October 2016


The answer to who will win the Nov. 8 election may be buried under the avalanche of tweets supporting each candidate, a new paper by the City College of New York contends.

Researchers analyzed 73 million tweets from June 1 to Sept. 1 and concluded that trends match the New York Times polling averages “with remarkable accuracy.”

“More importantly, for the CCNY team, the Twitter opinion trend forecasts the aggregated Times polls by 6 to 15 days, showing that Twitter can be an early warning signal of global opinion trends at the national level,” the college says in an announcement of the research.

clinton_and_trump_cartoon_illustrationHernan Makse, a physics professor at the school, said: “Our analytics, which are available at kcorelab.com, unleash the power of Twitter to predict social opinion trends from elections, brands to political movements. Our results suggest that the multi-billion public opinion polling industry could be replaced by Twitter analytics performed practically for free.”

While Donald Trump supporters are more active overall on a daily basis, Hillary Clinton supporters dominate during major events, such as the conventions, the researchers said.

According to the paper: “While Trump supporters might be gaining the race inside the strongly connected giant component, thus forming a very cohesive group with large influence at the core of the network, Clinton still wins the popular vote when we consider all the Twitter supporters, and not only those in the SCGC.

“Thus, while the Twitter campaign of Clinton seems to be less enthusiastic and dormant compared to the Twitter Trump machinery, candidate Clinton still wins the popular vote in the whole network.”

However, they said, “it remains a question” whether Clinton’s overall support — apparently much less fervent than Trump’s — translates into actual votes on Election Day. But analyses of services like Twitter could eventually replace costlier and more time-consuming polling efforts, the college says.

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OMG. People who lurk on Facebook without posting and get bombarded by friends posting selfies are probably going to end up feeling down in the dumps.

They’re more likely to suffer a drop in self-esteem and life satisfaction, a new study by Penn State University finds.

The people who post the selfies, on the other hand, enjoyed increased self-esteem.

“People usually post selfies when they’re happy or having fun,” said Ruoxu Wang, a Penn State graduate student in mass communications. “This makes it easy for someone else to look at these pictures and think his or her life is not as great as theirs.”

In other words, 21st century life is a cabaret — as long as you have a smartphone with a selfie stick and Internet access.

Image credit: VectorOpenStock via Wikimedia Commons

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Health insurance premiums are on the rise and taking up a bigger and bigger share of Americans’ incomes. (Credit: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation)

It’s astonishing that the dominant issue in this year’s presidential election is sexual misconduct when there are so many other things crying for attention, including the student loan crisis, reasonable gun laws and fair trade.

Not to mention healthcare.

The U.S. healthcare system is such a horror show, it would need a dramatic overhaul just to be considered broken.

Financial writer John Mauldin looked at the problem the U.S. finds itself in with an interesting analysis this week on his blog, Thoughts From The Frontline. It included lots of sobering facts and figures, like the fact that many Americans are spending hefty percentages of their income on insurance premiums that offer deductibles of $5,000 or more.

Deductibles have risen 10 times faster than inflation over the last six years, Mauldin notes.

The Affordable Healthcare Act has resulted in 25 million more Americans getting coverage — which is a good thing — but for those consumers who pay full freight because their incomes don’t qualify for subsidies it has become a crushing financial burden.

Many people are quick to put the blame on “Obamacare” but as Mauldin points out: “The problems I am describing would have happened with or without Obamacare.”

One of the reasons is the world’s aging population makes it a lock that healthcare costs are going to increase dramatically over the next 10 years.

We can only hope that there will be productive debate after the election dust settles and the White House and Congress can come to some agreements on healthcare fixes — assuming the government is functional after such a raucous and contentious campaign.

One idea under consideration — at least by some Democrats — is a public option, which would force private insurers to come up with more innovative products in order to compete in the market.

Ideas are needed and solicited. If you really want to go outside the box, why not consider fundamental changes to licensing healthcare providers? A class of provider could be developed similar to physician assistants, but one that would allow them to set up a private practice.

Further, let’s say providers who get this training have their college tuition covered by Uncle Sam if they agree to provide services in the public sector for five years.

It’s a matter of supply and demand: more healthcare providers lead to lower-cost options through increased competition.

What you end up with is a mix of market-based solutions along with government supported change. And anyone can keep the healthcare they have if they choose.

Whatever happens, creative solutions are required and perhaps our newly elected officials will get serious once the election — with its assorted sex scandals — is in our rear view mirror.

Theories have sprouted up over the last few years contending that humans may be capable of living to ripe old age of 200.

People might live so long that instead of having 55-plus communities, they’ll have to have 150-plus communities as well, a sort of two-tiered retirement living option.

Under this scenario, you wouldn’t technically reach middle-age until around 100 or so.

Except that this isn’t going to happen, according to a new study released by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Researchers said humans are likely already closing in on their natural lifespan limit, which is around 115.

Sure, there could be a few outliers, known as supercentenarians. In France, a woman named Jeanne Calment lived to 122, the maximum documented lifespan in history.

Calment always looked much younger than she was even though she smoked cigarettes until age 117 and enjoyed wine. Her example offered hope that, as the BBC put it in a story last year, “Ageing is not an inevitable fact of life.”

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A bowhead whale can live to 210 … so why can’t humans? (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists in the article were inspired by the bowhead whale, which has a lifespan of 150 years “and perhaps as long as 210.” They are studying the animal to unlock its secrets.

But the Einstein College researchers looked at the pace of statistical gains in lifespan over the last century. In 1900, the average American lived to 47. A baby born today can expect to live until age 79.

However, they found that gains in longevity started to decline rapidly after the age of 100 — regardless of the year a person was born.

“This finding indicates diminishing gains in reducing late-life mortality and a possible limit to human lifespan,” said Jan Vijg, professor and chair of genetics at the college.

Vijg and colleagues found that age at death increased for supercentarians between the 1970s and early 1990s, reaching a plateau in 1995.

“Further progress against infectious and chronic diseases may continue boosting average life expectancy, but not maximum lifespan,” said Vijg. “While it’s conceivable that therapeutic breakthroughs might extend human longevity beyond the limits we’ve calculated, such advances would need to overwhelm the many genetic variants that appear to collectively determine the human lifespan.

“Perhaps resources now being spent to increase lifespan should instead go to lengthening health span—the duration of old age spent in good health.”

Their research was published in the journal, Nature.

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Photo: Kennedy and Nixon debated the “missile gap” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1960. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

With the presidential election just about a month away, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the major issues that shaped national races over the course of the country’s history.

Let’s get right to it:

  • 1856/ 1860: Slavery, and violence in the Kansas Territory over the issue. Secession.
  • 1876: Reconstruction of the South and the maintenance of federal troops in the South.
  • 1892: Tariffs. Republicans favored higher tariffs, Democrats lower tarrifs. There were calls for government ownership of the railroads and monetary reform.
  • 1900: The U.S. involvement in the Philippines after the Spanish American War was debated.
  • 1904: Controversy over Teddy Roosevelt’s antitrust policies.
  • 1916: Keeping the U.S. out of World War I.
  • 1932: How to address The Great Depression. Repeal of Prohibition.
  • 1940: Keeping the U.S. out of World War II — or coming to the defense of Europe which was under Nazi siege.
  • 1948: Civil rights.
  • 1952: President Truman’s handling of the Korean War. Inflation.
  • 1960: The “missile gap” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
  • 1968: Civil rights, student protests over the Vietnam War.
  • 1980: Inflation, and the Iranian hostage crisis.
  • 1992: The recession.
  • 2004: Terrorism and how to address threats in the U.S. and around the world.
  • 2008: The Great Recession, economic collapse, bank bailouts.
  • 2016: Debate over whether former Miss Universe Alicia Machado participated in a porno tape; Barack Obama’s place of birth; discussion of whether or not Rosie O’Donnell is an attractive person; Donald Trump’s hair; Hillary Clinton’s pant suits.