The 2016 General Social Survey is out! Time to update our trend lines, and mark our beliefs to market (as the economists like to say). I’ll start with one: how are attitudes towards free speech changing? Answer: Not very much. The GSS asks a range of questions on free speech related issues. The handy GSS explorer lets you look at trends over time for each question, broken down by various demographics. Here’s a key trend, looking at attitudes towards racist speech:
I just had the pleasure of reading Federico Brandmayr’s forthcoming article in Science, Technology, & Human Values on “How Social Scientists Make Causal Claims in Court: Evidence from the L’Aquila Trial.” I highly recommend it. The article examines the testimony of three expert witnesses in a surreal trial about the culpability of scientists for making a bad prediction, and specifically the possibility that the scientists’ claims could have affected the behavior of individuals (to evacuate or not).
After several minutes, Elsea grabbed a tool—on the video it looks like a screwdriver—and entered the screened-off area around the robot to clear the fault herself. Whatever she did to Robot 23, it surged back to life, crushing Elsea against a steel dashboard frame and impaling her upper body with a pair of welding tips. A co-worker hit the line’s emergency shut-off. Elsea was trapped in the machine—hunched over, eyes open, conscious but speechless.
No one knew how to make the robot release her.
Workers with little to no training are coerced into working long shifts on machinery with known safety problems all to make barely more than minimum wage. Apart from the direct human misery, what’s most striking to me about these stories is how little impact they rate to have on our misguided national debate about the loss of manufacturing jobs and the need to bring factory jobs back on the presumption that such jobs are “good” (high-paying, safe, stable, full-time, benefit-providing, etc.) and are vehicles into a middle-class life. But the idea that “factory jobs are good, middle-class jobs” is only true in a world where workers and unions have the power to make them so. Factory jobs in the late 19th century were hellish. There’s nothing inherently good about jobs in any industry. Working for 10$/hour to get crushed by a robot because you are trying to make quota and no one trained you on how to shut the machine off when it malfunctions is back in that hellish direction.
A lighter topic for a grim and heavy news day: what are your favorite academic first lines? First lines are tricky, and most are forgettable enough, but a few stand out. I’ll post a couple below the cut, and ask you to supply your favorites in the comments! And while “first line of the book” is the usual rule, I think first lines of articles or chapters may be equally important for some texts (given how academic texts circulate), so interpret the instructions a bit liberally.