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



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...


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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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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