July 19, 2017

Credit: Soumyadeep Paul / Flickr Creative Commons

The countless, tiny creatures that live among us - but that we don’t see. The billions of dollars being spent (behind the scenes) to influence our politics. The ubiquitous advertisements you don’t even pay attention to. And the hidden biases that favor the confident over the competent. This week on Innovation Hub, we’re examining the unseen forces that shape all of our lives. 

First up, money and politics have always been joined at the hip. But there’s something new about what the Koch brothers are doing. Journalist Jane Mayer and professor Theda Skocpol explain how the Kochs have been able to change the conversation in American politics, and why they’re so much better at it than their liberal counterparts. (Full disclosure: David Koch has been a member of WGBH’s board of trustees). If you want to dive deeper into the Kochs’ world, here’s their response to Mayer’s book, and a look at the Kochs’ corporate footprint

Then: we turn from spending money to change politics, to spending money to change what people buy. Tim Wu, author of  The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads, says that more and more, consumers are starting to ignore ads. And for the corporations selling us stuff, that’s a problem. Wu talks about how, as people try harder and harder to avoid them, ads are becoming increasingly omnipresent. 

Then, think about how scrunched together we are in big cities. And we’re talking people, yes, but also bugs, dogs, squirrels, rats, pigeons… and microbes. Countless microbes too small for us to see. Professor Holly Bik took a look at one place that microbes have made their homes: ATMs. We look at what she found, and how urban life can create a microbial heaven. 

And finally… have you ever wondered why incompetent people wind up in positions of power? Well, according to Professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a big reason is confidence. Or, more accurately, overconfidence. We’re often unable to tell the difference between what people say they can accomplish and what they actually can accomplish. And it turns out, men generally give themselves too much credit, compared with women. Which might be one of the reasons we have fewer women in leadership positions. 

advertising, microbes, Jane Mayer, Theda Skocpol, Tim Wu, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Holly Bik, unseen forces, Koch Brothers

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