Review: D.C. drama casts light on shady lobbying

If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that politics today is all about performance — a conclusion inescapably reached in Miss Sloane, the new Beltway-based political thriller from John Madden. The eponymous Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is an ambitious politico working for a strictly amoral DC lobbying firm. Yet Sloane has a secret, something that passes for heresy in her firm: on some political issues, she actually cares …

Read more at MIT’s The Tech.

Fight or flight?

It’s now been ten days since Donald Trump was elected president, and the words still don’t seem all that believable. Perhaps it will take seeing Trump raise that tiny right hand of his – the one he employed to mock a disabled reporter – and “grab” the Bible with his sinister left, before the words “President Trump” are made podgy, sunbed-ridden flesh in front of our eyes.

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Generation Boom

One of my most formative experiences was an upper school trip to the battlefields of France and Belgium. Amidst all the stories of carnage and destruction, and the unfathomable numbers of casualties involved, what struck me above all else was the sheer proximity of the respective front lines. In some places a mere hundred yards might separate the two groups of young European men, conscripted to throw grenades and fire rifles at each other across the small parcel of scorched earth between them.

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Review: Darkness lurks in Hemingway’s island paradise

“Never meet your heroes” is the cardinal rule broken by reporter Ed Myers, the protagonist of Papa: Hemingway in Cuba, a largely true-to-life depiction of Ernest Hemingway’s sunset years. It’s 1957, and in the sepia-toned newsroom of the Miami Globe, Myers sweats over the latest draft of a fan letter to esteemed writer and recent Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway. A short time later, Myers receives an unexpected phone call from Hemingway himself, warmly inviting him on a trip to Cuba, the writer’s adopted home …

Read more at MIT’s The Tech.

2016: year of the tactical takedown?

Cross-posted from MIT’s Center for Civic Media blog.

The present presidential election is a spectacle, in the truest sense of the word, like few before. Just as FDR’s weekly radio addresses and JFK’s success in the first televised presidential debate watermark the adoption and cooption of a particular communication medium for political ends, so the 2016 campaign may go down in history as marking a seismic shift in the landscape of political uses of media. The candidate leading the charge, this time round, is unquestionably Donald Trump, currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Yet it’s a little more difficult to identify precisely which medium or platform Trump has coopted. The most readily available answer seems to be ‘all of the above’ – although in different ways.

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Review: WTF offers a unique perspective on life on the front line

Reviews often destroy movies, and only rarely, as in the case of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, do they create them. In 2011, a New York Times review of Kim Barker’s wartime memoir The Taliban Shuffle described Barker as “a sort of Tina Fey character, who unexpectedly finds herself addicted to the adrenaline rush of war.” This caught the eye of Fey herself, who began pulling strings to bring Barker’s story to movie audiences as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. …

Read more at MIT’s The Tech.

Consider the Lawn Sign: elections as civic engagement

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Cross-posted from the Center for Civic Media blog.

Last week I had the chance to watch one of the world’s great electoral-political spectacles – the New Hampshire primary – up close. It wasn’t by any means my first dalliance with American politics: I’ve had at least a loose involvement in the fascinating and frequently Freudian process by which Americans elect their leaders for several cycles now. But this time I saw the process through a slightly different lens.

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Review: Michael Moore’s war of hearts and minds

The title of Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Where to Invade Next, seems to reflect ambivalence on the part of its creator. It is after all no coincidence that Moore’s trio of breakout box office hits — Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Sicko — appeared during the administration of his antagonist-in-chief, George W. Bush. Though no one would pretend that mass shootings have subsided since the release of Bowling for Columbine, the election of President Obama saw the formal end of the Iraq War and the passing of health care reform — the subjects of Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko, respectively. The working title of Moore’s latest project might as well have been, What To Tackle Next? …

Read more at MIT’s The Tech.

Causation, Correlation, and Big Data in Social Science Research

Cowls, Josh and Schroeder, Ralph (2015) Causation, Correlation, and Big Data in Social Science Research. Policy & Internet 7 (4), 447-472.

The emergence of big data offers not only a potential boon for social scientific inquiry, but also raises distinct epistemological issues for this new area of research. Drawing on interviews conducted with researchers at the forefront of big data research, we offer insight into questions of causal versus correlational research, the use of inductive methods, and the utility of theory in the big data age. While our interviewees acknowledge challenges posed by the emergence of big data approaches, they reassert the importance of fundamental tenets of social science research such as establishing causality and drawing on existing theory. They also discussed more pragmatic issues, such as collaboration between researchers from different fields, and the utility of mixed methods. We conclude by putting the themes emerging from our interviews into the broader context of the role of data in social scientific inquiry, and draw lessons about the future role of big data in research.