Primary Sources

Selections from recent reports, studies, and other documents. This month: George Bush's new report card for government agencies; the odds of terrorist attack in the coming year; why marriage and high achievement don't mix—for men
More
Foreign Affairs
It's the Motivation, Stupid

The risk of another terrorist attack in the United States before next summer is "high," according to a recent study by the UK-based World Markets Research Centre; indeed, only three countries in the world—Colombia, Israel, and Pakistan—are at greater risk. The researchers, who ranked the risks of terrorist attacks in the coming year in 186 countries worldwide, based their conclusions on an analysis of five criteria: motivation ("the extent to which domestic or transnational groups are currently motivated to mount attacks in or against the country"); presence ("the extent to which the country suffers from a sustained terrorist threat, either from domestic or transnational sources"); scale ("the ability and desire of the terrorists to cause significant casualties and damage"); efficacy ("the known sophistication, capability and effectiveness of terrorist groups operating in that country"); and prevention ("the proven intelligence and counter-terrorism capabilities of the country's security services"). The good news is that when it comes to preventing attacks, the United States is near the top of the list, tied with Israel and close behind Spain and the United Kingdom—all countries that have long experience combating significant terrorist threats. The bad news is that the study ranks prevention (along with efficacy) as the least important of the five criteria, making up only 10 percent of a country's overall risk assessment. The study's authors consider motivation to be by far the most important criterion (40 percent), which suggests that terrorists—particularly those targeting a large, free country like the United States—will inevitably find ways to inflict attacks, despite even the best counterterrorism efforts. Those seeking maximum safety from terrorist attacks may want to consider North Korea, which ranks at the very bottom of the list: the grim efficiency of the country's internal security apparatus makes it difficult for terrorists to operate there—and it's hard to imagine that many international groups would want to anyway.

"Global Terrorism Index 2003/4," World Markets Research Centre

The (Limited) Power of the Purse

Whether the invasion of Iraq really signals a newfound American enthusiasm for pre-emptive military adventures is at this point an open question. But much better established, and in no way attributable to Paul Wolfowitz, is America's tendency to throw its considerable economic weight around. From 1970 to 1998 economic sanctions were imposed 117 times by national or international bodies—and the United States was a sanctioning party in two thirds of those cases. Sanctions were much more popular in the latter half of the twentieth century than previously; according to a study published recently in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, they were imposed only fifteen times in the 1950s but more than fifty times in the 1990s. The trend is somewhat puzzling, given that sanctions have never been terribly effective; indeed, an earlier report cited by the study's authors indicates that only about 33 percent of the time have they achieved even a portion of the desired result. What's more, sanctions have become less effective over time. The authors contend that rising unilateralism, combined with globalization, is one reason: with more potential trading partners and financiers available worldwide, it has been harder and harder for a single country—even the United States—to inflict substantial harm on another state by withholding goods, finances, or market access.

—"Sanctions: Neither War nor Peace," Journal of Economic Perspectives

The Nation
Just Say Fewer

"Most students at [insert college name here] have five or fewer drinks when they party." In recent years tag lines like this have been carried, on passels of flyers and posters, into the dorms and common spaces of many U.S. college campuses. Part of an emerging trend called "social-norms marketing," they aim to reduce student drinking by turning nonconfrontational peer pressure to good ends. It is, of course, debatable whether most students pay any attention, especially through the haze of five vodka tonics—and according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, they don't. In a five-year study of more than 100 colleges, social-norms marketing campaigns were found to be completely uncorrelated with any decrease in alcohol consumption. But the study suggests they may have had one nasty little side effect: increasing alcohol consumption among two groups of light-to-moderate drinkers. It may be that these students are increasing their alcohol consumption toward "acceptable" levels.

"Perception and Reality: A National Evaluation of Social Norms Marketing Interventions to Reduce College Students' Heavy Alcohol Use," Journal of Studies on Alcohol

The Competitive Advantage of George Clooney

"Love gives you wings," goes the old saying, but new research suggests that—for professional men, at least—marriage has the effect of clipping them. A study published recently in the Journal of Research in Personality examines the work lives of scientists, painters, jazz musicians, authors, and criminals, and the radical (and somewhat controversial) conclusion is that married men in each of these categories typically achieve their greatest professional successes relatively young, before or shortly after getting married, whereas unmarried men in the same categories continue to achieve at very high levels well into their fifties and sixties. Among the 280 prominent scientists whose lives were studied (almost all of whom were men), 17 percent of the unmarried ones made their greatest contributions in their late fifties; the figure for married scientists of the same age was just 4.2 percent. What causes male productivity to "turn off" after marriage? The study hypothesizes that chemicals are ultimately to blame—in particular testosterone, which falls after marriage (and rises again in the case of divorce). The study concerns itself mostly with men, but the author notes briefly that the few women studied do not exhibit a similar hormonally driven achievement curve; they tend to achieve steadily throughout their lives.

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Crazy Tech Idea Could Become Real?

"There could be great intelligence enhancements, like infinite memory."


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Video

What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets

Video

Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In