Sunday, June 26, 2016. Cruise ships behaving badly; Noah's new ark, Dark money; family leave; Bias in algorithms

Tax Dodging on the High Seas

"An average of about 20 people fall off cruise ships every year, which the industry points out is only about one in a million travelers. But still, I suspect that passengers work under the assumption that if they do somehow wind up in the water, someone will notice....Michael Jasny of the Natural Resources Defense Council says cruises en route to Alaska “routinely drown out the calls of the endangered orcas” trying to communicate. "

Kentucky’s Ark Defies Science but Evokes a Version of Christianity

"In the beginning, Ken Ham made the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. And he saw that it was good at spreading his belief that the Bible is a book of history, the universe is only 6,000 years old, and evolution is wrong and is leading to our moral downfall...And Mr. Ham said, let us build a gargantuan Noah’s ark only 45 minutes away to draw millions more visitors. And let it be constructed by Amish woodworkers, and financed with donations, junk bonds and tax rebates from the state of Kentucky.....The workers, standing on hydraulic lifts, have covered over the Tyvek, and just in time. The Tyvek was printed all over with the slogan of its maker, Dupont: “The Miracles of Science.” "

The Secret Power Behind Local Elections

"Persuading the Supreme Court to overturn recent decisions such as Citizens United, which empowered donors to spend unlimited amounts via opaque business and nonprofit entities, would go a long way toward fixing the problem....But until that happens, there is evidence that states, through strong disclosure laws and enforcement, can make it very difficult for spenders to conceal their identities from the public, even if they can’t eliminate dark money."

A Family-Friendly Policy That’s Friendliest to Male Professors

"The central problem is that employment policies that are gender-neutral on paper may not be gender-neutral in effect. After all, most women receive parental benefits only after bearing the burden of pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, and often, a larger share of parenting responsibilities. Yet fathers usually receive the same benefits without bearing anything close to the same burden. ...Economics remains a male-dominated field, and the research shows that policies fueled by the best intentions of universities have made an imbalance worse. Three female economists have shown that the tools of economics — which enable a careful assessment of incentives and constraints informed by real-world data — suggest that a more nuanced policy would lead to better outcomes. It leaves me wondering how many other policy mistakes we could avoid, if only we had more female economists."

Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem

"...the very real problems with artificial intelligence today, which may already be exacerbating inequality in the workplace, at home and in our legal and judicial systems. Sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination are being built into the machine-learning algorithms that underlie the technology behind many “intelligent” systems that shape how we are categorized and advertised to.....A very serious example was revealed in an investigation published last month by ProPublica. It found that widely used software that assessed the risk of recidivism in criminals was twice as likely to mistakenly flag black defendants as being at a higher risk of committing future crimes. It was also twice as likely to incorrectly flag white defendants as low risk....The reason those predictions are so skewed is still unknown, because the company responsible for these algorithms keeps its formulas secret ..."