Keith A. Spencer

How physics got 'stuck' — and why we desperately need a new Einstein

Albert Einstein's work so revolutionized physics that it is difficult to discuss him without slipping into hagiography. Indeed, his brilliance is so storied that his surname has become synonymous with "genius," and his brain preserved for study.

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Robert Reich breaks down how oligarchs are 'cashing in' on the pandemic

Robert Reich is probably the most outspoken former secretary of labor. I mean, have any others become a household name, with an outsize presence on progressive news and social media sites to match? (Okay, maybe Frances Perkins.) This is all to say that the career trajectory of Mr. Reich, who was Clinton's labor secretary from 1993 to 1997, is more unusual than the average elder statesman. Rather than settle into a comfortable retirement, Reich has spent the past 23 years as an engaged activist, writing and speaking publicly about income inequality in the United States. That issue, Reich argues forcefully, is the singular thread that devolves all other aspects of our democracy; nearly every ill, from police violence to the rise of the far-right to the ascension of Trump, stem from the starkly unequal economic situation we find ourselves trapped in.

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A pulmonologist who's recovering from coronavirus describes what it feels like to survive COVID-19’s dreaded 'cytokine storm'

Of all the possible compounding effects of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the cytokine storm is one of the most feared. An immune system overreaction in which the body is flooded with the eponymous signaling molecules, those who suffer a cytokine storm are at risk of dying at the hand of their own immune system, as an indirect effect of the virus they are fighting.

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A computational social scientist's study shows the hard data that proves 'Bernie Bros' are a myth

Mainstream pundits and politicians continue to obsess over the stereotype of the "Bernie Bro," a perfervid horde of Bernie Sanders supporters who supposedly stop at nothing to harass his opponents online. Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton and New York Times columnist Bret Stephens have all helped perpetuate the idea that Sanders' supporters are somehow uniquely cruel, despite Sanders' platform and policy proposal being the most humane of all the candidates.

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Historically, rich people have fought to stop politicians like Sanders — making his rise all the more unlikely

My favorite uncomfortable interview moment arises in a 1996 BBC segment featuring linguist and scholar Noam Chomsky. In the interview, conducted by British journalist Andrew Marr for the BBC show "The Big Idea," Marr tells viewers he has come to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to talk to the professor and dissident about "bias in the media." The interview came about eight years after the publication of Chomsky and  Edward S. Herman's 1988 book "Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media"; the term "manufacturing consent" that the two co-authors adopted refers to how mainstream media outlets shape coverage in order to present an agenda that benefits the ruling class.

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The myth of 'Bernie Bros': How a misunderstanding of social media is driving elites to push an easily disprovable stereotype

The nature of punditry makes it hard to tell which myths media personalities earnestly believe in, and which they perpetuate in bad faith. Consider the "welfare queen," a villainous trope popularized by Ronald Reagan in stump speeches in the 1970s, and which never actually existed. Despite being a clear fiction, the idea was tantalizing both to politicians and pundits, and hence the welfare queen became embedded in culture. Pundits and politicians today still invoke the racist caricature, often through dog-whistles.

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The art of scientific deception: Former Assistant Secretary of Labor explains how corporations use 'mercenary science' to whitewash harmful products

One curious difference between humans and corporations is our capacity to harm others and emerge unscathed. If you or I were to poison someone on camera in broad daylight, we would be given a trial and sent to prison in a hurry. But if you or I were a corporation, we could hire consulting firms to produce research papers that claim that the poisoning didn't happen, and/or question the existence of the poison, or claim that said concoction actually does good rather than harm. If that failed, we could then gum up the legal and political system with lobbyists and lawyers for decades.

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'Our chances of ever exiting the nightmare are shrinking': Paul Krugman explains how the GOP is getting worse

It is a great detriment to civil discourse that the divide between left and right in the United States is often depicted as being purely cultural — as if one's politics were solely mediated by aesthetics, such as whether one prefers shooting guns or drinking lattes. This fabulist understanding of politics is harmful inasmuch as it masks the real social effects of the policy agendas pushed by left versus right. Seeing politics as aesthetic transforms what should be a quantitative debate — with statistics and numbers about taxation and public policy, questions of who benefits more or less from policy changes — and devolves it into a rhetorical debate over values.

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A new psychological study perfectly explains why being online makes you cynical

Those of us who spend too much time on social media are familiar with how profoundly our online interactions differ from real ones. Face-to-face with another human, I cannot say I have ever been issued a death threat; but through the online veil of pseudonymity, I have — like most people who work in journalism — received plenty.

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How Facebook misunderstands free speech

Only three months ago, social media megalith Facebook made the universally-reviled announcement that they would not be fact-checking, censoring, or otherwise banning political ads that deceive or mislead. “We don’t believe [that] it’s an appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny,” a Facebook spokesperson said at the time. The controversy over the announcement was so heated that the hashtag #DeleteFacebook began to trend, while presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren mocked the policy (and the company's CEO) in her own promoted Facebook post.

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