Mother Jones on Research In Cognitive Bias: and Vermont E-Waste?

"The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science"

"[Yale Pschology Research] undercuts the standard notion that the way to persuade people is via evidence and argument. In fact, head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever."
This is an excerpt from an article in Mother Jones, by correspondent Chris Mooney, who has been reading some of the same research on cognitive bias that I've been interested in for the past 4 years.   Neurological level research can detect brain stimuli which indicate a response (to risk) that acts faster than reason (also detected).   If an idea is a threat, either to a long held belief, or to ones self interest, brain radar can see it coming in a nanosecond.

Helena Bonham Carter channelling Elizabeth 1st as the Red Queen
What's a "convincing argument"?
This creates a real problem if your business is already in a bind.... outnumbered, overruled, the deck stacked against you.  Research indicates that "arguing convincingly" is an oxymoron.   If you are arguing with an entrenched authority who might be embarrassed by a reversal, you are statistically more likely to fail.  "You can't fight city hall..."

This is why the western legal system has evolved legal representation.  An attorney or lobbyist can be more skilled in making arguments indirectly, more nuanced, and avoid making the authority feel "risk impulses" which spell doom for the client. If the case has to be made, the legal counsel hopes the backlash befalls them, rather than the client.  It's also why we triangulate our justice system, with prosecutors, defenders, judge and jury.

People like John Adams, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were anti-authority, and they were smart and argumentative and completely outgunned by the British monarchy.   The British Colonial game was rigged.  When the USA's founding fathers succeeded, the freshness of their experience led to a constitutional system which has made it less likely that an authority figure can run roughshod over a little guy.  We also have the fourth estate, journalism and free speech.

Letter to Vermont Legislators: Montpelier, we have a problem

3/26/2014 UPDATE:  For whatever reason ; )   since this was originally published, the Agency decided to issue the rebid.  I'd specifically asked the previous week.    The original post here has been re-edited to reflect the Agency's decision to rebid, though we noted the agency has inserted language to protect it from appeals.

There continues to be a lack of independent review of the Agency's bid process.  Hopefully they will have representation this time from the cities and towns and schools who actually receive the services.  When I was at Massachusetts DEP, the DPGS (procurement office) reviewed our bidding procedures, and appeals were considered part of the "checks and balances".  It remains to be seen how Vermont deals with the prospect of scandal.

After restating our request as a "FOIA", we got the state costs paid under the new contract for the first quarter.

Wait what?  Let's zoom in..

Cost per pound under the new state contract:  $0.42 (if you leave in the 10 days of the injunction, when Good Point charged 28 cents per pound).   Recall that ANR staff testified, under oath, in court, that the difference in cost was negligible, less than a penny per pound.

Attached is an open letter to the Vermont Legislators who are considering the 22 pages of red tape aimed a the Independent Plan, which would become statute (law) rather than a negotiated settlement once ratified.

Cultural Gulfs in Developing Markets 7: The Rusty Radiator Awards

Although I had a degree in International Relations, had spent a semester at the UN, and made a career in the science of development, I racially profiled someone in Singapore in 2005.    I know it now.   I deserve a rusty radiator for racism.

On my way back from Guangzhou, where I had gone for a second visit to see the second-hand shops of Foshan and the "Big Secret Factories" of CRT reuse, I stopped in Malaysia and Singapore for a couple of days.   Armed with my camera, I decided to hunt for some "exotic photos" to prove that I too, like Jim Puckett of, had "been there".  Now, Interpol is trumpeting their act. with a project to describe their efforts to arrest "criminals" I refer to as the "geeks of color".

I understand where David Higgins' group at Interpol is coming from.  E-Waste is in the news, and we want to show our credibility, show we have been there, walked the streets, and have seen the problem.  We work for the (world) government, and are here to help. 

The shop below I presented in a Powerpoint slide at a conference as an example (an olive branch to Puckett and Westervelt) of clearly bad imports.   I had stayed on the street, waiting for the man who owned this shop (Mr. Teck Recycle) to roll up the metal door.  He had a ladder on the inside, which he needed to physically climb up to the ceiling to start to descend items for resale on the street. 

I acted like I knew where this guy's material came from.   I didn't.

It seemed the guy had packed this 4M x 10M street shop "to the gills" with imports, and was never going to be able to reuse it all.  I represented this person as an example of "toxics along for the ride", of being an example of the primitive importer, and contrasted him with the SKD (semiknockdown or semi-knock-down) factories I wanted to "reform", in our view.

I confess that I assumed this was all recently imported material.  I had absolutely no evidence of that. We now know that the 6 billion people in the "non-OECD" generate far, far more used electronic scrap than the OECD does.

Lets teach them all the missionary position, put them in top hats, and certify them as non-primitives.

Was Mr. Teck Recycle importing at all?   Singapore, though not "OECD", was already as wealthy then as California.   It had become wealthy via the "Tinkerer's Blessing", the reuse and refurbishment trade, which evolved into contract assembly, then into ODM (Original Design and Manufacture).  Sure, some of this material may have been imported, but I had no idea how long before Mr. Teck Recycle got it.   What percentage came from residents of Singapore, which at that time had a higher percentage of engineering degrees, and higher percentage of online high speed bandwith, than the USA's Silicon Valley?   Why did I immediately assume the Singaporean shops were filled with USA "toxics along for the ride" (a phrase I pounded at the NERC audience?)

Sure, it was a sound theory.  Maybe some of this stuff did come "along for the ride".  But I had no proof, all I had was a need to position myself not-too-distantly from Basel Action Network's "80% Primitive Recycling" export statistic, which we now know is no more true than 80% of Los Angeles black teenagers are gang members and high school drop outs (BTW that's said tongue in cheek, it's obviously untrue, but the fact I have to apologize and point that out shows the root of whitey's problem).

Ghana TV repair 2014

Cultural Gulfs in Developing Markets #6: Nneka Egbuna

Last week, between snow shovelling, I posted a little blog with a video of an interesting cover of Outcast's Hey Ya, by Obidiah Parker.   While shuffling around youtube for the link, I happened upon some African pop videos, and got arrested by Nneka Lucia Egbuna.  According to her Wikipedia biography, Nneka was raised in Warri, a petroleum ("resource curse") pothole turned "cosmopolitan city" of 312,000 in the delta of Southern Nigeria.

Nneka grew up in Nigeria, but went to university in Hamburg at 18... a big cultural gulf.  In the theme of gangstagrass / cultural melting pots and urban music, I listened to several of the songs on her "Soul is Heavy" album last night and this morning.

I'm posting more about Nneka for two reasons.  First, I like a couple of her songs a lot, especially the title track of Soul is Heavy (which I posted below the Outcast cover).   It was only when I listened/watched the video a second time that I realized the background of the chorus "teach me lies" is adorned with old African television sets.

I don't pretend to know Nneka's position on the Interpol crackdown vs. the "geeks of color" whose cause I've embraced, but in a second video, "My Home", she poses as two things - a conflict metal gold mining worker (the place Western mercury from recycling programs gets sold, for alleuvial gold mining) and then a city trash worker (I presume in Lagos, wearing .A.W.M.A- LAGOS STATE WASTE MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY, on an orange PPE - personal protective equipment uniform).  Damn.  Must watch.

Below... at least watch through the coltan mining and public solid waste worker shots.

That's a pretty good snapshot of what's going on in Africa.  Junk televisions rank about as high on Africa's priority list as they did in the USA and Europe in 1990.  The "e-waste export crisis" makes as much sense as the Radiator-Aid humorous videos.  Recycling stereotype after stereotype.

(*Much more to come, in a future blog, about the project).  RustyRadiator project is another northern-Europe / African collaboration, like Nneka, whose moniker reminds me of the #1 hit 30 years ago, when I boarded the flight to Africa to start my Peace Corps career (give up?  Nena - of Germany - 99 Luftballoons but that is a "punctuation level digression", or "third level digression" sorry... I've lost a lot of readers on those turns.... end digression*).

Heavy Hey Yah Vermont (Teach Me Lies) #Ewaste


This is our song.  (Outcast)

Obadiah Parker (acoustic cover)

posted by Michael Schulte.  

Sounds truthful.  

but what about... teach me lies?  Nigeria's top video below.  Nigeria has Internet.

Cultural Gulfs in Developing Markets #5: Urban Youth

Basel Amendment to End E-Waste
When we discuss the rapid meshing of cultures in rapidly growing cities, and how the "last mile" of people tend to migrate to the first mile of track (and electric cable, TV broadcast, and internet), there's another factor to consider in making comparisons:


Rural families tend to be large.  My late buddy Yadji had a brother in Yenwa who had 12 kids and 4 wives, and said his goal was to have 25 kids.   I met other men in Cameroun who boasted of 30 children.  It has been well studied that this is a rural phenomena that tends to decluster within a couple of generations of living in a city.  Quarters are more cramped, school is expensive, and multilingualism is mandatory. Girls get to school more often, and educated women have fewer kids.

But life is tough in the slums for the first generation.  As Adam Minter told me, the young Cantonese may take the super-long workshift at Foxconn for a year or two, but they burn out and adapt more reasonable habits.   It's a difficult way out of rural poverty.  But the rural immigrants don't remain "suckers" for long...
It’s estimated there were 1.2-billion people in extreme poverty in 2010. That’s a decline of 700-million since 1990.  - Chronic Poverty Report
There are about six billion people in the "non-OECD", but "non-OECD" doesn't mean poverty or hunger for most.  The young kids from rural villages have it the worst, and they are the fodder for sex traders, child soldier warlords, pirates, drug runners, etc.  The worst jobs Africa has tend to fall disproportionately on the families with the most children.

Youths have a reputation in every country for thinking they are ten foot tall and bullet-proof.  If you want a challenging environment for OSHA rules, hire a bunch of recently graduated blue collar high schoolers.  The race of the kids doesn't matter, the geography doesn't matter, kids are willing to exploit themselves and to be explioted, especially if they are hungry.

But the flame of experience burns quickly.  You can fool them once.  You cannot exploit them permanently, you either have to hire more rural immigrants, or move to a place where they are more abundant.  And in the meantime,  you have grown an urban middle class which will stick around another 40-50 years.  Visit the demographics in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei and Incheon.
[China's] costs have grown while surplus labour has shrunk, as three decades of the one-child policy means China’s working age population will likely fall by 20% in the next 40 years, and by a further 20% from 2050 to 2100.
Tweets responding to Fareed Zakaria's links (to Jack Goldstone in always yield interesting links.   Jonathan Berman's Havard Business Review (10/13) article "Seven Reasons Why Africa's Time is Now" points out, among other things, that Africa will have more working population than China by 2050, and that investments in "assessembly" jobs are already coming strong.   Today only 24% of Africa's $2 Trillion economy come from natural resource extraction.  The "resource curse" in Africa is beginning to look a lot like Indonesia and Malaysia, which (as I've frequently written) are seesawing away from resource economies into "tinkerer blessing" repair-and-assembly economies... the same path as Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and originally Japan followed.   The less rural land a country has drawn ("lines on maps") around it, the faster it makes this motion.  Singapore was originally part of Malaysia, and it's stunning growth is as attributable to its cessation from rural geography as it is the country's difference from Penang, KL or Jahor Bahru.  The growth of Taiwan correlates to its ability to concentrate on the "first mile of track".

Cities shrink families. Smaller families have more disposable income.  That's the parentage of e-waste at African dumps, smaller families from a generation passed own TVs, and the TVs are scrapped by kids from rural families, more recently immigrated.  It's ripe for improvement and reform, either through StEP or Fair Trade Recycling or by Indian and Taiwanese entrepreneurs.    It has nothing to do with ratification of the "Basel Convention".  

Ask Nneka Egbuna (Soul is Heavy artist)


The Guardian E-Waste Shoot: 3 Facts Behind "Poverty Porn"

It's the mining stupid.

The Guardian is actually a pretty excellent journal, compared to much of London's Yellow Press.  So when it "recycled" some photos of scrappers in Agbogbloshie this week, actually calling it "the largest e-waste dump in the world", it got a lot of 're-tweets'.

I called them out earlier, and a journalist at Fox News called to quote my reaction.  Read to the bottom of Jeremy Kaplan's piece on the "Ghana's E-waste Nightmare" to see "poverty porn" in a quotation in major news media, a possible first.

It's the mining stupid.

 Six pieces of WEE sited at African city dump!!    OOOGA BOOGA OOOGA BOOGA

Here are the facts:

1) None of the vintage electronics in those photos is typically purchased by African traders today.   Agbogbloshie is the "end of pipe" for Accra's piping hot interenet, which grew ten-fold in the past decade (see 2 blogs back).  (Eric Prempeh, Good Point's head tech, is over there now, measuring demand).

2) The article distracts from actual environmental nightmares, including those the Guardian has covered.
-  Tin mining on coral islands of Indonesia (The Guardian hits the spot)
-  Gold mining in Ghana (The Atlantic)
-  Kabwe, Zambia, lead mine, the MOST TOXIC PLACE ON EARTH...
-  Today on VOA, Gold Mining in Uganda

- We could go on and on here, OK Tedi Mine in Borneo, Zinc smelter spills in Guangdong, smelter spills in the Danube, lead mining in the Andes, 14 of the 15 largest Superfund sites in the USA, conflict metal mining for tantalum in Congo's river basin, zinc mines of Kunming....

It's the mining stupid.

3) Had the devices at Agbogbloshie, imported ten years ago, been shredded, African cities would still have e-waste at dumps.   Had the devices, imported for reuse ten years ago, been shredded, MORE MINING would have taken place, more carbon spilled, unless you want to assume Africans never got electronic media.

"Using a used CRT for 10 years is better than mining for a flat screen" 
- Captain Obvious.

Motherload Blog Alert: Foreshadowing Karma

My next posting is nearly finished, and it's another college-thesis styled attempt to tie together several themes of this Good Point Recycling blog.

- Accidental Racism, Environmental Malpractice, Environmental Injustice
- Cognitive bias, psychological basis for the mis-prescriptions of justice and intolerance
- Facts, statistics, and environmental best practices
- Geographical and social development forces, from urbanization to 'state-hate'

I'm a little bit afraid to hit the "publish" button, I want to reread it again over the next two days.  But as a preview, here are two links, one to a CNN interview of Harvard bio-psychologist Steven Pinker, and the other to an amazing Singapore-based undergraduate's philosophical blog (pen name Laicite).

In the treatise, I confess to waging war on too many battlefronts, and the psychological toll it takes on our loyal clients, staff and supporters of Good Point Recycling.   I read an essay by Alexis de Tocqueville on the weekend, and will use the specifics of the Vermont "state-hate" phenomena to shed light on broader truths for the environmental movement.

The blog begins in Singapore, takes a random wander through Vermont "e-waste", touches Lord Chris Smith (UK Env Minister) and Interpol, and ends in Africa.  Environmentalists and bible belters, regulators and entrepreneurs, can all be excellent people, and still wind up wringing collateral damage out of distrust and shame.   The way out is an exercise in leadership, requiring both humility and certain direction.  We evolve to accept differences, to defuse state-hate, and wind up with fusions and Gangstagrass.  

If you don't want to read Steve Pinker, de Tocqueville, or Laicite, I'll assign the pilot episode of My Name Is Earl., something of a transition from the recent "cultural gulf" theme, a very humorous USA television program I just discovered a couple of months ago.


Cultural Gulfs in Developing Markets #4: Just the Facts M'am

Why did Africans, Latin Americans, Mid Easterners, and Asians purchase used computer monitors between 1995 and 2010?  Because marketplaces (mostly urban, where electric grids develop first) earning $3,000 per person per year constitute most of the growth in Media Consumption (internet, TV, and cell phones).   The measure of cultural gulfs is streaming music.  Here is an analysis of photos shown in the Guardian, examined under the light of facts about computer displays.

From 2004 to 2012, Ghana's number of internet users increased tenfold from 1.7 to 17 (per 100 residents).  As a percentage of world GDP, Ghana improved, but still remains a work in progress.  Poverty levels remained at 28.5% the year before 2007, when the internet exploded in Ghana. But that was a reduction by half (from 51.7% poverty in 1992 to 28.5% in 2006), and progress must be recognized.     

2006 was when Jim Puckett and I met over export policy in Africa.  It was still an amicable relationship then, and I was very polite in the back and forth with NIH author Charles Schmidt (Unfair Trade E-Waste in Africa) that year.  Eight years later, a lot of data has surfaced, but in the Western Press, the song remains the same.  From The Guardian (2/27/2014), "Agbogbloshie:  the world's largest e-waste dump - in pictures" circulated the Twittersphere.

Exoticization of rag picking, at its finest.  "Other-ization" as my wife (a Francophone African Studies professor at Middlebury College) describes it.

"Largest E-Waste Dump in the World" - Accidental racism at The Guardian?  or just sloppy?

As it turns out, that @Guardian story came out the day after Good Point Recycling's head technician, Eric Prempeh, returned to his home country of Ghana for three weeks of family reunions, and a side helping of research on the state of electronics reuse and repair.  How will the Guardian's portrayal of African recyclers in "primitive spear-handling poses" compare with a professional technician's findings?
E-Scrap News 2/28/2013 |
Good Point Recycling of Middlebury, Vermont announced one of its technicians is headed to controversial e-scrap hotspot Ghana to try to help determine how much of the material dumped at crude processing sites there is actually imported from outside Africa. Eric Prempeh, the technician, is originally from Ghana and will be back in his native country for three weeks. Good Point Recycling is associated with Fair Trade Recycling, an effort that aims to promote responsible export of used electronics so that the technology can benefit individuals in developing nations. 
I've been somewhat guilty of fighting fire with fire.    Emotionalized responses to the Basel Action Network's depiction of Geeks of Color were, in no small part, out of the guilt I feel.  I was wrong for handling Jim with kid gloves in the Charles Schmidt interview.  Letting Jim ride roughshod resulted in the arrests of "Hurricane" technicians like Hamdy Mousa and Joe Benson.  It was the beginning of a firehose of disinformation in support of planned obsolescence, and "big shred".  The #ewaste hoax campaign was directed against smart people emerging from poverty.   With skills and brains, these geeks of color were supplying products for the "good enough market".  For E-Stewards "certification" payments, thirty pieces of silver, sold Big Shred a story against the reuse competitors.   BAN successfully monetized the hyperbole.  It's my fault. 

Yep, it's my moral responsibility to be mad about environmental malpractice.  However, ranting isn't music to many peoples ears.