Over the past week, we’ve noticed a lot of fascinating TED-related news items. Here, some highlights.
Yesterday, U.S. attorney general Eric Holder announced a major relaxing of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug possession. He asked prosecutors to use their discretion when charging nonviolent, low-level offenders and opt not to list the quantities of drugs involved in their cases. Bryan Stevenson (watch his enthralling talk from TED2012) stopped by The Rachel Maddow Show to discuss what this means. “It’s a very significant change,” says Stevenson. “The problem of mass imprisonment in this country has been largely fueled by our misguided War on Drugs and the way in which it has sent hundreds of thousands of people to prison for low-level drug problems which are not a threat to public safety and cost billions of dollars. I think it’s a really enormous step forward for the government.”
When economist Emily Oster (watch her TED Talk) got pregnant, she heard a long list of do’s and (mainly) don’ts about risky foods to avoid: wine, deli meat, soft-serve ice cream. But looking into the data behind the prohibitions, she found most of the rules were based on correlation, not causation — and actually didn’t do much but cause guilt and fear in pregnant women. As she writes in The Wall Street Journal: It’s time to take back pregnancy.
In support of trade and technical education, Mike Rowe (watch his talk on lessons from dirty jobs) unleashes a soundbite for the ages on Fox News: “We are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist. That’s nuts.”
George Monbiot (read about his talk from TEDGlobal 2013) questioned de-extinction in The Guardian, saying of the idea of reviving the wooly mammoth that “at best it will produce a public cabinet of curiosities, at worst new pets for billionaires.” Read a takedown of his argument from Carl Zimmer (who spoke at TEDxDeExtinction) via National Geographic.
Rose George (watch her talk) published a new book today, called Ninety Percent of Everything. It’s a detailed look at the shipping industry, which whether you realize it or not, affects you multiple times a day.
What’s the value of newspapers? A week after Jeff Bezos (watch his talk) bought the Washington Post, Cass Sunstein argues that it’s serendipity — pushing the reader out of the filter bubble (find out more about it), and showing them stories and ideas they didn’t know they wanted. It’s an argument that resonates with us here at TED (have you tried Surprise Me?). For more on the wonder of newspapers, watch Jacek Utko’s talk.
Do scientists who advocate for science actually make the public trust them less? The science behind this baffling thesis is explored by Liz Neeley at Compass. It’s relevant to all scientists who are moved by their data to become advocates — like former NASA climate scientist James Hansen (watch his talk).
Does winning a Nobel Prize early in life make you, later in life, a little … off? Brad Voytek (watch his TED-Ed lesson on zombies) is crowdsourcing research on a subcategory of the Prodigy Effect. Ping him if you have thoughts or data to share — and watch our playlist of 12 talks from Nobel Prize winners.
Daniel Kahneman (watch his talk) has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, “the nation’s highest civilian honor.” Others among this year’s 16 recipients include Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem, Loretta Lynn and TED Prize winner Bill Clinton.