Category: governament

Trump’s Threat to Iranian Cultural Sites

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In the aftermath of Qasem Soleimani’s killing, President Trump on Twitter threatened to attack 52 Iranian sites that are important to “the Iranian culture,” a threat that has drawn criticism and condemnation as “cultural cleansing” and an action in violation of international law.

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Seema Golestaneh, professor of near Eastern studies at Cornell University, studies the anthropology of Islam and culture of Iran. She says threatening to attack cultural sites shows a lack of understanding of the Iranian peoples’ day-to-day lives.

Bio: https://as.cornell.edu/seema-golestaneh

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Golestaneh says:

“The threat to attack Iranian cultural sites is akin to threatening to bomb Notre Dame or the Sistine chapel.  And to make such claims so cavalierly, without any regard for the deep emotional ties that people have with these sites, seems especially cruel.

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“Some of these sites are not just tourist destinations but are still in heavy use and are woven into the fabric of their respective cities. For example, the bazaar of the Imam’s Square and the Khaju Bridge of Isfahan, which were built nearly four hundred years ago, are used by hundreds of thousands of people every day. 

“The term ‘cultural heritage sites’ in a way seems to fall short to describe these places and things and their role in the popular imagination. They are ways of life, ways of understanding the self.  The United States is a young country and perhaps it is hard to understand this deep affection. But outside of the loss of life, for Iranians, nothing could be more painful.”AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to Print

IRANIAN CULTURAL SITES

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Cultural heritage expert available to discuss threats against Iranian cultural sites

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Ted Grevstad-Nordbrock, assistant professor of community and regional planning at Iowa State University, is available to comment on threats against Iranian cultural sites. He is an expert on cultural heritage and historic preservation.

Credit: Iowa State University

Grevstad-Nordbrock has drawn parallels between the threats against Iranian cultural sites and the “Baedeker Raids” by Nazi Germany in 1941-2. During these raids, German war planners used popular European travel guides (“Baedekers”) to identify cultural sites in UK cities for aerial bombardment. This was intended to shock and demoralize the British population. It was also a reprisal for the British bombing of historic cities in Germany’s north.

Grevstad-Nordbrock has conducted research of historic sites during times of armed conflict, in particular exploring how Allied governments protected historic sites in Europe from destruction during World War II, focusing on immoveable cultural heritage (historic buildings, archaeological sites) as opposed to moveable art objects (paintings, sculptures, etc.). 

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He has a Ph.D. in geography from Michigan State University, a master’s degree in historic preservation planning from Cornell University, a master’s degree in art history from the University of Wiconsin-Madison and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UW-Madison. He had 25 years professional experience in historic preservation before coming to Iowa State.

For interviews, please contact Chelsea Davis at chelsead@iastate.edu or 515-294-4778.

Song for our times: War is Hell.

Charly Chiarelli futured on “I’M Italian Magazine

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Charly Chiarelli

Post-9/11 wars may have killed twice as many Americans at home as in battle: Analysis

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Photo by Anthony Fomin

An analysis by a Vanderbilt economist whose research focuses on fatality risks finds that the post-9/11 wars may have resulted in more than twice as many indirect deaths back home as were lost in battle. These indirect deaths are due to the diversion of war costs from the U.S. economy and the subsequent impact on the nation’s health. 

The Mortality Cost Metric for the Costs of War, by W. Kip Viscusi, University Distinguished Professor of Law, Economics, and Management at Vanderbilt University and co-director of the Ph.D. Program in Law and Economics, appears in Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy

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“When a government spends $100 million on a war, it leaves its citizens $100 million poorer,” Viscusi said. “We know that during a recession, more people die. People have less money to spend on better nutrition, health care, safer products or living in a safer neighborhood. For much the same reason, war spending would have a similar effect by redirecting those dollars away from consumers.” 

To examine the question, Viscusi first had to work out the total cost of war. The U.S. government estimates that the post-9/11 wars, which include military operations in other countries such as Syria and Pakistan in addition to Afghanistan and Iraq, have cost about $1.95 trillion. But, Viscusi said, those are just expenditures. To tell the whole story, you need to include the value of the lives lost in battle. 

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And in fact, a dollar value for these lives does exist—Viscusi invented it, and the government already uses it in its risk calculations. It’s called the “value of statistical life,” and it’s the average amount you would have to pay a group of 10,000 people to increase their risk of certain death from zero to one. It’s based on the hazard pay workers receive for dangerous jobs, and in the United States, at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the VSL was about $8.9 million. (Today it’s about $10 million.) 

By multiplying the number of direct U.S. fatalities in the post-9/11 conflicts—10,371, by conservative government estimates—by the VSL, $8.9 million, Viscusi calculates that these war deaths are worth an additional $95.3 billion, bringing the total cost of these wars to $2.05 trillion. 

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War expenditures have an additional impact that causes deaths, Viscusi said, because money spent on war is diverted away from the U.S. economy, including everyday spending on well-being. In previous research, Viscusi has found that Americans spend about 10 cents out of every dollar on health and safety. His analysis shows that dividing the VSL by $0.10 results in what Viscusi calls the “mortality opportunity cost of expenditures.” That is, for every $89 million that we’ve spent on the post-9/11 wars, we would expect to see one additional, indirect death here at home. 

This results in an additional 21,910 indirect deaths since 9/11 due to the diversion of war costs away from U.S. households, bringing the total toll to 32,619—more than three times the official government estimate.  

“Every time we spend money on wars, we’re not spending that money on other things. There are actual costs to society,” Viscusi said. “So we have to ask ourselves, what are we losing because of that?”

Evidence of racism

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Photo by jurien huggins

On the morning of July 16, 1996, four employees of the Tardy Furniture store in downtown Winona, Mississippi, were shot in the head, their bodies left sprawled on the floor or slumped over the counter.

Seven months later, Curtis Flowers, an employee who had been fired from the store two weeks before the murders, was arrested and charged with the quadruple homicide. Flowers, 26 at the time, had no criminal record, and no forensic evidence linked him to the killings.

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Yet six times over the next 14 years, the Montgomery County prosecutor, Doug Evans, tried Flowers, an African American who had grown up in Winona. The first three trials ended with a conviction and death sentence but were overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court because of prosecutorial misconduct or because prospective jurors had been excluded based on their race. The next two were mistrials. In the sixth trial, Flowers was again convicted and sentenced to death.

Flowers wanted to appeal, and two Cornell Law School professors – Sheri Lynn Johnson and Keir Weyble – agreed to take over the case. Working with two students from the Law School’s capital punishment clinic, they took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 21, 2019, in a 7–2 decision, the court overturned the conviction. The justices concluded that Evans had violated the U.S. Constitution by repeatedly excluding African Americans during jury selection, using what is known as peremptory challenges.

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While Flowers is still imprisoned and may face a seventh trial in Mississippi, the Supreme Court decision will have a significant impact on future cases dealing with racial bias in the selection of jurors, said John Blume, the Samuel F. Leibowitz Professor of Trial Techniques and director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project. “I think the court,” Blume said, “is trying to send a message: ‘Don’t do this. … Don’t cheat to win.’” 

Johnson, the James and Mark Flanagan Professor of Law, is a renowned expert on the interface of race and criminal procedure. And Weyble, clinical professor of law, is a nationally known expert in post-conviction litigation and has represented prisoners in capital cases across the South for more than 20 years.

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Both were attracted to the case because of its focus on racial issues in jury selection and the sheer number of trials involved. “I’d never encountered another case that went to trial six times,” Weyble said. “That alone made my ears perk up.”

As they began researching the case, they found overwhelming evidence of racial discrimination: Out of the 43 African Americans in the jury pool for Flowers’ six trials, Evans rejected 41. And in the sixth trial, he struck five of six.

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“The numbers are extraordinary,” Johnson said. “For whatever reason, Evans wanted a white jury and did whatever he could to get his white jury.”

They also found Evans used weak evidence in the case. For example, one witness could only identify the perpetrator as being African American and initially named someone else as the suspect, Johnson said.

“He only [identified] Mr. Flowers after there were various suggestive comments made,” Johnson said. “So a variety of factors made this an unreliable identification and in our view should have meant that the identification should not have gone to the jury at all.”

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When the Mississippi Supreme Court reaffirmed Flowers’ conviction in his sixth trial, Johnson and Weyble appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the court sent the case back to the lower court. 

As they prepared their second appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Johnson and Weyble enlisted Pablo Chapablanco, J.D. ’19, and Sam Macomber, J.D. ’20, students in the school’s capital punishment clinic. During the fall and spring of 2018-19, Chapablanco and Macomber worked late into the night, poring over the jury selection records and preparing a 600-page research document that would become an essential part of the arguments made to the Supreme Court. “They did extraordinary work on behalf of Curtis Flowers,” Johnson said. 

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When the team filed its petition to the Supreme Court, it focused on a single issue: whether the prosecutor deliberately used race to exclude prospective jurors in the sixth trial. They pointed to the Supreme Court’s 1986 decision in Batson v. Kentucky, where it ruled that prosecutors may not exclude jurors solely on the basis of race because it violates the 14th Amendment.

They also pointed to another hallmark of racial discrimination in jury selection: questioning potential jurors differently. While Evans asked both African Americans and whites about their relationships to Flowers and witnesses in the case, he asked only prospective African American jurors details about those relationships.

“The prosecutor dug very deep to find those potential biases in the jurors, but he did not ask those probing questions of white potential jurors,” said Macomber. “So the whole point was the prosecutor was striking jurors and giving some reason, and that was a pretext for race.”

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On Nov. 2, 2018 – five months after the legal team had filed its petition – the Supreme Court agreed to hear Flowers’ appeal. The team had 40 business days to file the brief on the case.

While they had accumulated a set of written arguments over their six years of work on the case, preparing a brief for the Supreme Court “requires a deeper dive” on the key issues, Weyble said. They started a new brief from scratch. On Dec. 27, 2018, the team filed the brief, and began waiting for its day in court.

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On the day of the hearing, Johnson presented her argument, focusing on the issue of racial bias. “The only plausible interpretation of all of the evidence viewed cumulatively is that Doug Evans began jury selection in Flowers VI with an unconstitutional end in mind, to seat as few African American jurors as he could,” she said.

Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked Johnson if she thought she would have a chance of winning the case solely on the basis of the striking of African American jurors in the sixth trial, without the history of the previous trials. 

Over the course of the hourlong hearing, the questions from Kavanaugh and Alito surprised Johnson the most. “They’re very conservative justices, and so I would not have expected them to be sympathetic to any claim of a criminal defendant,” she said.

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Before the hearing was over, Weyble said it was apparent that the decision would turn in their favor. “It seemed pretty clear early on in the argument that the court understood what was going on in the case,” he said.

When the decision was announced last June, neither Weyble nor Johnson was surprised that Kavanaugh had written it. In his 31-page decision, he wrote, “In sum, the state’s pattern of striking black prospective jurors persisted from Flowers’ first trial through Flowers’ sixth trial.” He concluded that “we break no new legal ground. We simply enforce and reinforce Batson by applying it to the extraordinary facts of this case.”

The Supreme Court sent the case back to Mississippi Supreme Court for “further proceedings”; the decision of whether to release Flowers or to try him yet again lies with Evans, the prosecutor. Evans hasn’t said whether he will try Flowers again but has stated he remains convinced Flowers is guilty.

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If he does try Flowers again, however, he will have fewer witnesses to prove his case. In the past two years, a jailhouse informant who claimed that Flowers had confessed and a woman who claimed that she saw Flowers running from the murder scene have recanted their testimony.

“The case has certainly gotten much weaker in the nine years since it was tried last,” said Weyble, who, like Johnson, believes Flowers is innocent. “If I were a prosecutor, I would think pretty seriously about whether I’m just going to embarrass myself by trying this case again.”

A vast majority of Floridians support stricter gun laws

Credit: Florida Atlantic University
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Bill Nelson Edges Ahead of Rick Scott in U.S. Senate Race

In the wake of a mass shooting that took the lives of 17 students and teachers at a South Florida high school, a vast majority of Floridians support stricter gun laws, including a ban on assault-style rifles, universal background checks and raising the minimum age for gun purchasers, according to a statewide survey by the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative (FAU BEPI).

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On the political front, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has lost ground to Sen. Bill Nelson in a U.S. Senate race hypothetical matchup. Although Scott has not officially declared his candidacy for the seat currently held by Nelson, the latest poll shows Nelson with a two-point lead over Scott, 40 to 38 percent. A poll FAU BEPI conducted at the beginning of February showed Scott leading Nelson by 10 points.

“The bad news for Scott is his A+ rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) makes 44 percent of voters less likely to vote for him and only 26 percent more likely,” said Monica Escaleras, Ph.D., director of the BEPI. “A deeper dive into these numbers also finds Independents less likely to vote for Scott, 43 to 17 percent, because of his NRA rating.”

Additionally, Floridians disapprove of U.S. President Donald Trump’s response to the recent mass shooting 49 to 34 percent. Republicans approve 62 to 20 percent, while Democrats disapprove 73 to 16 percent, and Independents disapprove 53 to 23 percent.

Seven out of 10 voters want stricter gun laws while only 11 percent said laws should be less strict and 19 percent said laws should be left as is. A majority of voters of every party affiliation want stricter gun laws, with Democrats most in support at 84 percent, followed by Independents at 69 percent and Republicans at 55 percent.

Universal background checks for all gun buyers are supported by 87 percent of voters, and there is no statistical difference based on party affiliation. Nearly 4 of 5 voters (78 percent) support raising the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21, while 69 percent support a ban on assault-style rifles, with 23 percent opposed. A proposal to arm teachers is opposed by 56 percent of voters and supported by only 31 percent, with Democrats opposing by a 74 to 16 percent margin, Independents opposing 57 to 26 percent and Republicans supporting the proposal 53 to 37 percent.

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“Gun control may turn out to be a pivotal issue in the midterm elections and could well be the difference in a close race for the Senate between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson,” said Kevin Wagner, Ph.D., professor of political science at FAU and a research fellow of the Initiative. “While large majorities of Floridians support background checks and an increase in the age requirement, it is not at all clear that there is sufficient support for these measures in the Florida legislature. As we are already late in the session, it will take a serious push by Gov. Scott to pass any of these reforms this year.”

The survey also found that 27 percent of voters have either been a victim of gun violence themselves or know someone who has. Among African American voters this number jumps to 51 percent, while only 22 percent of whites and 24 percent of Hispanics have had this experience. Younger voters are also more likely to have been a victim or know a victim of gun violence, with 36 percent of voter’s age 18-34, 30 percent of age 35-54, 23 percent of age 55-74 and 9 percent of those over 75.

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When asked what they believe is the major contributor to mass shootings, the availability of guns came in first with nearly 4 of 10 voters (39 percent), while 24 percent selected a lack of mental healthcare. Violent themes on TV and video games came in third at 18 percent, while 14 percent said it’s something else. One-third of Republicans (33 percent) said the lack of mental healthcare was a major contributor of gun violence, while availability of guns was ranked as the major contributor by Democrats (56 percent) and Independents (42 percent).

More than 4 of 10 (41 percent) of voters in the survey own a gun. Republicans (52 percent) are more likely to own a gun than Democrats (36 percent) and Independents (33 percent).

“Independent voters are closer to the Democrats than the Republicans on some of these gun control issues in our poll. That could be a problem for Republicans in the fall,” Wagner said.

The survey, which polled 800 Florida registered voters Feb. 23-25, was conducted using an online sample supplied by Survey Sampling International using online questionnaires and via an automated telephone platform (IVR) using registered voter lists supplied by Aristotle, Inc. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percentage points. Responses for the entire sample were weighted to reflect the statewide distribution of the Florida population. The polling results and full cross-tabulations are available at www.business.fau.edu/bepi.

– FAU –

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About FAU BEPI: The Florida Atlantic University Business and Economic Polling Initiative conducts surveys on business, economic, political and social issues with a focus on Hispanic attitudes and opinions at regional, state and national levels via planned monthly national surveys. The initiative subscribes to the American Association of Public Opinion Research and is a resource for public and private organizations, academic research and media outlets. In addition, the initiative is designed to contribute to the educational mission of the University by providing students with valuable opportunities to enhance their educational experience by designing and carrying out public opinion research.

About Florida Atlantic University Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit www.fau.edu.

A collective narcissism

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Credit: (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

“Sorry Virginia, U.S. History Isn’t All About You!”

As the United States celebrates its founding on July 4, new research on “collective narcissism” suggests many Americans have hugely exaggerated notions about how much their home states helped to write the nation’s narrative.

New research on collective narcissism suggests that residents of many American states, including Texas, have an inflated sense of their home state’s role in U.S. history.

newswise-fullscreen Sorry Virginia, U.S. History Isn’t All About You
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Heat map of residents’ ratings of their state’s contributions to U.S. history. Darker colors and higher percentages represent a larger estimated contribution to U.S.

“Our study shows a massive narcissistic bias in the way that people from the United States remember the contributions of their home states to U.S. history,” said Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger, professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and senior author of the study.

The study, published June 24 in the journal Psychological Science, is based on a national survey of nearly 4,000 U.S residents, including about 50-60 respondents from each of the nation’s 50 states.

Asked to estimate their home state’s contribution to U.S. history, participants routinely gave their home state higher scores than those provided by non-residents of the state.

“As we originally hypothesized, the original 13 colonies, Texas and California showed high levels of narcissism, but there were also some surprises,” said Adam Putnam, the study’s first author and assistant professor of psychology at Furman University in South Carolina. “For example, people from Kansas and Wyoming thought much more of their state than nonresidents.”

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Collective narcissism — a phenomenon in which individuals show excessively high regard for their own group — has been studied extensively in smaller social circles, such as workplaces and communities. Psychologists have explored the idea that people over-claim responsibility for shared tasks for a long time, but this study is among the first to research its effects among huge virtual groups of loosely connected individuals scattered across entire states.

While it is difficult for anyone to accurately estimate an individual state’s contribution to the nation’s history, it is mathematically reasonable to expect the sum total of individual state contributions to add up to a figure in the vicinity of 100 percent.

Instead, the average percentage contributions estimated by residents of each state in this study added up to a staggering 907 percent, more than nine times higher than logic suggests.

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Roediger grew up in Virginia and was not surprised that his home state was on the high end of the continuum, claiming responsibility for 41 percent of the nation’s history.

“We would study U.S. history one year, then Virginia history the next. Many of the events are the same: Jamestown, the Revolution, four of the first five presidents being from Virginia, all the Civil War battles,” he recalls.

When people in other states were asked about Virginia’s percentage contribution to U.S. history, they also gave a high number: 24 percent.

In an effort to see if state narcissism could be reduced by exposure to the realities of U.S. history, researchers divided the sample into two groups, requiring half to take a quiz designed to remind them of the true breadth of U.S. history before they answered the relevant question. The other half answered the question first, before they took the quiz. However, placement of the question about how much the person’s state contributed did not matter. The average across the 50 states was 18.1 percent whether the question was posed first or was placed last.

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“The responses are even more amazing because we explicitly tell people in the question that there are 50 states and the total contribution of all states should equal 100 percent — even with that reminder Americans give really high responses,” Putnam said. “Being reminded about the scope of U.S. history before making the estimate doesn’t seem to lower the responses.

Putnam, who earned a doctorate in psychology from Washington University in 2015, has worked with Roediger on other studies of collective narcissism, including a just-published paper that applies the same methodology to 35 nations around the globe.

That study, which found that residents of Malaysia considered themselves responsible for 39 percent of world history, has important implications for how residents of these countries view one another and interact on the world stage.

Roediger and Putnam offer several explanations for the skewed perceptions uncovered in the study of collective narcissism among residents of American states.

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State of the union’s perception

Most humble states, according to the Narcissism Index:
1. Washington. Less than 1 percent
(Tie) 2. Colorado. 1 percent
Iowa
Kentucky
Mississippi
6. Arizona. 2 percent
(T) 7. Alabama. 3 percent
Maine
Texas
Utah
(T) 11. Missouri, with 6 others. 4 percent

Most immodest states:
(T) 1. Delaware, Virginia. 18 percent
3. Georgia. 15 percent
(T) 4. Kansas. 12 percent
Massachusetts
Wyoming
(T) 7. Idaho. 11 percent
Louisiana
New Jersey
(T) 10. Rhode Island, Hawaii. 10 percent

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For starters, people know a lot more about their home state than other states: they study state history in school, visit museums and so on. All of this information comes to mind quickly and easily compared to information about other states (a phenomenon known as the availability heuristic).

A second factor is that social psychology research has clearly shown that people like to associate with successful groups and think of themselves as being slightly above-average on a variety of positive traits.

Finally, people might not be particularly good at making quantitative estimates about small numbers.

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“The most important take away from this research is that people may appear to be egocentric or narcissistic about their own groups, but there isn’t necessarily anything malicious or evil about it — it is just the way we view the world,” Putnam said. “There is certainly concern about tribalism in today’s culture, so this project is a nice reminder to try and think about how people from different backgrounds see things.”