The role of citizen journalism in modern democracy
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The result provides an optimistic view of the ability of elections to balance out opposing extreme viewpoints. As long as there are equal numbers of people with opposing biases some overestimating and some underestimating environmental risks , their beliefs will have no effect on the electoral outcome. Thus the median voter theorem provides only a partial antidote to voter bias—we need biases to be symmetrically distributed if they are to cancel out. This symmetry assumption is strong. Voluminous behavioral evidence, some of which we have discussed here, suggests that people are prone to common biases in assessing and understanding environmental risks Margolis ; Weber and Stern This means that we cannot say whether the heterogeneity in their preferences derives from differing tastes e.

Surprisingly, they find that elections can aggregate information more effectively, and lead to better policy choices, when voters are subject to correlation neglect 10 than when they are strict Bayesians. This is because biased voters overreact to information, causing their policy preferences to be more dependent on their information than on their ideological preferences. Ashworth and Bueno de Mequista also emphasize that in order to understand how behavioral biases affect democratic outcomes, we must understand how these biases affect the behavior of strategic political parties.

Political parties often possess their own information about the benefits of policies. Anticipating that this will occur changes the electoral incentives of strategic parties, as they know that any platform they choose will convey information to the voter, thus changing the nature of the electoral contest. A growing literature examines such electoral signaling games. Kartik et al. This suggests that office-seeking behavior by political parties that have private information can result in a substantial loss of information in equilibrium. Rather, they vote for representatives to a legislative body who then decide on policies on their behalf.

In the discussion that follows, we investigate how political outcomes might be affected by such behaviors. First, let us consider a very simple model of a legislative assembly voting on an environmental policy initiative. Will the legislature make the right choice about whether to implement the policy?

We have already discussed one approach, the CJT, which suggests that groups of individuals with heterogeneous beliefs will make more accurate choices on average than any single individual. We noted, however, that strategic behavior could alter the conclusions of the CJT if votes are cast sequentially rather than simultaneously. This issue may be of less concern for votes in parliaments or congresses, which are nearly simultaneous. Nevertheless, strategic behavior can strongly influence electoral outcomes even in simultaneous voting contexts.

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Austen-Smith and Banks show that even if everyone has the same objectives, truthful revelation of private information by all voters in a majority rule contest is not necessarily an equilibrium outcome. They go so far as to show that accounting for strategic behavior can in fact lead to group decisions being less accurate on average than simply allowing a single individual to decide, thus overturning the CJT results. Another feature of information aggregation in legislative bodies is the ability of representatives to abstain from voting on policy initiatives.

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The option to simply remove oneself from the policy decision clearly has consequences for information aggregation. Feddersen and Pesendorfer show that when representatives are informed to different degrees, those who believe themselves to be less informed than others will strategically abstain from voting on policy measures. Representatives with well thought out beliefs, who nevertheless are more uncertain about policy consequences than their more confident peers, may choose to abstain.

Strategic abstention may thus moderate the effectiveness of voting as an information aggregation mechanism. This discussion shows that even if we assume that elected representatives act for the common good, strategic behavior can disturb the information aggregation properties of the CJT. This conclusion is not based solely on theoretical models. The empirical literature suggests that people do indeed act strategically when voting Guarnaschelli et al. Thus far we have assumed that the policies voted on by legislatures are exogenously given.

However, policy proposals are generally endogenous outcomes of the political process and are thus also subject to strategic effects and informational distortions. Long-run policymaking in democracies requires incumbents to deal with a time-inconsistency problem: a party with different beliefs or values may replace them in the future. This lack of control over future policy choices creates a strategic incentive for current governments to choose policies that influence both who gets elected in the future and the policies future governments will implement.

These strategic policy manipulation effects have traditionally been studied by assuming that different parties have common beliefs, but heterogeneous objectives e. However, heterogeneous beliefs also give rise to strategic incentives for policy manipulation. Incumbents prefer to face opponents with beliefs closer to their own in future political contests, as this reduces the time-inconsistency problem.

They thus have an incentive to use current policy choices to reduce the disagreements between parties, hence they overexperiment. To illustrate this mechanism, consider the case of fracking, which provides short-run economic benefits, but uncertain long-run environmental costs. These could arise due to groundwater contamination from the chemicals used in the fracking process.

These costs depend on the chemical mix in the fracturing fluid and the geology of the site, and are difficult to predict ex ante. The only sure way to resolve uncertainty about costs is to observe them ex post. The strategic overexperimentation effect predicts that if parties disagree on the likely magnitude of these costs, even well-intentioned incumbents will have an incentive to regulate fracking less stringently than they would prefer.

Having less stringent regulation will reveal more information about costs, thus allowing incumbents to avoid future political contests against opponents whose beliefs about the costs of fracking are very different from their own. Where do policymakers get their information? Although communities of experts such as the National Academy of Sciences or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provide the scientific background for policy debates on environmental issues, politicians are also strongly influenced by lobby groups.

The difficulty for the politician is that she knows that everyone wants something from her. A large literature in economics addresses precisely this kind of strategic information transmission problem. Although the receiver knows that the sender aims to manipulate her actions, some information can still be revealed in equilibrium. This classic result suggests that we need not be entirely pessimistic about the possibility of information transmission between strategic parties with different objectives, provided those objectives are not too different.

More optimistically, Krishna and Morgan show that when the decision maker can sequentially consult multiple informed experts with opposing objectives, she may be able to extract all their information. Battaglini produces a similar result when policies are multidimensional. These results assume that experts have reliable information that the planner would actually find useful. Alternatively, they may have fringe views based on dubious science but which policymakers are unable to distinguish from scientifically sound opinions. Shapiro examines these effects in a model in which competing special interest groups seek to influence opinion through the media.

This means that the public and policymakers may remain uninformed, despite growing scientific agreement about a policy issue. Empirical evidence suggests this has occurred in the case of climate change. There are two components to this claim. While both of these components may seem uncontroversial, neither of them is self-evident.

Perhaps social interactions can ameliorate individual biases, and perhaps political institutions can aggregate opposing viewpoints, resulting in policy choices that reflect a balanced consensus? Our survey of the literature suggests that behavioral biases, social interactions, and the influence of the media are indeed likely to lead both individuals and groups to misestimate environmental risks. In addition, although democratic institutions can provide some checks on the influence of biased beliefs, they can also introduce their own informational distortions into the policy process.

Biases in risk perception and informational distortions to the policy process are issues that are relevant to many policy issues, but they are especially important for global environmental problems. We have argued that these problems have a peculiar set of characteristics that make them unlikely to be accurately assessed by nonspecialists, perhaps including policymakers themselves. While we have sketched several mechanisms that may distort the informational inputs to environmental policymaking, many open questions remain.

What determines whether we are likely to under- or overreact to a given environmental threat?


Are some governance systems more likely than others to adopt policies informed by the best available scientific information? Which behavioral biases are the most important determinants of misperception of environmental problems? How important are belief distortions as an explanation of suboptimal regulation relative to more familiar explanatory factors such as international free-riding problems and domestic special interest politics?

Ensuring that policymakers and the public have access to a basic scientific education is a necessary first step towards a more measured response to risks, but it is unlikely to be sufficient. Kahan et al. A more effective approach will likely require reforms in the way the media and the government engage with scientific information. Fair reporting does not mean allotting an equal number of column inches to every viewpoint, but rather a careful assessment of the merits of different arguments.

It is unclear, however, how this norm can be changed, except by the media itself. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

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Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation. Volume Article Contents. Mis Understanding Global Environmental Problems. Beliefs and Politics. Oxford Academic. Google Scholar. Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. Abstract Experts and the general public often perceive environmental problems differently.

D72 , D78 , D83 , P48 , Q Congress, only three listed previous occupations in the natural sciences. By comparison, listed business and law Manning We do not claim that global environmental problems are unique in this regard, but we would argue that they are especially poorly understood, relative to our level of scientific knowledge, for reasons we will discuss here. Let P H E denote the probability of hypothesis H being true given that evidence E has been observed, and let P E H be the probability of observing evidence E given that hypothesis H is true.

See Jaynes for a detailed exposition. Acemoglu, Chernozhukov, and Yildiz also show that if agents are even a little uncertain about the likelihood of observing a given signal conditional on a hypothesis, their beliefs can remain divergent, even in the long run. For specific empirical examples, see, e. For an emphatic defense of the efficiency of democratic institutions, see Wittman For an equally emphatic critique of their efficiency, see Caplan Thus this discussion is more relevant for understanding the behavior of legislative bodies than for national elections with very large numbers of participants.

However, this effect is unlikely to be relevant in this case, as voters rationally assign very low probability to the chance of being pivotal in large elections. They show that even though the receiver knows exactly how the discovery process has been manipulated, the receiver can often be persuaded to take actions that benefit the sender. Behavioral and political factors are strong determinants of whether regulations are implemented e.

Government failure and market failure: On the inefficiency of environmental and energy policy. Search ADS.

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Involving citizens in the political process

A theory of fads, fashion, custom, and cultural change as informational cascades. Google Preview. The European Union emissions trading scheme: Origins, allocation, and early results. Voting behavior and information aggregation in elections with private information. Economic incentives for environmental protection: Integrating theory and practice. Political economy of market-based environmental policy: The U. The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Impacts of biodiversity on the emergence and transmission of infectious diseases.

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Ethical review in human sciences

Thus, although closely analogous, In re Opinion does not itself resolve the question of whether two law partners may assume the respective positions of County Counsel and Counsel to the County Vocational School Board. Behind all the cases surveyed, however, stands a profound concern for "public confidence in our system of government" and the public's "perception of the independence and integrity of the legal profession. That is reflective of a broader public policy that shares a similar concern. The Legislature has expressed the need for promoting public confidence in government officials in the Local Government Ethics Law, which prohibits government officials' employment that "might reasonably be expected to prejudice his independence of judgment in the exercise of his official duties.

The Court's manifest concern about the appearance of impropriety, however, is directed to "something more than a fanciful possibility. The appearance of impropriety "must have some reasonable basis. Moreover, the Court's analysis of actual or apparent conflict of interest does not take place "in a vacuum," but is, instead, highly fact specific.

In re Opinion , 81 N. In assessing the reasonable basis for the appearance of impropriety, the Court adopts the perspective of an informed citizen. Within that framework we must now undertake a careful consideration of the facts of petitioners' case to determine if there is a reasonable likelihood for an actual conflict of interest or if petitioners' situation would create an appearance of impropriety in the mind of a reasonable and informed citizen.

The Court, in In re Opinion , assessed the actual frequency and potential likelihood of conflicting interests between the governmental entities whose representation was involved in that case. That assessment was based on three factors: 1 contractual obligations and business transactions between the public entities; 2 the frequency of litigation that arises between the two public entities; and 3 the frequency with which the two entities have antagonistic interests.

Roach, 35 N. In the present case, the governmental entities involved have minimal contractual obligations or business transactions. The School Board and Essex County are contractually bound by two contracts. One contract provides that the Essex County Hospital Center will train students enrolled in the licensed practical nurse program of the Essex County Vocational School "Vocational School".

That agreement is one of several similar contracts the Vocational School maintains with various hospitals to provide training for the Vocational School's nursing students. That contract is a longstanding one and is renewed without substantial alteration. The Advisory Committee argues that, in fact, the two contracts provide ample grounds for disputes between the County and the School Board.

To illustrate its point, the Advisory Committee inventories each term of the two contracts and offers hypothetical disputes that might arise. We find those hypothetical conflicts inadequate to establish a reasonable likelihood of conflict of interest. In fact, there has been no dispute over these contracts, which, as noted, are routinely renewed.

By contrast, in In re Opinion , on which the Advisory Committee so heavily relied in its determination in this case, the Court identified more than fourteen different areas in which, by statute, counties and municipalities negotiate contracts and transact business with one another. In comparison with the situation in In re Opinion , the contractual and business relationship in this case is negligible. Second, with one arguable exception, no history whatsoever exists of litigation between the School Board and the County.

That exception occurred in when the School Board appealed to the Commissioner of Education from the decision of the Board of School Estimate establishing the budget of the vocation school. Significantly, at the time of that litigation, the School Board did not have separate counsel but was represented in most matters by the County Counsel. For the litigation, special counsel was appointed. We have noted, in the past, that the withdrawal of counsel in cases of actual conflict is not a remedy for the appearance of impropriety.

See In re Opinion , supra, 81 N. We would also note, in regard to the litigation, that the County was not, technically, the adverse party in that litigation. The County Executive is just one of five members of the Board of School Estimate, and has no appointing authority for the other members. Therefore, the Board of School Estimate is an independent entity, not subject to the control of the County Executive.

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In a declaratory judgment proceeding, the circuit court erred in finding that the deed executed by the husband was not valid to vest fee simple title in his wife. Stevens, J. See, e. How important are belief distortions as an explanation of suboptimal regulation relative to more familiar explanatory factors such as international free-riding problems and domestic special interest politics? The large majority of the participants experienced the group discussions in EuroPolis as highly respectful and oriented towards understanding across linguistic and cultural divides.

It is not a county agency, and litigation involving the Board of School Estimate is not litigation involving the County. Sypek, N. The Appellate Division found that county colleges and vocational schools are autonomous governmental entities designed to operate independently of the counties in which they are located.

Although that proposition may be correct, we do not think that an inherent conflict of interest therefore necessarily results. The whole premise, after all, of the Department of the Public Advocate is that one department of State Government may sue another. See, e. Public Utilities Board, N. Both the Public Advocate and the Attorney General are appointed by the same authority, yet we have never found that arrangement to constitute an inherent conflict of interest. We find that the interests of School Board and the County are rarely antagonistic. Accordingly, we conclude that the Advisory Committee erred in its determination in Opinion An attorney or his or her partner or associate may serve as counsel to a vocational school board and as counsel to the county in which the vocational school board is located.

Matter of Opinion No. The Supreme Court of New Jersey. Argued October 26, Decided May 4, II One of the most basic responsibilities incumbent on a lawyer is the duty of loyalty to his or her clients. III The Court, in In re Opinion , assessed the actual frequency and potential likelihood of conflicting interests between the governmental entities whose representation was involved in that case.

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