What Happens When We Separate Families

Over the past several months, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – has been separating parents and their children seeking asylum at the U.S. border. In the vast majority of cases, these children have been taken to care institutions while their parents are detained in jail. [Read more…]

Do Concealed Weapons Keep People Safer?

Today, all 50 U.S. states allow residents to carry concealed weapons in public, and eight states extend this right without requiring a special permit.

Laws allowing people to carry concealed weapons in public places (often called right-to-carry or RTC laws) were passed over the past several decades as gun advocates argued that they would promote safety. The perspective is based on the premise that everyday citizens who carry handguns will be able to fight back against armed criminals. [Read more…]

What we know about fake news

Former President Barack Obama banned the pledge of allegiance in schools before leaving office, and Pope Francis endorsed President Donald Trump in the 2016 election….right? [Read more…]

Proven ways to change someone’s mind

pair-707506_640With the 2016 presidential election only one week behind us, social media is still filled with difference viewpoint about President-elect Donald Trump. There are videos, news articles and essays that add new details to the glut of information. But does any of it make a difference? [Read more…]

Checking Up on the Science of Homosexuality

heart-1348870_640Diversity in sexual orientation—whether gay, straight, bisexual, or somewhere in between—has sparked long-standing controversies across the globe. In the United States, recent debates have centered around the civil rights for same-sex couples. In many other countries, homosexuality is considered illegal; in some, it’s punishable by death. [Read more…]

The body evidence on curbing gun violence

voteThis is the first post in an occasional series that will provide evidence about issues of interest in upcoming elections. Stay tuned for more data to help inform your vote.

Gun violence is a continuing problem in the United States. So far in 2015, more than 10,000 people have died because of gun-related violence, including nearly 3,000 children and teens.  Personally, whenever I hear about a shooting at a school or church, I’m shocked by the senseless loss of lives. And I wonder what we, as citizens, can do about it? [Read more…]

Evidence-based elections: Voting laws

vote-buttonAs Americans head to the polls today for mid-term elections, many voters will face new laws that change the voting requirements in their state. [Read more…]

Gaps in evidence: Gun violence in America

News stories about the problem of gun violence in America have dominated media outlets across the country over the past year.  The tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut continues to fuel an on-going debate about the laws surrounding violence and safety in our society. It’s a sensitive subject, and many people across the nation hold opposing viewpoints about what should be done. But one thing is clear: gun violence is a critical public health problem.

[Read more…]

The facts on Social Security

More than 75 years ago, the U.S. government created Social Security, the federal insurance program that provides benefits to individuals and their families who can no longer work because of disability, retirement or death. The program is complex, and its details are often debated among politicians.

Earlier this year, the Economic Policy Institute and the National Academy of Social Insurance published a guide that explains the facts about the Social Security program to young people. The document includes detailed, evidence-based explanations of Social Security’s history, beneficiaries, financing, and shortfalls. It pulls data from the Office of the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration, Congressional Budget Office, the Employee Benefits Research Institute, and the Center for Retirement Research.

Here’s a sampling of interesting facts from the document:

  • In 2012, about 159 million individuals or 94% of the American workforce, worked in Social Security-covered employment. (Those not covered include government employees covered by other insurance programs, farm workers who do not meet minimum work requirements and students.)
  • Approximately 55 million Americans received Social Security benefits in 2011. Seventy percent were retirees; 19 percent were disability beneficiaries and 11 percent were survivors of deceased workers.
  • Without Social Security income, it is estimated that nearly half senior citizens would be living in poverty. Instead, fewer than 10 percent of seniors live in poverty.
  • Because the U.S. population is aging and people are living longer, the Social Security program is projected to run up a deficit. The projected shortfall is 2.67% of taxable earnings over the next 75 years.
  • There are a variety of ways to compensate for the deficit including raising taxes, expanding coverage, investing in equities, increasing the retirement age and reducing cost-of-living increases.

The guide concludes that Social Security fulfills an important need in our society as an insurance program for American workers.  To learn more about Social Security benefits and about how your payroll taxes are used, it’s worth checking out this evidence-based document.

The science of political campaigns, Part 2

Next month, President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney will face off on national television on four separate occasions to share their ideas for governing America and explain why voters should chose them.

While it’s not clear how many Americans make their voting decisions based on the debates, we do know they are an important part of the campaign. So I was thrilled to find some evidence on how to consider the candidates responses critically.

Todd Rogers, a behavioral psychologist at Harvard University, is among a growing group of researchers applying social science to issues effecting political campaigns. (We’ve written about his work on get-out-the-vote phone calls.)  He wanted to address the issue of how candidates respond when get asked a question that they don’t want to answer – and whether the public notices when politicians dodge a question by talking about a different topic instead.

Rogers and his colleague Michael Norton, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School, designed a study to determine under what conditions people can get away with dodging a question, and under what conditions listeners can detect what’s happening.

In their study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, they recorded a speaker answering a question about universal healthcare. Then they paired that answer with three separate questions: the correction question about health care, one about illegal drug use and another about terrorism.  They showed the three question-and-answer pairings to separate groups of people and asked them to rate the truthfulness of the speaker.

Their research found that when the question and answer sounded somewhat similar – such as in the case where the speaker was asked about drug use but responded about healthcare –  the audience rate the speaker as trustworthy.  (In fact, most of the people who head the answer about illegal drug use couldn’t even remember the question.) But when the answer was very clearly addressing a different topic – such as when the speaker was asked about health care but responded about terrorism – the audience detected the dodge.

In another part of the study, Rogers and Norton used the same questions and answers, but posted the question on the screen in for some viewers. They found  viewers who saw the question posted on the screen while the speaker answered were more than twice as likely to detect a dodge, even in subtle cases.

Rogers advocates for posting the questions on the screen during the presidential candidates debates, although he concedes it’s unlikely to happen this year.

You can hear an interview with Rogers  and learn about other research on political campaigning in last week’s episode of NPR’s Science Friday.

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