things to come out of this Congress.)

    Aven

    China has never been the poster child for eco-friendliness, but (unlike the US, which is currently moving backwards) it is making some progress on the pollution front, and I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that this major increase in government regulation has not actually destroyed the economy or caused widespread unemployment.  Its tougher stance on pollution and newly created environmental-protection tax have neither, as many predicted, dragged down growth or caused runaway inflation. According the Economist, “…the biggest economic surprise of China’s environmental campaign so far is not that it has had an impact; it is how muted that impact has been. Yes, industrial production has recently been weaker than forecast, but it is still expanding at more than 6% year on year. And yes, some commodity prices have shot up, but this has had very little effect on general inflation.” One of the probable reasons? The green economy generates its own jobs and growth (green collar jobs, anyone?). Duh.

    It turns out 2017 was a big year for the environment in the UK, as the first year that low carbon energy sources generated more electricity than fossil fuels in the country, while wind power delivered more than twice as much electricity as coal. Meanwhile in Denmark, researchers are using enzymes from fungi to cut the amount of petrochemicals in laundry soap, while also reducing the energy consumption of washing machines (also a potentially big win for the Chinese, who are, apparently, “among the world’s most frequent and fastidious washers of clothes”—you learn something new every day).

    Here in the US, a new movement to protect Native American voting rights could tip close races across the country in 2018, and an endangered bird in Florida is actually benefiting from an invasive species.

    John

    Do readers know there is a Women’s March scheduled for late January 2018? This news article explains why a national march will be held in Las Vegas on January 21. But for those unable to make it to Las Vegas, there are “sister” marches (men are invited as well) in other cities, and a list of state chapters sponsoring marches over the same weekend can be found here. For those in Seattle, I can refer readers to The Stranger’s Resistance and Solidarity calendar, which lists two events this January 20. One at Westlake Park during the morning will launch a voter registration drive, as part of a weekend with other events. Then the March will start at Cal Anderson Park at 10 a.m.

    On another topical issue, The New Yorker collaborated with RetroReport on an article and video covering black athletes and politics in the US.

    Back in Seattle, my favorite Seattle Times economics columnist (there is no second) Jon Talton ran this piece covering potential tripwires for the economy, in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.

    And in the “Isn’t Science Interesting?” category, the New Yorker ran this piece profiling the female radio astronomer who detected the first pulsar.

    John Abbotts is a former Sightline research consultant who occasionally submits material for Weekend Reading and other posts.