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Sunday, December 10, 2023

"From the River to the Sea" and Political Ignorance

 A number of posts have discussed antisemitism and the Israel-Hamas war.

Ron E. Hassner at WSJ:
When college students who sympathize with Palestinians chant “From the river to the sea,” do they know what they’re talking about? I hired a survey firm to poll 250 students from a variety of backgrounds across the U.S. Most said they supported the chant, some enthusiastically so (32.8%) and others to a lesser extent (53.2%).

But only 47% of the students who embrace the slogan were able to name the river and the sea. Some of the alternative answers were the Nile and the Euphrates, the Caribbean, the Dead Sea (which is a lake) and the Atlantic. Less than a quarter of these students knew who Yasser Arafat was (12 of them, or more than 10%, thought he was the first prime minister of Israel). Asked in what decade Israelis and Palestinians had signed the Oslo Accords, more than a quarter of the chant’s supporters claimed that no such peace agreements had ever been signed. There’s no shame in being ignorant, unless one is screaming for the extermination of millions.


In all, after learning a handful of basic facts about the Middle East, 67.8% of students went from supporting “from the river to sea” to rejecting the mantra. These students had never seen a map of the Mideast and knew little about the region’s geography, history or demography. Those who hope to encourage extremism depend on the political ignorance of their audiences. It is time for good teachers to join the fray and combat bias with education.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Holocaust Denial

 Nick Robertson at The Hill

A fifth of Americans ages 18-29 believe the Holocaust was a myth, according to a new poll from The Economist/YouGov. While the question only surveyed a small sample of about 200 people, it lends credence to concerns about rising antisemitism, especially among young people in the U.S. Another 30 percent of young people said they didn’t agree or disagree with the statement, while the remaining 47 percent disagreed. Only 7 percent of Americans overall believe the Holocaust is a myth, according to the poll.

 Congress and the White House have placed special attention on fighting antisemitism in recent weeks as the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza continues to divide public opinion. Leaders of top universities were grilled by a House committee this week on the topic, drawing criticism for vague answers on what comments constituted antisemitic harassment. About a third of Americans described antisemitism as a “very serious problem” in the poll, with just more than a quarter of young people saying the same. 

On Friday, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), introduced a bill to reauthorize the Never Again Education Act, providing federal funding for Holocaust education. “Failing to educate students about the gravity and scope of the Holocaust is a disservice to the memory of its victims and to our duty to prevent such atrocities in the future,” Rosen said in a statement. “At a time of rising antisemitism, reauthorizing the bipartisan Never Again Education Act will help ensure that educators have the resources needed to teach students about the Holocaust and help counter antisemitic bigotry and hate.”

From a 2018 survey by the Claims Conference

  • Nearly one-third of all Americans (31 percent) and more than 4-in-10 Millennials (41 percent) believe that substantially less than 6 million Jews were killed (two million or fewer) during the Holocaust
  • While there were over 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust, almost half of Americans (45 percent) cannot name a single one – and this percentage is even higher amongst Millennials

 The survey asked an open-ended question: "From what you know or have heard, what was Auschwitz? 

......................................................All adults ..................Under 35

Concentration camp ........................40% ............................22% 

Death/extermination camp ..............23% ............................11% 

Forced labor camp ............................1% ...............................2% 

Other ................................................21% ............................31% 

Not sure ...........................................20% .............................35%

Friday, December 8, 2023

Meta Influence at KSG

Many posts have discussed the political uses of philanthropy

 Joseph Menn at WP:

A prominent disinformation scholar has accused Harvard University of dismissing her to curry favor with Facebook and its current and former executives in violation of her right to free speech.

Joan Donovan claimed in a filing with the Education Department and the Massachusetts attorney general that her superiors soured on her as Harvard was getting a record $500 million pledge from Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg’s charitable arm.


As the main attraction at a Zoom meeting for top Kennedy School donors on Oct. 29 that year, Donovan said the papers showed that Meta knew the harms it was causing. Former top Facebook communications executive Elliot Schrage asked repeated questions during the meeting and said she badly misunderstood the papers, Donovan wrote in a sworn declaration included in the filing.

Ten days after the donors meeting, Kennedy School dean Doug Elmendorf, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, emailed Donovan with pointed questions about her research goals and methods, launching an increase in oversight that restricted her activities and led to her dismissal before the end of her contract, according to the declaration. Donovan wrote that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s $500 million gift for a new artificial intelligence institute at the university, announced Dec. 7 that year, had been in the works before the donor meeting.

The Donovan case comes at a time when researchers who focus on social media platforms find themselves under increasing attack. Trump adviser Stephen Miller’s legal foundation has sued academic and independent researchers, claiming that they conspired with government agencies to suppress speech, and Republican-led congressional committees have subpoenaed their records, adding to the pressure.

In addition, Big Tech companies themselves have sponsored research, made grants to some colleges and universities, and doled out data to professors who agree to specific avenues of inquiry.

Thursday, December 7, 2023


Registering as an independent or "no party preference" does not necessarily reveal much about voter preferences.  Philip Reese reports at the Sac Bee that a surge in NPP registration was largely an artifact of the process:

In the mid-2010s, California passed a “motor voter” law that automatically registered people getting a driver’s license or ID at the DMV, as well as those changing their address — unless they opted out of registration.
Voter registration boomed, rising by nearly 5 million, or 28%, from January 2016 to October 2023.
At first, a huge proportion of the new voters registered as “no party preference.”
When [Paul] Mitchell explored why, he noticed that the DMVs registration form asked residents if they wanted to pick a political party. If they answered “yes,” it would take them to another page where they would choose their party.
“You had to actively say, ‘I want a party,’” he said.
The problem, Mitchell and others said, is that many people don’t like standing in front of a computer at the DMV. To get away quickly, many chose “no.”
“The default dumped them into this big pit of no party preference voters,” said Wesley Hussey, professor of political science at Sacramento State.
The DMV changed the process in 2019, Mitchell said. Instead of asking voters if they wanted to pick a party and then asking them to pick a particular party on a new screen, the DMV created a dropdown menu that immediately allowed voters to choose a party. “Republican” and “Democrat” were on the dropdown list, along with third parties. Voters also have a nearby option for “no party preference.”
The effects were immediate.
In December 2018, before the change went into effect, about 53% of voters who registered at the DMV signed up as Democrats or Republicans, according to registration data collected by Mitchell. Three months later, after the change went into effect, that figure jumped to 74%. The shift has mostly held. During the first ten months of 2023, about 70% of voters registered as either Democrats or Republicans. A DMV spokesman said that the agency “streamlined the political party selection process” in 2019 based on feedback from the Secretary of State.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

AI Fellows on the Hill

Brendan Bordelon at Politico:
Top tech companies with major stakes in artificial intelligence are channeling money through a venerable science nonprofit to help fund fellows working on AI policy in key Senate offices, adding to the roster of government staffers across Washington whose salaries are being paid by tech billionaires and others with direct interests in AI regulation.

The new “rapid response cohort” of congressional AI fellows is run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Washington-based nonprofit, with substantial support from Microsoft, OpenAI, Google, IBM and Nvidia, according to the AAAS. It comes on top of the network of AI fellows funded by Open Philanthropy, a group financed by billionaire Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.

The six rapid response fellows, including five with PhDs and two who held prior positions at big tech firms, operate from the offices of two of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s top three lieutenants on AI legislation — Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) — as well as the Senate Banking Committee and the offices of Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.).

Alongside the Open Philanthropy fellows — and hundreds of outside-funded fellows throughout the government, including many with links to the tech industry — the six AI staffers in the industry-funded rapid response cohort are helping shape how key players in Congress approach the debate over when and how to regulate AI, at a time when many Americans are deeply skeptical of the industry.

The apparent conflict of tech-funded figures working inside the Capitol Hill offices at the forefront of AI policy worries some tech experts, who fear Congress could be distracted from rules that would protect the public from biased, discriminatory or inaccurate AI systems.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

News Coverage, Public Opinion, Chickens, Eggs


Christopher Wlezien has an article at The Journal of Politics titled  "News and Public Opinion: Which Comes First?"  Abstract:

Much research demonstrates a positive association between news coverage and public opinion, both perceptions and preferences. While this relationship is clear, what accounts for it is not. The assumption in most previous research is that media causes public opinion. But there is reason to expect that the causality runs in the other direction as well. In this article, I describe the logic of two-way flows and then undertake an analysis of three different cases of US public opinion over time—economic perceptions, candidate support, and policy preferences—using measures of the content of news coverage based on automated content analyses. Vector autoregression results indicate that opinion “causes” coverage in every case, and the reverse holds less frequently and always to a lesser degree. The results underscore the role the public can play in news coverage, one that always should be entertained and assessed empirically, not settled by assumption.

Monday, December 4, 2023

AI and Political Ads

 The new political ad machine: Policy frameworks for political ads in an age of AI Center on Technology Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

While there is limited empirical research on GAI in political ads, our reading of the literature considering online misinformation, political ads, and bias in AI models offers five important insights into the potential harm of GAI in political ads: 

  • First, research suggests that the persuasive power of both political ads and online misinformation is often overstated. Political ads likely have more of an effect on behavior – such as voter turnout and fundraising –  than on persuasion. 
  • Second, political ads likely have the greatest impact in smaller, down-ballot races where there is less advertising, oversight, or familiarity with candidates. 
  • Third, GAI content has the potential to replicate bias, including racial, gender, and national biases.
  •  Fourth, research on political disclaimers suggests that watermarks and disclaimers are unlikely to  significantly curb risks. 
  • Fifth, significant holes in the research remain.

 These insights from the literature help to formulate recommendations for policymakers that can mitigate the potential harm of GAI without unduly constraining its potential benefits. Research suggests that policy should focus more on preventing abuse in smaller, down-ballot races and in mitigating bias than on banning deceptive GAI content or requiring disclaimers or watermarks. Although the research points in this direction, holes in the literature remain. The result is that we should approach its insights from a position of curiosity, rather than certainty, and conduct additional research into the impact of GAI on the electoral process. Building on our assessment of the academic literature, we offer ten recommendations for policymakers seeking to limit the potential risks of GAI in political ads. These recommendations fall into two categories: First, public policy should target electoral harms rather than technologies. Second, public policy should promote learning about GAI so that we can govern it more effectively over time.