Kelsey H. 

Data invades our everyday lives whether we recognize it or not. You absolutely MUST read the amazing coverage by Wired about digital journalism professor Jonathan Albright, who is behind all the meta discoveries on fake news, namely the Internet Research Agency of Russia. This story has me reeling. More important, the man and his work featured in this piece have me questioning what on earth I’m doing with my life because… holy cow. You have to read this. There needs to be a movie about this man.

Apparently, I’m just not getting away from the topic of data this week. We know huge companies collect data on each and every one of us on the internet—and by data, I mean tons of personal information, our habits, and decisions—which is traded and sold between data centers and those wanting to monetize it, usually. In this sense, you might be thinking “yeah, advertisers, duh.” But something a little scarier is in the works: Insurance companies have started dabbling in this realm for the sake of calculating socioeconomic determinants for health risks.

Sound like a big red flag? It should.

This data that determines your level of “health” includes if your parents did or did not get a GED, if you live or ever lived in a poor neighborhood, your net worth,  if you pay your bills on time, your TV habits, your relationship status, and so much more. But algorithms performing a system of “X determines Y” for human behavior often creates completely inaccurate conclusions. In this particular instance, algorithms definitely land in the risk of profiling, which then plays out in medical coverage and the cost of payments.

“People who downsize their homes tend to have higher health care costs, the [data] company says. As do those whose parents didn’t finish high school. Patients who own more valuable homes are less likely to land back in the hospital within 30 days of their discharge. The company says it has validated its scores against insurance claims and clinical data. But it won’t share its methods and hasn’t published the work in peer-reviewed journals.

McCulley, LexisNexis’ director of strategic solutions, said predictions made by the algorithms about patients are based on the combination of the personal attributes. He gave a hypothetical example: A high school dropout who had a recent income loss and doesn’t have a relative nearby might have higher than expected health costs.

But couldn’t that same type of person be healthy? I asked.

‘Sure,’ McCulley said, with no apparent dismay at the possibility that the predictions could be wrong.”

Eric

I’ve been reading aloud the Chronicles of Prydain to my nine-year-old boy, and I think I agree with Dave Roberts: it’s the greatest fantasy series ever written.

Vox reviews a new book on how the West became self-obsessed, wondering whether we have a narcissism epidemic.

As an antidote to all that: the mountains. I’ve spent most of July ensconced in the North Cascades and while here, I’ve been meandering through a marvelous volume, The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby.

Feeling some distance from the neurotic frenzy of social media and city life, this passage by Northwest writer Bill Dietrich stood out to me:

Rising further, our trail now steepens in earnest. If you haven’t cursed the North Cascades—if your thighs haven’t burned and your shoulders protested and your lungs gasped, if you haven’t peered upward in vain for an end to the enclosing forest, if you haven’t gaped in disbelief at miserly mileage markers, if you haven’t sweated, ached, groaned and gulped, if you haven’t rued the very day you were born… well, you simply haven’t hiked enough switchbacks. Sourdough Mountain, Desolation Peak, Monogram Lake, Crater Mountain, Three Fool’s Trail—these build character like a Puritan preacher.

Switchbacks make you question your very sanity, but they allow you to forget normal irritation. Toiling upward, back and forth, brings the kind of exhaustion to mend broken hearts, obliterate tyrannical bosses, render stock market gyrations trivial, and forgive your cocktail party embarrassments. What reward comes from such self-flagellation! Surely, surely, the top must be near! No, only another switchback. And another. And another.

A moment of philosophy is in order…

I hope you, too, can find time to be in the mountains this summer.

Aven

As the parent of a two-year old who is mastering the art of manipulation a little more every day, I appreciated this short essay on how to use game theory against your kids. The longer version is a book called The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting, which I will be reserving from the library posthaste.

But my must-read for everyone this week is this NY Times article documenting yet another experiment that reveals the life-changing magic of working fewer hours. Everyone should read the whole thing, but here are a few choice snippets:

The firm, Perpetual Guardian, which manages trusts, wills and estates, found the change actually boosted productivity among its 240 employees, who said they spent more time with their families, exercising, cooking, and working in their gardens.

  • “Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks,” Mr. Haar said. “Their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five.”

    He said working mothers stood to benefit most from the policy, since those returning to work from maternity leave often negotiated part-time hours, but performed the equivalent of full-time work.

    Noting that the company had seen lower electricity bills with 20 percent less staff in the office each day, Mr. Barnes said the change in work hours could have wider implications if more companies adopted such a strategy.

    Add this one to the growing list of research on the benefits of working less. Greater productivity, lower costs, lower carbon-footprint, greater gender equality, and happier, healthier employees—why on Earth is our society still demanding 40-hour work weeks when it costs more, accomplishes less, and makes us unhappy?

    John

    In the “Weekend Activism” category, readers may know that the US Commerce Department has proposed adding a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The Department has invited public comment on its proposal, with a deadline of August 7, 2018. An Action Alert from Alliance for a Better Utah provides talking points in opposition to the proposal, as well as mechanisms for submitting your own comments.

    Jon Talton, economic columnist for the Seattle Times, ran one column on why Amazon warehouse workers need a union, and a more recent one describing how a world population of 7.5 billion is outstripping the planet’s resources.

    In addition, Tim Egan, syndicated columnist and Seattle resident, ran this piece describing how North American west coast cities are trying to find solutions to homelessness and rising housing costs.

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