The Tipping Point When Minority Views Take Over

The Tipping Point When Minority Views Take Over
A new study says that small groups can overturn established norms if they reach a critical mass of 25 percent.
Jun 7 2018

In the 1970s, the business professor Rosabeth Kanter published an influential account of an American company that had recently recruited women to its sales team. The quality of those women’s working lives, Kanter noted astutely, depended on their representation. When they made up just 15 percent of the workforce, they faced stereotyping, harassment, isolation, disproportionate performance pressures, and other disadvantages. But when they made up something like 35 percent of the workplace, they started shifting its culture in their favor by forming alliances and establishing a counterculture.

Decades of work in sociology, physics, and other disciplines have supported this idea. Small groups of people can indeed flip firmly established social conventions, as long as they reach a certain critical mass. When that happens, what was once acceptable can quickly become unacceptable, and vice versa. Two decades ago, most Americans opposed gay marriage, bans on public smoking, and the legalization of marijuana; now, these issues all enjoy majority support.

How big do minority groups have to get in order to trigger these tipping points? Is it something like 30 to 40 percent, as Kanter and others have suggested based on sociological observations? Or is it as low as 10 percent, as physicists have predicted using mathematical models that simulate social change?

After running a creative experiment, Damon Centola from the University of Pennsylvania says that the crucial threshold is more like 25 percent. That’s the likely tipping point at which minority views can overturn majority ones. “A lot of models have been developed, but they’re often people speculating in the dark, and writing equations without any data,” Centola says. “Our results fit better with the ethnographic data. It’s really exciting to me how clearly they resonate with Kanter’s work.”

Centola’s team recruited 194 volunteers, divided them into 10 groups, and made them play an online game in which they had to work together to create new social norms. In every round, the volunteers within each group were randomly paired up and shown a photo of a stranger. Without consulting each other, each person suggested a name that best matched the stranger’s face. At the end of every round, both names were revealed. The players earned 10 cents if they had offered the same name, and they lost 10 cents if they had entered different ones. Even though the players only ever interacted with one person at a time, as the game progressed, they quickly arrived at group-wide conventions, where everyone assigned the same name to each face.

At that point, Centola added groups of “activists” to each group. These rabble-rousers all suggested a different name for each face, in an attempt to overturn the established order. And Centola varied the number of activists from one group to the next.

He found that these newcomers were effective in changing minds only if they made up at least 25 percent of the total population. Anything less than that, and their suggestions never took off. Anything more than that, and their alternatives completely replaced the previous status quo. There was nothing in between.

This result matched the predictions from a mathematical model that Centola’s team created to simulate these kinds of interactions. “You see this clump of failures below 25 percent and this clump of successes above 25 percent,” Centola says. “Mathematically, we predicted that, but seeing it in a real population was phenomenal.”

“What I think is happening at the threshold is that there’s a pretty high probability that a noncommitted actor”—a person who can be swayed in any direction—“will encounter a majority of committed minority actors, and flip to join them,” says Pamela Oliver, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “There is therefore a good probability that enough non-committed actors will all flip at the same time that the whole system will flip.”

Centola agrees. “People need enough reinforcement on a new social norm before they’ll switch,” he says. “Say you shake hands at every business meeting. If you fist-bump, you might seem weird, or trying to be edgy. But if enough people fist-bump, there’s now a feeling that you’re all on the same page. That feeling of riskiness holds people back, and the tipping point creates a group large enough that you’re more likely to meet people showing the same behavior.”

He stresses that the 25 percent figure isn’t universal, and will likely vary depending on the circumstances. Indeed, the stakes in his experiment were very low. Volunteers jostled over arbitrary norms, rather than, say, politically charged beliefs. And both the established group and the incoming activists had similar amounts of power—something that’s rarely the case in real life.



Tariffs Are the Wrong Response to China

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  See also:’The return of capital controls’  DLH]

Tariffs Are the Wrong Response to China
By Matthew C. Klein
Jun 22 2018

The trade conflict between the U.S. and China is escalating. After repeatedly accusing the Chinese government of “economic aggression,” the U.S. government is considering imposing tariffs on as much as $450 billion of goods imported from China. China cannot respond symmetrically—it imports too little from the U.S.—but it could easily devalue its exchange rate or use discriminatory regulations to harm the profitability of American multinationals.

American anger is justified: Chinese policies have systematically distorted the world economy at the expense of U.S. workers. But tariffs are the wrong response. They will penalize regular Americans while doing little to address China’s harmful practices. Those practices have caused at least as much harm to ordinary Chinese as they have to the rest of the world.

China’s economic policies are a product of the Communist Party’s intolerance of alternative centers of power. After the pro-democracy movement met its violent end in 1989, Deng Xiaoping’s program of “reform and opening up” was modified so that party elites could capture as much of China’s new wealth for themselves as possible.

The result is that China is now one of the most unequal societies in the world. Between 1980 and 2010, the share of income officially earned by the top 1% of Chinese households rose by about nine percentage points. 

Barron’s breaks down which industries could get hurt the most, and why.

This likely understates the gains of the elite because it does not count their control of the corporate sector, which benefits from the authoritarian government’s hostility to collective bargaining. In most countries, nonfinancial corporations pay their employees about two-thirds of the value of what they produce. In China, however, workers get only 40%.

Unlike most other countries, taxes and government benefits in China do not transfer spending power from the rich to poor. Disposable household income is only about 45% of China’s gross domestic product. The personal income-tax system collects only about 1% of GDP, while taxes on consumption and forced social security “contributions” take in about 14% of GDP. 

The perverse result is that low earners pay effective tax rates around 35%, while higher earners pay rates as little as 10%. Meanwhile, the Chinese government limits health care, pensions, education, and unemployment insurance through the so-called hukou system of household registration. Hundreds of millions of migrants who moved from the countryside for jobs in cities are ineligible to receive government benefits even when they have paid for them, because they are not officially residents of the city where they live. 

The Chinese financial system is also rigged against ordinary households for the benefit of politically connected elites. Most Chinese have few investment alternatives to bank deposits and real estate, while the four big party-controlled banks pay interest rates on deposits far below the cost of capital and pass along the savings to favored corporations in the form of cheap loans. Private businesses have to fight for financing and savers get stuck with inadequate returns, but the “vested interests”—Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s term—can borrow at preposterously low rates. 

Since Chinese households cannot depend on the government to cover health expenses or retirement, the rational response to low interest rates is to save even more than they otherwise would to compensate for the lack of compounding.

This deliberate concentration of wealth has crushed household consumption. The share of China’s national income spent by households on goods and services collapsed from about 52% in the early 1980s to less than 36% by 2010. The flip side of this was the meteoric rise in China’s national savings rate from about 32% to more than 50%. While things have marginally improved in the past few years, household consumption in China is still less than 40% of GDP. The world average is about 60%.


Re: The GPS app that can find anyone anywhere

[Note:  This comment comes from friend Mike Cheponis.  DLH]
From: Michael Cheponis <>
Subject: Re: [Dewayne-Net] The GPS app that can find anyone anywhere
Date: June 24, 2018 at 7:39:41 PM EDT

The ARRL did this decades ago; they are called ‘Grid Squares’:  Add more letters to get arbitrary specificity.

The GPS app that can find anyone anywhereA UK-based startup has developed a geocoding tool that could revolutionise how we find places, from a remote African village dwelling to your tent at a rock festival
By Tim Adams
Jun 23 2018

Immense rains are causing more flash flooding, and experts say it’s getting worse

Immense rains are causing more flash flooding, and experts say it’s getting worse
By Tim Craig and Angela Fritz
Jun 24 2018

Brian Gentry was certain his 33,000-pound truck would be fine as he headed out into the heavy rains here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But as he went to clear debris from a two-lane highway after more than a half-foot of rain, rocklike drops pounded the windows, and he heard the earth “crack” around him as the land began to slide. 

Mud and uprooted trees slammed his vehicle, tossing it across the highway, over a ­10-foot embankment and into the raging Catawba River. Gentry and a co-worker with the North Carolina Department of Transportation were rolled, and the truck came to rest in the water, just the passenger-side window peaking out.

“I looked around, and I saw everything that was going on, and I thought, ‘I am going to ­­die,’ ” Gentry, 47, recalled. “I thought, ‘My life is about over, so I need to call my wife.’ ”

Gentry spent 40 minutes clinging to a rope in the water awaiting rescue, the victim of an alarming phenomenon: Torrential rain events across the United States are becoming more frequent and more intense, leading to record rainfall, rare extreme flooding and perilous infrastructure failures.

Experts say the immense rains — some spawned by tropical ocean waters, others by once-routine thunderstorms — are the product of long-rising air temperatures and an increase in the sheer size of the storms. Because warmer air can hold more water, large storms are dropping far more rain at a faster clip.

Such rains in recent weeks have deluged the Great Lakes region, the Deep South and the suburbs of major cities along the Atlantic coast. Philadelphia, Charlottesville, and Ocean City, Ellicott City and Frederick in Maryland all have experienced major flooding since mid-May. Several locations in Maryland had their wettest May on record, including Baltimore, which tallied more than eight inches, most of which fell in the second half of the month.

“Things are definitely getting more extreme,” said Andreas ­Prein, an atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. “You just have to look at the records. All areas of the continental U.S. have seen increases in peak rainfall rates in the past 50 years. . . . And there is a chance that we are underestimating the risk, actually.”

On Friday, Richmond experienced its second-wettest day on record — 7.61 inches of rain, more than the city typically gets in the entire month of June, topping the previous record on Aug. 12, 1955, during Hurricane Connie. The torrential rains in the past week flooded Richmond International Airport, which closed its doors for more than two hours Friday.

Slow-moving thunderstorms on Wednesday triggered widespread flooding in suburban Pittsburgh, where residents posted online videos showing cars, television sets and dumpsters floating down streets and highways. Rainfall rates reached two to three inches per hour during that storm, according to the ­National Weather Service in Pittsburgh.

Several stalled storms last weekend resulted in catastrophic flooding of homes and businesses on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, prompting Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to declare a state of disaster in the counties affected. In South Texas, days of heavy rain inundated subdivisions with several feet of water, and the Texas National Guard used helicopters to rescue stranded residents.


Supreme Court surveillance opinion nudges us to think nationally, act locally

Supreme Court surveillance opinion nudges us to think nationally, act locally
Op-ed: Think police have gone too far? Tell your city council. Seriously.
Jun 24 2018

Christmas came on Friday, June 22 this year—that is, if you’re a privacy and surveillance law nerd.
After deliberating the decision for months, the Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Carpenter v. United States, a case in which the court was asked to answer the question: is it OK for police to obtain 127-days worth of someone’s cell-site location information (CSLI) without a warrant?

In a 5-4 decision, the court found that the answer was “no.” This is clearly a landmark step toward stronger privacy protections, and the opinion builds on two other related cases that the court unanimously decided in 2012 (Jones v. United States) and 2014 (Riley v. California).

A majority of the justices clearly articulated something that many of us intuit: that “tracking a person’s past movements… are detailed, encyclopedic, and effortlessly compiled.” In other words, long-term location data is “unique” when compared against other types of record that police have been previously able to obtain, such as bank records or short-term call logs.

After all, allowing law enforcement officers a warrantless tool of this magnitude gives them something of a superpower. Until Friday, police could easily acquire a set of data that would achieve what no team of officers previously could without expending significant human and financial resources.

With the court clearly imposing a warrant standard, police just have to do a little more legwork ahead of time, but getting a warrant is not difficult. Federal magistrate judges nationwide sign off on them literally every day: it is one of their key functions. The police’s job just got a bit tougher but certainly not anywhere close to impossible.

Now, while the Supreme Court plays a critical role in helping all of us (police and civilians alike) understand what the law is, it is equally important to remember that privacy advocates big and small cannot afford to wait.

The wheels of justice famously move slowly, and cases often takes several years to reach the Supreme Court, if they ever do. (Carpenter is in the extreme minority: the court rejects the overwhelming majority of cases submitted to it.)
With Carpenter, the facts of the case took place in 2010 and 2011. As Tim Carpenter’s prosecution unfolded, he was eventually convicted at trial, lost on appeal, and finally got to the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in October 2017.

As conservative jurists often remind us, it is not for courts to make the law, but rather to interpret the law. Justice Samuel Alito, in his dissent in Carpenter, wrote: “If the American people now think that the [Stored Communications] Act is inadequate or needs updating, they can turn to their elected representatives to adopt more protective provisions.”

OK, then. Game on.

As I argue in my new book, Habeas Data, it is incumbent upon all people everywhere who care about such issues to agitate toward more such legislative improvements. In an increasingly-partisan and divided Congress, our federal legislators do not seem particularly motivated to debate legislation that would rein in some of the government’s everyday domestic criminal-law surveillance powers.

Put another way: how much better has surveillance technology (or even the smartphone in your pocket) improved since Tim Carpenter perpetrated his armed robbery several years ago? With increasingly inexpensive police drones and the advent of companies that are literally called “Persistent Surveillance Systems,” this problem will only get worse.

There are suggestions that judges should take a critical view of the advancement of this area of technology.

“A person does not surrender all Fourth Amendment protection by venturing into the public sphere,” a majority of the Supreme Court concluded in Carpenter.

But such legislative reform efforts are starting to take hold in some cities and states across our nation. Unfortunately, these actions, for now, are the exception rather than the rule. More typically, law enforcement is able to acquire surveillance technology—ranging from phone-location records to stingrays to drones and beyond—with little, if any, informed consent of its legislators.


The GPS app that can find anyone anywhere

The GPS app that can find anyone anywhere
A UK-based startup has developed a geocoding tool that could revolutionise how we find places, from a remote African village dwelling to your tent at a rock festival
By Tim Adams
Jun 23 2018

In common with perhaps 15 million South Africans, Eunice Sewaphe does not have a street address. Her two-room house is in a village called Relela, in a verdant, hilly region of the Limpopo province, five hours’ drive north-east of Johannesburg. If you visited Relela, you might be struck by several things the village lacks – modern sanitation, decent roads, reliable electricity – before you were struck by a lack of street names or house numbers. But living essentially off-map has considerable consequence for people like Eunice. It makes it tough to get a bank account, hard to register to vote, difficult to apply for a job or even receive a letter. For the moment, though, those ongoing concerns are eclipsed by another, larger anxiety. Eunice Sewaphe is nine months pregnant – her first child is due in two days’ time – and she is not quite sure, without an address, how she will get to hospital.

Sitting in the sun with Eunice and her neighbours outside her house, in a yard in which chickens peck in the red dirt, she explained to me, somewhat hesitantly, her current plan for the imminent arrival. The nearest hospital, Van Velden, in the town of Tzaneen, is 40 minutes away by car. When Eunice goes into labour, she will have to somehow get to the main road a couple of miles away in order to find a taxi, for which she and her husband have been saving up a few rand a week. If there are complications, or if the baby arrives at night, she may need an ambulance. But since no ambulance could find her house without an address, this will again necessitate her getting out to the main road. In the past, women from Relela, in prolonged labour, have had to be taken in wheelbarrows to wait for emergency transport that may or may not come.

The maternal mortality rates in South Africa remain stubbornly high. Of 1.1 million births a year, 34,000 babies die. More than 1,500 women lose their lives each year in childbirth. Those statistics are a fact of life in Relela. Josephina Mohatli is one of Eunice’s neighbours. She explains quietly how she went into labour with her first child prematurely. When she finally managed to get a taxi, she was taken to two local clinics and then a private doctor, none of which were able to help her. When she finally reached the hospital after several desperate hours, her baby had died.

I have come up to Relela with Dr Coenie Louw, who is the regional head of the charity Gateway Health, which is concerned with improving those mortality statistics. Dr Louw, 51, speaks with a gruff Afrikaans accent that belies his evangelist’s optimism to make a change for these women. “Though frankly,” he says, “if I don’t know where you are, I can’t help you.”

Google Maps will only bring help to the edge of the village. “We tried to do something by triangulating between three cell phone towers,” he says, which proved predictably unreliable. Searching for other solutions, Louw came across what3words, the innovative British technology that, among many other things, neatly solves the question of how an ambulance might find Eunice Sewaphe.

Five years ago, the founders of what3words divided the entire surface of the planet into a grid of squares, each one measuring 3 metres by 3 metres. There are 57tn of these squares, and each one of them has been assigned a unique three-word address. My own front door in London has the three-word address “span.brave.tree”.

The front door of Eunice’s house in Relela might be “irrigates.joyful.zipper” (or, in Zulu, “phephani.khuluma.bubhaka”). To test the system, I have driven up here with one of Gateway Health’s drivers, Mandla Maluleke. Maluleke has keyed the three-word code into his phone app, which has dropped a pin on a conventional mapping system. Once we leave the main highway, the GPS immediately signals “unknown road”, but even so, after many twists and turns it takes us precisely to “irrigates.joyful.zipper”, and Eunice’s front door.


My immigration dystopia novel was called ‘far-fetched’. Not anymore

My immigration dystopia novel was called ‘far-fetched’. Not anymore
In 2012, when my novel was published, readers felt sure it could never happen in the US. Now they’re calling it prescient
By Sabrina Vourvoulias
Jun 23 2018

I knew we were in trouble when undocumented immigrants started disappearing.

It was 2008, and they were being snatched by immigration agents right off the subway platform at the 8th and Market station in Philadelphia. Or they were dumped across state borders after being offered a ride in New York’s Westchester county. Or they simply never came home after their workplaces were raided in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Mississippi. 

It had been happening before then, of course, but that’s when I decided to change the novel I was writing at the time into a cautionary tale about immigration policy turned totalitarian. I came by the instinct for projecting worst-case scenarios honestly – I had grown up in Guatemala during the 36-year internal armed crisis that left 200,000 people dead or permanently disappeared.

The resulting novel, Ink, was published in 2012 by Crossed Genres Publications. Some who read it commented that the premise seemed unlikely, that nothing resembling the dystopia it depicted would ever happen in the United States. 

By the time Rosarium Publishing (a very woke small press in Washington DC) decided to rerelease the novel this September, however, I had received countless messages from readers pointing to real-life concordances. Just this week the Mexican Canadian fiction writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia tweeted: “I read this years ago when it came out and it was good, but a tad far-fetched. I’m sad to report it’s now very likely.”

Where we stand now – poised on the precipice of a real-life immigration dystopia – cannot be laid entirely at Trump’s feet. Obama, Bush and Clinton all helped escalate the criminalization of undocumented immigrants in the US. But it is Trump’s unabashed ill will against immigrants that may finally drive us over the edge.

In real life, as in fiction, it starts with language. Throughout my journalism career I have railed against the use of “illegals” to describe those whose immigration status is irregular. But the leap from that to Trump’s use of “animals” and his statement that immigrants are infesting the nation, is a leap from abstract to concrete dehumanization. To verminization, in fact. And as Anil Kalhan, a professor of law at Drexel University, noted recently, what does one do with an infestation of vermin? Eradicate and exterminate. 

While we haven’t yet – thank God – escalated to extermination, the administration’s plan to eradicate the influx of immigrants (many of them asylum-seekers from the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras) has been far-ranging. It includes efforts to physically block people from the US ports of entry where they can legally petition for asylum; overturning asylum protections for victims of domestic and gang violence; even creating a taskforce to consider stripping citizenship from naturalized citizens who are deemed to have “lied” on their applications.

But nothing has illustrated the Trump administration’s willingness to employ the most noxious means to attain their ends than the separation of 2,000 immigrant children from their parents and their detention in centers and “tender age” shelters for infants and pre-toddlers. 

While the executive order Trump issued on Wednesday temporarily stops the process of separation, the damage will probably be long-term. Immigration attorneys are uncertain that those children who were already separated can be successfully reunited with their parents, and the process is likely to further psychologically damage an already traumatized generation of immigrant children.