Are Things Getting Better or Worse? Why assessing the state of the world is harder than it sounds.

“By an obscure retrospective calculus, the good appears to balance out the bad. Frightening events seem less so in retrospect. Memory is selective, history is partial, and youth is a golden age. For all these reasons, our intuitive comparisons between the past and the present are unreliable. Many Americans living in 1967 might well have thought that life had been better in 1917.”

“Pinker’s message is simple: progress is real, meaningful, and widespread. The mystery is why we have so much trouble acknowledging it. Pinker mentions various sources of pessimism—the “progressophobia” of liberal-arts professors, for instance—but directs most of his opprobrium toward the news media, which focus almost entirely on of-the-moment crises and systematically underreport positive, long-term trends.”


Why Binyamin Netanyahu is fudging east European history

But Mr Netanyahu has a particular interest in keeping the Polish government happy. In recent years he has pursued closer ties with the central and east European members of the European Union in the hope that they will oppose the block’s support for Palestinian statehood and its members’ joint refusal to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He also wants to weaken the EU’s commitment to abide by a deal with Iran to curtail its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Mr Netanyahu has identified the Visegrad Four, consisting of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as his main allies within the EU.

Thomas Bayes and the crisis in science

Science is currently said to be suffering a “replicability crisis”. Over the last few years a worrying number of widely accepted findings in psychology, medicine and other disciplines have failed to be confirmed by repetitions of the original experiments. Well-known psychological results that have proved hard to reproduce include the claim that new-born babies imitate their mothers’ facial expressions and that will power is a limited resource that becomes depleted through use. In medicine, the drug companies Bayer and Amgen, frustrated by the slow progress of drug development, discovered that more than three-quarters of the basic science studies they were relying on didn’t stand up when repeated. When the journal Naturepolled 1,500 scientists in 2016, 70 per cent said they had failed to reproduce another scientist’s results.

This crisis of reproducibility has occasioned much wringing of hands. The finger has been pointed at badly designed experiments, not to mention occasional mutterings about rigged data. But the only real surprise is that the problem has taken so long to emerge. The statistical establishment has been reluctant to concede the point, but failures of replication are nothing but the pigeons of significance testing coming home to roost.

Does the Trolley Problem Have a Problem?

What if your answer to an absurd hypothetical question had no bearing on how you behaved in real life?

“Scientists have been using a set of cheap-and-easy mental probes (Would you hit the railroad switch?) to capture moral judgment. But if the answers to those questions don’t connect to real behavior, then where, exactly, have these trolley problems taken us?”