SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Democracy

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Internet search rankings have a significant impact on consumer choices, mainly because users trust and choose higher-ranked results more than lower-ranked results. Given the apparent power of search rankings, we asked whether they could be manipulated to alter the preferences of undecided voters in democratic elections. Here we report the results of five relevant double-blind, randomized controlled experiments, using a total of 4,556 undecided voters representing diverse demographic characteristics of the voting populations of the United States and India. The fifth experiment is especially notable in that it was conducted with eligible voters throughout India in the midst of India’s 2014 Lok Sabha elections just before the final votes were cast. The results of these experiments demonstrate that (i) biased search rankings can shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20% or more, (ii) the shift can be much higher in some demographic groups, and (iii) search ranking bias can be masked so that people show no awareness of the manipulation. We call this type of influence, which might be applicable to a variety of attitudes and beliefs, the search engine manipulation effect. Given that many elections are won by small margins, our results suggest that a search engine company has the power to influence the results of a substantial number of elections with impunity. The impact of such manipulations would be especially large in countries dominated by a single search engine company.

Concepts: Search engine optimization, Voting, Elections, Election, Democracy, Voting system, Lok Sabha, Voter turnout

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BACKGROUND: The Tea Party, which gained prominence in the USA in 2009, advocates limited government and low taxes. Tea Party organisations, particularly Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, oppose smoke-free laws and tobacco taxes. METHODS: We used the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, the Wayback Machine, Google, LexisNexis, the Center for Media and Democracy and the Center for Responsive Politics (opensecrets.org) to examine the tobacco companies' connections to the Tea Party. RESULTS: Starting in the 1980s, tobacco companies worked to create the appearance of broad opposition to tobacco control policies by attempting to create a grassroots smokers' rights movement. Simultaneously, they funded and worked through third-party groups, such as Citizens for a Sound Economy, the predecessor of AFP and FreedomWorks, to accomplish their economic and political agenda. There has been continuity of some key players, strategies and messages from these groups to Tea Party organisations. As of 2012, the Tea Party was beginning to spread internationally. CONCLUSIONS: Rather than being a purely grassroots movement that spontaneously developed in 2009, the Tea Party has developed over time, in part through decades of work by the tobacco industry and other corporate interests. It is important for tobacco control advocates in the USA and internationally, to anticipate and counter Tea Party opposition to tobacco control policies and ensure that policymakers, the media and the public understand the longstanding connection between the tobacco industry, the Tea Party and its associated organisations.

Concepts: United States, Tobacco, Tobacco industry, Democracy, Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, Internet Archive, Wayback Machine, Citizens for a Sound Economy

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Once considered provocative, the notion that the wisdom of the crowd is superior to any individual has become itself a piece of crowd wisdom, leading to speculation that online voting may soon put credentialed experts out of business. Recent applications include political and economic forecasting, evaluating nuclear safety, public policy, the quality of chemical probes, and possible responses to a restless volcano. Algorithms for extracting wisdom from the crowd are typically based on a democratic voting procedure. They are simple to apply and preserve the independence of personal judgment. However, democratic methods have serious limitations. They are biased for shallow, lowest common denominator information, at the expense of novel or specialized knowledge that is not widely shared. Adjustments based on measuring confidence do not solve this problem reliably. Here we propose the following alternative to a democratic vote: select the answer that is more popular than people predict. We show that this principle yields the best answer under reasonable assumptions about voter behaviour, while the standard ‘most popular’ or ‘most confident’ principles fail under exactly those same assumptions. Like traditional voting, the principle accepts unique problems, such as panel decisions about scientific or artistic merit, and legal or historical disputes. The potential application domain is thus broader than that covered by machine learning and psychometric methods, which require data across multiple questions.

Concepts: Voting, Democracy, Lowest common denominator

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News coverage of Islamic extremism is reigniting debates about the media’s role in promoting prejudice toward Muslims. Psychological theories of media-induced prejudice date to the 1950’s, and find support from controlled experiments. However, national-scale studies of media effects on Muslim prejudice are lacking. Orthogonal research investigating media-induced prejudice toward immigrants has failed to establish any link. Moreover, it has been found that people interpret the news in ways that confirm pre-existing attitudes, suggesting that media induced Muslim prejudice in liberal democracies is unlikely. Here, we test the association between news exposure and anti-Muslim prejudice in a diverse national sample from one of the world’s most tolerant societies, where media effects are least likely to hold (N = 16,584, New Zealand). In support of media-induced Islamophobia, results show that greater news exposure is associated with both increased anger and reduced warmth toward Muslims. Additionally, the relationship between media exposure and anti-Muslim prejudice does not reliably vary with political ideology, supporting claims that it is widespread representations of Muslims in the news, rather than partisan media biases, that drives anti-Muslim prejudice.

Concepts: Sociology, Experiment, New Zealand, Islam, Mass media, Democracy, Marshall McLuhan, Liberal democracy

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Overexploitation of renewable resources today has a high cost on the welfare of future generations. Unlike in other public goods games, however, future generations cannot reciprocate actions made today. What mechanisms can maintain cooperation with the future? To answer this question, we devise a new experimental paradigm, the ‘Intergenerational Goods Game’. A line-up of successive groups (generations) can each either extract a resource to exhaustion or leave something for the next group. Exhausting the resource maximizes the payoff for the present generation, but leaves all future generations empty-handed. Here we show that the resource is almost always destroyed if extraction decisions are made individually. This failure to cooperate with the future is driven primarily by a minority of individuals who extract far more than what is sustainable. In contrast, when extractions are democratically decided by vote, the resource is consistently sustained. Voting is effective for two reasons. First, it allows a majority of cooperators to restrain defectors. Second, it reassures conditional cooperators that their efforts are not futile. Voting, however, only promotes sustainability if it is binding for all involved. Our results have implications for policy interventions designed to sustain intergenerational public goods.

Concepts: Present, Time, Future, Natural resource, Sustainability, Voting, Democracy, Natural capital

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Nowadays, a large number of countries combine formal democratic institutions with authoritarian practices. Although in these countries the ruling elites may receive considerable voter support, they often use several manipulation tools to control election outcomes. A common practice of these regimes is the coercion and mobilization of large numbers of voters. This electoral irregularity is known as voter rigging, distinguishing it from vote rigging, which involves ballot stuffing or stealing. We develop a statistical test to quantify the extent to which the results of a particular election display traces of voter rigging. Our key hypothesis is that small polling stations are more susceptible to voter rigging because it is easier to identify opposing individuals, there are fewer eyewitnesses, and interested parties might reasonably expect fewer visits from election observers. We devise a general statistical method for testing whether voting behavior in small polling stations is significantly different from the behavior in their neighbor stations in a way that is consistent with the widespread occurrence of voter rigging. On the basis of a comparative analysis, the method enables third parties to conclude that an explanation other than simple variability is needed to explain geographic heterogeneities in vote preferences. We analyze 21 elections in 10 countries and find significant statistical anomalies compatible with voter rigging in Russia from 2007 to 2011, in Venezuela from 2006 to 2013, and in Uganda in 2011. Particularly disturbing is the case of Venezuela, where the smallest polling stations were decisive to the outcome of the 2013 presidential elections.

Concepts: Voting, Elections, Poll, Election, Democracy, Voting system, Ballot stuffing, Voter turnout

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ADQI - Acute Dialysis Quality Initiative - is a process that was created seeking consensus and evidence-based recommendations in the field of acute kidney injury. This organization gave birth to important classifications such as the RIFLE and the cardiorenal syndrome. Several conferences were organized in the last 10 years. Today, ADQI is a well-known initiative and it provides useful information to the physicians and nurses interested in acute kidney injury.

Concepts: Renal failure, Dialysis, Evidence-based medicine, Acute kidney injury, Management, Organization, Democracy

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It is commonly assumed that how individuals identify on the political spectrum-whether liberal, conservative, or moderate-has a universal meaning when it comes to policy stances and voting behavior. But, does political identity mean the same thing from place to place? Using data collected from across the U.S. we find that even when people share the same political identity, those in “bluer” locations are more likely to support left-leaning policies and vote for Democratic candidates than those in “redder” locations. Because the meaning of political identity is inconsistent across locations, individuals who share the same political identity sometimes espouse opposing policy stances. Meanwhile, those with opposing identities sometimes endorse identical policy stances. Such findings suggest that researchers, campaigners, and pollsters must use caution when extrapolating policy preferences and voting behavior from political identity, and that animosity toward the other end of the political spectrum is sometimes misplaced.

Concepts: Meaning of life, Right-wing politics, Voting, Political spectrum, Elections, Democracy, Philosophical logic, Social democracy

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Interest in vegetarian diets is growing in Italy and elsewhere, as government agencies and health/nutrition organizations are emphasizing that regular consumption of plant foods may provide health benefits and help prevent certain diseases.

Concepts: Health, Nutrition, Renaissance, Democracy, Health sciences

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Universal health coverage has become a rallying cry in health policy, but it is often presented as a consensual, technical project. It is not. A review of the broader international literature on the origins of universal coverage shows that it is intrinsically political and cannot be achieved without recognition of its dependence on, and consequences for, both governance and politics. On one hand, a variety of comparative research has shown that health coverage is associated with democratic political accountability. Democratization, and in particular left-wing parties, gives governments particular cause to expand health coverage. On the other hand, governance, the ways states make and implement decisions, shapes any decision to strive for universal health coverage and the shape of its implementation. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print July 16, 2015: e1-e3. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302733).

Concepts: Health economics, Universal health care, Policy, Political philosophy, Political science, Democracy, Political party, Accountability