This week, we discuss defenses against hostile social manipulation; stopping the next Boko Haram in Mozambique; pursuing a career in science; the fentanyl crisis as a poisoning outbreak; the decline in American influence; and how citizen scientists are protecting their communities.
Many U.S. competitors, most notably Russia and China, engage in hostile social manipulation. This includes activities such as conducting targeted social media campaigns, spreading conspiracy theories, and creating sophisticated forgeries.
A new RAND report concludes that the United States and other democracies may have a limited window of opportunity to develop defenses against this growing threat. The authors highlight an urgent need for Washington to develop a framework to understand the tactics and reach of hostile social manipulation.
Since October 2017, the Islamist insurgent group al-Sunnah wa Jamaah has been linked to hundreds of deaths in Mozambique. The government so far has responded with repressive, militarized tactics. This could make things worse, say Hilary Matfess of Yale University and RAND's Alexander Noyes. In fact, a similar reaction in Nigeria led to the rise of Boko Haram, the deadliest group in Africa in 2015. A more comprehensive approach that focuses on socioeconomic development and leverages international advantages would be more effective.
As a senior management scientist at RAND, Cortney Weinbaum studies intelligence and cyber policy. In a new Q&A, she discusses challenges facing the intelligence community, artificial intelligence, and ethics in scientific research. Weinbaum also has some advice for women or minorities interested in a career in intelligence or other scientific fields: If you love it, pursue it. There are role models who can help. “[You can find] people like you—whatever 'like you' means—who are doing really interesting science.”
For most people exposed to—and dying from—fentanyl, the potent synthetic opioid wasn't their drug of choice. Rather, they were poisoned by dealers who mixed fentanyl into baggies of heroin or pressed it into fake-opioid tablets. This means that traditional methods for responding to drug crises won't reverse the rising death toll linked to fentanyl, say RAND experts. New policies, technologies, and law enforcement strategies are desperately needed.
The United States has experienced two decades of setbacks abroad. Is this decline in American influence irreversible? It doesn't have to be, says RAND's James Dobbins. Cold War–era policy provides some sound lessons for today. Back then, U.S. leaders didn't revive America's world standing by cutting back its global commitments. Instead, they returned to key qualities of statecraft: strength and constancy guided by prudence and restraint.
After Superstorm Sandy, the residents of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, joined activists and RAND researchers to better understand the future environmental risk to their community. This is an example of citizen science in action. It serves as a model to help other communities better prepare for—and rebound from—big disasters. Although the scientific community hasn't fully embraced citizen science, this project shows its promise. When the data are good and the methods are sound, the results can improve lives.
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