[See also Hardball Questions For The Next Debate. The Gary Johnson question is not original to me.]
You’re a former doctor and researcher who first got involved in politics because of your interest in public health. One of your first forays into activism was the 2000 publication of In Harm’s Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development, a magisterial report on the effect of pollution on children’s physical and mental health. You described your focus as being on “developmental disabilities, including attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, and related neurodevelopmental diseases”. You describe “accumulating evidence of neurotoxic damage to children by environmental agents, such as lead and PCBs”.
In Chapter 7, you discuss the high burden of pesticides eaten by developing children, saying that:
Twenty million American children five and under eat an average of eight pesticides every day through food consumption. Thirty-seven pesticides registered for use on foods are neurotoxic organophosphate insecticides, chemically related to more toxic nerve warfare agents developed earlier this century…a national health exposure study detected chlorpyrifos residues (as the metabolite TCP) in the urine of 82% of a representative sample of American adults. A more recent study in Minnesota revealed that an even higher 92% of children had detectable levels of this metabolite in their urine.
You connect this increasing pesticide exposure to what you believe to be increasing levels of developmental disorders in American children:
The Cailfornia Department of Developmental Services released [a study] in March 1999 [that] looked at pervasive developmental disorders from 1987 through 1998 and showed a 210 percent increase in cases entered into the autism registry during those years. If the incidence of autism is increasing, and/or clusters of autism are being discovered, an environmental influence is likely.
Maybe as a result, you’ve become a big advocate of eating organic food. Your party platform says you want to “support organic and regenerative agriculture” and “put a moratorium on GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe”. You presented a pro-organics case on Bill Moyers’ show back in 2012, and you’re even known for preparing your own organic meals on the campaign trail.
But there’s a lot of pushback from mainstream scientists and the mainstream media. For example, news webzine Vox has an interesting article Is Organic Food Any Healthier? Most Scientists Are Still Skeptical publicizing a meta-analysis of 237 studies which showed that “organic foods didn’t appear to be any healthier or safer to eat than their conventionally grown counterparts” and that “typical exposure to pesticide residues is at levels 10,000 to 10,000,000 times lower than doses that cause no observable effect in laboratory animals that are fed pesticides daily throughout their entire lifetimes”. Vox has also written Local And Organic Food Has Extra Safety Risks. Just Ask Chipotle. Vox’s spinoff webzine Eater even makes fun of customers looking for “natural” foods without having any idea what that means.
If they’re right, then you’re promoting an unscientific fad that has millions of people needlessly stressed out about everything they eat. On the other hand, if you’re right, then these media outlets’ pooh-poohing of a vital public health message makes them complicit in and maybe even responsible for what you call the “epidemic” of childhood neurodevelopmental disorders.
So my question for you is: do you believe Vox ‘zines cause autism?
During your first debate with Donald Trump, the moderator asked you about racial bias in police shootings; you responded that “implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just police”. You argued that you would “put money into that budget to help us deal with implicit bias by police officers” and that we’ve “got to do everything possible to improve policing, to go right at implicit bias”. Your running mate Tim Kaine continued on the theme, saying that people shouldn’t be afraid to bring up police officers’ implicit biases.
This talk of implicit bias references a whole psychological field centered around the Implicit Association Test. It works like this: a subject sitting in front of a keyboard is shown rapid-fire pictures representing various categories – classically black people, white people, positive adjectives, and negative adjectives. They’re given various instructions about which keys to press in response to which categories, and their responses are timed. Many people will find that it’s easier to press the same key for white people and positive adjectives (and an opposite key for black people and negative adjectives) than to press the same key for whites+negatives and blacks+positives. This has been widely considered to show implicit racism – that is, even people who say they are not racist unconsciously associate black people with bad qualities. This research has become wildly popular, profiled in every major media outlet, and catapulted its inventors to scientific stardom. It’s even been featured on the Oprah Winfrey show, maybe a first for a social psych paper.
A few early small studies suggested the IAT predicted prejudiced behavior. But later attempts to replicate this result failed. Blanton, Jaccard, Klick, Mellers, Mitchell, Tetlock (2009) reanalyzed some of the original studies, found no effect, and complained that the IAT was being popularized despite an almost-complete lack of evidence for its validity. Oswald et al (2013) did a meta-analysis of 275 implicit association test results from 46 different studies and found that “IATs were poor predictors of every criterion category other than brain activity, and the IATs performed no better than simple explicit measures”. Carlsson and Agerstrom did another meta-analysis earlier this year, and found “the overall effect was close to zero and highly inconsistent across studies” and “there is…little evidence that the IAT can meaningfully predict discrimination, and we thus strongly caution against any practical applications of the IAT that rest on this assumption”.
You particularly mention the IAT as relevant to policing, but Dolan Group, a consulting firm which advises police forces how to avoid racial discrimination, did an internal analysis of results surrounding the IAT and reports to its clients that:
Persons who do not hold overt racist attitudes do not have to worry about some deeply-hidden, unknown, unconscious attitudes influencing their work decisions. These findings reveal the need to aggressively weed out officers who hold conscious racial stereotypes and biases in order to avoid biased-based policing. These findings also raise questions about whether the money and time spent on law enforcement training and testing regarding implicit bias could be put to better use on something else.
When you and your running mate suggest a focus on implicit bias as relevant to policing, this can really only be justified by taking the preliminary findings of a few small early studies and ignoring both more rigorous reanalysis of their results and the consensus finding of all studies and meta-analyses conducted since that time.
On the other hand, there still is something to be explained here: if the IAT isn’t analyzing implicit racial prejudice, why do people so consistently have an easier time associating black people with negative adjectives? I actually have a theory of my own about that. Consider claims like the following:
1. Black people were brutally enslaved for hundreds of years.
2. Black people are almost three times more likely than whites to live below the poverty line.
3. Black people are systematically being murdered by the criminal justice system.
4. Black people are frequent victims of racism and hate crimes.
5. Our society is set up to structurally discriminate against black people.
None of these claims are racist per se; in fact, many of them are anti-racist in intent. But all of them connect black people to negative affect! If your local newspaper says that white people usually have friendly and positive interactions with the police but black people are victimized and killed by police, that is some heavy association of whites with positive feelings and blacks with negative feelings. If you usually see photos of white people in the news under the headline “LOCAL BUSINESS BOUGHT BY GOOGLE”, and photos of blacks in the news under the headline “LEARN HOW OUR RACIST SOCIETY KEPT THIS POOR WOMAN FROM SUCCEEDING” then once again, you’re learning to associate whites with positive feelings and blacks with negative feelings.
This would explain very nicely why people taking the IAT generally associate whites with positive feelings and blacks with negative feelings in a way apparently unrelated to whether they are explicitly prejudiced/racist. It would also explain very nicely why about 50% of blacks associate whites with positive feelings and blacks with negative feelings, which is definitely a thing that happens and which previous explanations of have always sounded unconvincing and ad hoc.
But from your debate statements, it sounds like you are absolutely opposed to this reinterpretation. That you are committed to defending the position that implicit bias is a real predictor of racism, and that Implicit Association Tests don’t just report contingent associations drilled in by the media, but genuinely reveal profound unconscious beliefs about how the world works.
So my question for you is: would you be willing to take an Implicit Association Test measuring how easily you associate your own name vs. your opponents’ names with the adjective “crooked”?
If you were elected, what would you do about the ongoing crisis in Updog?
You’re well-known for your boast that you “hire the best people”. And one of those best people is Steve Bannon, the CEO of your campaign. When Bannon took over on August 17th, 538 had you at only a 12% chance of winning; after he was running your campaign for a month, you were up to 40%. Although you’ve since crashed back down, a lot of political observers attribute what successes you’ve had to Bannon and what problems you’ve had to your own big mouth. You seem to recognize his utility, calling him one of “the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November”.
Before he joined your campaign, Bannon was best known for his role leading far-right news website Breitbart. But he was actually involved in some pretty interesting stuff when he was younger. In particular, in 1993 Bannon was the acting director of the famous environmental science experiment Biosphere 2.
Biosphere 2 was an attempt to create a self-sustaining closed ecosystem capable of supporting human life, possibly with applications for future space travel. It was actually the first such attempt – it was called “Biosphere 2” because the first such self-sustaining biosphere was the Earth itself. Eight “crew members” entered the facility along with various plants and animals, the airlocks were sealed, and for a year everyone tried to do what they could to keep the various species and environmental parameters in balance.
It didn’t work; CO2 levels started fluctuating wildly, soil microbes surged out of control, ants and cockroaches overran the facility, oxygen dropped to worrying levels, and the experiment was stopped early out of concern for crew health. They decided to try a second mission, and that was when they had a change in management and brought on Mr. Bannon as director.
Unfortunately, a lot of the crew members really didn’t like Bannon and his team. Possibly some of it had to do with an incident where a crew member submitted a list of safety complaints and Bannon threatened to “shove it down her f**king throat”. It got so bad that some of the crew deliberately vandalized the Biosphere, causing gas exchange between the inside and the outside and ruining the scientific value of the experiment. Although they probably could have tried again, by that time lawsuits and financial mismanagement had sapped their funding, and they finally sold the whole thing off to Columbia University as a research campus.
So my question for you is: in all of history, there have only been two self-sufficient ecosystems capable of maintaining human life. Your team has already destroyed one of them. The other is Earth. How scared should we be?