Fireworks display from rare dying star is unlike anything astronomers have seen
Scientific Reports, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-28280-1Sunlight exposure cannot explain "grue" languages
Scientific Reports, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-28861-0Spider mites avoid caterpillar traces to prevent intraguild predation
Scientific Reports, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-28608-xOxygenated hemoglobin as prognostic marker among patients with
Trollsländor är större på nordliga breddgrader och mindre i tropikerna. Variationen i insekternas kroppsstorlek kan förklaras med temperaturer och förekomst av rovdjur, visar en studie.
Inlägget Fåglar och klimat avgörande för trollsländornas storlek dök först upp på forskning.se.
If you asked 10 Americans, "Who was James Dickey?," my guess is that half would shrug, four would identify him as the author of the novel and movie Deliverance, and the tenth might venture, "Didn't he read a poem at Jimmy Carter's inauguration?" or "Wasn't he our poet laureate back in the 1960s?"
My theoretical estimate would, I think, depress James Dickey, born 100 years ago this February 2, for he wanted above all else to be remembered as a poet. He was the victim of his own success (and excess), having pulled off the neat trick of eclipsing his fame as arguably America's greatest living poet with a novel about four buddies on a canoe trip that turns very, very weird. ("Squeal like a pig!")
In honor of his centennial, I laid flowers on his grave in the serene, bird-loud cemetery three miles from where I live in coastal South Carolina. The gravestone is terse: Poet, Father of Bronwen, Kevin and Christopher, and is inscribed,
I move at the heart of the world
Standing there and recalling the time I first met him made me think of a couplet in Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard":
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire
The occasion of that meeting was the launch of Apollo 7 in 1968 at Cape Kennedy, in Florida. Life magazine had commissioned the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress—America's de facto poet laureate before we officially had one—to commemorate the occasion with a poem.
I was 16. My father had brought me along. It was an earth-shaking event. Literally. As the ground shook beneath our feet, I watched as an armadillo, a creature that has been around for about 35 million years and was no doubt thinking, Again?, grumpily waddled out of the marsh in search of less apocalyptic quarters.
Recognizing my father among the VIPs, Dickey approached, hand outstretched, grinning. Pup whispered to me, "James Dickey. Very-big-deal poet."
I'd never met a poet before, much less a very-big-deal one. He was a physical big deal, too: 6 foot 3, with the frame of a former athlete. Sensing my nervousness, Mr. Dickey bent to shake my hand, his grin now a headlight beam, and said in an exuberant Georgia drawl suffused with bourbon—it was 9 a.m.; I was impressed—"Ah have a Christopher, too."
He had me at hello. I wanted to know everything about James Dickey.
[Read: To a beginning poet, aged sixty]
In time, I learned that he'd been a college track star; a decorated combat aviator in World War II and Korea; a serious bowhunter and guitar player; and a Homeric drinker and lover. He ticked all the boxes. The vibe was unmistakable: Here was America's Byron.
His Apollo 7 poem was a curtain-raiser for what lay ahead for me:
They plunge with all of us—up from the
flame-trench, up from the Launch Umbilical Tower,
up from the elk and the butterfly, up from
the meadows and rivers and mountains and the beds
of wives into the universal cavern, into the
mathematical abyss, to find us—and return,
to tell us what we will be.
As any southerner might say, "If that ain't poetry, you can kiss my ass."
Jim Dickey was a capital-b Bard, not one to stop by woods on a snowy evening, wander lonely as a cloud, or compare thee to a summer's day.
"The Shark's Parlor" opens with two buddies baiting a drop-forged hook with a run-over collie pup and tossing it off the porch of an aunt's beachfront house. The poem concludes with the hammerhead shark they catch, turning Auntie's parlor into an abattoir, smashing it to smithereens and spewing gore over family keepsakes and gewgaws.
His odd head full of crashed jelly-glass splinters and radio tubes thrashing
Among the pages of fan magazines all the movie stars drenched in sea-blood
"Falling" is based on a news story about a flight attendant who got sucked out the door of an airliner at 1,500 feet, stripped of her clothes and stockings as she plunged to her death. "The Firebombing" is about dropping napalm on civilians, not exactly a poetical comfort zone in the 1960s; the incineration described in the poem takes place two decades earlier, during World War II, as 1,000-pound bombs are released from Dickey's P-61 Night Fighter.
The engines, the eight blades sighing
For the moment when the roofs will connect
Their flames, and make a town burning with all
"The Eye-Beaters," acknowledged as one of his finest poems, was inspired by a visit to a home for blind children. Some of them would punch their eyeballs to produce sensations of color.
I wrote my senior paper on Dickey. In an importunity that makes me wince even now, a half century later, I sent him a list of interview questions. He had more pressing things to attend to, like, say, going over the galleys of his forthcoming novel, Deliverance, than a tedious request from a high-school senior with a literary man-crush. (One last question, Mr. Dickey: Have you ever taken hallucinogens?) But 10 days later, there in my mailbox was a thick envelope from Columbia, South Carolina, with three single-spaced typed pages. (As to my question: Yes, once. Peyote.)
His kindness to his students at the University of South Carolina was legendary. James Dickey had more protégés than the Pied Piper. Among them was the novelist Pat Conroy. I blush an even deeper shade of crimson to reveal that, a decade after my questionnaire, my talent for importunity unabated, I sent Dickey a galley of my first book, asking if he might, um, contribute a blurb.
He was now James Dickey, author of the novel Deliverance, serialized in The Atlantic, which also published many of his poems; screenwriter of the movie based on the novel; and the actor who briefly but indelibly played the part of the sheriff who suspects that these suburbanite canoeists aren't leveling with him about what happened on the river. As my father would put it, James Dickey was now a very, very big deal. But his talent for generosity had not diminished, and in due course 150 words of praise arrived that I can but won't recite from memory. What a generous soul he was!
His son Christopher, now alas deceased, wrote a fine but often painful-to-read memoir about the downside of his father's great success with Deliverance. In an oral history about the filming of the movie, Christopher recalled: "With fame came a particular kind of indulgence. People want poets to be bigger than life, to be outrageous, memorable, excessive. They will give them more than enough to drink. They will sleep with them. They will tell stories about them. And all that is seductive for both the poet and his audience. What Deliverance did was take that to a whole new level that was destructive for my father."
Outrageous, memorable, and excessive he was. And everyone who knew James Dickey had a "James Dickey story" to tell. George Garrett, the novelist (Death of the Fox) and Dickey's colleague on the USC English faculty, had many in his repertoire. Most could not be called flattering, and do not need retelling on Mr. Dickey's centennial. But this one I cherish:
Garrett and Dickey were on an elevator. A student standing behind them nudged his companion and whispered audibly, "Know who that is?" Dickey looked at Garrett and winked. "That's the guy who played the sheriff in Deliverance," the student said. "The elevator stopped," Garrett went on, "and we were pushed out by the tide of students. 'Wait a minute! Wait just a big minute,' Jim was calling to everybody, nobody in particular. 'There's a whole lot more to me than just that.'"
There sure was. I'll close with my own favorite James Dickey story, which I heard from the lips of Dan Rowan of Laugh-In fame, a lovely soul.
Dickey was guest of honor at Rowan's summer camp in the California redwoods.
"I woke up early, about six," Rowan said. "I was getting the fire going for breakfast. Suddenly I became aware of this presence behind me.
"I turned. And there's James Dickey. He was a great big man. He had on this ratty old terry-cloth bathrobe that didn't even come down to his knees. It was kind of a sight.
"I said to him, 'Good morning, Jim!' He let out this sound, almost like a bear growl. He was looking a bit ragged from the night before.
"Our routine in camp is to serve Ramos Gin Fizzes at breakfast. So I said to him, 'Jim, may I make you a fizz?'"
"Well," Rowan said, "this look of … I'd almost call it contempt came over him. He stared at me. 'A fee-yuz?' he said. So he goes behind the bar, the whole time maintaining eye contact with me. Pulls down a highball glass and a half-gallon bottle of Wild Turkey. Fills the glass—to the brim—and drinks it all down in one go. Slams the empty glass on the counter and says, 'Now I will have a fee-yuz.'"
At the grave, I left the flowers, congratulated Mr. Dickey on his centennial, and thanked him for his many kindnesses to me. At home, I looked up the line quoted on his gravestone. It's from the last stanza of "In the Tree House at Night."
My green, graceful bones fill the air
With sleeping birds. Alone, alone
And with them I move gently.
I move at the heart of the world.
Strange, to be remembered for "Squeal like a pig" rather than for this. Stranger still: The oink line wasn't in his script. It was improvised on the spot. No one present, even the director, was ever able to remember who came up with it. It was just to give "Mountain Man" a line of dialogue as he set about making James Dickey immortal.
Of all the books in the 10th-grade curriculum, the class set of The Great Gatsby was what we teachers most coveted. Short enough to cover in one quarter, F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel was also packed with symbolism—Dr. Eckleburg's eyes on the billboard, the green light at the end of the dock, the cars, the music. And it was weighty enough to support multiple readings. I imagined my first year of teaching bursting with rich discussions. But to start any conversation, I had to secure the books before the other teachers got them.
I succeeded, only to be deflated: My students fought Gatsby from the beginning. The teenagers in my classroom—all children of color living in an impoverished rural community in South Florida, many of them first-generation Americans whose parents had come from Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, or Guatemala—simply did not understand a majority of the words on the page. Any appeal I made to the sheer pleasures of the text fell flat. "Surely," I'd say with as much enthusiasm as possible, "you think this part is funny!" And I'd launch into a reading of Nick Carraway's opening narration: "Frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon." Silence. Eventually, one brave soul would raise a hand. "What's 'feigned'?"
More advanced readings, I realized, would have to be tabled. I shouldn't have been shocked. I, too, had struggled with Gatsby when I first read the book—and I had been a junior in college. Fitzgerald's coupling of lyrical passages with a minimalist plot, full of fits and starts, proved too great a challenge for me. Like my students, I hadn't been prepared by my public education for such a text. (One of my high-school teachers read Roots aloud to us for 45 minutes each class period—we made it through all 888 pages.) Stymied by the structure and language of Gatsby, I couldn't get a handle on the characters either. If I hoped to pass my upper-level literature course, I needed to find a way in.
I turned to the secondary literature and found a chapter that offered an unexpected perspective on Gatsby's race in a 2004 book titled The Tragic Black Buck: Racial Masquerading in the American Literary Imagination. In it, Carlyle Van Thompson, a professor of African American and American literature at Medgar Evers College, argues that Fitzgerald "guilefully characterizes Jay Gatsby as a 'pale' Black individual who passes for white." I read this sentence twice, feeling like I had finally been granted license to enter the novel, to see myself in it, to make my way through the prose and develop my own interpretations. I was a 20-year-old English major, concentrating in African American literature at a historically Black college, and I still needed that permission.
[Read: To its earliest reviewers, Gatsby was anything but great]
In America, we are taught that canonical literature foregrounds the experiences of white people. Rarely do we question the racial identities of Nathaniel Hawthorne's characters, or Herman Melville's, or Willa Cather's. If the race of an American character is not specified, we assume the character is white. This is especially true in reading older texts, but we do the same with contemporary ones. Take Celeste Ng's best-selling 2017 novel, Little Fires Everywhere, which revolves around the lives of two American mothers. Ng, an Asian American author, makes clear that Elena Richardson, one of the mothers, is white. Ng says nothing about the race of the other, Mia Warren, leaving many readers to imagine her, too, as white. In the adaptation of the novel for the small screen, the casting of Kerry Washington, a Black woman, as Mia delivered a jolt, adding a new dimension to the series that Ng welcomed. Toni Morrison challenged our imaginative assumptions in a different way. In "Recitatif," the only short story she wrote, her goal was to expose the binary expectations that most American readers bring to texts—and to confound them. As she revealed in her critical study Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, the story was "an experiment in the removal of all racial codes from a narrative about two characters of different races for whom racial identity is crucial."
Stumbling on Thompson's analysis of The Great Gatsby was like finding a door propped open, and I rushed through with questions. What if the novel's focus on class and ethnic tensions obscures a racial drama that readers have read right over? Early in the novel, Tom Buchanan's eugenicist warning to "look out" or "the white race will be … utterly submerged" is loud and clear. Thompson's claim, by contrast, requires careful scrutiny of the text. He sets out to prove that a Black person is skillfully placed in the novel's foreground. Preoccupied with the obvious clash between old money and new money, we just haven't seen him, or the threat of miscegenation he represents. Fitzgerald was wrestling with the idea of America as a place of self-making, where radical reinvention is at once celebrated and feared. In doing so, according to Thompson, he struck upon the most illusory of American self-transformations—Black passing as white—revealing "how intrinsically American literature and the American Dream are racial."
Thompson's interpretation—picking up on Morrison's call, in Playing in the Dark, to recognize an "Africanist presence" at the center of the nation's 19th- and 20th-century literary canon, a presence that serves as a foil for ideas of whiteness, freedom, and more—sent me back to Gatsby, this time to meet with an intellectually charged experience. To read the novel without presupposing any character's whiteness is to discover which characters are identified as white and which are not. As I searched for any possible references to Black or brown characters passing as white, eager to assess the racial ambiguities that Thompson finds so telling, I was alert for more clues than his chapter supplies. Nick Carraway, the first-person narrator, is of Scottish descent. His maid's Finnish identity is referenced seven times in the novel. Meyer Wolfsheim is a "small, flat-nosed Jew." Tom Buchanan, a self-identified Nordic, includes Nick as a fellow member of the master race. But as Thompson notes, he pauses before adding Daisy Buchanan—Nick's second cousin "once removed"—to the list, and then interrupts her when she begins to describe her "white girlhood." "Don't believe everything you hear," Tom tells Nick.
[Read: How The Great Gatsby explains Trump]
Jordan Baker, Daisy's best friend and Nick's love interest, makes it onto the Nordic list. Yet I noted that she is given a "slender golden arm," a "brown hand," "grey sun-strained eyes," "fingers, powdered white over their tan," and a "face the same brown tint as the fingerless glove on her knee." One explanation for these colorful adjectives could be that Jordan is a competitive golfer—tans are common in the profession. The use of "powdered white," though, gave me pause; so did the fact that Jordan is never reliably identified as white. Nick's assessment of her, even during their fling, is biting: "She was incurably dishonest. She wasn't able to endure being at a disadvantage and, given this unwillingness, I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young." Could it be that she and Daisy get along so well because they're both women at the turn of the 20th century who might very well be passing?
Thompson trains his focus on Jay Gatsby, flagging what he sees as telltale physical traits—his "brown, hardening body," in Fitzgerald's words, and hair that "looked as though it were trimmed every day." Thompson also has his eye out for an array of culturally evocative signals that "Gatsby is racially counterfeit." Nick, for example, is struck by his "graceful, conservative foxtrot," a dance modeled on the slow drag, a Black dance sensation of the period. He also notes that Gatsby's mansion sits on 40 acres of land in West Egg, an allotment that has a particular valence for Black Americans.
Thompson gathers less subtle pieces of evidence too. When, at the Plaza Hotel, Tom lets loose his suspicion that Daisy is having an affair with Gatsby, he frames it this way: "I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife … Next they'll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white." To this, Jordan, the "incurably dishonest" one, responds, "We're all white here."
And what is one to make of the insinuation that Tom hurls at Gatsby in the heat of his anger upon learning of Daisy's infidelity? "I'll be damned if I see how you got within a mile of [Daisy] unless you brought the groceries to the back door." Throughout the scene, Fitzgerald emphasizes that Tom is "incredulous and insulting," impatient, sharp, and explosive. To be sure, Tom's fury might be expected, regardless of Gatsby's identity. But, combined with Tom's possibly veiled racial observations, could the outbursts suggest that something more is at stake than his marriage and social standing among the old-money elite? Could Tom here be venting his fears about miscegenation?
Of course, not everyone buys the Black Gatsby reading. Matthew J. Bruccoli, the editor of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby: A Literary Reference, perhaps the most comprehensive study of the novel, dismissed the idea when he heard about Thompson's interpretation: "If Fitzgerald wanted to write about Blacks … he would have made it perfectly clear in April 1925." Perhaps. But if Fitzgerald intended to write simply about white people, why did he plant so many cryptic descriptions? A scion of the Scribner family, whose firm published the novel, said the reading wasn't supported by any correspondence between Fitzgerald and his editor, Max Perkins. Yet Janet Savage, in Jay Gatsby: A Black Man in Whiteface (2017), explains that the initial title for the novel—Trimalchio in West Egg—refers to the former slave in Petronius's novel, The Satyricon. Upon gaining freedom and wealth, Trimalchio throws lavish parties. Though Fitzgerald chose another title at Perkins's request, the link between Gatsby and Trimalchio remains. When Gatsby finally reconnects with Daisy, he has no need to keep hosting big parties. "His career as Trimalchio," Nick observes, "was over."
Thompson himself said, after delivering the paper that inspired The Tragic Black Buck, that his students weren't all prompt converts to his view, and in the end, I couldn't, and still can't, endorse his confident assertion that Jay Gatsby is Black. What I do claim is that Jay Gatsby is unraced. And that seems to me more important, because it opens the door wider than stark revisionism does. The ambiguity of Gatsby's race and ethnicity shatters the Black-and-white framework we reflexively impose on so many classic texts.
This reading of Gatsby, I went on to discover when I scratched my initial lesson plan and started over, certainly gave my diverse class a way in. Gatsby's American identity is so ambiguous that the students could layer on top of it any ethnic or racial identity they brought to the novel. When they did, the text was freshly lit. This was the fall of 2012, and the Baz Luhrmann film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, with a score produced by Jay-Z, had not yet been released. But the trailer was available, and I projected it onto my whiteboard. The students, immediately recognizing Jay-Z and Kanye West's song "No Church in the Wild," sat up. When Gatsby finally appeared, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, I paused it.
"Why is Gatsby white?" I asked them.
"Because that's what the book says," they answered, in near unison.
"Does it?" I asked, pretending to be confused.
Suddenly they were invested. They began scouring the novel for evidence of Gatsby's race. They were forced to look up words they didn't know, in the hope that those words would yield more clues. The students parsed intricate sentences down to their essence to extrapolate a clear meaning. And soon they began probing for deeper interpretations.
The conversation then, and in classes since, took off. "What about the two eggs?" students have asked, referring to Fitzgerald's description of East and West Egg. "Could they represent Black and white people?" They've pointed to Daisy's upbringing in Louisville, Kentucky, and wondered, "What about this section on Daisy's past? Could all this whiteness point to what Gatsby was really after? Is whiteness what he wanted to capture?" They delved more deeply into The Great Gatsby than they did into any other text I taught during those years—more deeply, according to some, than they did into any book in any school year. In sifting through pages and pages of textual evidence, they found room for themselves in one of America's greatest novels—indeed, in American culture.
This article appears in the March 2023 print edition with the headline "A New Way to Read Gatsby." When you buy a book using a link on this page, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.
This article was featured in One Story to Read Today, a newsletter in which our editors recommend a single must-read from The Atlantic, Monday through Friday. Sign up for it here.
Let's say you're a politician in a close race and your opponent suffers a stroke. What do you do?
If you are Mehmet Oz running as a Republican for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, what you do is mock your opponent's affliction. In August, the Oz campaign released a list of "concessions" it would offer to the Democrat John Fetterman in a candidates' debate, including:
"We will allow John to have all of his notes in front of him along with an earpiece so he can have the answers given to him by his staff, in real time." And: "We will pay for any additional medical personnel he might need to have on standby."
Oz's derision of his opponent's medical condition continued right up until Oz lost the race by more than 250,000 votes. Oz's defeat flipped the Pennsylvania seat from Republican to Democrat, dooming GOP hopes of a Senate majority in 2023.
A growing number of Republicans are now pointing their finger at Donald Trump for the party's disappointments in the 2022 elections, with good reason. Trump elevated election denial as an issue and burdened his party with a lot of election-denying candidates—and voters decisively repudiated them.
But not all of Trump's picks were obviously bad. Oz was for years a successful TV pitchman, trusted by millions of Americans for health advice. The first Muslim nominated for a Senate run by a major party, he advanced Republican claims to represent 21st-century America. Oz got himself tangled up between competing positions on abortion, sometimes in consecutive sentences, precisely because he hoped to position himself as moderate on such issues.
But Oz's decision to campaign as a jerk hurt him. When his opponent got sick, Oz could have drawn on his own medical background for compassion and understanding. Before he succumbed to the allure of TV, Oz was an acclaimed doctor whose innovations transformed the treatment of heart disease. He could have reminded voters of his best human qualities rather than displaying his worst.
The choice to do the opposite was his, not Trump's.
[Adam Serwer: The cruelty is the point]
And Oz was not unique. Many of the unsuccessful Republican candidates in 2022 offered voters weird, extreme, or obnoxious personas. Among the worst was Blake Masters, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Arizona. He released photos and campaign videos of himself playing with guns, looking like a sociopath. He lost by nearly five points. Trump endorsed Masters in the end, but Trump wasn't the one who initially selected or funded him. That unsavory distinction belongs to the tech billionaire and Republican donor Peter Thiel, who invested big and early in the campaign of his former university student.
Performative trolling did not always lead to failure. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis indulged in obnoxious stunts in 2022. He promoted anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists. He used the power of government to punish corporations that dissented from his culture-war policies. He spent $1.5 million of taxpayer money to send asylum seekers to Martha's Vineyard.
But DeSantis was an incumbent executive with a record of accomplishment. Antics intended to enrapture the national Fox News audience could be offset by actions to satisfy his local electorate: restoring the Everglades, raising teacher pay, and reopening public schools early despite COVID risks.
DeSantis's many Republican supporters must now ponder: What happens when and if the governor takes his show on the road? "Pragmatic on state concerns, divisive on national issues!" plays a little differently in a presidential race than it does at the state level. But the early indications are that he's sticking with divisiveness: A month after his reelection, DeSantis is bidding for the anti-vax vote by promoting extremist allegations from the far fringes that modern vaccines threaten public health.
A generation ago, politicians invested great effort in appearing agreeable: Ronald Reagan's warm chuckle, Bill Clinton's down-home charm, George W. Bush's smiling affability. By contrast, Donald Trump delighted in name-calling, rudeness, and open disdain. Not even his supporters would have described Trump as an agreeable person. Yet he made it to the White House all the same—in part because of this trollish style of politics, which has encouraged others to emulate him.
[Ilana E. Strauss]: How science explains why some politicians are jerks
Has our hyper-polarized era changed the old rules of politics? James Poniewozik's 2019 book, Audience of One, argues that Trump's ascendancy was the product of a huge shift in media culture. The three big television networks of yore had sought to create "the least objectionable program"; they aimed to make shows that would offend the fewest viewers. As audiences fractured, however, the marketplace rewarded content that excited ever narrower segments of American society. Reagan and Clinton were replaced by Trump for much the same reason Walter Cronkite was replaced by Sean Hannity.
It's an ingenious theory. But, as Poniewozik acknowledges, democratic politics in a two-party system remains an inescapably broadcast business. Trump's material sold well enough in 2016 to win (with help from FBI Director James Comey's intervention against Hillary Clinton, Russian hackers amplified by the Trump campaign, and the mechanics of the Electoral College). But in 2020, Trump met the political incarnation of the Least Objectionable Program: Joe Biden, who is to politics what Jay Leno was to late-night entertainment.
Trump-led Republicans have now endured four bad elections in a row. In 2018, they lost the House. In 2020, they lost the presidency. In 2021, they lost the Senate. In 2022, they won back the House—barely—but otherwise failed to score the gains one expects of the opposition party in a midterm. They suffered a net loss of one Senate seat and two governorships. They failed to flip a single chamber in any state legislature. In fact, the Democrats gained control of four: one each in Minnesota and Pennsylvania, and both in Michigan.
Plausible theories about why Republicans fared so badly in 2022 abound. The economy? Gas prices fell in the second half of 2022, while the economy continued to grow. Abortion? The Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June, and Republican officeholders began musing almost immediately about a national ban, while draconian restrictions began spreading through the states. Attacks on democracy? In contest after contest, Republicans expressed their contempt for free elections, and independent voters responded by rejecting them.
All of these factors clearly played a role. But don't under-weight the impact of the performative obnoxiousness that now pervades Republican messaging. Conservatives have built career paths for young people that start on extremist message boards and lead to jobs on Republican campaigns, then jobs in state and federal offices, and then jobs in conservative media.
Former top Trump-administration officials set up a well-funded dark-money group, Citizens for Sanity, that spent millions to post trolling messages on local TV in battleground states, intended to annoy viewers into voting Republican, such as "Protect pregnant men from climate discrimination." The effect was just to make the Republicans seem juvenile.
In 2021, then–House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy posted a video of himself reading aloud from Dr. Seuss to protest the Seuss estate's withdrawing some works for being racially insensitive (although he took care to read Green Eggs and Ham, not one of the withdrawn books).
Trump himself often seemed to borrow his scripts from a Borscht Belt insult comic—for instance, performing imagined dialogues making fun of his opponent's adult children during the 2020 campaign.
This is not a "both sides" story. Democratic candidates don't try to energize their base by "owning the conservatives"; that's just not a phrase you hear. The Democratic coalition is bigger and looser than the Republican coalition, and it's not clear that Democrats even have an obvious "base" the way that Republicans do. The people who heeded Representative Jim Clyburn's endorsement of Joe Biden in South Carolina do not necessarily have much in common with those who knocked on doors for Senator Elizabeth Warren's presidential campaign. Trying to energize all of the Democratic Party's many different "bases" with deliberate offensiveness against perceived cultural adversaries would likely fizzle at best, and backfire at worst. On the Republican side, however, the politics of performance can be—or seem—rewarding, at least in the short run.
This pattern of behavior bids fair to repeat itself in 2024. As I write these words at the beginning of 2023, the conservative world is most excited not by the prospect of big legislative action from a Republican House majority, and not by Trump's declared candidacy for president in 2024 or by DeSantis's as-yet-undeclared one, but by the chance to repeat its 2020 attacks on the personal misconduct of President Biden's son Hunter.
In the summer of 2019, the Trump administration put enormous pressure on the newly elected Zelensky administration in Ukraine to announce some kind of criminal investigation of the Biden family. This first round of Trump's project to manufacture an anti-Biden scandal exploded into Trump's first impeachment.
The failure of round one did not deter the Trump campaign. It tried again in 2020. This time, the scandal project was based on sexually explicit photographs and putatively compromising emails featuring Hunter Biden. The story the Trump campaign told about how it obtained these materials sounded dubious: Hunter Biden himself supposedly delivered his computer to a legally blind repairman in Delaware but never returned to retrieve it—so the repairman tracked down Rudy Giuliani and handed over a copy of the hard drive. The repairman had also previously given the laptop itself to the FBI. Far-fetched stories can sometimes prove true, and so might this one.
Whatever the origin of the Hunter Biden materials, the authenticity of at least some of which has been confirmed by reputable media outlets, there's no dispute about their impact on the 2020 election. They flopped.
Pro-Trump Republicans could never accept that their go-to tactic had this time failed. Somebody or something else had to be to blame. They decided that this somebody or something was Twitter, which had briefly blocked links to the initial New York Post story on the laptop and its contents.
So now the new Twitter—and Elon Musk allies who have been offered privileged access to the company's internal workings—is trying again to elevate the Hunter Biden laptop controversy, and to allege a cover-up involving the press, tech companies, and the national-security establishment. It's all very exciting to the tiny minority of Americans who closely follow political schemes. And it's all pushing conservatives and Republicans back onto the same doomed path they followed in the Trump years: stunts and memes and insults and fabricated controversies in place of practical solutions to the real problems everyday people face. The party has lost contact with the sensibility of mainstream America, a huge country full of decent people who are offended by bullying and cruelty.
There's talk of some kind of review by the Republican National Committee of what went wrong in 2022. If it happens, it will likely focus on organization, fundraising, and technology. For any political operation, there is always room to improve in these areas. But if the party is to thrive in the post-Trump era, it needs to start with something more basic: at least pretend to be nice.
* Lead image source credits: Chris Graythen / Getty; Ed Jones / AFP / Getty; Drew Angerer / Getty; Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty; Michael M. Santiago / Getty; Brandon Bell / Getty; Win McNamee / Getty; Al Drago / Bloomberg / Getty; Alex Wong / Getty
This article appears in the March 2023 print edition with the headline "Party of Trolls." When you buy a book using a link on this page, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.
Nature Communications, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36249-xThe macroscopic mechanical response in cross-linked polymer networks has been well investigated but an understanding of pre-failure local mechanical responses at the level of individual crosslinks is still lacking. Here, using an extensophore concept, the authors show that the crosslinks in an elastic polymer network extend, fluctuate, and deform with a wide range of molecular individuality
Nature Communications, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36265-xAging leads to significant alteration in the gene expression of muscle stem cells. In vivo exposure of muscle stem cells from aged mice to a young niche environment restores the expression of a significant portion of age-altered genes in mice.
Just shy of its second (Earth) anniversary on Mars, NASA's
has completed a project that could secure its legacy. The backup sample depot in Jezero Crater is ready for a future mission to collect sample tubes and return them to Earth. It took just six weeks for the team to decide where to place the sample tubes, and now the tenth and final tube has been deposited.
Perseverance is brimming with cameras and scientific instruments, but it's impossible to send everything scientists might want to. However, if you can get some bits of Mars back to Earth, there are almost unlimited tests and procedures to be completed. Perseverance is the first phase of a project that aims to do just that. The robot has an impressive sample caching system, complete with ultra-clean titanium tubes to hold the numbered and cataloged samples. At each site, Perseverance collected two samples. One of those remains in the belly of the rover, but now the backups are waiting in the "Three Forks" region in case they are needed.
The tubes were deposited in a zigzag pattern with between 15 and 50 feet (5 to 15 meters) of space between them. This is necessary to ensure safe and effective collection using the planned Sample Retrieval Lander, including a pair of helicopters based on the wildly successful Ingenuity design. NASA says the flying robots will have no trouble finding the tubes. Despite the planet's frequent dust storms, very little material accumulates on the surface.
We're still several years away from the next phase of the Sample Return Campaign. NASA hopes to launch in the late 2020s, with samples returning to Earth around 2033. The mission also calls for an ESA Mars orbiter that will pick up the samples in the Mars Ascent Vehicle (basically a small rocket) and then head for Earth.
Initially, NASA planned to send another rover to pick up the samples, but this was canceled, and Perseverance is now the primary means of delivery. However, should Perseverance be unable to meet up with the Sample Retrieval Lander, the helicopters will visit the Three Forks depot to pick up the duplicate samples. Although, I would not be surprised if NASA and its partners at the European Space Agency find a way to collect the duplicates as well. You can never have too many pristine samples of Martian rocks.
As for Perseverance, it has almost finished the "Delta Front Campaign" that saw the rover exploring the floor of Jezero Crater around the ancient river delta. Now, the team is preparing to send Perseverance up through the previously mapped Hawksbill Gap, which will get it on top of the delta. This will begin the Delta Top Campaign, giving the rover a chance to examine geological formations that could feature evidence of ancient life. There will no doubt be more interesting rocks to drill into up there.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-28281-0Reply to: Sunlight exposure cannot explain "grue" languages
Nature Communications, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36166-zBy placing an antiferromagnet next to a heavy metal such as platinum, magnetic excitations in the antiferromagnet drive a spin current in the heavy metal, leading to terahertz emission. Here, Kholid et al study the terahertz emission of two antiferromagnets, KCoF3 and KNiF3 with very different magnon frequencies, and find that the opening of a gap in the magnon density of states drastically alters the spin-transfer efficiency.
Nature Communications, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36248-yIntrogression of the short arm of rye chromosome one into common wheat increases root biomass and drought tolerance, but the underlying genetic basis is unknown. Here, the authors report that dosage differences in 12-OXOPHYTODIENOATE REDUCTASE genes modulate the differences of wheat root architecture.
Nature, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-00220-zNew technologies might provide more potent or broader immunity — but will have to fight for market share.
Nature, Published online: 31 January 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-00280-1Caffeine blocks a brain receptor to stave off the drowsy feeling — but it can return with a vengeance. Plus, pandemic school closures cost children one-third of a year's learning and how machines could spot alien signals that humans miss.
A group of cancer researchers once all based at Harvard have earned a retraction after acknowledging data duplication "errors" in an article published more than eight years ago.
The paper, "Synthetic lethality of combined glutaminase and Hsp90 inhibition in mTORC1-driven tumor cells," was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in December 2014. It has been cited 52 times, according to Clarivate's Web of Science. The study informed a clinical trial from Infinity Pharmaceuticals on a drug for people with lung cancer, according to Dimensions, a scientific research database.
Starting in November 2020, the paper drew scrutiny from commenters on PubPeer. The posts include claims of duplications in several of the paper's figures; none of the authors has responded to the 10 comments on the site.
Pseudonymous critic Claire Francis drew attention to these concerns in a November 2020 email to editors at PNAS, as well as academic and legal representatives from Harvard, Cornell, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. That email received no response.
On January 6 this year, PNAS published the following retraction notice for the paper:
The undersigned authors note, "We are retracting this article due to the following errors in the preparation of several of the published figures. The same data appear to be presented in the +Rapa/+17AAG/48h panel of Fig. 2A and in the BPTES + 17AAG + NAC (72h) panel of Fig. 5D. In the p62 panels of Fig. 3D and SI Appendix, Fig. S2, the same data appear to be presented in lanes 1 and 5 of Fig. 3D and lanes 1 and 2 of SI Appendix, Fig. S2; in lane 6 of Fig. 3D and lane 3 of SI Appendix, Fig. S2; and in lane 7 of Fig. 3D and lane 4 of SI Appendix, Fig. S2. The same data appear to be presented in lanes 1 to 12 of the α-Tubulin panel of SI Appendix, Fig. S3B and the full GAPDH panel of SI Appendix, Fig. S4A. In the Cleaved PARP of SI Appendix, Fig. S4A, the same data appear to be presented in lanes 4 and 12; and in lanes 7 and 8. In SI Appendix, Fig. S5A, the same data appear to be presented in lanes 8 and 11 of the Cleaved PARP panel. Also in SI Appendix, Fig. S5A, the same data appear to be presented in lanes 5 and 8 of the P-elF2α panel. We sincerely regret any inconvenience to the scientific community this may have caused."
Jing Li, Gregory R. Hoffman, Jane J. Yu, and John Blenis
Corresponding author John Blenis, now at Weill Cornell Medicine, did not respond to our requests for comment. Nor did May Berenbaum, the editor-in-chief at PNAS.
PNAS issued a correction last August for another paper, from 2002, on which Blenis was the corresponding author, saying that it had omitted data. The authors wrote that the removal of the data "in no way compromises the conclusions of the paper."
A spokesperson for PNAS wrote in an email:
Thank you for your message. We have nothing further to add to the published statement.
The 2014 article was funded in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health to Blenis as PI that totaled more than $1.1 million.
We asked Nahum Sonenburg, guest editor of the retracted paper and a biochemist at McGill University, for his take on what happened. He said he was too busy to re-read the paper closely but said it was "unfortunate" it was retracted.
When we asked whether any duplicated data were flagged in his initial edit of the paper, he wrote in an email:
I am almost sure that the issue did not come up, as I would have absolutely remembered it, because it is extremely troublesome, and would have precluded the publication.
This is not the first time a paper by Blenis has been marred by data duplication. In 2021, Cell issued a correction for a 2005 paper of which Blenis is the corresponding author. The paper was found to have a duplication in the results that did "not compromise the conclusions of the paper."
Duplicated and omitted data in a 2003 article in Current Biology on which Blenis was a co-author received a correction last February. Again, editors wrote that "overall conclusions derived from this experiment are not affected."
Like Retraction Watch? You can make a tax-deductible contribution to support our work, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, or subscribe to our daily digest. If you find a retraction that's not in our database, you can let us know here. For comments or feedback, email us at email@example.com.
We live in an age where the concept of being an entrepreneur is increasingly broad. It's often hard to slot occupations—hosting a podcast, driving for Uber, even having an OnlyFans account—into the traditional definitions of employment vs. entrepreneurship.
Of course, this is not a strictly Western phenomenon; it's happening all over the world. And in China, it's also transforming how people work—but with the country's own twists.
I recently talked about this with Lin Zhang, assistant professor of communications and media studies at the University of New Hampshire and author of a new book: The Labor of Reinvention: Entrepreneurship in the New Chinese Digital Economy. Based on a decade of research and interviews, the book explores the rise and social impact of Chinese people who have succeeded (at least temporarily) as entrepreneurs, particularly those working within the digital economy.
In the not-so-distant past, China was obsessed with entrepreneurship. At the Davos conference in the summer of 2014, Li Keqiang, China's premier, called for a "mass entrepreneurship and innovation" campaign. "A new wave of grassroots entrepreneurship… will keep the engine of China's economic development up to date," he declared.
Tech platforms, which have provided entry points to the digital economy for many new entrepreneurs, also joined the government's campaign. Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce empire Alibaba and a former English teacher, said in 2018: "If people like me can succeed, then 80% of [the] young people in China and around the world can do so, too." Alibaba often touts itself as a champion of small online businesses and even invited one rural seller to its bell-ringing ceremony in New York in 2014. (Eventually, the relationship between the state and moguls like Ma would become much more fraught, though the book focuses on people who use platforms like Alibaba, rather than on the country's tech titans who founded them.)
At the core of this campaign is an alluring idea the country's most powerful voices are reinforcing: Everyone has the chance to be an entrepreneur thanks to the vast new opportunities in China's digital economy. One key element to this promise, as the title of Zhang's book implies, is that to succeed, people have to constantly reinvent themselves: leave their stable jobs, learn new skills and new platforms, and take advantage of their niche networks and experiences—which might have been looked down upon in the past—and use them as assets in running a new business.
Many Chinese people of various ages and genders, and of differing educational and economic backgrounds, have heeded the call. In the book, Zhang zooms in on three types of entrepreneurs:
- Silicon Valley-style startup founders in Beijing, who have capitalized the most on the government's obsession with entrepreneurship.
- Rural e-commerce sellers on the popular shopping platform Taobao, who employ their own families and neighbors to turn local crafts into profitable businesses.
- Daigou, the often-female resellers who buy luxury fashion goods from abroad and sell them to China's middle-class consumers through gray markets on social media.
What interests me most about their stories is how, despite their differences, they all reveal the ways entrepreneurship in China falls short of its egalitarian promises.
Let's take the rural Taobao sellers as an example. Inspired by a cousin who quit his factory job and became a Taobao seller, Zhang went to live in a rural village in eastern China to observe people who came back to the countryside after working in the city and reinvented themselves as entrepreneurs selling the local traditional product—in this case, clothing or furniture woven from straw.
Zhang found that while some of the owners of e-commerce shops became well-off and famous, they only shared a small slice of the profits with the workers they hired to grow the business—often elderly women in their families or from neighboring households. And the state ignored those workers when bragging about entrepreneurship in rural China.
"For the older women, they know that inequality exists, but a lot of them are working for their kids, so they normalize it," Zhang says. "But still, there is a kind of exploitation there based on the uneven redistribution of the profits."
To be fair, the living conditions of everyone involved in such entrepreneurial experiments often improve, from the top of the chain to the bottom. But it's not the rosy egalitarian picture state actors and Big Tech like to paint. In fact, entrepreneurship seems to selectively benefit people with a certain background. In rural villages, it's the young people who have learned how to use the internet in cities; in Beijing, it's the startup founders with prestigious university educations or employment experience at state-owned firms; for luxury resellers, it's the people who already have the privilege to move across borders freely and have the fashion sense to build personal brands.
So while entrepreneurship in China can at times break down barriers between genders, classes, and other social backgrounds, it also reinforces other boundaries—like how Taobao sellers double down on the idea that internet-based innovation skills are more valuable than the gendered, manual labor of manufacturing products.
I also found another takeaway from the book fascinating: As these experiments blur the definitions of worker and entrepreneur, it's increasingly difficult to apply the traditional approaches of labor rights and organizing.
Rural Taobao sellers are simultaneously managers and laborers: they do intellectual work and physical work, and they exploit others but they also self-exploit. These individuals typically don't have a clear class consciousness, either; are the sellers middle-class professionals or working-class laborers? Even Zhang is unsure. These are just some of the reasons why labor organizing is difficult in China today.
As the platform economy in China has pulled back in the last three years, due to both the country's general economic downturn and a specific focus on taming Big Tech, the preoccupation with entrepreneurship has cooled a bit, too. "That kind of optimism about tech entrepreneurship is already normalized in a way. It's not like in the beginning, right after 2008, when you had all these people talking about co-working space, innovation, and all that," Zhang says. "Innovation… has to be subjected to all these political imperatives now. We're definitely in a new era."
The market itself is also changing constantly, making some of the entrepreneurs in the book already out of fashion. Being a rural e-commerce owner is no longer the splashy job it was 10 years ago. While the book doesn't cover the most recent dynamics, Zhang told me she's noticed new forms of entrepreneurship sprouting from the ones she studied. Some tech founders in Beijing have moved on to crypto ventures, and many e-commerce sellers and luxury resellers have embraced livestreaming to become influencers. These new jobs will surely create their own distinct social effects, for better or worse.
It can be hard to identify these consequences as we live through the reinvention cycle, but it's nevertheless important to understand them, as we're all affected. In fact, it's happening directly to us—to Zhang, to me, and probably to you.
"The line between entrepreneurship and labor can become really blurred for any of us," Zhang says. "Even for academics, we kind of have the imperative to become entrepreneurs, like to sell our books and do all that, right?"
Do you think of yourself as an entrepreneur? Tell me more about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catch up with China
1. Xiongan is a new city being built 60 miles south of Beijing; progress has been slow, but it's a grand experiment of urban tech systems and social engineering. (Foreign Policy $)
2. China may soon become the second-largest exporter of passenger cars in the world, just behind Japan. (Bloomberg $)
3. After years of lying low, TikTok is trying a new lobbying strategy: aggressively speaking up for itself. (New York Times $)
4. To stop its population from shrinking further, China will make fertility services like IVF more accessible. (New York Times $)
5. Young women, often rookie protesters galvanized by feminism, have become the new face of dissent in China. (Wall Street Journal $)
- Several women who participated in the protests against China's zero-covid policies last year were recently arrested. (New York Times $)
6. China's CDC finally released data on covid testing results and covid-related deaths, showing that the current wave of infection has peaked. (Reuters $)
7. Apple users in Hong Kong were temporarily blocked from browsing certain websites—reportedly a result of a blacklist maintained by Tencent. Neither Apple nor Tencent has explained exactly what happened. (The Intercept)
Lost in translation
In the summer of 2022, over 2,000 Chinese people came to Dali, a laid-back city in the southwest, for a Web3 "conference." The government called off the originally planned confab three days before it was scheduled to open, so participants turned it into a truly decentralized event instead—spontaneous gatherings popped up in the bars and cafes of Dali. The city became a hub for the remaining Web3 enthusiasts in China.
However, when a reporter from the Chinese publication Connecting was sent to Dali for a few weeks in September to befriend the Web3 community, he saw neither cryptography experts nor bitcoin traders, but a group of idealistic young people—hippies, geeks, artists, yoga teachers—who used the vague promises of crypto to talk about their discontent with society and meet like-minded people. To me, it sounds like the "DAOs" (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) in Dali resemble outcast student groups more than anything else. Perhaps that's why the new Dali residents gave the city a nickname, "Dalifornia," as it is full of people with romantic and often unrealistic dreams of using technology to create a better world.
One more thing
Hey, you got a call from … Chinese President Xi Jinping?
As part of its Lunar New Year promotion campaign, the Chinese state broadcaster has shared a simulated WeChat call page on social media. Clicking on the "answer" button will lead you to a video of Xi's holiday speech. I'm not sure this has had the intended effect. Er, how would you feel if this suddenly popped up on your screen?
|submitted by /u/nikesh96
Scientific Reports, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-28469-4Investigation on the site of coronal
Scientific Reports, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-28399-1Appropriate screening mammography method for patients with breast implants
Scientific Reports, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-28776-wSimultaneous determination of volatile phenol, cyanide, anionic surfactant, and ammonia nitrogen in drinking water by a continuous flow analyzer
Scientific Reports, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-29034-9Alternate day versus daily oral iron for treatment of
Scientific Reports, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-28313-9Bagarius bagarius, and Eichhornia crassipes are suitable bioindicators of heavy metal pollution, toxicity, and risk assessment
Scientific Reports, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-28627-8The graph structure of two-player games
Scientific Reports, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-27413-wCell type specific IL-27p28 (IL-30) deletion in mice uncovers an unexpected regulatory function of IL-30 in autoimmune inflammation
Scientific Reports, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-29064-3Tamarixia radiata global distribution to current and future climate using the climate change experiment (CLIMEX) model
Nature Communications, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36030-0Oxygen has long been considered as a detrimental impurity in pure titanium since it can severely deteriorate the ductility. Here, the authors propose a simple, yet effective strategy via grain refinement to solve this long-standing issue, while preserving its potential hardening effect.
Nature Communications, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36147-2Tailoring both the core size and shell thickness of core-shell bimetallic nanocatalysts to the dedicated geometrical and electronic properties are vital for catalytic performance optimization. Here the authors demonstrate such conjugated dual particle size effects on Au@Pd catalyzed benzyl alcohol oxidation.
When the Supreme Court hears a landmark case on Section 230 later in February, all eyes will be on the biggest players in tech—Meta, Google, Twitter, YouTube.
A legal provision tucked into the Communications Decency Act, Section 230 has provided the foundation for Big Tech's explosive growth, protecting social platforms from lawsuits over harmful user-generated content while giving them leeway to remove posts at their discretion (though they are still required to take down illegal content, such as child pornography, if they become aware of its existence). The case might have a range of outcomes; if Section 230 is repealed or reinterpreted, these companies may be forced to transform their approach to moderating content and to overhaul their platform architectures in the process.
But another big issue is at stake that has received much less attention: depending on the outcome of the case, individual users of sites may suddenly be liable for run-of-the-mill content moderation. Many sites rely on users for community moderation to edit, shape, remove, and promote other users' content online—think
's upvote, or changes to a Wikipedia page. What might happen if those users were forced to take on legal risk every time they made a content decision?
In short, the court could change Section 230 in ways that won't just impact big platforms; smaller sites like Reddit and Wikipedia that rely on community moderation will be hit too, warns Emma Llansó, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology's Free Expression Project. "It would be an enormous loss to online speech communities if suddenly it got really risky for mods themselves to do their work," she says.
In an amicus brief filed in January, lawyers for Reddit argued that its signature upvote/downvote feature is at risk in Gonzalez v. Google, the case that will reexamine the application of Section 230. Users "directly determine what content gets promoted or becomes less visible by using Reddit's innovative 'upvote' and 'downvote' features," the brief reads. "All of those activities are protected by Section 230, which Congress crafted to immunize Internet 'users,' not just platforms."
At the heart of Gonzalez is the question of whether the "recommendation" of content is different from the display of content; this is widely understood to have broad implications for recommendation algorithms that power platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok. But it could also have an impact on users' rights to like and promote content in forums where they act as community moderators and effectively boost some content over other content.
Reddit is questioning where user preferences fit, either directly or indirectly, into the interpretation of "recommendation." "The danger is that you and I, when we use the internet, we do a lot of things that are short of actually creating the content," says Ben Lee, Reddit's general counsel. "We're seeing other people's content, and then we're interacting with it. At what point are we ourselves, because of what we did, recommending that content?"
Reddit currently has 50 million active daily users, according to its amicus brief, and the site sorts its content according to whether users upvote or downvote posts and comments in a discussion thread. Though it does employ recommendation algorithms to help new users find discussions they might be interested in, much of its content recommendation system relies on these community-powered votes. As a result, a change to community moderation would likely drastically change how the site works.
"Can we [users] be dragged into a lawsuit, even a well-meaning lawsuit, just because we put a two-star review for a restaurant, just because like we clicked downvote or upvote on that one post, just because we decided to help volunteer for our community and start taking out posts or adding in posts?" Lee asks. "Are [these actions] enough for us to suddenly become liable for something?"
An "existential threat" to smaller platforms
Lee points to a case in Reddit's recent history. In 2019, in the subreddit r/Screenwriting, users started discussing screenwriting competitions they thought might be scams. The operator of those alleged scams went on to sue the moderator of r/Screenwriting for pinning and commenting on the posts, thus prioritizing that content. The Superior Court of California in LA County excused the moderator from the lawsuit, which Reddit says was due to Section 230 protection. Lee is concerned that a different interpretation of Section 230 could leave moderators, like the one in r/Screenwriting, significantly more vulnerable to similar lawsuits in the future.
"The reality is every Reddit user plays a role in deciding what content appears on the platform," says Lee. "In that sense, weakening 230 can unintentionally increase liability for everyday people."
Llansó agrees that Section 230 explicitly protects the users of platforms, as well as the companies that host them.
"Community moderation is often some of the most effective [online moderation] because it has people who are invested," she says. "It's often … people who have context and understand what people in their community do and don't want to see."
Wikimedia, the foundation that manages Wikipedia, is also worried that a new interpretation of Section 230 might usher in a future in which volunteer editors can be taken to court for how they deal with user-generated content. All the information on Wikipedia is generated, fact-checked, edited, and organized by volunteers, making the site particularly vulnerable to changes in liability afforded by Section 230.
"Without Section 230, Wikipedia could not exist," says Jacob Rogers, associate general counsel at the Wikimedia Foundation. He says the community of volunteers that manages content on Wikipedia "designs content moderation policies and processes that reflect the nuances of sharing free knowledge with the world. Alterations to Section 230 would jeopardize this process by centralizing content moderation further, eliminating communal voices, and reducing freedom of speech."
In its own brief to the Supreme Court, Wikimedia warned that changes to liability will leave smaller technology companies unable to compete with the bigger companies that can afford to fight a host of lawsuits. "The costs of defending suits challenging the content hosted on Wikimedia Foundation's sites would pose existential threats to the organization," lawyers for the foundation wrote.
Lee echoes this point, noting that Reddit is "committed to maintaining the integrity of our platform regardless of the legal landscape," but that Section 230 protects smaller internet companies that don't have large litigation budgets, and any changes to the law would "make it harder for platforms and users to moderate in good faith."
To be sure, not all experts think the scenarios laid out by Reddit and Wikimedia are the most likely. "This could be a bit of a mess, but [tech companies] almost always say that this is going to destroy the internet," says Hany Farid, professor of engineering and information at the University of California, Berkeley.
Farid supports increasing liability related to content moderation and argues that the harms of targeted, data-driven recommendations online justify some of the risks that come with a ruling against Google in the Gonzalez case. "It is true that Reddit has a different model for content moderation, but what they aren't telling you is that some communities are moderated by and populated by incels, white supremacists, racists, election deniers, covid deniers, etc.," he says.
(In response to Farid's statement, a Reddit spokesperson writes, "our sitewide policies strictly prohibit hateful content—including hate based on gender or race—as well as content manipulation and disinformation.")
Brandie Nonnecke, founding director at the CITRIS Policy Lab, a social media and democracy research organization at the University of California, Berkeley, emphasizes a common viewpoint among experts: that regulation to curb the harms of online content is needed but should be established legislatively, rather than through a Supreme Court decision that could result in broad unintended consequences, such as those outlined by Reddit and Wikimedia.
"We all agree that we don't want recommender systems to be spreading harmful content," Nonnecke says, "but trying to address it by changing Section 230 in this very fundamental way is like a surgeon using a chain saw instead of a scalpel."
Correction: The Wikimedia Foundation was established two years after Wikipedia was launched, not before, as originally written.
This piece has also been updated to include an additional statement from Reddit.
Nature Communications, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36180-1The currently available transgenic T cell receptor (TCR) models represent high affinity antigen-TCR interactions. Authors here present an alternative approach to target an exogenous TCR into the physiological Trac locus in the germline of mice, which uncovers that the natural genomic context for TCRs can enhance the antigen sensitivity of lower affinity TCRs and enables the physiologic range of antigen-TCR interaction and a gene dosage dependent mechanism of central tolerance.
Nature Communications, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36317-2The Zhang-Rice singlet is known for the superconductivity of high-temperature superconductors cuprate but is rarely studied for an electrochemical catalyst. Here, the authors use operando spectroscopic tools and observe Cu active site evolves into high-valent CuO4 geometry with Cu3+ active species, so-called Zhang-Rice singlet state, during oxygen evolution reaction.
A deep trawl has brought up a potentially new species of a fish whose extreme mating methods include permanent physical fusion
"I sometimes describe anglerfish as looking like a satanic potato," says James Maclaine, senior curator of fish at London's Natural History Museum, who believes a new species of the fish may have been discovered.
Many anglerfish are globular and lumpy in shape. They have a long prong sprouting from their forehead with a glowing tip that lures prey into their enormous, tooth-filled jaws. If their appearance is curious, then the method of reproduction that some species have developed – known as sexual parasitism – is even more so.Continue reading…
- Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky and a former physician, introduced an alternative bill that would do just this, dubbed the VITAL Act .
|submitted by /u/Logibenq
|submitted by /u/filosoful
Nature Communications, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36210-yMany eukaryotic and archaeal tRNAs carry a modified adenosine (t6A) that is synthesized by the KEOPS complex, which is composed of four subunits. A fifth subunit (Gon7) is found only in fungi and metazoa. Here the authors show that archaea also possess a fifth subunit, which is structurally and functionally similar to eukaryotic Gon7.
Nature Communications, Published online: 01 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36221-9Kondo systems offer a rich platform to study the interplay between strong correlations and topology. Here the authors observe a large anomalous Hall conductivity in a Kondo ferromagnet USbTe, which they attribute to the Berry curvature originating from flat bands induced by the Kondo hybridization.
Phil McGraw dispensed advice to rebellious teens, disfunctional families and troubled celebrities for 25 years
Dr. Phil, the US talkshow that saw Dr Phil McGraw divvy out life advice to individuals and which became a regular on daytime television around the world, is set to end later this year after 21 seasons.
Hosted by McGraw since 2002, the show saw him advise guests who were troubled by problems, often to do with their finances, weight, families, addictions and marriages.Continue reading…
|submitted by /u/Gari_305
|submitted by /u/TylerSpicknell
|submitted by /u/__The__Anomaly__
|submitted by /u/izumi3682
|submitted by /u/darth_nadoma
|submitted by /u/Apart_Shock
This question popped into my head while watching The Expanse series, a series that the majority of you have likely either seen or heard about. In case anyone here hasn't, it's a show set a couple hundred years in the future. Navies have moved from seafaring powers to spacefaring ones. Earth is controlled by the UN, Mars is it's own power, and the asteroid belt is inhabited by numerous factions that share a similar culture/identity.
I believe it to be obvious that we'll eventually exist within a similar reality, barring of course our self destruction, the second coming of Jesus for those who believe this, some sort of apocolypse, etc. No one can say for sure how long society will exist, but it only took us 70 years to advance from a horse and buggy to the rocket and Mars colonization may occur soon if Musk has his way of things.
This of course means that eventually seafaring vessels will become obsolete. Keeping in mind of course that all of this is speculative, what do you believe that naval powers will look like at the dawn of this reality? What systems specifically would result in this? Advanced jet engines that extend range and increase speed and effeciency? Lighter, cheaper rockets that have the range of ballistic missiles? Will military platforms have to be spacefaring? Will Earth have to be united before this reality occurs, or could nations simply duke it out on land and in space?
As a side note, the United States Air Force is currently working on their 6th generation fighter jet program, one of at least three programs that I'm aware of. The wish list the USAF has for this platfrom makes it sound less like a fighter though and more like a bloody spaceship. I can share more info if anyone is interested, but I believe that it points towards just how near to this reality we actually are.
This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.
The Atlantic staff writer David A. Graham has been thinking and writing about Memphis's policing crisis for several months now. This past weekend, he went back to survey the aftermath of released video footage of Tyre Nichols's fatal beating by police officers. David is at work on a story about where police reform goes from here, and I called him today to talk a bit about what he saw and heard over the weekend, and how Memphis's policing strategy led to tragedy.
But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.
- The myth propelling America's violent police culture
- The internet loves an extremophile.
- J. Kenji López-Alt thinks you'll be fine with an induction stove.
Isabel Fattal: You were in Memphis over the weekend. What did you hear from residents of the city?
David A. Graham: The sense I got from people in Memphis is that they are glad the city moved so quickly to fire these officers, and they're glad the district attorney moved so quickly to prosecute. But it's not enough. They want to know more about the incident. It's unclear why Tyre Nichols was pulled over. They want to see action against the other officer who tased Tyre Nichols and who has been relieved from duty but has not been fired. They want to know who else was involved. We've seen the SCORPION [Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods] unit that these officers were members of disbanded, but they want to see the broader organized-crime unit in the department disbanded. And they want this to not happen again. The city is saying the right things, but the trick is avoiding it in the future.
Isabel: You wrote last Friday that "one of the more remarkable things about the video is that it exists." To what extent is police activity surveilled in Memphis?
David: Often, when we learn about these incidents, it's because of bystander video. But in this case, as far as we know, no bystanders were involved. People didn't come out of the houses around there. I went to the scene on Saturday, and it's a quiet suburban street. But there is something called SkyCop, which is this surveillance system all over Memphis. It's really eerie: There are these twinkling blue lights 15 or so feet off the ground, and there are surveillance cameras, which I think are hard to miss, whether you're a civilian or a police officer. And these officers were wearing body cams.
We've seen cases where officers have tried to manipulate body cams. But there's no effort to hide this. In the video, there's nothing that suggests they thought they made a mistake, either morally or as a matter of police work.
Isabel: During your past reporting in Memphis, you heard from residents in places with high crime that the city is simultaneously under-policed and over-policed. Can you talk a bit about that?
David: When you've got a spike in violent crime—as you did in Memphis, and in a lot of other American cities in 2020—one of the solutions that a lot of departments turn to is hot-spot policing, where you put a lot of officers in an area where there's crime. We know from experience in a lot of cities that hot-spot policing can drive down crime, but the question is how it does that.
One way you can do it is by sweeping a lot of people up—just arresting a lot of people, stopping people on pretext, and seeing what you can get them on. That may stop crime, but it also creates animosity between residents and the police department. It seeks out people for things that have nothing to do with public safety, and because of where a lot of this hot-spot policing is done, it leads to a lot of Black men being arrested.
So in Memphis, this SCORPION unit was created in 2021 to deal with violent crime and the sorts of public-safety issues that residents are complaining about. And what you see them doing instead, in this case, is terrorizing and killing a citizen who at the worst was driving unsafely, from what we know. So I think it's a clear example of under-policing and over-policing. They're not doing anything to stop violent crime, but they are abusing citizens.
Isabel: You wrote last week, "The problem with a troubled department like Memphis's adopting a tool like hot-spot policing is that culture tends to triumph over tactics." Why was hot-spot policing a mistake for Memphis?
David: If you have a police department that has a history of excessive force, like Memphis's does, and you institute a new tactic like hot-spot policing but you don't do anything to change the underlying culture of the department, then you're going to get abuses in hot-spot policing.
In the aftermath of Nichols's death, the mayor of Memphis said that an outside review will help determine whether this is a matter of training or a matter of culture. You can't watch a video like that and think, Well, if only they had been trained better. No police officer is trained to savagely beat someone like that. It's not that they needed to be told that. It's that there's a problem with the culture.
Isabel: How do you think Nichols's death might affect the national conversation about police reform?
David: Each of these situations does have its own unique factors and local context. But the national horror that we have seen reflects not only just how visceral this video is but also the fact that we are familiar with this.
It's always hard for me to know when one of these stories will become a national story. I think this one did partly because the video is so visceral, but also because people are primed for this. They've seen so many of these cases. And I think every time we have one of them, it's a reminder that there was a moment after George Floyd's death when people were unified on this and there were some changes, but there's still a lot of work to do to make sure that people are experiencing just policing around the country.
- The seven states that comprise the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin failed to reach an agreement on water-conservation plans for the second time in six months.
- Representative George Santos of New York told House Republicans that he will temporarily step down from his congressional-committee positions amid ongoing scrutiny of his campaign finances and biographical fabrications.
- President Joe Biden announced his plan to end COVID-19 national-emergency and public-health-emergency declarations on May 11.
Work in Progress: For the first time in half a century, the rich are buying more free time, Derek Thompson writes.
Explore all of our newsletters here.
The Existential Wonder of Space
By Marina Koren
Of all the moons in the solar system, Saturn's largest satellite might be the most extraordinary. Titan is enveloped in a thick, hazy atmosphere, and liquid methane rains gently from its sky, tugged downward by a fraction of the gravity we feel on Earth. The methane forms rivers, lakes, and small seas on Titan's surface. Beneath the frigid ground, composed of ice as hard as rock, is even more liquid, a whole ocean of plain old H2O.
The wildest part about Titan—the best part, perhaps—is that something could be living there. NASA is currently working on a mission, called Dragonfly, that would travel to the faraway moon and search for potential signs of alien life, past and present. A helicopter will fly around and study the local chemistry, checking whether conditions may be right for microbes to arise. Hypothetical Titanian life-forms could resemble the earthly varieties we're familiar with or be something else entirely, feeding on methane compounds the way we rely on oxygen.
More From The Atlantic
- Angry football fans keep punching their TVs.
- Airplane toilets could catch the next COVID variant.
- Never underestimate Jennifer Coolidge.
Read. Victory City, the latest novel from Salman Rushdie—and "a triumph," according to the writer Judith Shulevitz.
Listen. Gloria, the radically inoffensive new album by the pop singer Sam Smith.
For a more detailed analysis of the Memphis Police Department's troubled history, David recommends this recent New York Times opinion essay by the Memphis-based journalist Emily Yellin. "One reason I wanted to focus on Memphis when I started writing about it was that it's really similar to a lot of cities but also has its own distinctive characteristics," David told me. Yellin's article helps situate this recent tragedy within the city's particular history.
Kelli María Korducki contributed to this newsletter.
Mammal species that live in groups seems to live longer than those that lead solitary lives
Mammal species that live in groups seems to live longer than those that lead solitary lives
Mammal species that live in groups seems to live longer than those that lead solitary lives
These days, strolling through downtown New York City, where I live, is like picking your way through the aftermath of a party. In many ways, it is exactly that: The limp string lights, trash-strewn puddles, and splintering plywood are all relics of the raucous celebration known as outdoor dining.
These wooden "streeteries" and the makeshift tables lining sidewalks first popped up during the depths of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, when restaurants needed to get diners back in their seats. It was novel, creative, spontaneous—and fun during a time when there wasn't much fun to be had. For a while, outdoor dining really seemed as though it could outlast the pandemic. Just last October, New York Magazine wrote that it would stick around, "probably permanently."
But now someone has switched on the lights and cut the music. Across the country, something about outdoor dining has changed in recent months. With fears about COVID subsiding, people are losing their appetite for eating among the elements. This winter, many streeteries are empty, save for the few COVID-cautious holdouts willing to put up with the cold. Hannah Cutting-Jones, the director of food studies at the University of Oregon, told me that, in Eugene, where she lives, outdoor dining is "absolutely not happening" right now. In recent weeks, cities such as New York and Philadelphia have started tearing down unused streeteries. Outdoor dining's sheen of novelty has faded; what once evoked the grands boulevards of Paris has turned out to be a janky table next to a parked car. Even a pandemic, it turns out, couldn't overcome the reasons Americans never liked eating outdoors in the first place.
For a while, the allure of outdoor dining was clear. COVID safety aside, it kept struggling restaurants afloat, boosted some low-income communities, and cultivated joie de vivre in bleak times. At one point, more than 12,700 New York restaurants had taken to the streets, and the city—along with others, including Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia—proposed making dining sheds permanent. But so far, few cities have actually adopted any official rules. At this point, whether they ever will is unclear. Without official sanctions, mounting pressure from outdoor-dining opponents will likely lead to the destruction of existing sheds; already, people keep tweeting disapproving photos at sanitation departments. Part of the issue is that as most Americans' COVID concerns retreat, the potential downsides have gotten harder to overlook: less parking, more trash, tacky aesthetics, and, oh God, the rats. Many top New York restaurants have voluntarily gotten rid of their sheds this winter.
The economics of outdoor dining may no longer make sense for restaurants, either. Although it was lauded as a boon to struggling restaurants during the height of the pandemic, the practice may make less sense now that indoor dining is back. For one thing, dining sheds tend to take up parking spaces needed to attract customers, Cutting-Jones said. The fact that most restaurants are chains doesn't help: "If whatever conglomerate owns Longhorn Steakhouse doesn't want to invest in outdoor dining, it will not become the norm," Rebecca Spang, a food historian at Indiana University Bloomington, told me. Besides, she added, many restaurants are already short-staffed, even without the extra seats.
In a sense, outdoor dining was doomed to fail. It always ran counter to the physical makeup of most of the country, as anyone who ate outside during the pandemic inevitably noticed. The most obvious constraint is the weather, which is sometimes pleasant but is more often not. "Who wants to eat on the sidewalk in Phoenix in July?" Spang said.
The other is the uncomfortable proximity to vehicles. Dining sheds spilled into the streets like patrons after too many drinks. The problem was that U.S. roads were built for cars, not people. This tends not to be true in places renowned for outdoor dining, such as Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, which urbanized before cars, Megan Elias, a historian and the director of the gastronomy program at Boston University, told me. At best, this means that outdoor meals in America are typically enjoyed with a side of traffic. At worst, they end in dangerous collisions.
Cars and bad weather were easier to put up with when eating indoors seemed like a more serious health hazard than breathing in fumes and trembling with cold. It had a certain romance—camaraderie born of discomfort. You have to admit, there was a time when cozying up under a heat lamp with a hot drink was downright charming. But now outdoor dining has gone back to what it always was: something that most Americans would like to avoid in all but the most ideal of conditions. This sort of relapse could lead to fewer opportunities to eat outdoors even when the weather does cooperate.
But outdoor dining is also affected by more existential issues that have surmounted nearly three years of COVID life. Eating at restaurants is expensive, and Americans like to get their money's worth. When safety isn't a concern, shelling out for a streetside meal may simply not seem worthwhile for most diners. "There's got to be a point to being outdoors, either because the climate is so beautiful or there's a view," Paul Freedman, a Yale history professor specializing in cuisine, told me. For some diners, outdoor seating may feel too casual: Historically, Americans associated eating at restaurants with special occasions, like celebrating a milestone at Delmonico's, the legendary fine-dining establishment that opened in the 1800s, Cutting-Jones said.
Eating outdoors, in contrast, was linked to more casual experiences, like having a hot dog at Coney Island. "We have high expectations for what dining out should be like," she said, noting that American diners are especially fussy about comfort. Even the most opulent COVID cabin may be unable to override these associations. "If the restaurant is going to be fancy and charge $200 a person," said Freedman, most people can't escape the feeling of having spent that much for "a picnic on the street."
Outdoor dining isn't disappearing entirely. In the coming years there's a good chance that more Americans will have the opportunity to eat outside in the nicer months than they did before the pandemic—even if it's not the widespread practice many anticipated earlier in the pandemic. Where it continues, it will almost certainly be different: more buttoned-up, less lawless—probably less exciting. Santa Barbara, for example, made dining sheds permanent last year but specified that they must be painted an approved "iron color." It may also be less popular among restaurant owners: If outdoor-dining regulations are too far-reaching or costly, cautioned Hayrettin Günç, an architect with Global Designing Cities Initiative, that will "create barriers for businesses."
For now, outdoor dining is yet another COVID-related convention that hasn't quite stuck—like avoiding handshakes and universal remote work. As the pandemic subsides, the tendency is to default to the ways things used to be. Doing so is easier, certainly, than coming up with policies to accommodate new habits. In the case of outdoor dining, it's most comfortable, too. If this continues to be the case, then outdoor dining in the U.S. may return to what it was before the pandemic: dining "al fresco" along the streetlamp-lined terraces of the Venetian Las Vegas, and beneath the verdant canopy of the Rainforest Cafe.
Language is commonly understood to be the "stuff" of thought. People "talk it out" and "speak their mind," follow "trains of thought" or "streams of consciousness." Some of the pinnacles of human creation—music, geometry, computer programming—are framed as metaphorical languages. The underlying assumption is that the brain processes the world and our experience of it through a progression of words. And this supposed link between language and thinking is a large part of what makes ChatGPT and similar programs so uncanny: The ability of AI to answer any prompt with human-sounding language can suggest that the machine has some sort of intent, even sentience.
But then the program says something completely absurd—that there are 12 letters in nineteen or that sailfish are mammals—and the veil drops. Although ChatGPT can generate fluent and sometimes elegant prose, easily passing the Turing-test benchmark that has haunted the field of AI for more than 70 years, it can also seem incredibly dumb, even dangerous. It gets math wrong, fails to give the most basic cooking instructions, and displays shocking biases. In a new paper, cognitive scientists and linguists address this dissonance by separating communication via language from the act of thinking: Capacity for one does not imply the other. At a moment when pundits are fixated on the potential for generative AI to disrupt every aspect of how we live and work, their argument should force a reevaluation of the limits and complexities of artificial and human intelligence alike.
The researchers explain that words may not work very well as a synecdoche for thought. People, after all, identify themselves on a continuum of visual to verbal thinking; the experience of not being able to put an idea into words is perhaps as human as language itself. Contemporary research on the human brain, too, suggests that "there is a separation between language and thought," says Anna Ivanova, a cognitive neuroscientist at MIT and one of the study's two lead authors. Brain scans of people using dozens of languages have revealed a particular network of neurons that fires independent of the language being used (including invented tongues such as Na'vi and Dothraki).
That network of neurons is not generally involved in thinking activities including math, music, and coding. In addition, many patients with aphasia—a loss of the ability to comprehend or produce language, as a result of brain damage—remain skilled at arithmetic and other nonlinguistic mental tasks. Combined, these two bodies of evidence suggest that language alone is not the medium of thought; it is more like a messenger. The use of grammar and a lexicon to communicate functions that involve other parts of the brain, such as socializing and logic, is what makes human language special.
[Read: Hollywood's love affair with fictional languages]
ChatGPT and software like it demonstrate an incredible ability to string words together, but they struggle with other tasks. Ask for a letter explaining to a child that Santa Claus is fake, and it produces a moving message signed by Saint Nick himself. These large language models, also called LLMs, work by predicting the next word in a sentence based on everything before it (popular belief follows contrary to, for example). But ask ChatGPT to do basic arithmetic and spelling or give advice for frying an egg, and you may receive grammatically superb nonsense: "If you use too much force when flipping the egg, the eggshell can crack and break."
These shortcomings point to a distinction, not dissimilar to one that exists in the human brain, between piecing together words and piecing together ideas—what the authors term formal and functional linguistic competence, respectively. "Language models are really good at producing fluent, grammatical language," says the University of Texas at Austin linguist Kyle Mahowald, the paper's other lead author. "But that doesn't necessarily mean something which can produce grammatical language is able to do math or logical reasoning, or think, or navigate social contexts."
If the human brain's language network is not responsible for math, music, or programming—that is, for thinking—then there's no reason an artificial "neural network" trained on terabytes of text would be good at those things either. "In line with evidence from cognitive neuroscience," the authors write, "LLMs' behavior highlights the difference between being good at language and being good at thought." ChatGPT's ability to get mediocre scores on some business- and law-school exams, then, is more a mirage than a sign of understanding.
Still, hype swirls around the next iteration of language models, which will train on far more words and with far more computing power. OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, claims that its programs are approaching a so-called general intelligence that would put the machines on par with humankind. But if the comparison to the human brain holds, then simply making models better at word prediction won't bring them much closer to this goal. In other words, you can dismiss the notion that AI programs such as ChatGPT have a soul or resemble an alien invasion.
Ivanova and Mahowald believe that different training methods are required to spur further advances in AI—for instance, approaches specific to logical or social reasoning rather than word prediction. ChatGPT may have already taken a step in that direction, not just reading massive amounts of text but also incorporating human feedback: Supervisors were able to comment on what constituted good or bad responses. But with few details about ChatGPT's training available, it's unclear just what that human input targeted; the program apparently thinks 1,000 is both greater and less than 1,062. (OpenAI released an update to ChatGPT yesterday that supposedly improves its "mathematical capabilities," but it's still reportedly struggling with basic word problems.)
[Read: What happens when AI has read everything?]
There are, it should be noted, people who believe that large language models are not as good at language as Ivanova and Mahowald write—that they are basically glorified auto-completes whose flaws scale with their power. "Language is more than just syntax," says Gary Marcus, a cognitive scientist and prominent AI researcher. "In particular, it's also about semantics." It's not just that AI chatbots don't understand math or how to fry eggs—they also, he says, struggle to comprehend how a sentence derives meaning from the structure of its parts.
For instance, imagine three plastic balls in a row: green, blue, blue. Someone asks you to grab "the second blue ball": You understand that they're referring to the last ball in the sequence, but a chatbot might understand the instruction as referring to the second ball, which also happens to be blue. "That a large language model is good at language is overstated," Marcus says. But to Ivanova, something like the blue-ball example requires not just compiling words but also conjuring a scene, and as such "is not really about language proper; it's about language use."
And no matter how compelling their language use is, there's still a healthy debate over just how much programs such as ChatGPT actually "understand" about the world by simply being fed data from books and Wikipedia entries. "Meaning is not given," says Roxana Girju, a computational linguist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Meaning is negotiated in our interactions, discussions, not only with other people but also with the world. It's something that we reach at in the process of engaging through language." If that's right, building a truly intelligent machine would require a different way of combining language and thought—not just layering different algorithms but designing a program that might, for instance, learn language and how to navigate social relationships at the same time.
Ivanova and Mahowald are not outright rejecting the view that language epitomizes human intelligence; they're complicating it. Humans are "good" at language precisely because we combine thought with its expression. A computer that both masters the rules of language and can put them to use will necessarily be intelligent—the flip side being that narrowly mimicking human utterances is precisely what is holding machines back. But before we can use our organic brains to better understand silicon ones, we will need both new ideas and new words to understand the significance of language itself.
Under the leadership of its new CEO Elon Musk,
has settled on keeping its paid "Verified" program via a Twitter Blue subscription, despite plenty of heavy scrutiny ever since Musk took over in November.
While the platform now includes different colored checkmarks for businesses and governments, the blue checkmark — which once indicated that a user's identity had been authenticated — remains a free-for-all, and is now being taken advantage of by nefarious parties armed with AI technologies.
As spotted by Twitter user conspirator0, a swath of "verified" Twitter accounts are sporting AI-generated faces as their profile pictures while pretending to be real people.
And many of them, according to conspirator0's findings, "push specific political agendas," both left and right-leaning — though mostly the latter.
One account under the now suspended handle of cortez_santiage described themselves as a "nationalist," a "paleo-conservative," "anti-liberal," and "anti-cringe." Another found by conspirator0, formerly under the username of Kenoisseur, campaigned to share so-called evidence of "the genocide of whites in America."
Others can be more innocuous, like claiming to be a Harvard grad epidemiologist.
It's unclear how many of these are straight-up bots or anonymous, perfidious humans trying to maintain a more credible face — but our best guess is that it's a mix of both.
"Allowing accounts with fake faces to be 'verified' without even requiring the operators to disclose that the 'face' is artificially generated is a blatantly pro-deception stance," conspirator0 wrote in a tweet.
Many of the accounts, which date back to November — right after Musk's takeover — were eventually suspended. But conspirator0 has since dug up more verified accounts with AI faces that were neither suspended nor deprived of their "verified" status — only using a quick and simple Twitter search of inputting "filter:blue_verified" and tacking on common English words.
Then, to root out the suspect accounts, conspirator0 looked for the telltale signs of faces synthesized using a generative adversarial network (GAN), which they note is used in popular tools like This Person Does Not Exist.
The most prominent and distinguishing feature of unmodified GAN-generated faces is the unmoving placement of the eyes. If you overlay multiple GAN-generated faces, it becomes clear that the portraits weren't naturally taken and cropped. In other words, the eyes almost never deviate.
Other indicators include wonky glasses, nonsensical clothing, and distorted secondary faces in the frame. At least one study has identified inconsistent specular highlights in the corneas of the eyes as an ultimate giveaway.
But in all likelihood, this is simply the tip of the iceberg. These giveaways only apply to unmodified GAN-generated faces. If someone went to the effort of manually fine-tuning them, even just by a touch, they could be even harder to detect.
It's an especially worrying trend since "Legacy" verified accounts — accounts that were verified under the old program that required users to corroborate their identities — still maintain the same blue checkmark.
That runs the risk of having those who are only taking a cursory look at these profiles mistaking them for real people, whether they paid for Twitter Blue or were legacy verified.
Conspirator0 also cites a study published last year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found AI face generators "have passed through the uncanny valley and are capable of creating faces that are indistinguishable — and more trustworthy — than real faces."
Anecdotally, of course, you can find many botched likenesses that indicate the contrary, but the most convincing of them will likely go largely unnoticed, and the mere fact that these AI faces look more like professional headshots than terrible selfies also lends them an undue sense of credibility.
In short, what we're witnessing is a confluence of AI's emerging, widespread popularity, its propensity to be abused to spread misinformation, and Musk's decision to let just about anyone brandish a status-signaling badge.
Yet, admittedly, the badges are arguably the least worrying aspect of this developing trend. Once (or if) widely accessible AIs are competent enough, they won't need trivial, digital badges to feign credibility — or maintain a facade of humanity.
More on AI: Shameless Realtors Are Already Grinding Out Property Listings With ChatGPT
The post Twitter Is "Verifying" Accounts With AI-Generated Faces appeared first on Futurism.
A Chinese vlogger who thought it was a great idea to purchase, grill, and eat a whole great white shark, has been fined by her country for doing so, CBS News reports — testament to the fact that people are willing to go to extreme lengths for fame on the internet.
According to a statement from local authorities in Nanchong, a city in Sichuan province, the influencer, who goes by the handle Tizi, has been fined the equivalent of roughly $18,500 after she posted a video about her shark-eating journey to China's Douyin video microblogging platform last year.
The Nanchong Market Supervision Bureau claimed in its statement that the girl, whose real name is Jin, purchased the endangered animal from the Alibaba-owned e-commerce marketplace Taobao for the equivalent of $1,100 in April 2022.
She subsequently posted videos of herself cooking and eating the animal in July of that year.
"Don't be fooled by its scary appearance," Tizi says in a translation of the infamous video, "its meat is very tender."
Following an investigation that involved testing tissue samples for DNA, authorities said they found that the animal in question had indeed been a great white shark, a species that is protected under China's Wild Animal Protection Law.
Along with fining Jin, authorities also arrested two men they accused of having sold the endangered shark to Jin.
As serious as this case is, it's far from the first time users have caught flak over animals displayed on Douyin's sister site TikTok.
Last year, a TikToker based in the UK jokingly claimed he was building a "frog army" when he found 1.4 million frog eggs in a pond near his house — and quickly was shot down by experts who warned of dangers to the local ecosystem.
The "frog army" stunt was topped by an American user who said he released 100 million ladybugs in New York City's Central Park and subsequently alleged that he'd fled the country after being served a lawsuit about it.
Needless to say, all of these situations are not only gross, but they also serve as an unfortunate reminder of how stupid and cruel people can be.
More on animals: Huge Aquarium Bursts, Spills Tropical Fish And Injures Bystanders
The post Influencer Fined for Eating Endangered Great White Shark appeared first on Futurism.
Researchers identify 31 genes associated with social organisation and longevity
Mammals that live in groups generally have longer lifespans than solitary species, new research into nearly 1,000 different animals suggests.
Scientists from China and Australia compared 974 mammal species, analysing longevity and how they tended to be socially organised.Continue reading…
The silver capsule the size of a pea had been lost in transit last month on the Great Northern Highway in Western Australia. "We have essentially found the needle in the haystack," one official said.
(Image credit: AP)
By now, you might've heard about stalwart tech publisher CNET and its parent company Red Ventures, which surreptitiously published AI-written articles for months without telling readers — before they were caught. After we reported that the bot's work was found to be full of errors and plagiarism, Red Ventures announced a pause on the bot-written explainers at CNET as well as its sister sites Bankrate and CreditCards.com (at least until the negative press died down).
Yet now, barely a week later, it looks like CNET's parent company is up to its old tricks. And once again, the bot's work was so flawed that the company pulled it down after we reached out with questions.
Since the pause, the AI writer's byline at CNET and CreditCards.com has remained dormant. But Bankrate never quite stopped after the January 20 suspension, with two more AI-generated articles trickling out in the days following the announcement. And today, Bankrate published yet another AI-generated article.
When we saw it, we were intrigued: Surely, if the pause was already over, Bankrate editors would have scrutinized the story to an extraordinary degree to make sure it was free of mistakes, after the near-universal condemnation of the bot's previous error-plagued work.
As it turns out, nope. This new one had an idiotic mistake in the very second sentence (emphasis ours):
There are many different types of mortgages to suit a variety of budgets and financial situations. Among the options is a 5/1 ARM, which is a 30-year mortgage with a fixed rate for five years followed by periodic rate adjustments.
Wrong. While a 5/1 ARM (adjustable rate mortgage) is a real thing — more on that in a moment — they're offered at a variety of term lengths ranging much lower than 30 years.
The bigger issue, though, is that the AI-generated article offered this staggeringly irresponsible "pro" of the loans:
The obvious benefit of a 5/1 ARM is more affordable monthly payments compared with a 30-year fixed mortgage. Interest rates for ARMs in can be a full percentage point lower than comparable 30-year fixed loans.
Beyond the word salad — "ARMs in can be" — this is a textbook example of how cutting-edge AI frequently functions as a "bullshit generator," in the words of Princeton computer science professor Arvind Narayanan.
Typos aside, what's crucially at stake here is what the article doesn't say about this type of mortgage. The "5/1" means, essentially, that borrowers get a temptingly low interest rate for the first five years, which is then adjusted — usually jacked up — every year after that. In other words, the issuer gives you a good deal for a little while, and then an increasingly bad deal for a very long time — 25 years, in fact, in the fertile imagination of the company's witless AI system.
After we asked Red Ventures some questions about the AI-written article, it quickly disappeared from the bot's profile, along with the other two that Bankrate had published since the pause. It didn't respond to any of our questions.
If this sounds to you like a thinly-veiled attempt to imprison low-information prospective homeowners in crushing debt, you're not alone. Duke University's interdisciplinary American Predatory Lending and the Global Financial Crisis team found that ARMs were "one of many contributing factors to the housing bubble that set the stage for the 2008 financial crisis."
"They didn't understand how the documents worked, they didn't understand how the loans worked," North Carolina Justice Center director Al Ripley told a Duke researcher of homeowners who took on ARMs, "and they were losing their homes because of it."
The point of Bankrate's article, if it had been written in the service of a financially curious reader, would be to express that these types of mortgages are a good deal for five years, and very likely a terrible deal after that. Did it? Absolutely not. Instead, it makes these terrible loans sound like a great idea.
If anything, this next "pro" listed by the AI is even worse:
More house: The lower payment allows you to take on a bigger mortgage and get a larger or better-located house.
"More house," it says. And while trivially true, it's horrible financial advice for… almost everyone. Yes, this type of predatory loan could allow borrowers to lock down a lower payment for a few years, but they'll end up paying vastly more over the total lifetime of the loan — a point never explicitly addressed anywhere in the article, though it does point readers to affiliate links where they can get mortgages of their own — sending Red Ventures a healthy financial kickback, of course.
Are you a Bankrate employee? If you know anything about this AI, feel free to email us at email@example.com. We can keep you anonymous.
Believe it or not, this mess actually gets worse. The issue isn't just that the company is just letting its dumb-as-rocks AI publish new articles; it's also using similar similar tech to rewrite existing articles, with the aim of fooling search engines into flagging the material as recently updated, a signal that can prompt a company like Google to treat it favorably in its search results.
But the articles didn't disappear entirely, which appears to be a perfect illustration of how Red Ventures' sites are using AI tech to juke Google's search algorithm.
"They use AI to rewrite the intros every two weeks or so because Google likes updated content," a former CNET employee told us in a previous story. "Eventually it gets so mangled that about every four months a real editor has to look at it and rewrite it."
That practice appears to be on full display in today's article. That's because Bankrate didn't fully delete it, instead opting to roll it back to a previous version, also bylined by the AI. In other words, it seems like Bankrate is basically using the AI like a blender to substantially reword sentences for artificial search engine clout.
In fact, using the AI as an automated rewriting machine appears to be exactly what caused today's mistake. Here's what the article said prior to today's changes:
A 5/1 ARM is a common type of 30-year adjustable-rate mortgage; this is a loan that adjusts its rate periodically.
This isn't the most artful description imaginable, but it actually was correct before the AI butchered it — a 5/1 ARM is indeed a subset of available types of 30-year adjustable-rate mortgages. But the AI scrambled it so heavily that it actually inserted an error, as we explained above, by heavily rewriting the syntax in today's version:
There are many different types of mortgages to suit a variety of budgets and financial situations. Among the options is a 5/1 ARM, which is a 30-year mortgage with a fixed rate for five years followed by periodic rate adjustments.
Even more interestingly, the first backed-up version of the article available on the Internet Archive shows that originally, it had a human byline. Oddly, the AI doesn't appear to have made a single change to the article before adding its byline sometime in 2022. The Bankrate journalist whose name was originally on the article didn't reply to a request for comment.
If you think about it, what's on display here is fairly astonishing even by the abysmal standards that Red Ventures' use of AI has set so far.
It's not just that the AI is publishing error-ridden and plagiaristic search engine bait aimed at pushing low-information readers toward credit cards and loans. It's that the AI also appears to be chewing through previously published content, stealing human bylines, and slowly zombifying their work into decaying misinformation machines.
Is that the future anyone wants for journalism? Most likely not — but it is the one that Red Ventures has pledged to restart, as soon as the public stops paying attention.
More on AI: Startup Shocked When 4Chan Immediately Abuses Its Voice-Cloning AI
The post CNET Sister Site Restarts AI Articles, Immediately Publishes Idiotic Error appeared first on Futurism.
SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, is deploying machine-learning algorithms that filter out Earthly interference and spot signals humans might miss
The de-extinction company known for its plans to resurrect the mammoth and Tasmanian tiger announces it will also bring back the dodo