The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The NSA’s call logs go dark

The retraction of a major paper on public opinion and gay marriage has caused some soul searching in the social sciences. Many academics worry that editors of journals and organizers of conferences are too concerned about getting the attention of the media, and not concerned enough about finding the truth, Noam Scheiber reports for The New York Times:

Many social scientists have observed that their disciplines, which once regarded the ability to attract attention with suspicion, increasingly reward it. ...
Most hiring committees and tenure review boards in the social sciences continue to give more weight to publications or the potential to publish in top technical journals above other factors when making decisions that affect the careers of young academics.
But popular media attention increasingly works in a candidate’s favor as well.

All social scientists -- and all journalists -- should always be thinking hard about whether the dream of finding a large audience for their work is getting in the way of the job. Blaming the media for inaccuracies in the social sciences seems mistaken, though.

Scholars can do a lot of good for the public when they work on issues that really matter to politicians and ordinary people, and when they write papers on those topics, journalists pay attention. Nor is the community of academic social scientists free from intellectual fads and obsessions that can bias their judgment, even when they aren't thinking about the press.

In all, the fact that more and more social scientists are engaged with the press is a good thing. Many even keep their own blogs, which, as the economist Mark Thoma has argued, has made everyone more informed.

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What's in Wonkbook: 1) Patriot Act lapse 2) Opinions, including Dionne and Wilkinson on distribution 3) Graham will announce his presidential campaign Monday, and more

Number of the day: -0.7 percent. That's the change in the size of the economy in the first quarter of the year. Chico Harlan in The Washington Post.

1. Top story: Crucial Patriot Act language expires

The Senate has allowed Section 215 and other surveillance provisions to lapse. "For the first time since the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans will again be free to place phone calls — to friends, lovers, business associates, political groups, doctors and pizza restaurants — without having logs of those contacts vacuumed up in bulk by the National Security Agency. ... But interviews with law enforcement and intelligence officials about what they will do in the interim suggest there are multiple workarounds to the gap. ... All three of the expired laws contained a so-called grandfather clause that permits their authority to continue indefinitely for any investigation that had begun before June 1." Charlie Savage in The New York Times.

Did Section 215 actually help catch any bad guys? "The administration and defense hawks, while disagreeing on the merits of the reform measure, agree that 'going dark' is irresponsible and creates unnecessary uncertainty for the intelligence community. But privacy advocates and two government review panels say such fears are overstated, reflective of a surveillance state mindset that has crossed party lines in Washington and spanned the length of two presidencies. ... The NSA's phone-records program has been deemed ineffective by a presidential review group and a majority of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. It also was ruled illegal last month by a federal appeals court, which said that the government's interpretation of 'relevant' to mean "everything" was meritless and not intended by most members of Congress when the Patriot Act was passed." Dustin Volz in National Journal.

Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate majority leader, couldn't get an extension through his chamber. "The Senate closed a rare Sunday session without approving the only legislation that would have averted a lapse in the authority — a House-passed bill that would provide for an orderly transition away from the most controversial program authorized under the current law: the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of call records from telephone companies. ... Elizabeth Goitein, a national security expert at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, said McConnell 'badly overplayed his hand. He gambled that he could wait until the last minute and ram through a short-term reauthorization of the Patriot Act, and he lost,' she said. 'By the time he tried to backpedal and move the USA Freedom Act forward, it was too late.' " Mike DeBonis and Ellen Nakashima in The Washington Post.

He wasn't prepared for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). "The week leading up to the clash on the Senate floor was not good for Mr. Paul. The Republican establishment seemingly rose as one in umbrage after he faulted Republican hawks for the birth of the radical Islamic State, or ISIS. C-Span cameras caught one of those hawks, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, rolling his eyes mockingly on the Senate floor as Mr. Paul denounced the post-9/11 national security state. ... So it came as no surprise when Mr. Paul took to the floor on Sunday evening to fulfill his promise to use his power as a single senator to try to ensure that the section of the Patriot Act used by the National Security Agency to vacuum up reams of telephone data would expire at midnight." Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.

WEIGEL: Paul's maneuver was largely symbolic, as the Senate will vote for reforms in a few days. "Paul's small victory was that some provisions of the Patriot Act would expire for a few days; Paul himself said that there were '80 votes, maybe more' in the Senate to save the basic law. His larger political victory was that he took ownership of Patriot Act opposition, angering Republican colleagues whom he is happy to anger—politicians like Arizona Senator John McCain and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Even as he complicated the job of USA Freedom Act supporters, telling his backers that the new law was overly compromised, he brought a fresh media focus to their cause and their concerns. They gave him a little credit for that." Bloomberg.

2. Top opinions 

DeLONG: Economic models often reflect the assumptions and biases of their creators. "When policymakers turn to economists for guidance, they expect the advice they receive to be grounded in science, not academic factionalism or political presuppositions. After all, the policies they will be putting in place will have real implications for real people. Unfortunately, however, sound science is not always the driving force behind economic analysis and policy recommendations. ... Economists, bankers, industrialists, technocrats, and politicians make the claim that the policies governments could implement to speed an economic recovery must be, if not counterproductive, at least too risky. After all, that is what a model with a very restricted class of rational expectations would predict." Project Syndicate.

WILKINSON: New evidence suggests that redistribution won't make the country happier. "Taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor is redistribution of not just wealth but happiness. Taxing the rich hurts their happiness. If it boosts the happiness of the poor a lot more, which it should, maybe they should take the hit. But happiness studies on progressive redistribution find that it has either no detectable effect on average happiness or a very small one. This puzzling result is probably due to the effects of giving the poor money the rich might have otherwise invested in the economy. Other things equal, redistribution doesn’t seem to hurt national happiness. But it doesn’t help much either. Ultimately, whether a more equitable distribution of money and happiness is desirable is a question of justice about which social science has little to say. In the end, survey-based happiness research doesn’t tell us much that’s useful. What it says clearly, we already knew. It says that it’s best to live in a wealthy, stable, capitalist, liberal-democratic welfare-state with a relatively low rate of unemployment. For the most part, our political debates take all this for granted." Politico.

DIONNE: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) could change the Democratic Party. "The senator from Vermont has little chance of defeating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. But he is reminding his party of something it often forgets: Government was once popular because it provided tangible benefits to large numbers of Americans. At a time of rising inequality and short-circuited social mobility, Sanders is unapologetic about taking some wealth and income away from those who have a lot of both to ease the path upward for those who don’t. He has proudly called himself a democratic socialist, but he doesn’t spin abstract Marxist theories. He wants government to do stuff, and the sort of stuff he has in mind is potentially quite popular." The Washington Post.

KRUGMAN: Everyone knows what Greece needs, but the country is careening toward disaster. "A forced Greek exit from the euro would create huge economic and political risks, yet Europe seems to be sleepwalking toward that outcome. ... Why can’t the players here reach a mutually beneficial deal? Part of the answer is mutual distrust. Greeks feel, with justification, that for years their nation has been treated like a conquered province, ruled by callous and incompetent proconsuls; if you want to see why, look both at the incredible severity of the austerity program the country has been forced to impose and the utter failure of that program to deliver the promised results. Meanwhile, the institutions on the other side consider the Greeks unreliable and irresponsible; some of this, I think, reflects the inexperience of the coalition of outsiders that took power thanks to austerity’s failure, but it’s also easy to see why, given Greece’s track record, it’s hard to trust promises of reform." The New York Times.

3. In case you missed it

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is expected to announce a presidential candidacy Monday. "Mr. Graham, 59, has said his fear that the world is 'falling apart' inspired him to run for the White House. He will try to convince voters that a platform of pragmatism at home and 'security through strength' abroad is the formula that gives Republicans the best chance to beat Hillary Rodham Clinton if she becomes the Democratic nominee. ... He joins the nominating contest as an underdog who has struggled in early polls next to rivals who include former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin." Alan Rappeport in The New York Times.

Martin O'Malley announced his campaign Saturday in Baltimore. "Outside the rallying area, small groups of mostly black Baltimoreans heckled the former mayor and two-term Maryland governor. ... The split-screen quality of O’Malley’s campaign launch—an energetic candidate speaking above the glistening harbor he rebuilt, and the scattering of angry black Baltimore residents in the crowd—reveal the challenges in the campaign ahead. Even as O’Malley seeks to look to the future by drawing on a progressive record and his relative youth, the recent riots in Baltimore threaten to chip away at his legacy as mayor." Sam Frizell in Time.

The strong dollar is a problem for Federal Reserve officials and for the economy. "Many Federal Reserve officials entered 2015 thinking they likely would start raising short-term interest rates by midyear. That idea got put on ice after a winter economic slowdown, partly attributed to the dollar’s rapid rise in previous months. While the dollar’s value is down a bit from its March peak, the Fed’s own models show the greenback’s drag on the economy is likely to grow in coming months. This and other factors could prompt some Fed officials to lower their latest growth forecasts, to be released at the next Fed policy meeting June 16-17--and to wait even longer to move on rates. Many investors now expect the central bank to start lifting its benchmark short-term interest rate from zero in September. Fed officials say they won’t act until they see more labor-market improvement and are confident that inflation will rise toward their 2% goal." Josh Zumbrun in The Wall Street Journal.

Shortages of drugs are a persistent problem in medicine. "The number of drugs in short supply in the U.S. has risen 74% from five years ago, to about 265, according to the University of Utah’s Drug Information Service, which tracks supplies. They range from antibiotics and cancer treatments to commodity items such as saline. Interviews with company executives, hospital pharmacists and regulators point to several causes of the shortages. Companies have failed to build enough production capacity, haven’t maintained equipment, and failed to ward off contamination in aging plants. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration crackdown on shoddy quality unintentionally worsened the shortages because some companies responded by shutting down plants or scaling back production during renovations. Many of the scarce drugs are older, injectable treatments that can be complex and costly to manufacture, but which command relatively low prices because they aren’t protected by patent." Peter Loftus in The Wall Street Journal.

Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Joe Biden, has died of brain cancer. "Joseph Robinette Biden III, 46, the former attorney general of Delaware and a leading candidate for governor in 2016, died Saturday. ... Joe Biden’s adult life, spent almost entirely in the public eye, has now been bookended by tragedy. Before he could formally begin his Senate career, Biden buried his wife, Neilia, and daughter, Naomi [who died in a car wreck in 1972]. Now, as his vice presidency heads toward its final months, he will bury his oldest son, the heir to the family dynasty who was fast carving his own political identity with seemingly limitless opportunity." Paul Kane in The Washington Post.