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Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James pauses during an interview during media day at the NBA basketball team's practice facility Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in El Segundo, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James pauses during an interview during media day at the NBA basketball team's practice facility Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in El Segundo, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)


Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James fields questions during media day at the NBA basketball team's practice facility Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in El Segundo, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)


NBA, MLB, NFL franchises team up for ‘Rally the Vote’ drive

Tuesday, September 25

NEW YORK (AP) — Nine sports franchises from Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NFL are encouraging fans to register and vote.

Sacramento Kings owner and chairman Vivek Ranadivé helped spearhead the “Rally the Vote” effort. He says if teams can make ticket buying to sporting events accessible in a few clicks, there’s no reason registering to vote shouldn’t be the same.

The Kings, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks are among the NBA teams offering fans a platform to register starting Tuesday on the teams’ mobile apps, websites and social media. Joining them are the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants and 49ers.

Kings forward Marvin Bagley III filmed a PSA calling on fans to register in California before the Oct. 22 deadline. It will air in the arena during the Kings’ preseason games and home opener.

There are 87.9 million Americans eligible to vote who aren’t registered, according to the U.S. Census. Tuesday is national voter registration day.

WNBA players received an athlete tool kit to help register people in their communities. Teams are using social media to encourage fans to vote.

The Conversation

Are religious people more moral?

October 23, 2017

Author

Dimitris Xygalatas

Assistant Professor in Anthropology, University of Connecticut

Disclosure statement

Dimitris Xygalatas does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners

University of Connecticut provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Why do people distrust atheists?

A recent study we conducted, led by psychologist Will Gervais, found widespread and extreme moral prejudice against atheists around the world. Across all continents, people assumed that those who committed immoral acts, even extreme ones such as serial murder, were more likely to be atheists.

Although this was the first demonstration of such bias at a global scale, its existence is hardly surprising.

Survey data show that Americans are less trusting of atheists than of any other social group. For most politicians, going to church is often the best way to garner votes, and coming out as an unbeliever could well be political suicide. After all, there are no open atheists in the U.S. Congress. The only known religiously unaffiliated representative describes herself as “none,” but still denies being an atheist.

So, where does such extreme prejudice come from? And what is the actual evidence on the relationship between religion and morality?

How does religion relate to morality?

It is true that the world’s major religions are concerned with moral behavior. Many, therefore, might assume that religious commitment is a sign of virtue, or even that morality cannot exist without religion.

Both of these assumptions, however, are problematic.

For one thing, the ethical ideals of one religion might seem immoral to members of another. For instance, in the 19th century, Mormons considered polygamy a moral imperative, while Catholics saw it as a mortal sin.

Moreover, religious ideals of moral behavior are often limited to group members and might even be accompanied by outright hatred against other groups. In 1543, for example, Martin Luther, one of the fathers of Protestantism, published a treatise titled “On the Jews and their Lies,” echoing anti-Semitic sentiments that have been common among various religious groups for centuries.

These examples also reveal that religious morality can and does change with the ebb and flow of the surrounding culture. In recent years, several Anglican churches have revised their moral views to allow contraception, the ordination of women and the blessing of same-sex unions.

Discrepancy between beliefs and behavior

In any case, religiosity is only loosely related to theology. That is, the beliefs and behaviors of religious people are not always in accordance with official religious doctrines. Instead, popular religiosity tends to be much more practical and intuitive. This is what religious studies scholars call “theological incorrectness.”

Buddhism, for example, may officially be a religion without gods, but most Buddhists still treat Buddha as a deity. Similarly, the Catholic Church vehemently opposes birth control, but the vast majority of Catholics practice it anyway. In fact, theological incorrectness is the norm rather than the exception among believers.

For this reason, sociologist Mark Chaves called the idea that people behave in accordance with religious beliefs and commandments the “religious congruence fallacy.”

This discrepancy among beliefs, attitudes and behaviors is a much broader phenomenon. After all, communism is an egalitarian ideology, but communists do not behave any less selfishly.

So, what is the actual evidence on the relationship between religion and morality?

Do people practice what they preach?

Social scientific research on the topic offers some intriguing results.

When researchers ask people to report on their own behaviors and attitudes, religious individuals claim to be more altruistic, compassionate, honest, civic and charitable than nonreligious ones. Even among twins, more religious siblings describe themselves are being more generous.

But when we look at actual behavior, these differences are nowhere to be found.

Researchers have now looked at multiple aspects of moral conduct, from charitable giving and cheating in exams to helping strangers in need and cooperating with anonymous others.

In a classical experiment known as the “Good Samaritan Study,” researchers monitored who would stop to help an injured person lying in an alley. They found that religiosity played no role in helping behavior, even when participants were on their way to deliver a talk on the parable of the good Samaritan.

This finding has now been confirmed in numerous laboratory and field studies. Overall, the results are clear: No matter how we define morality, religious people do not behave more morally than atheists, although they often say (and likely believe) that they do.

When and where religion has an impact

On the other hand, religious reminders do have a documented effect on moral behavior.

Studies conducted among American Christians, for example, have found that participants donated more money to charity and even watched less porn on Sundays. However, they compensated on both accounts during the rest of the week. As a result, there were no differences between religious and nonreligious participants on average.

Likewise, a study conducted in Morocco found that whenever the Islamic call to prayer was publicly audible, locals contributed more money to charity. However, these effects were short-lived: Donations increased only within a few minutes of each call, and then dropped again.

Numerous other studies have yielded similar results. In my own work, I found that people became more generous and cooperative when they found themselves in a place of worship.

Interestingly, one’s degree of religiosity does not seem to have a major effect in these experiments. In other words, the positive effects of religion depend on the situation, not the disposition.

Religion and rule of law

Not all beliefs are created equal, though. A recent cross-cultural study showed that those who see their gods as moralizing and punishing are more impartial and cheat less in economic transactions. In other words, if people believe that their gods always know what they are up to and are willing to punish transgressors, they will tend to behave better, and expect that others will too.

Such a belief in an external source of justice, however, is not unique to religion. Trust in the rule of law, in the form of an efficient state, a fair judicial system or a reliable police force, is also a predictor of moral behavior.

And indeed, when the rule of law is strong, religious belief declines, and so does distrust against atheists.

The co-evolution of God and society

Scientific evidence suggests that humans – and even our primate cousins – have innate moral predispositions, which are often expressed in religious philosophies. That is, religion is a reflection rather than the cause of these predispositions.

But the reason religion has been so successful in the course of human history is precisely its ability to capitalize on those moral intuitions.

The historical record shows that supernatural beings have not always been associated with morality. Ancient Greek gods were not interested in people’s ethical conduct. Much like the various local deities worshiped among many modern hunter-gatherers, they cared about receiving rites and offerings but not about whether people lied to one another or cheated on their spouses.

According to psychologist Ara Norenzayan, belief in morally invested gods developed as a solution to the problem of large-scale cooperation.

Early societies were small enough that their members could rely on people’s reputations to decide whom to associate with. But once our ancestors turned to permanent settlements and group size increased, everyday interactions were increasingly taking place between strangers. How were people to know whom to trust?

Religion provided an answer by introducing beliefs about all-knowing, all-powerful gods who punish moral transgressions. As human societies grew larger, so did the occurrence of such beliefs. And in the absence of efficient secular institutions, the fear of God was crucial for establishing and maintaining social order.

In those societies, a sincere belief in a punishing supernatural watcher was the best guarantee of moral behavior, providing a public signal of compliance with social norms.

Today we have other ways of policing morality, but this evolutionary heritage is still with us. Although statistics show that atheists commit fewer crimes than average, the widespread prejudice against them, as highlighted by our study, reflects intuitions that have been forged through centuries and might be hard to overcome.

The Conversation

When should you unfriend someone on Facebook?

December 3, 2017

Author

Alexis Elder

Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Minnesota Duluth

Disclosure statement

Alexis Elder does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

The nature and ethics of “fake news” has become a subject of widespread concern. But, for many of us, the issue is much more personal: What are we to do when a cranky uncle or an otherwise pleasant old friend persists in populating our news feeds with a stream of posts that can run deeply contrary to our own values?

One option is to unfriend people who share material that conflicts with our values. But a siloed environment where people self-select into echo chambers could also be worrisome. As a researcher working on the ethics of social technologies, I start with what might seem like an unlikely source: Aristotle.

Classical Greece may bear little resemblance to today’s world of smartphones and social media. But Aristotle was no stranger to the struggle to build and maintain social connections in a contentious political climate.

Value of friendship

The first issue is what should real friendships look like. Aristotle argues that a

“perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in virtue.

On the face of it, it would appear then that friendships are essentially about similarities, arising where like-minded people group together. This could be a problem, if you thought that a good friendship involved respecting difference. It would also be a reason for people to unfriend those who disagreed with us politically.

But Aristotle doesn’t say friends should be “alike.” What he says is that best friends can be different and yet share good lives together so long as each is virtuous in his or her own way. In other words, the only similarity necessary is that they both be virtuous.

By “virtuous,” he means the features of excellent people, those character traits like courage and kindness that help individuals be good to others, their own selves and live good lives. Such traits help people flourish as rational, social animals.

Appreciating differences

Again, if you thought that these characteristics looked the same for every individual, you might worry that this still means that friends should be very similar. But that is not what he says about the nature of virtue.

A virtuous character trait, he says, consists of having the right amount of common human disposition – not too much and not too little. Courage, for example, is the middle ground between an excess and a deficit of fear. Too much fear would keep people from defending what they valued, while too little would make them vulnerable to unnecessary injury.

But what counts as the middle ground is relative to the individual, not an absolute.

Consider how what counts as the right amount of food is different for an accomplished athlete than a novice. Likewise for courage and other virtues. What counts as the right amount of fear depends on what needs defending, and what resources are available for defense.

So courage can look very different for different people, in different contexts. In other words, each individual could have his or her own moral style. This seems to leave room for appreciating friends’ differences on social media. It should also give individuals reason to be cautious in exercising the “unfriend” option.

Living together

For Aristotle, shared lives are key to explaining both why friendship matters to us and why good character matters to friendship. Friends, he says,

… do and share in those things which give them the sense of living together. Thus the friendship of bad men turns out an evil thing (for because of their instability they unite in bad pursuits, and besides they become evil by becoming like each other), while the friendship of good men is good, being augmented by their companionship…

For Aristotle, virtues are by definition those traits that help you to flourish as a rational, social animal. Being your best self helps you to live a good life.

The opposite, he says, is true of vices. What he means by a vice is the wrong amount of a characteristic: for example, too much fear or too little concern for others. Vices can make people’s lives worse overall, even if more enjoyable in the short term. The coward cannot stand up for what she values and so harms herself and not just those she ought to protect. The selfish person makes himself incapable of close friendship and deprives himself of an important human good.

Difference isn’t bad, and can even enrich our lives. But having vicious people as friends make us worse off, both because we care about them and want them to live well and because of their influence on us.

How can we use Facebook wisely and well?

What I take from this is that we ought not to think that friends’ differences, political or otherwise, pose a problem for friendship. But at the same time, character matters. Repeated interactions, even on social media, can shape our character over time.

So, in considering the question, should you disconnect from that Facebook “friend,” the short but unsatisfying answer is, “It depends.”

Facebook connects people, but it imposes both physical and psychological distance. One could argue that this makes it easier both to share our thoughts (even those that many wouldn’t air in person) and to disconnect from others, even when social pressures might make it harder to do so when face to face.

Figuring out when to exercise these different abilities could require individuals to exercise the virtues. But as I have explained, they do not give anyone a uniform guide to action. What counts as a virtue depends on the details of the circumstance.

Landmarks for navigating

Several factors look relevant. Social media makes people happier when they use it to interact rather than passively observe. Diverse connections and conversations can enrich people’s lives. On Facebook, we have an opportunity to experience “ideologically diverse news and opinions.”

Sure, sometimes unfriending an obnoxious co-worker or relative helps keep the peace… but this can be cowardly. And sometimes arguing with someone online just reinforces our own belligerence, making us worse in the long run. What we want to do is have good conversations that strengthen good connections.

But here, too, we need to remain sensitive to details of context. Some conversations are better had at a distance and others face to face.

In the end, some reasons to connect or disconnect are rooted in concerns about our own character, and some revolve around others’ characters. We have reason to foster a courageous and compassionate willingness to consider others’ worldviews and to be mindful of our own tendency to vilify posts (and people) because we disagree with them. But we also want our friends to be good people.

What we need to remember is that the devil is in the details. I think the reason we grapple with this issue is that it resists easy or uniform answers. But using the tools Aristotle provided to reflect on where we want to end up, we can find ways to connect that make us better off, both singly and together.

The Conversation

Passengers boarding airplanes: we’re doing it wrong

November 25, 2014

Author

Jason Steffen

Research Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Northwestern University

Disclosure statement

Jason Steffen does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

‘Tis the season for airplane travel. We may be looking forward to getting where we’re going, but most aspects of the travel itself are merely endured. There’s stressful security, the madding crowd and the scrum at boarding, where people and their myriad belongings clog the gate area, standing between you and your departure.

But take heart: there are scientifically proven ways to improve the boarding process or at least speed it up so that it can be over and done with more quickly.

What’s going wrong now

Currently, it feels like you could have walked to your destination by the time you’ve waited through boarding calls for all the various levels of travelers, from elite down to the dregs of refundable coach. Moreover, once you scan your pass and enter the jetway, you find it’s packed with all those who were crammed up around the ticket scanner a few minutes before – affectionately called “gate lice.”

One big contributor to this logjam is the common airline policy to charge for checked baggage, leading passengers to bring aboard more, and more fully packed, luggage. All these carry-ons take time to stow. The fuller the plane becomes, the longer it takes to put the luggage away – like a not-very-fun version of Tetris.

Another cause is the boarding process itself: the way and order that passengers are asked to board.

You might assume the fastest way to load a plane is from the back to the front, so that no passenger needs to pass anyone in the aisle or hop over anyone in their row. This logic forms the basis of standard boarding procedures. But what would really happen if you boarded in precisely this way? The passengers would rush into the cabin, proceed toward the back – and come to a screeching halt as the first one or two passengers stow their luggage. The first 30 passengers (the back five rows) would take up nearly the entire length of the cabin. The rest of the line has simply moved from the airport gate into the jetway or cabin – and it moves no faster.

The leap from serial to parallel

The problem is that boarding from the back to the front is a serial process: only one action at a time is completed. It’s like deleting a page of text just using the delete key instead of selecting the entire page. In this case, only one passenger at a time is seated. The aisle in the airplane isn’t used effectively.

A more efficient way to board would have only as many passengers in the airplane as can put their luggage away without interfering with each other. Those passengers should also be ordered so as to eliminate the need to pass by anyone either in the aisle or in the rows. In other words, it is better to make passenger boarding a parallel process where multiple actions occur simultaneously, instead of a serial process.

An optimum method

Virtually all scientific or industrial fields have optimization problems: finding the best way to complete different tasks. A classic example is the “traveling salesman” problem: what’s the shortest route that connects a number of cities?

The “traveling salesman” is another mathematical problem that can be solved using the same optimization routine.

The same optimization routine that can solve the traveling salesman problem can be applied to airplane boarding. Drawing from its results, I’ve proposed an optimum boarding method. In this approach, often called the Steffen method, adjacent passengers in line will be seated two rows apart from each other. The first wave of passengers would be, in order, 30A, 28A, 26A, 24A, and so on, starting from the back. (For a typical airplane there would be 12 such waves, one for each seat in a row and for odd and even rows.)

In field tests, this method has outperformed all others. In a test with 72 passengers it was nearly twice as fast as boarding back-to-front or in rotating blocks of rows, methods commonly used in the industry. It was 20-30% faster than more optimized boarding methods such as random boarding, when people get on without regard to where their assigned seats are. It also beat boarding windows-middle-aisle. My method even outperformed the industry gold standard of open seating, used by Southwest airlines. That’s when passengers don’t have assigned seats at all.

Can we make the switch?

So, why isn’t this optimum method of airplane boarding being adopted by any carrier in the industry? One significant reason may be the challenge of its implementation – lining passengers up in such a rigid order. While this obstacle may not be insurmountable, the question itself overlooks one of the primary benefits of the Steffen method: it allows an airline to measure how much room there is for improvement and identifies where that improvement is to be found.

A head-to-head comparison between an existing strategy and the Steffen method (incorporating all of the different elite and special-needs passengers) might show that a 30% reduction in boarding time is possible. Then, the powers-that-be can weigh the cost of changing to a more efficient, yet still practical process – one that more effectively uses the aisle – against the benefit of recovering only a portion of that potential savings. Those are the kinds of numbers that decisions can be based upon – and it eliminates the common, but utterly useless, defense of “there’s always room for improvement.”

Cold comfort on your flight this week, perhaps. Maybe spend some of your time standing in line spreading the word that a better way is possible.

Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James pauses during an interview during media day at the NBA basketball team’s practice facility Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in El Segundo, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/09/web1_121431603-1ad6d165fbe146b2b638d666bca3e0fb.jpgLos Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James pauses during an interview during media day at the NBA basketball team’s practice facility Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in El Segundo, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James fields questions during media day at the NBA basketball team’s practice facility Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in El Segundo, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/09/web1_121431603-e104a106b3fe4a3194b19bde5b2fbf09.jpgLos Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James fields questions during media day at the NBA basketball team’s practice facility Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in El Segundo, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Staff & Wire Reports