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Posts published in “Day: February 4, 2016”

First take/Cruz & Robinson

Remember Art Robinson? He was the Republican candidate, three times in a row, running against incumbent Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio in the congressional district in southwest Oregon. He also was for a time chair of the state Republican Party.

Robinson was, well, a little different. Back in the 60s he was a leading biochemist, working in major California universities, but things turned sour in the next decade, and he eventually moved to a remote area in southwest Oregon. In the years since he has condemned public education, declared that climate change is a hoax, dissents from Darwinism, has advocated spreading irradiated material atop the oceans and has collected "thousands of vials of human urine" which "he claims his work holds the key to extending the human life span." You might say at the least his is in a minority position in the scientific community.

His last two congressional campaigns (will he run again this year?) were low-key, but his first was very well funded. More than $1 million of Robinson's money, much the largest share, came from a New York hedge-fund billionaire named Robert Mercer. Mercer also contributed heavily in the later campaigns to PACs supporting Robinson.

Mercer's Art Robinson connection is worth remembering as we read now about the Iowa success of Teas Senator Ted Cruz: Mercer, apparently, is the big money behind that campaign.

And it's not just money. Mercer's background is in computer programming, and he apparently has a strong interest in big data. A story in the Daily Beast today notes, "Mercer is also likely the inspiring spirit behind the high-tech Cruz campaign. Mercer is said to have a financial interest in a firm that is seeking to use such voter data as Facebook likes to boost even a candidate as widely disliked as Cruz."

How did this work? The article explains: "Operatives collected vast amounts of data and composed profiles based on as many as 50,000 variables ranging from voting histories to favorite websites to automobile ownership to Facebook likes. The results were used to divide voters into what are known as the Big Five personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Digital ads, emails, phone calls, even personal visits were all adjusted to a particular individual. Websites were “geo-fenced” so they would only be accessible in a discreet area, sometimes as small as a single building. . . . The magic of computers set to translating Likes into votes for the guy nobody likes."

All of this in the service of what might be called anti-science. Of course we're moving past the age of irony. - rs