Facebook And Twitter Aren’t As Good At Revealing Behaviour As Researchers Think – Tim Worstall 11/30/2014 @ 4:31AM

One of the great mantras of our time is that “Big Data” will be able to tell us much more about what people think, desire and do than earlier research methods made possible. This is true to some extent: but not to as great an extent as many researchers, and the politicians who listen to said researchers, seem to think. On which point there’s an interesting paper in Science discussing the problems with assuming that what turns up on Facebook and or Twitter TWTR +1.48% really is a valid guide to the interests and actions of the populace. On top of what this paper is arguing (entirely correctly) we need to add two more reasonably standard points, one from economics the other from politics. Put together these should make us a lot more hesitant in taking the Twitterstorm du jour all that seriously as a guide to public policy.

The paper is here:

On 3 November 1948, the day after Harry Truman won the United States presidential elections, the Chicago Tribune published one of the most famous erroneous headlines in newspaper history: “Dewey Defeats Truman” (1, 2). The headline was informed by telephone surveys, which had inadvertently undersampled Truman supporters (1). Rather than permanently discrediting the practice of polling, this event led to the development of more sophisticated techniques and higher standards that produce the more accurate and statistically rigorous polls conducted today (3).

Fortunately for those of us who do not subscribe to Science there’s a further discussion by the researchers here.

Their first and most obvious point is that social media users are not representative of the general population. Further, that different social media tend in very different directions: Pinterest is much more young women orientated than most of the other platforms. In other forms of public polling these sample weightings are taken good account of (although it’s always more of an art than a science) and so surveys of social media should be using these same techniques. Said researchers make their point thusly:

Social scientists have honed their techniques and standards to deal with this sort of challenge before. “The infamous ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ headline of 1948 stemmed from telephone surveys that under-sampled Truman supporters in the general population,” Ruths notes. ”Rather than permanently discrediting the practice of polling, that glaring error led to today’s more sophisticated techniques, higher standards, and more accurate polls. Now, we’re poised at a similar technological inflection point. By tackling the issues we face, we’ll be able to realize the tremendous potential for good promised by social media-based research.”

Well, yes, obviously.

But we can also add two further points here when we consider what we might do with any information gleaned from even these better weighted and sampled surveys. The first being the economists’ point about revealed preferences. All of social media is people saying what they’d like. And the point of revealed preferences is that that’s, the mere expression of an idea or desire, not quite the same thing as what people really do. For example, there’s a rather large number of us who promise to love forever, never betray and stick together for life. That some 50% of such promises end in divorce does show that there’s a certain gap between even what people will solemnly promise to do and what they actually do. When it’s a matter of throwing around a few likes or retweets then the gap between true desires and expressed ones is likely to be larger.

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American history in black and white: Ferguson and our nation’s cognitive divide – ANDREW O’HEHIR SATURDAY, NOV 29, 2014 5:00 PM UTC

If the Ferguson tragedy offers a vivid reminder of our bitter divisions, it also offers moments of revelation

American history in black and white: Ferguson and our nation's cognitive divide

It’s a painful truism to say that white Americans and black Americans do not live in the same country, or at least do not perceive their country in the same way. What’s even more painful is that this truism remains largely true, even in an age when the cultural and historical narrative of the United States has altered course and become much more complicated. We were reminded of that with renewed force this week, just in time to infuse the Thanksgiving holiday with a mood of gloomy, tense reflection. (If you take the longer historical view, that may be entirely appropriate to the season.) We have multiple overlapping stories in 21st century America, and at least some of them offer us reasons to be thankful. We have the story of the conflict between immigration and nativism — which goes back nearly 200 years, but gets renewed every few years with every group of newcomers – and the newer story of a multicultural, multiracial and multilingual society in which one person in four is neither “white” nor “black,” in the conventional usage of those words.

Latinos and Asian-Americans and the growing number of people of mixed race would seem to have no clear position in the old, traumatic story of America as a binary society of black and white. Sometimes we try to convince ourselves we have shaken free of that old dichotomy and have moved into a different era, or are about to do so. (It is mostly white people who try to convince ourselves of this, in fairness.) Yet it remains a central driving force of our nation’s internal anguish, even 150 years after the end of slavery and 50 years after the end of legal segregation, and even when most of us are bored by the fact that the current president sinking into the conventional mire of second-term unpopularity is a biracial man with an African name. The historical change that represents is real, but it has not been enough to unwind the fundamental contradiction between the way whites and blacks understand the nature of American society.

Vinyl, Once Thought Dead, Makes A Comeback In The Digital Age – DENISE GUERRA November 29, 2014 5:49 PM ET

An employee demonstrates how a mother is checked for sound quality before it is duplicated during production at the Rainbo Records factory in Canoga Park, Calif. The vinyl record industry has seen an uptick in sales in recent years, keeping manufacturers like Rainbo busy.

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In the ’90s, Rainbo Records owner Steve Sheldon wanted to keep his vinyl presses going.

Everyone thought he was crazy; they told him it was a dead format. But Sheldon was adamant.

“I actually said, many times, ‘I think it will be around longer than CDs,’ ” Sheldon says.

Today, his Canoga Park, Calif., operation is massive. There are sound testing rooms, large printers for making labels and rows of workers stuffing sleeves. And then there are the actual presses themselves — 14 of them — giving off smoke and smelling of burnt rubber.

Sheldon describes the process as being somewhat like using a waffle iron. Instead of batter, they start with melted vinyl, squeezing it into a groove using hydraulic pressure.

The entire plant produces 28 records a minute, but Sheldon wishes he could press more. He’s increased his staff and now presses records 24 hours a day, 6 days a week to keep up with demand.

And it’s not just Rainbo Records: Vinyl presses all across the country are feeling the strain as the old format makes a comeback with a new generation.

“Vinyl right now is really the only bright spot in terms of album sales this year,” says Keith Caulfield, who tracks music charts for Billboard Magazine. He says before 2008, vinyl sales were so low they didn’t even publish the numbers.

But in the last six years, vinyl sales have tripled; in the first part of 2014, Billboard counted 6.5 million units sold. Currently vinyl makes up 3.5 percent of overall music sales, according to music tracker Nielsen SoundScan; a decade ago, that figure was 0.2 percent.

Digital downloads and CDs still make up the majority, but sales for those formats are down.

“It’s just really hard to convince people to spend money on buying music — period,” Caulfield says. “You know, it’s hard to get people to even buy a subscription to services like Spotify or Beats Music.”

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Online speech case heads to high court – By Julian Hattem – 11/29/14 12:16 PM EST

The Supreme Court is preparing to weigh in on a landmark free speech case that raises crucial questions about the First Amendment in the age of the Internet.

Greg Nash

The high court next week will sit down to decide whether or not police need to prove that people posting threats online actually intend to carry them out.

Free speech groups warned ahead of Monday morning’s arguments that a ruling in favor of the government “runs the risk of punishing protected First Amendment expression simply because it is crudely or zealously expressed.”

“As more and more speech moves onto the Internet, the constitutional protections afforded to online speech will increasingly determine the actual scope of First Amendment freedoms enjoyed by our society,” the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology and other organizations warned in a friend-of-the-court brief.

The court needs to determine that intention matters, they added, “to ensure that protected online speech is neither punished nor chilled.”

The case centers on Anthony Elonis, who posted a number of violent, expletive-laden Facebook messages after he and his wife, Tara, separated.

In one, he asked if her court protection order was “thick enough to stop a bullet.” In another, he expressed regret for not smothering her with a pillow, dropping her off in a creek and making it “look like a rape and murder.”

After the split, Elonis was fired from his job at an Allentown, Pa., amusement park over a post that some of his coworkers took to be a threat against them.

He was sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison for the threats. But Elonis says that the rants are essentially harmless and were intended to be raps in the style of Eminem or the Odd Future rap collective.

One post urging his sister-in-law to dress up his children as “matricide” on Halloween, for example, was accompanied by an emoticon of a face sticking its tongue out, his lawyers noted, “which he understood to be an indication a post is meant in jest.”

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GOP’s tech hurdle: They don’t always get it – By TONY ROMM 11/29/14 9:00 AM EST

2016 candidates want tech money but clash with industry on policy.

Rand Paul is shown. | Getty

Republican presidential prospects like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have tapped the tech industry’s fat wallets and mined its big-data expertise — but these 2016 hopefuls couldn’t be further from Silicon Valley when it comes to policy.

A series of major divides — from the fate of net neutrality to the future of surveillance reform — still splits this trio of prominent pols from Internet giants in the country’s tech heartland, which helped catapult President Barack Obama to well-funded victories in 2008 and 2012.

Web companies, for example, are pressing the Federal Communications Commission for new rules that would require Internet providers to treat all online traffic equally. But Cruz, Paul and Rubio are anything but neutral on net neutrality — they hate it, much less any government regulation at all.

Republicans also have a rift with the tech industry over domestic spying. More than a year of work by tech leaders like Facebook and Google to curtail the National Security Agency’s surveillance authorities failed this month in part because Rubio joined Paul, usually a supporter, in voting against it. And tech executives who have clamored for more high-skilled workers have heard only criticism lately from most Republicans, who slammed Obama after he issued an executive order on immigration reform.

(Also on POLITICO: Rick Perry ramps up)

Even the GOP acknowledges it has plenty of work to do to woo Silicon Valley. “If you look historically at who people donate to, it’s really been 9 or 10 to 1, Democrat to Republican — we haven’t done as well,” said Paul, who has been working to set up a new West Coast outpost.

But the senator stressed the GOP still has plenty to offer, especially on tax issues that matter to tech titans’ bottom lines. “Republicans are actually going to try to do something to help the economy,” he said.

Technology companies represent some of the most successful firms in the country, and their executives form the ranks of the nation’s richest. That means there’s plenty of campaign cash for candidates to milk — and Democrats long have dominated that well. Beyond money, Democrats also have outpaced Republicans in attracting the sort of tech talent required to run modern, data-intensive campaigns.

Obama in his first presidential campaign formed powerful alliances at companies like Google, and his team by 2012 had set up an entire apparatus — Technology 4 Obama — to solicit donations from the likes of Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. Entering the 2014 midterms, Democrats again returned repeatedly to Silicon Valley and San Francisco for a series of high-dollar fundraisers. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Sam Altman, the leader of Y Combinator, for example, hosted the president earlier this year; so did Mark Pincus, who founded Zynga.

(Also on POLITICO: Online education run amok?)

“We’re talking about some very deep pockets here,” said Larry Gerston, a professor focusing on U.S. public policy at San Jose State University. “They’re just figuring out that money can buy them things they never imagined.”

But, Gerston added, “For all their efforts, certainly, Republican tech types and folks close to the Republican Party haven’t managed well.”

The poor political odds have only spurred the GOP to action. Paul this summer began work to set up a technology hub of sorts in San Francisco — and the Kentucky senator returned there in October for a fundraiser alongside other prominent Senate Republicans. Cisco CEO John Chambers helped host the event at the Woodside, California, home of Oracle’s Larry Ellison. These tech hardware players — and others, like new Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz and HP CEO Meg Whitman, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in California — long have backed and funded Republican candidates.

“He’s hopeful it’s a libertarian incubator of future Ayn Rands,” said Shawn Steel, a past chairman of the California Republican Party, when asked about Paul’s strategy. But even Steel acknowledged that many Internet company executives are “deeply in the infrastructure of progressive Democrats.”

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Fast food workers plan nationwide strike for December 4 – by Ned Resnikoff November 29, 2014 12:01AM ET Updated 2:33PM ET

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at Nov 30, 2014 1.40

Fast food workers in at least 150 cities nationwide will walk off the job on Dec. 4, demanding an industry-wide base wage of $15 per hour and the right to form a union. Workers unanimously voted on the date for the new strike during a Nov. 25 conference call, held shortly before the second anniversary of the movement’s first strike.

The first of the recent fast food strikes took place on Nov. 29, 2012, in New York City. Two hundred workers from various fast food restaurants around the city participated in that strike, making it the largest work stoppage to ever hit the fast food industry. Since then, the size of the movement has ballooned several times over: With the backing of the powerful service sector labor union SEIU, the campaign has come to include thousands of workers in the U.S.

One of the campaign’s main targets, the McDonald’s Corporation, has long maintained that labor protests against the company are not actually strikes in any meaningful sense.

“These are not ‘strikes,’ but are organized rallies for which demonstrators are transported to various locations, and are often paid for their participation,” said a company spokesperson in an emailed statement. “At McDonald’s we respect everyone’s right to peacefully protest.”

The National Worker Organizing committee, a nationwide steering group of 26 fast food workers around the country, approved the Dec. 4 strike date before it was proposed to the rest of the workers. Workers from all 150 cities involved in the campaign were then invited to vote on the date over a Nov. 25 conference call.

The proposal for a strike date was put forth by Burger King and Pizza Hut employee Terrence Wise, a leader in the Kansas City, Missouri branch of the committee. He exhorted workers across the country to recruit more co-workers and make the Dec. 4 the date of the biggest strike yet.

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Filthy Rich Investor Explains Why Being Rich Didn’t Make Him As Happy As He Thought It Would – EUGENE KIM NOV. 29, 2014, 2:48 PM

Chamath Palihapitiya, the founder of The Social+Capital Partnership, is a classic case of a “rags-to-riches” story.

Social Capital founder Chamath Palihapitiya

Flickr/TechcrunchSocial+Capital Partnership founder Chamath Palihapitiya

As an immigrant in Canada, Palihapitiya grew up on welfare, living above a laundromat with his dad unemployed. Not being as privileged as some of his “rich” friends, Palihapitiya says the biggest thing on his mind at the time was “trying not to be poor.” He would obsess over the Forbes’ Billionaires List, dreaming of one day putting his name on it.

“I grew up super poor. I thought I really, really wanted to be rich. But that was the only way I could see the world growing up how I did,” Palihapitiya told Business Insider.

Perhaps because of this mindset, Palihapitiya quickly became one of the most successful tech leaders at a very young age. By 26, he became the youngest VP in AOL’s history and later joined Facebook in 2007, becoming the social media’s longest tenured senior executive. Along the way, he was able to build massive amounts of wealth, which is estimated to be nearly $1 billion.

But once he finally became rich financially, Palihapitiya says it didn’t really make him as happy as he thought it would. He says he realized that unless he did something more meaningful with his wealth, and have a “massive impact,” he wouldn’t feel truly happy about being rich.

“The most important thing I realized is you need something superficial like that (being rich) to act as a catalyst initially, so you are motivated to escape whatever you are trying to escape,” he says. “But then you need to use that as a bridge to a more meaningful, long-term, largely unrealistic goal that can keep you focused, grounded and helpful to others.”

So after cashing out his Facebook stock, Palihapitiya founded his own venture capital firm called The Social+Capital Partnership. It takes a little different approach than other VC firms in that it mostly invests in companies that really tries to tackle serious social and global issues. For example, it’s invested in Glooko, a mobile diabetes management company, and Treehouse, a company that trains computer engineers and helps them find jobs.

“I want to create a massive legacy,” Palihapitiya says. “I am fortunate enough that I can fund that and put the money back in the world.”


How to Fight Corruption With Game Theory – Mark McKinnon 11.29.14

A brilliant Silicon Valley entrepreneur may have found a way to get dark money out of politics without changing any laws.

J.R. Bale/Alamy

Asking Congress to reform money in politics is like asking professional athletes to reform the use of performance enhancing drugs and painkillers.

That is, it’s unlikely to happen, because money and drugs make candidates and athletes more competitive and, therefore, more likely to keep their jobs. It’s all about self-preservation.

The Citizens United ruling from the Supreme Court, which opened the money floodgates by allowing for unlimited spending by outside groups, also assumed that the source of the money being spent would be transparent and disclosed. In fact, a main tenet of the Citizens United ruling, with which eight out of the nine justices concurred, is that “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

Of course, spending in our elections is far from transparent. Over $200 million was spent this last cycle by groups receiving money from secret donors. And Congress can’t even pass a simple disclosure bill.

Fortunately, as is often the case when government fails to respond, individuals from the private sector are stepping up with innovative solutions.

Take Jim Greer. Greer is a young, entrepreneurial, poker-loving Texan who ended up in Silicon Valley. He’s a game theory guy. And brilliant. He started and sold a company, Kongregate, which left him with a little more time and a lot more money.

Greer loves politics, but hates the corrupting influence of money on the system. So he and his partner, Zack Simpson, did what they do so well: started spit-balling some game theory around politics.

What the two men saw is that just as in the private sector, decision-making in politics is driven by incentives—that is, the positive or negative results that the decision-maker expects to come from a particular course of action. In Greer and Simpson’s estimation, our dysfunctional politics are really just a symptom of an incentive structure gone awry.

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Mubarak’s Acquittal Signals Complete Triumph of Military Over Arab Spring – Jamie Dettmer 11.29.14

Mohamed El-Shahed/Getty

Verdict leaves supporters cheering and opponents gnashing their teeth in frustration. Make no mistake: Egypt’s oppressive “deep state” is back.

Almost four years after former dictator Hosni Mubarak was swept from power, a court dismissed charges against him in the killing of more than 200 protesters during the 2011 popular uprising that ended his three-decade rule. The Cairo courtroom where the decision was announced was packed with his supporters and they erupted in cheers, but outside his opponents bewailed a decision they say marks the apogee of a counter-revolution supervised by the deposed strongman’s onetime head of military intelligence: Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, elected the country’s president in May.

The ruling also cleared Mubarak along with his sons, Alaa and Gamal, of corruption charges relating to the sale of gas to Israel. And in a clean sweep marking what Egyptian democracy activists say emphasizes the comeback of the “deep state” of the Mubarak era, the court acquitted a former interior minister and six top security chiefs of conspiring to murder protesters in an Arab Spring uprising that saw more than 800 protesters killed and at least 2000 injured.

The judge overseeing the case, Mahmoud Kamel al-Rashidi, said the charges against the ailing 86-year-old Mubarak—he was accused of “inciting, arranging and assisting to kill peaceful protesters”—were politically motivated and that his conviction in June 2012 was flawed. He also cited several other technicalities. Shortly after the charges were dismissed, Mubarak’s chief lawyer was photographed lighting up a cigar. The country’s chief prosecutor says he will appeal the decision.

Othman al-Hefnawy, a lawyer representing families of those who died, said the verdict raises the question: if Mubarak and his aides weren’t responsible for protesters’ deaths, then who was?

The retrial of a case that had resulted in Mubarak and his co-conspirators receiving life sentences was ordered by an appeals court last year on a technicality. Today’s decision—it is recorded in a 1,400-page ruling—wasn’t unexpected. “Mubarak’s acquittal was about as surprising as Sisi becoming President,” tweeted Arab Spring activist Iyad El-Baghdadi.