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Science in Society

Nudging the City and Residents of Cape Town to Save Water

Image of Cape Town desert parched earth and dead trees

Cape Town could become the world’s first major city to run out of water – what’s been termed Day Zero. Sao Paulo faced similar difficulties in 2015 leading to significant social unrest.

On Day Zero – which could be in mid-July if there’s no significant rain – residents of the city will have to travel to one of 200 city-wide collection points to get the allocated 25 litres per person, per day, under the watchful eye of an armed guard.

Why Is Sarcasm so Difficult to Detect in Texts and Emails?

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This sentence begins the best article you will ever read.

Chances are you thought that last statement might be sarcasm. Sarcasm, as linguist Robert Gibbs noted, includes “words used to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning of a sentence.” A form of irony, it also tends to be directed toward a specific individual.

An Illness by Any Other Name: Could a Name Change Improve Perceptions of Gout?

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The beginning of a new year is a time of resolution setting and recovery from the festive season. We enjoyed plenty of ham, turkey, Christmas pudding and maybe a few alcoholic beverages. But merriment has consequences. In fact, the head of the Royal College of General Practitioners has asserted that due to poor diet and lifestyle habits, Santa Claus probably has a few health problems, one of which being gout.

The dangerous belief that white people are under attack

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In August, the Justice Department decided to investigate instances of bias against whites in university admissions. Since then, campuses have been flyered with “It’s okay to be white,” and in November, violence erupted at the University of Connecticut during a speech about discrimination against whites.

Are white people actually under attack?

After all, in the U.S., whites have historically been viewed as perpetrators of bias, and racial minorities as the victims.

Do People Like Government ‘Nudges’? Study Says: Yes

Image of a yellow post-it note on a blank notebook page that reads "Do the right thing"

On Oct. 9, Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago won the Nobel Prize for his extraordinary, world-transforming work in behavioral economics. In its press release, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences emphasized that Thaler demonstrated how nudging – or influencing people while fully maintaining freedom of choice – “may help people exercise better self-control when saving for a pension, as well in other contexts.”

In terms of Thaler’s work on what human beings are actually like, that’s the tip of the iceberg – but it’s a good place to start.

Attitudes to Same-Sex Marriage Have Many Psychological Roots, and They Can Change

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As the Australian same-sex marriage debate heats up it may be time for cool reflection on the sources of our polarised views. Recent research shines a revealing light on the roots of pro- and anti-marriage equality sentiment. It helps explain the roots of our attitudes to same-sex marriage, and whether they are shallow enough to allow attitudes to change.

Healthy Choices are Neither Good or Bad; Only Thinking Makes Them So

Illustration of healthy foods combining to create a brain

Doing healthy things can feel like a battle between the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. The devil impels me to order the bacon burger for lunch, but the angel nudges my hand toward the salad.

“Work-Life Balance” and “Empathizing” Do Not Explain Women’s Career Choices

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A viral letter by then-Google employee James Damore has renewed the conversation about diversity in Silicon Valley. One thread of the ensuing debate has focused on the scientific validity of Damore’s claims that men and women do in fact differ in their preferences. An unspoken assumption has been that differences in preferences—if such differences exist—would go a long way toward explaining why women have remained underrepresented in tech and similar fields, despite efforts to increase diversity.

Can We Foresee the Future? Explaining and Predicting Cultural Change

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What does the future hold? Our enduring fascination with predicting the future is reflected on the silver screen, as excitement builds over the Blade Runner sequel. We continue being mesmerized by ancient prophecies, such as Nostradamus' Quatrains. And we certainly pay very well to pundits, economists, and intelligence analysts who try to predict coming social, economic, and political events. Unfortunately, this abiding interest in prediction has not translated into the ability to forecast future events with much accuracy.

Rationalizing the “Irrational”

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Economists are famous for attempting to rationalize seemingly irrational behavior. One of the more extraordinary is Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy’s theory of rational addiction, in which they hypothesized that addicts plan their consumption of addictive goods. When deciding whether to smoke a cigarette or take a hit, the theory goes, addicts choose in full knowledge and consideration of the health costs and the future costs of their smoking or drug use due to addiction.

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