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Exxon’s law firm tried to recruit Harvard students. Instead, they protested.

On Wednesday night, more than 100 first-year Harvard law students gathered at a restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a reception hosted by the corporate law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. The opulent affair, replete with lobsters for snacking, an ice sculpture, and an open bar, was one of many regular functions held by elite law firms to draw elite aspiring attorneys into the fold. But about 30 students put their job prospects at risk when they interrupted the event with a demonstration.

As Paul, Weiss attorney and partner Kannon Shanmugam got up to deliver a speech, a small group of students unfurled a banner that read #DropExxon and cut him off with a protest song. “Which side are you on?” they sang. “Does it weigh on you at all?”

The lyrics alluded to Paul, Weiss’ defense of ExxonMobil in several ongoing lawsuits over the oil giant’s role in climate change. The firm recently successfully defended Exxon in a case brought by the state of New York over the accusation that it misled investors about the costs of climate change to its business. Now, it’s defending the company again in a similar lawsuit in Massachusetts, just miles from the Harvard campus.

After the song, a chorus of students joined lead organizer Aaron Regunberg in a call and response speech, announcing that they refuse to work for a firm that helps corporate polluters block climate action. As long as Paul, Weiss worked for Exxon, they wouldn’t work for Paul, Weiss.

“What is the most critical tool these corporations use to get away with climate murder? It’s this right here,” they chanted. “Exxon knew about climate change 35 years ago, yet continued to wreck the planet and fund climate denial that led us to this crisis. That’s what this firm is enabling, and the tactics they are using are extreme and unethical.”

Regunberg told Grist that it’s highly unusual to see this kind of confrontation in the legal profession, and that many of the students who participated had never been involved in a direct action before. “For the longest time, this is an issue that hasn’t even been questioned,” he said. “We’ve shown that our generation of aspiring lawyers understands that business as usual is a recipe for an unlivable future.”

Climate activism in the Ivy League is heating up. A parallel movement of students demanding that their schools divest from fossil fuel companies made national news in November when hundreds of protestors stormed the field at the annual Harvard-Yale football field.

The law school organizers plan to continue their campaign to get Paul, Weiss to drop Exxon and hope to spread the movement to other law schools. Students from Boston University and Yale University law schools have already expressed support. Regunberg said another goal is to start a conversation with Harvard about the way its culture, curriculum, student debt creation, and career service programming create a pipeline to corporate law firms. Many students who come into the school hoping to pursue public interest law end up in corporate interest law, he said. “That’s a systemic problem, and a profound factor in the creation of a legal system that in so many ways shields the wealthy and powerful at the expense of all of us — or, in the case of ExxonMobil, at the expense of human civilization as we know it.”

Harvard Law School and Paul, Weiss had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

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Exxon’s law firm tried to recruit Harvard students. Instead, they protested.

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Plastic – Susan Freinkel



A Toxic Love Story

Susan Freinkel

Genre: Nature

Price: $17.99

Publish Date: April 18, 2011

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

“This eloquent, elegant book thoughtfully plumbs the . . . consequences of our dependence on plastics” ( The Boston Globe, A Best Nonfiction Book of 2011).   From pacemakers to disposable bags, plastic built the modern world. But a century into our love affair, we’re starting to realize it’s not such a healthy relationship. As journalist Susan Freinkel points out in this eye-opening book, we’re at a crisis point. Plastics draw on dwindling fossil fuels, leach harmful chemicals, litter landscapes, and destroy marine life. We’re drowning in the stuff, and we need to start making some hard choices.   Freinkel tells her story through eight familiar plastic objects: a comb, a chair, a Frisbee, an IV bag, a disposable lighter, a grocery bag, a soda bottle, and a credit card. With a blend of lively anecdotes and analysis, she sifts through scientific studies and economic data, reporting from China and across the United States to assess the real impact of plastic on our lives.   Her conclusion is severe, but not without hope. Plastic points the way toward a new creative partnership with the material we love, hate, and can’t seem to live without.   “When you write about something so ubiquitous as plastic, you must be prepared to write in several modes, and Freinkel rises to this task. . . . She manages to render the most dull chemical reaction into vigorous, breathless sentences.” — SF Gate   “Freinkel’s smart, well-written analysis of this love-hate relationship is likely to make plastic lovers take pause, plastic haters reluctantly realize its value, and all of us understand the importance of individual action, political will, and technological innovation in weaning us off our addiction to synthetics.” — Publishers Weekly   “A compulsively interesting story. Buy it (with cash).” —Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature   “What a great read—rigorous, smart, inspiring, and as seductive as plastic itself.” —Karim Rashid, designer  

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Plastic – Susan Freinkel

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Mozambique floods cover more ground than NYC, Chicago, D.C., and Boston — combined

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Post-flood satellite images of Mozambique show that Cyclone Idai submerged about 835 square miles of homes and fields — an area larger than New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Boston combined. Aid workers in Mozambique describe the floodwaters as “inland oceans extending for miles and miles.”

Idai’s official death toll in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi reached 761 on Monday, but that total will surely rise. There are reports of hundreds of bodies alongside a single road as floodwaters began to recede.

Beira, Mozambique, reportedly the hardest hit city, “will go down in history as having been the first city to be completely devastated by climate change,” said Graça Machel, the country’s former first lady and a prominent humanitarian in an interview with the Mozambique newspaper Verdade on Monday.

The United Nations has characterized the storm and its aftermath as one of the worst weather-related disasters ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere. As a result, the UN World Food Program now considers it one of its top concerns globally — on par with the wars in Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan — estimating that some 3 million people have been affected, nearly half of them children.

On Monday, the UN launched a $282 million appeal for aid to cover the initial three months of its response to the cyclone. Over the weekend, President Donald Trump agreed to send the US military to help support the ongoing international relief operation — three days after a formal request from the Mozambique government.

Mozambique received nearly a year’s worth of rainfall in the days following Cyclone Idai, consistent with findings that rainstorms are becoming stronger and more common as Earth’s atmosphere warms up. After centuries of colonial rule by Portugal and decades of war after independence (in which the U.S. played an active role), Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world — a stark reminder of the inherent injustice of climate change, that those least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions are bearing its worst consequences.

An estimated 128,000 survivors have made their way to temporary camps near Beira, with an escalating risk of cholera and other waterborne diseases. The Red Cross announced plans to provide humanitarian support to 200,000 people for up to two years. “The scale and scope of suffering and damage is breathtaking,” said Red Cross secretary general, Elhadj As Sy, after touring the region around Beira.


Mozambique floods cover more ground than NYC, Chicago, D.C., and Boston — combined

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Rising seas could wipe out $1 trillion worth of U.S. homes and businesses

Some 2.4 million American homes and businesses worth more than $1 trillion are at risk of “chronic inundation” by the end of the century, according to a report out Monday. That’s about 15 percent of all U.S. coastal real estate, or roughly as much built infrastructure as Houston and Los Angeles combined.

The sweeping new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists is the most comprehensive analysis of the risks posed by sea level rise to the United States coastal economy. Taken in context with the lack of action to match the scale of the problem, it describes a country plowing headlong into a flood-driven financial crisis of enormous scale.

“In contrast with previous housing market crashes, values of properties chronically inundated due to sea level rise are unlikely to recover and will only continue to go further underwater, literally and figuratively,” said Rachel Cleetus, an economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and a report co-author, in a statement. “Many coastal communities will face declining property values as risk perceptions catch up with reality.”

The report defines chronic inundation as 26 flood events per year, or roughly one every other week — enough to “make normal routines impossible” and render the properties essentially worthless. It builds on the group’s previous work to identify the risk of chronic flooding under a sea-level-rise scenario of two meters (6.6 feet) by 2100. Using data from Zillow for every property in every coastal zip code in the lower 48, the results of this week’s report are at once familiar and surprising. (Here’s the interactive map where you can plug in your zip code).

It’s probably no surprise that Miami Beach is the community most at risk nationwide. More than $6 billion could be wiped out by 2045 (within the lifespan of current mortgages). That’s more than 10 percent of the city’s property value. (All amounts are in 2017 dollars).

A more surprising result: New Jersey is the state with the most to lose over the same time frame, eclipsing Florida. In Wildwood, Ocean City, and Long Beach, more than $10 billion is at risk.

In about two percent of all coastal zip codes, rising waters could soon eliminate more than half of property tax revenue. For these communities, like Crisfield, Maryland and parts of Newport Beach, California, sea level rise is an immediate existential threat — city services would have to shutter with such a catastrophic budget shortfall.

Looking further ahead — under the high sea level rise scenario to 2100 — a quarter of Boston would be underwater. Vulnerable barrier islands, like Miami Beach and Galveston, Texas, would be largely uninhabitable. Nationwide, more than $12 billion in property tax revenue would be lost.

The study estimates that Long Island, New York would experience floods at the scale of Hurricane Sandy more than two dozen times a year. The longer the world waits to significantly cut emissions, and the more bad news we discover about the inherent instability of the vast Antarctic ice sheets, the more likely this scenario becomes.

Though the costs and scale of this looming disaster are staggering, it’s important to remember that the catastrophe will hit some people much harder than others. Academics and climate activists have been talking about this for a long time, but local governments have struggled to prepare for a more watery future.

“While wealthier homeowners may risk losing more of their net wealth cumulatively, less-wealthy ones are in jeopardy of losing a greater percentage of what they own,” Cleetus said. “Homes often represent a larger share of total assets for elderly or low-income residents.” For some, taking a $100,000 loss could be a life-shattering blow; for others it’s a temporary setback.

The futurist Alex Steffen calls this situation a “brittleness bubble,” and it’s characteristic of slow-onset but predictable problems like climate change. When the brittleness bubble breaks, those without means — the economically poor, those from marginalized groups — will be forced to abandon their homes and ways of life.

“The risks we face grow with inaction,” Steffen recently wrote. “So, too, do the losses we can expect.”

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Rising seas could wipe out $1 trillion worth of U.S. homes and businesses

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You Are Here – Christopher Potter


You Are Here

A Portable History of the Universe

Christopher Potter

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: October 6, 2009

Publisher: HarperCollins e-books

Seller: HarperCollins

“You Are Here is not just physics for poets, but as close to poetry or music as science is ever likely to get. Christopher Potter’s narrative is as imaginative, ingenious, and elegantly concise as it is user-friendly.” — Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind “A personal, brilliant, and often amusing account . . . . An idiosyncratic, encyclopedic blitzkrieg of a book.” —The Boston Globe “The Verdict: Read.” — Time Christopher Potter’s You Are Here is a lively and accessible biography of the universe—how it fits together and how we fit into it—in the style of science writers like Richard Dawkins, Bill Bryson, and Richard Feynman, as seen through the lens of today’s most cutting-edge scientific thinking.

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You Are Here – Christopher Potter

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The Sea Around Us – Rachel Carson


The Sea Around Us
Rachel Carson

Genre: Nature

Price: $3.99

Publish Date: March 29, 2011

Publisher: Open Road Media

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

National Book Award Winner and New York Times Bestseller: Explore earth’s most precious, mysterious resource—the ocean—with the author of Silent Spring .  With more than one million copies sold, Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us became a cultural phenomenon when first published in 1951 and cemented Carson’s status as the preeminent natural history writer of her time. Her inspiring, intimate writing plumbs the depths of an enigmatic world—a place of hidden lands, islands newly risen from the earth’s crust, fish that pour through the water, and the unyielding, epic battle for survival. Firmly based in the scientific discoveries of the time, The Sea Around Us masterfully presents Carson’s commitment to a healthy planet and a fully realized sense of wonder.  This ebook features an illustrated biography of Rachel Carson including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.  “[Carson has] a rare gift for transmuting scientific fact into lucid, lyrical language.” — Time  “Her book remains fresh, in part because of her ability to convey scientific insight in vivid poetic language—but, perhaps more important, because what she has to say is still so relevant today.” — Scientific American  “As stimulating as a breeze from the oceans about which she writes; an invigorating and exciting book.” — Boston Herald  Award-winning author Rachel Carson (1907–1964) was one of the greatest American natural history writers of the twentieth century. In addition to the environmental classic Silent Spring , her books include Under the Sea Wind , The Edge of the Sea, and The Sea Around Us , which has sold more than one million copies, been translated into twenty-eight languages, and won the National Book Award and John Burroughs Award.

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The Sea Around Us – Rachel Carson

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Get used to saying ‘bomb cyclone.’ This is our climate now.

Now that one of the strongest nor’easters on record has swirled off to Canada, it’s time to talk about what everyone was thinking during the storm: Is this just what happens now?

Short answer: yes. Get used to it. Wild storms like this week’s massive coastal cyclone will be part of winters in the Anthropocene.

This storm’s frightening name — the “bomb cyclone” — was derived from an obscure meteorological term and caught on after President Donald Trump’s terrifying tweet about nuclear weapons. The storm wasn’t as scary as all that, obviously, but it still spread havoc.

The storm ravaged a swath of the country from Florida to Maine. In South Carolina, rare snow blanketed downtown Charleston. In South Florida, stunned iguanas fell from the trees.

Boston also witnessed its largest coastal flood in history. Amid the usual scenes of buried cars and cute dogs playing in the snow, we also saw waves crashing through a seawall into homes and fire trucks plowing through flooded streets on their way to high-water rescues. At one point, the National Weather Service in Boston warned people not to ride the icebergs that were floating in on the high tide. That’s … unusual.

Storms like this one have always threatened to flood coasts. Seven of New York City’s 10 worst coastal floods on record have been from nor’easters. With rising seas and warming wintertime oceans juicing the power of cyclones, there’s good reason to expect that huge winter storms will pose an increasingly severe risk to coastal communities in the Northeast. In fact, it’s exactly what we expect will happen with climate change.

It’s normal for winter storms to gather strength in a hurry — dozens of them do so every year around the world. But the “bomb cyclone” intensified at a rate far exceeding any storm to come close to the East Coast since the advent of weather satellites in the 1970s. After a day of searching, the National Weather Service found a similar storm from 1989 about 600 miles off the coast that didn’t affect land.

Meteorologists and weather geeks spent the storm marveling at the view from space, but as with every big storm of our new era, this one felt like a harbinger.

Atlantic Ocean temperatures right offshore were as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal for early January, causing hurricane-force winds and snow squalls so intense they fired off lightning bolts over parts of New York and Rhode Island. Forecasters dispatched a Hurricane Hunter airplane to investigate the storm.

All this atmospheric drama overshadowed two other storms underway at the same time. A sprawling cyclone even stronger than the “bomb cyclone” plowed past Alaska, where the ocean should be covered in ice this time of year. In Europe, a powerful ocean storm made landfall in the British Isles. It arrived with a cold front whose strong winds fanned midwinter wildfires on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica and closed down ski slopes in the Alps for fear of avalanches.

For some, all this evidence of an overheating world is too much to accept.

In comments on the Senate floor this week, Senator James Inhofe of snowball fame, riffed on another recent presidential tweet in the context of the current cold snap. “Where is global warming when we need it?” he said. “We sure needed it this last week.”

Increasingly, it seems like the only time you hear a climate denier talk about climate change is when a snowstorm hits. Hey, look! It’s really cold outside. This snowball sure isn’t warm; therefore the world isn’t warming.

Winter may be the last refuge of climate deniers, so it makes sense that they’ll work harder to seize on cold-weather storms. It’s a window into their view of the world. Appearance is enough evidence. It’s all that really matters. Given what’s at stake in the oceans and on land, such views should be seen for what they are: a threat to our safety, just as real as any bomb.

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Get used to saying ‘bomb cyclone.’ This is our climate now.

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The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution – Jonathan Eig


The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution

Jonathan Eig

Genre: History

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: October 13, 2014

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Seller: W. W. Norton

A Chicago Tribune "Best Books of 2014" • A Slate "Best Books 2014: Staff Picks" • A St. Louis Post-Dispatch "Best Books of 2014" The fascinating story of one of the most important scientific discoveries of the twentieth century. We know it simply as "the pill," yet its genesis was anything but simple. Jonathan Eig's masterful narrative revolves around four principal characters: the fiery feminist Margaret Sanger, who was a champion of birth control in her campaign for the rights of women but neglected her own children in pursuit of free love; the beautiful Katharine McCormick, who owed her fortune to her wealthy husband, the son of the founder of International Harvester and a schizophrenic; the visionary scientist Gregory Pincus, who was dismissed by Harvard in the 1930s as a result of his experimentation with in vitro fertilization but who, after he was approached by Sanger and McCormick, grew obsessed with the idea of inventing a drug that could stop ovulation; and the telegenic John Rock, a Catholic doctor from Boston who battled his own church to become an enormously effective advocate in the effort to win public approval for the drug that would be marketed by Searle as Enovid. Spanning the years from Sanger’s heady Greenwich Village days in the early twentieth century to trial tests in Puerto Rico in the 1950s to the cusp of the sexual revolution in the 1960s, this is a grand story of radical feminist politics, scientific ingenuity, establishment opposition, and, ultimately, a sea change in social attitudes. Brilliantly researched and briskly written, The Birth of the Pill is gripping social, cultural, and scientific history.

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The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution – Jonathan Eig

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Immigration and Crime: A Mini Data Dive

Mother Jones

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This post is longish and doesn’t really have much payoff at the end. It’s just something that turned into a bit of snark hunt, so I figured I’d document it. You have been warned.

It starts with a column by Mona Chalabi, the Guardian’s “data editor,” which claims to outline her research on the question of whether illegal immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans. It’s faintly ridiculous and I’m a little annoyed by it, but then I come to this:

I find a study by Bianca E Bersani. I look her up — she’s a associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Using numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, her study finds that about 17% of all first-generation immigrants who are age 16 have committed a crime in the past 12 months….But wait. Is that number high or low? I decide to find out how often native-born people in the US commit crimes. Luckily, her study has that too. It’s higher: about 25% of all native-born people in the US who are 16 have committed a crime in the past 12 months.

That seems kind of high, doesn’t it? Then again, “committed a crime” could encompass things like smoking a joint or stealing a box of paper clips from school, so who knows? The data comes from a paper called “A Game of Catch-Up? The Offending Experience of Second-Generation Immigrants,” so I check it out. But there’s nothing there. The paper has nothing whatsoever to say about either 16-year-olds or first-generation immigrants. What’s going on? Here’s the chart Chalabi presents:

This is a little odd. It suggests that 25 percent of 16-year-olds have committed a crime in the past year, but only 20% of 17-year-olds. That doesn’t jibe with what I know about crime rates. And the source is Pew Research. So let’s go look at the Pew article. It’s a lengthy description of Bersani’s article, and it includes this chart:

This is odd again. It’s the same chart, all right, and the author spends a lot of time describing “A Game of Catch-Up?” But as I mentioned above, that article contains nothing like this at all. What’s more, it appeared in Crime and Delinquency, but the chart is sourced to Justice Quarterly.

So now it’s off to Justice Quarterly. It turns out that everyone is describing the wrong article. I wonder if any of them actually read it? The correct article is “An Examination of First and Second Generation Immigrant Offending Trajectories,” also by Bianca Bersani. Fine. What does that article say? Here is Bersani’s chart, colorized for your viewing enjoyment:

It appears that everyone has been copying the chart properly. For what it’s worth, though, I’d make a few comments:

This data is for all immigrants. Donald Trump’s focus is solely on illegal immigrant crime.

Bersani’s data is from 1997-2005. That’s pretty old. Crime and arrest rates of juveniles have gone down more than 50 percent since then, and the population of illegal immigrants has gone up more than 50 percent since then. I don’t know if that changes the relative values in this chart, but it would certainly change the absolute values.

The data comes from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which uses a very large oversample of Hispanic and black youth. Bersani appears to be using the full sample, and since Hispanic and black adolescents commit crimes at higher rates than whites, it means the numbers for native-born Americans are exaggerated. At a guess, the real figures are 2-3 percentage points lower.

The NLSY97 data includes six types of crime that were included in Bersani’s study: (1) damaging property, (2 and 3) stealing less or more than $50, (4) other property crimes, (5) assault/serious fighting, and (6) selling drugs. By far the biggest contributors were property damage and petty theft, with fighting in third place and the others far behind. Auto theft and using a gun to steal (not included in Bersani’s study) were minuscule:
Since the vast majority of the crimes in this study are minor—and we can assume that serious violent crime is even less prevalent—it’s not clear how much this tells us. I don’t think anyone cares much whether immigrant teenagers steal six packs of beer at a greater rate than native-born Americans. We mainly care about more serious violent crimes: robbery, rape, murder, and aggravated assault. Those aren’t addressed at all.

I’d add that Bersani didn’t just add up all the crimes committed by various groups. Her methodology is pretty impenetrable to anyone who’s not an expert:

I use group-based trajectory modeling…identifies clusters of individuals who display similar behavioral trajectories over a period of time…Nagin and Land’s (1993) semiparametric group-based modeling approach…estimated using a zero-inflated Poisson form of a group-based trajectory model:

where ln(kjit) is the natural logarithm of the number of total crimes for persons i in group j at each age t. The equation specified above follows a quadratic function of age (age and age2)….

I have no idea what this means or whether it’s appropriate, but I’m a little skeptical about a model that suggests that 17- and 18-year-olds commit crimes at lower rates than 16-year-olds. Most crime data I’ve seen shows the opposite. Then again, most crime data doesn’t include extremely minor crimes like shoplifting and property destruction. It’s possible that adolescents age out of that stuff pretty early.

Long story short, I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions from this study. The data is old; it’s not limited to illegal immigrants; it looks only at adolescents; the crimes under consideration are pretty minor; and the methodology is probably OK, but who knows? Put it all together, and I’d say it doesn’t tell us too much one way or the other about the serious crime rate of illegal immigrants as a whole.

I have yet to see a study that persuasively suggests a higher crime rate for immigrants than for anyone else. Let’s face it: if there’s anything we native-born Americans excel at, it’s crime. That said, the Guardian’s data editor should have known better. There are tons of studies out there that try to estimate the relative crime rates of native-born Americans compared to undocumented immigrants, and cherry picking this particular one makes no sense. It does provide a rough data point suggesting that crime rates of immigrants aren’t any different from the rest of the population, but it’s nowhere near the best study out there. Citing this one and calling it a day is a real disservice.

Original article: 

Immigration and Crime: A Mini Data Dive

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Here are some of the most unnerving things we’ve read so far in those Pruitt emails.

The protesters gathered in Boston’s Copley Square with some impressively nerdy signs, including “Scientists are wicked smaht” and “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.”

The rally coincided with the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held a few blocks away, but was not sponsored by the scientific organization. In fact, scientists have often been wary of participating in political demonstrations, citing the need for science to be objective and nonpartisan.

“We’re not protesting a party,” one scientist told the Boston Globe. “As scientists, we want to support truth.”

Truth, however, has increasingly become a political issue, with an administration that has denied climate change, attacked the value of the EPA, and put forward a non-evidence-based travel ban that would adversely affect many scientists and researchers in the United States. As one sign at the rally put it, “Alternative facts are the square root of negative one.” That is, imaginary.

Sunday’s rally was a warm-up act for the March for Science, which is expected to bring many thousands of scientists to Washington, D.C., on April 22, Earth Day.

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Here are some of the most unnerving things we’ve read so far in those Pruitt emails.

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