July 27, 2016
In 1978, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) allocated over half its research budget ($15.76 million) to earthquake prediction, a level of spending that continued for much of the next decade. Scientists deployed hundreds of seismometers and other sensors, hoping to observe telltale signals heralding the arrival of the next big one. They looked for these signs in subterranean fluids, crustal deformations, radon gas emissions, electric currents, even animal behavior. But every avenue they explored led to a dead end. ... Since the early 20th century, scientists have known that large quakes often cluster in time and space: 99 percent of them occur along well-mapped boundaries between plates in Earth’s crust and, in geological time, repeat almost like clockwork. But after decades of failed experiments, most seismologists came to believe that forecasting earthquakes in human time—on the scale of dropping the kids off at school or planning a vacation—was about as scientific as astrology. By the early 1990s, prediction research had disappeared as a line item in the USGS’s budget. ... Defying the skeptics, however, a small cadre of researchers have held onto the faith that, with the right detectors and computational tools, it will be possible to predict earthquakes with the same precision and confidence we do just about any other extreme natural event, including floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes. The USGS may have simply given up too soon. After all, the believers point out, advances in sensor design and data analysis could allow for the detection of subtle precursors that seismologists working a few decades ago might have missed. ... At a time when American companies and institutions are bankrolling “moonshot” projects like self-driving cars, space tourism, and genomics, few problems may be as important—and as neglected—as earthquake prediction.
Many in Turkey worry the failed takeover will only hasten the end of independent journalism there. In recent years, Turkish journalists have described a climate far worse than anything they can remember. TV stations critical of the government have been dropped from the state-run satellite broadcaster—one of them, the pro-Kurdish IMC TV, in the middle of a live interview with Dundar and Gul. Foreign journalists have been deported and denied entry to the country, and last fall mobs led by a prominent young politician in Erdogan’s party twice attacked the Istanbul offices of the newspaper Hurriyet. Reporters Without Borders lists Turkey 151st out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, between Tajikistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In June the watchdog group’s Turkey representative was arrested and placed in detention on charges of distributing terrorist propaganda. ... Under a law that criminalizes insulting the nation’s leader, more than 2,000 cases have been opened against journalists, cartoonists, teachers, a former Miss Turkey, and even schoolchildren in the past two years. ... Most of its income comes from newsstand sales: Its circulation hovers around 50,000, and at 1.5 Turkish lira (49¢), it’s slightly more expensive than most papers. That funds operations, ink and paper, and the modest salaries of its staff of 200. ... The paper faces the same problems papers face everywhere, as younger readers get their news from social media and the internet destroys the newspaper business model.
Indulging in undirected positive flights of fancy isn’t always in our interest. Positive thinking can make us feel better in the short term, but over the long term it saps our motivation, preventing us from achieving our wishes and goals, and leaving us feeling frustrated, stymied and stuck. If we really want to move ahead in our lives, engage with the world and feel energised, we need to go beyond positive thinking and connect as well with the obstacles that stand in our way. By bringing our dreams into contact with reality, we can unleash our greatest energies and make the most progress in our lives. ... Now, you might wonder if positive thinking is really as harmful as I’m suggesting. In fact, it is. In a number of studies over two decades, my colleagues and I have discovered a powerful link between positive thinking and poor performance. ... Positive thinking impedes performance because it relaxes us and drains the energy we need to take action. After having participants in one study positively fantasise about the future for as little as a few minutes, we observed declines in systolic blood pressure, a standard measure of a person’s energy level. These declines were significant: whereas smoking a cigarette will typically raise a person’s blood pressure by five or 10 points, engaging in positive fantasies lowers it by about half as much. ... Such relaxation occurs because positive fantasies fool our minds into thinking that we’ve already achieved our goals – what psychologists call ‘mental attainment’. ... WOOP – Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. Defining the Wish and identifying and visualising the desired Outcome and Obstacle are the mental contrasting part; forming implementation intentions represent the final step: the Plan.
When International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach announced the 10 members of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team in June—after a yearlong global vetting by 17 national Olympic committees and the United Nations Refugee Agency and after countless tryouts in Europe and Africa that resembled nothing so much as the hunt for Willy Wonka's golden tickets—he clearly intended the impact to redound far beyond sports. ... the crisis is so great, and the journeys of some athletes have been so harrowing, that the Refugee Team's march into Maracanã Stadium under the Olympic flag during the opening ceremony, just before Brazil's delegation, figures to be irresistible. ... Their routes to these Games differ, but all the Olympic refugees share the same mission: to change the conversation. They know that refugees have become easy scapegoats in scared societies, easy applause lines for politicians and all too easy to caricature as criminal or unclean. In Rio they hope to present an alternative to all the wire photos of crowded camps and dead bodies washed ashore, relieve the basic human fear of the other. They want to show that they can march in a parade, wave, smile, run and compete—just like everyone else.