Commuter pollution, Clubhouse misinformation, and judging judges 

in February 17th, 2021

Here's what we emailed out the week of February 17, 2021. Sign up for updates directly in your inbox.

A NASA rover is scheduled to land on Mars Thursday! Named Perseverance, this rover is tasked with finding signs of ancient life, collecting rock samples, and dropping them as it travels. These dropped samples would be collected and returned to Earth in a future mission, which would be the first time humans have launched anything off another planet. While we watch Perseverance land on Mars live, here are some stories from planet earth.


POLLUTION

New studies spotlight air quality as a real threat to commuter health 

Wed Feb 10

Harmful particles have been discovered on our commutes, both on public subways and in private vehicles. Is it better to breathe in that mysterious subway air, or the air in our own cars? Surprisingly… that may be hard to answer. 

When it comes to subways, a new environmental health study found that airborne pollution on NYC subway stations is, on average, seven times higher than the established safe daily level. The worst location was a station connecting New York and New Jersey, where air pollution was 77 times higher than air outside. This marked the highest pollution ever measured in a subway station, higher than some of the worst days in Beijing or Delhi (two of the most polluted cities in the world). 

And driving isn’t proving to be the ideal alternative either. A different environmental study in Los Angeles found two harmful chemicals that increase the risk of cancer and birth defects: benzene and formaldehyde. While we may assume the pollution comes from engines, these chemicals are present in our vehicles as a result of the current manufacturing process and materials. That means even brand new, fresh-from-the-factory cars were showing unacceptably high levels of these carcinogens. In fact older cars with larger cabins, proper ventilation, and fabric seats actually showed lower levels of the carcinogens. This latest study finds that anyone driving for more than 30 minutes, which is 90% of residents in five Southern California counties, is increasing their cancer risk from inhaling these chemicals. 

So how do we stay safe while commuting?

  • For subway commuters, some recommend continuing to wear a mask even after the pandemic. Meanwhile, the city is working on new air filtration systems that can kill 99.9998% of viruses and other germs and purify the air. 
  • For commuting drivers, the study recommends opening your window while driving — but only when it’s safe to do so as some areas have increased air pollution from wildfires. 

Want to learn more? 


SOCIAL MEDIA

Audio-chat app Clubhouse is the latest destination for COVID misinformation

Fri Feb 12

Club hopping is back — but on iPhones, not bars. It’s happening on Clubhouse, a new audio-only social app. With over five million downloads, the platform is now becoming yet another hub for COVID misinformation. 

Clubhouse makes it easy for falsities to spread in a few ways. The app itself is a network of unregulated, unrecorded, audio-chats happening in real time. As a result...

  • There’s no track record. Unless someone is screen-recording the talk, there is no written evidence to hold an oral speaker accountable for sharing falsehoods. 
  • Being real-time means there’s less time to process and reflect on the information as it’s being spoken. 
  • The more controversial conversations turn into a “spectacle,” where more people join to share their perspective. And the more people speaking, the more notifications that get sent to all the followers of those speakers to tune in and listen. 
  • And unlike Facebook, Twitter or Youtube, where the companies have tried to impose rules on objectionable content, Clubhouse conversations are left solely up to the moderator’s discretion — i.e. moderators control who gets to speak in each conversation room. 

Now, the Black community is taking on the additional burden of fighting fake news on Clubhouse. Dozens of Black doctors are jumping onto the app after their work shifts to help dispel the misinformation quickly permeating the Black community, who are already skeptical due to a history of medical mistreatment. Some of these doctors have even shared how difficult it is to get certain rooms to listen, claiming the moderators are more focused on sharing their theories than engaging in a conversation.  

Want to learn more? 

  • To meet the Black doctors fighting misinformation, check out Bloomberg.
  • To learn more about misinformation emerging on the app, visit Vice.
  • To learn more about Clubhouse’s privacy policy (which some users cited being unable to access), refer to their Notion link.

ELECTIONS

Finding a way to judge the judges

Wed Feb 10

When it comes to learning about our local judicial candidates, information is scant. So how do we make informed decisions without knowing who we’re even voting for? 

It might depend on where you live.

  • Most states provide the basics such as biographical information or where the candidate graduated law school.
  • Some local Bar Associations provide unofficial ratings based on professional qualifications, but explicitly exclude judgement on philosophy, political affiliation, and ideology.
  • And even when a candidate’s judicial record is available, the document is so dense it can be an exhausting exercise to even attempt to decode it.

Only five states provide a publicly-available report. These states — Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Mexico, and Utah — require a commission that incorporates feedback from other members of the justice system (like an employee performance review) along with a recommendation for whether or not that judge should retain their seat. 

This struggle for information keeps more than a quarter of voters from participating in judicial races, even when the decision directly impacts them — these judges decide criminal charges, home foreclosures, child custody cases, civil lawsuits, and more. And among those who do vote, it’s often based on limiting criteria such as order on the ballot (many prefer the first name they see) or perceived gender and ethnicity (only a name is available on a ballot).

So what can you do? 

  • Watch your state legislature for bills that support the commission model for provision of public reports. Keep in mind, though, that this doesn’t solve for first-time candidates who lack bench experience to build recommendations off of (versus incumbents).
  • Learn more about existing judges, their education, and judging history on Ballotpedia
  • Donate to nonprofits like Injustice Watch that are conducting extensive research into judicial candidates, including first-timers. Their findings are provided in a digital report and continued social media posts.

Want to learn more? 

  • Check out the extensive coverage in Spenser’s Super Tuesday, the newsletter we found this story from! Every Tuesday, Spenser (a voting rights journalist and poll worker) covers a new, under-reported topic in the fight for voting rights.
  • We also pulled information from Injustice Watch and Vice.

ASCII ART OF THE WEEK

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jgs  `-=.=-.-=.=-'  \ /\

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How did they get this here anyways?

They planet.

ASCII Art Credit: jgs