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Uncommon Knowledge: Resentment, reproduction, and reconciliation

African-American demonstrators carry picket signs along the main street of Raleigh to protest segregation in cafes and restaurants on Feb. 16, 1960.AP Photo

Showing up is half the battle

A political scientist at Harvard found that white people today express less racial resentment, are more supportive of affirmative action, and are more Democratic in counties where civil-rights protests happened during 1960-65, even controlling for various local pre-protest socio-economic factors, including demographics and political orientation. The effect also doesn’t appear to be explained by post-protest emigration of conservative whites.

Mazumder, S., “The Persistent Effect of US Civil Rights Protests on Political Attitudes,” American Journal of Political Science (forthcoming).

That which must not be named

Researchers at the University of Texas randomly assigned people to read tweets by white male political “elites” discussing fake news or the federal budget. Participants who read tweets about fake news were subsequently less accurate in identifying articles as real news and reported somewhat less trust in the media, regardless of the participant’s political orientation. This suggests that “discourse about fake news may be doing more harm than exposure to fake news itself.”

Van Duyn, E. & Collier, J., “Priming and Fake News: The Effects of Elite Discourse on Evaluations of News Media,” Mass Communication and Society (forthcoming).


Darwin vs. Thanos

Notwithstanding whatever Malthusian fantasies you may entertain about population control, nature finds a way (to reproduce). A new study suggests that the official United Nations population projections for the rest of the century are underestimating the fertility rate, by ignoring the fact that fertility is a heritable trait, such that people who are inclined to have lots of kids make up a greater share of the population over time. This will make the most difference in presently low-fertility developed countries: “The European median total fertility rate increases from 1.83 (base model) to 2.46 (heritability model), and North American fertility increases from 1.85 to 2.67,” with North American population “estimated to be 150 million higher than in the base model in 2100.”


Collins, J. & Page, L., “The Heritability of Fertility Makes World Population Stabilization Unlikely in the Foreseeable Future” Evolution and Human Behavior (forthcoming).

When crime follows culture

A study out of Harvard found that communities where newspapers published more articles exhibiting some form of rape culture — blaming/doubting the victim, or sympathizing with the accused — subsequently experienced higher rates of rape reported to the police, but lower rates of rape arrests, controlling for local socio-economic factors. Rape-culture articles had no effect on other crimes.

Baum, M. et al., “Does Rape Culture Predict Rape? Evidence from US Newspapers, 2000–2013,” Quarterly Journal of Political Science (August 2018).

Deep down, there’s hope for you

In a series of experiments, people tended to blame the pressure of a situation rather than innate motivation for behavior by others that they found morally objectionable, including “gay sex, aborting a pregnancy, converting to Islam, owning slaves in the antebellum South, and identifying as conservative or liberal today.” This may be one way people preserve the ability to deal with others who have different values.

Cullen, S., “When Do Circumstances Excuse? Moral Prejudices and Beliefs About the True Self Drive Preferences for Agency-Minimizing Explanations,” Cognition (November 2018).

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