An essential contribution to the discussion of free speech and its online enemies.

SPEECH POLICE

THE GLOBAL STRUGGLE TO GOVERN THE INTERNET

Policing the internet is necessary, but which entity shall we entrust with doing that work?

Governments fear a decentralized internet, but individuals should be alarmed about the centralization that has been firming up, “dominated by the corporate imperatives of advertising and data mining.” So writes Kaye (Law/Univ. of California, Irvine), the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, in this lucid exploration of the internet, which has become the domain of media and commercial monopolies instead of the earlier one in which numerous individual bloggers and publications were influential. Owned by Google, YouTube, for instance, has no incentive to clean up posts that fuel discord and hatred. Nor does Facebook: “There is no denying that they make a lot of money from a model that serves up video after video, or post after post, that takes one further and further away from verifiable information and toward the clickbait world of disinformation that intends to meaningfully deceive an audience." Instead, it is in the corporate interest to hide behind claims of free speech that until recently sheltered the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones. Entities such as the European Union and the U.N. are now pressing companies to police such speech under penalty of heavy fines, with legitimate information at risk of being cast away along with hate speech. Kaye proposes the application of human rights law to address some of these concerns, and he advocates better transparency and accountability as well as civilian oversight and democratic governance, since “whoever is in charge will have massive power over the future of civic space and freedom of expression worldwide.” Usefully, the author draws on examples from around the world, especially places where access to information is a literal matter of life and death, such as Syria and Myanmar. While corporate dominance is an undeniable threat to free speech for its own sake, he also observes, provocatively, that “fighting disinformation begins with governments telling the truth.”

An essential contribution to the discussion of free speech and its online enemies.

Pub Date: June 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9997454-8-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Columbia Global Reports

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2019

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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