uncommon knowledge

How ‘Gasland’ changed minds on fracking

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

Fracking opponents attended a 2014 state legislative hearing in Albany, N.Y., on the environment.
Fracking opponents attended a 2014 state legislative hearing in Albany, N.Y., on the environment. (AP/file)

Do documentaries make a difference? To answer this question, researchers analyzed data on the location and timing of screenings of the antifracking documentary “Gasland” in relation to antifracking events and municipal bans in the Marcellus Shale region (Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and West Virginia) during 2010 to 2013. Local screenings of “Gasland” were associated with a short-term increase in local antifracking events, which were then associated with the passage of local bans, even controlling for local fracking-related Twitter chatter, population, voting, unemployment, median income, oil and gas industry employment, activist-group presence, proximity to Marcellus Shale deposits, proximity to natural-gas wells and contamination, and proximity to other municipalities with bans.

Vasi, I. et al., “ ‘No Fracking Way!’ Documentary Film, Discursive Opportunity, and Local Opposition against Hydraulic Fracturing in the United States, 2010 to 2013,” American Sociological Review (forthcoming).

Circle of friends

Just because you’re rich, doesn’t mean you’re worldly. A team of researchers at the University of Cambridge, Harvard University, the University of California Berkeley, and Facebook analyzed the Facebook networks of a sample of Americans and found that affluence — whether measured by self-reported household income or social class — was negatively correlated with the percentage of one’s Facebook friends who were outside the country, even controlling for age, gender, total Facebook friends, and Facebook use. Likewise, data provided by Facebook indicated that the percentage of international friends of users in a country was negatively correlated with the country’s GDP per capita, even controlling for the country’s net migration per capita.

Yearwood, M. et al., “On Wealth and the Diversity of Friendships: High Social Class People around the World Have Fewer International Friends,” Personality and Individual Differences (December 2015).

Single-parent poverty

It’s hard out there for single moms, but is it also hard for single dads? A new study analyzed census data from 1990, 2000, and 2010 on employed, single parents who were the sole adult in the home. Even controlling for race, age, number of children in the home, marital history, time at work, nonwork income, and education, single mothers had significantly lower income from work — and a higher poverty rate — than single fathers, and this gap was worse among those with more children. Although the gap had narrowed somewhat from 1990 to 2000, there was no improvement from 2000 to 2010.

Kramer, K. et al., “Comparison of Poverty and Income Disparity of Single Mothers and Fathers across Three Decades: 1990–2010,” Gender Issues (forthcoming).

Bake sales for bombers

It takes a lot of money to fight a war. Who’s going to raise that money? You? A Boy Scout? A celebrity? Most likely, it will be the upper class and the bankers. This seems to be true not only today, but even back in the Great War. Economists examined the case of Liberty Bonds — which supplied the majority of US government funding for World War I — and found that, despite an extensive marketing blitz that leaned heavily on patriotism and peer pressure, Liberty Bonds were priced at values very close to what one would expect given their financial characteristics. In other words, market forces — particularly those with money in the market, including the Federal Reserve, which directly or indirectly purchased Liberty Bonds — won the day. The economists note, however, that the bond drive may still have been a useful way to build morale, otherwise known as buy-in.

Kang, S. & Rockoff, H., “Capitalizing Patriotism: The Liberty Loans of World War I,” Financial History Review (April 2015).

The ties that bind

Does democracy breed stability? Unfortunately, a new analysis suggests that the stability of the international system — as indicated by outbreaks of international conflict — is almost entirely determined by trade and intergovernmental organizations (e.g., the United Nations), whereas the prevalence of democratic regimes “plays little role at all.” Indeed, the network of trade and intergovernmental relationships is a powerful predictor of conflict within five to ten years.

Cranmer, S. et al., “Kantian Fractionalization Predicts the Conflict Propensity of the International System,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (forthcoming).


Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at


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