The Legacy of 2012: The Fall of Superstition

This is similar to my Legacy of 2009 post. I didn’t write one for 2010 or 2011, but the theme was similar. In 2010, social media really exploded, and by 2011 it was all but set in stone. But as this was happening, another explosion was occurring: the smartphone. In early 2012, smartphones hit 50% saturation in the United States, and thus statistically they are near peak sales (though perhaps holiday season 2012 might be the final spike).



The global smartphone market is rising rapidly as well. With more people than ever having the sum total of human knowledge within arm’s reach, this leads to the year’s real legacy:

2012: The Fall of Superstition

On December 21, 2012 the world was supposed to come to an end, thought 10% of the world’s population. But on that day, nothing happened. The universe continued as normal. Perhaps a massively failed doomsday can help awaken the world from superstition.


At 12%, the most scientifically and technologically sophisticated country in the world, the United States, was shockingly above average in the 2012 doomsday belief. Yet, this fact may not be too surprising, for among that of the developed countries, the US has been and is the most religious by far.

But this may change in several more years. From a 2012 Pew Research survey, non-religion is quickly growing in the United States, gaining roughly 5 percentage points in 5 years.

rise of no religion pew graph

More importantly, with the strong correlation between non-religion and younger age, the growth of non-religion is poised to accelerate in the upcoming years. In one of my previous posts, I predicted that secularism will be one of the next sociopolitical movements, following the previous Civil Rights and feminist movements, and also the current LGBT movement.

Along with a shock to superstition came several great advancements in science. The Curiosity rover landed with high precision in a daring and suicidal-looking sky crane maneuver.


Another significant achievement is the confirmation of the Higgs boson, whose existence in turn confirms the Standard model, one of the most intricate scientific theories to date. Other great scientific accomplishments of 2012 include:

With all the remarkable advancements, 2012 was not without disappointments. In Italy, six scientists were sentenced to prison for an earthquake. Wake up Italy, you’re not the 1600’s anymore.

In 2012 the expiring Kyoto Protocol was extended to 2020, but did global carbon dioxide levels actually fall? Nope. The went up 58%, in huge part due to China’s industrial growth combined with its disregard for the environment.


Meanwhile, the United States is doing okay, with its CO2 production in 2012 at the lowest in 20 years. However, to have meaningful impact in reducing climate change, it will take a true global green movement, which unfortunately will be at least a decade away.


Despite being a year filled with progress, 2012 had its setbacks. Religious extremists violently demonstrated the fundamental tenets of their “religion of peace” in response to a satirical film, and also attempted to assassinate a 15 year old girl who just wanted education for everyone.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, the Israel-Hamas conflict set the world on edge for eight days. And though it paled in comparison to many other issues in the world, the Sandy Hook shooting shook and saddened America, and should lead to gun control being a more important issue.

Overall though, 2012 was a good year. With extraordinary scientific advancements (above), social advancements (though not met worldwide such as in this case or this one), as well as the reelection of President Obama, the year 2012 ends with a world that is more smart, aware, and progressive than it ever was, more potent than ever before to deal with religious extremism, war, and environmental destruction.

The Perfect Prediction

Many have heard of Nate Silver’s prediction of the 2012 presidential election. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, here was his prediction for last Tuesday, which may seem uncannily familiar:

It seems familiar because it bears a striking resemblance the actual results:

In fact, that’s all 50 states correctly predicted.

Given two equally likely options for each states, the chance to predict all 50 states correctly is one in 2^{50}, or one in 1.126 quadrillion. Granted, we already knew which direction states like Texas or Vermont would vote for, so for the sake of simplicity let’s consider only the 9 “swing” states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. That’s still a one in 512 chance to guess all 9 states correctly from sheer luck.

How did he do it? The answer is high-caliber aggregate statistics. When you conduct a poll, you are going to have very high uncertainty if you poll only a few people. But if you poll a lot of people, your prediction gets more accurate. And one way to poll many people at once is to aggregate the data from many, many polls.

In 2008, Silver’s prediction was accurate in 49 of the 50 states, missing only Indiana.

Does Your Individual Vote Really Matter?

Everyone on Facebook seems to be talking about how they voted today, and why you should as well. To be a good citizen, they say, you must vote. “Go vote!” says every other status on my Facebook feed.

Yet there are plenty of reasons not to vote, and in fact, not voting has been historically a very powerful form of protest against a government. This article debunks many of the voting myths that attempt to place voting on the moral high-ground. I found the most significant part of the article to be number 5, which responds to the claim that your vote is your voice in the government:

In a democratic form of government it would be. In a democratic form of government, such as a direct or participatory democracy, people can vote on things like budgets, wars, and other important issues, and have a voice in government. In our representative government, people can only vote for representatives who may or may not listen to them or act in their interests, and who cannot be held accountable during their terms of office, which is the only time they hold power and are needed to represent the interests of their constituents. Waiting until somebody has killed a million people in a war based on lies, destroyed the economy, and taken away your civil rights, and then trying to elect somebody else, is much too late because by then much of the damage cannot be undone and your grandchildren will still be paying for it.

Indeed, the United States is not a true democracy (though the term “democracy” gets thrown around enough that it seems to be synonymous with anything moral).

There are two more main reasons why, for the majority of voters, your vote will be futile. Firstly, the electoral college system places all importance on the swing states such as Ohio. Unless you live in one of these states, your individual vote will have nearly zero chance of affecting the outcome of the election, as the vote of your state is already determined. Even if you do live in one of these states, one vote will not statistically make a difference. There has not ever been a case where a president has been decided by one vote, and basic probability tells you it will remain that way.

But what if everyone thinks like that, you might say. If everyone does this, then no one will vote, and the election will fail. The bad guy will be elected with just a handful of votes.

This is hardly a valid concern. We all agree that being a medical doctor is a good and respectable profession. However, if everyone thinks like that, then everyone will be doctors, and nobody will be there to grow crops, educate children, provide entertainment, forecast weather, write books, or produce art. This argument fails because even though one might respect doctors, one must not necessarily become one.

Secondly, if you really want to change the world, you’re not going to do it by casting a single ballot once and then posting once on Facebook that you voted and then never mention politics again. Suppose I had a button in front of me such that every time I pressed the button, it would add one vote randomly for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in a random polling booth in the United States. Even if I pressed the button a thousand times it would have no statistical effect on the outcome.

If you want to change something, start a movement. Your government won’t listen to an insignificant statistic in a polling booth, but it sure as hell will listen to a provocative demonstration. The beauty of the United States is that you have the right to challenge the government, a right that is too often taken for granted, for in many countries, speaking out against the slightest flaw in your country could be a death sentence. So exercise this right! We the people control the government, yet we have allowed the government to control us.

So if you think that by voting, you have fulfilled your civic duty for the next four years, think again. If you really care about your country that much, you would do a lot more than broadcasting your vote on Facebook to a bunch of people you already know anyways.

All that said, in an age of technology and reason, I would be very unhappy if Romney were elected. It is important that the United States lead the world in advancing forward, not regressing back into an anti-intellectual dark age. If I were to choose between Romney and Obama, I would without the slightest hesitation pick President Obama. However, given that Ithaca, NY is guaranteed to vote Democrat (and the state of New York as a whole), and given that both major party candidates have been quiet about the environment in the weeks leading up to the election, my vote today went to Green Party candidate Jill Stein.