The Dark History Behind the High Five

If you were born in or after the 1980s, you may take the “high five” for granted. I certainly did. But the high five has a much more recent (and sordid) history than you might think.

Despite several myths, the true origin of the high five is a spontaneous celebratory gesture from the charismatic baseball player Glenn Burke.

Burke adopted the high five as his personal greeting, high-fiving people all over the place for the rest of his life. A life that was made quite difficult afterward. Burke was gay, and in the late 1970s, that was trouble for professional sports. Homophobia led to an abrupt trade from the Dodgers to the lackluster Oakland As. The discrimination followed him there, and eventually forced Burke into retirement. His life spiraled out of control, leading to a drug habit. He died of complications related to HIV/AIDs in 1995. 

Meanwhile, the high five had been adopted as a symbol of gay pride, and as a promotional trademark of the Dodgers – Burke’s old teammates. As Burke’s life fell apart, the gesture that became his legacy took off. 

Photo Source Copyrighted, under fair use for visual identification of the person in question, at the top of his/her biographical article 

Burke, waiting on deck, thrust his hand enthusiastically over his head to greet his friend at the plate. Baker, not knowing what to do, smacked it. “His hand was up in the air, and he was arching way back,” says Baker, now 62 and managing the Reds. “So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do.”
ESPN: History of the High Five


He couldn’t hold a job. He went broke. He did some time at San Quentin for grand theft. Then in 1993, he tested positive for HIV. He passed away on May 30, 1995, after a sharp and grisly decline. One obituary noted that, at the end, the man who invented the high five “could barely lift his arm.”
ESPN: History of the High Five


Podcast on Glenn Burke and his life from The Dollop.

The Founder of the Red Cross (Almost Died in Forgotten Poverty)

The intellectual founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Henri Dunant was an idealistic reformer to the end. So much so that he brought ruin onto himself. Not only did he isolate himself from his cofounders with his refusal to compromise on his vision of a neutral agency to care for all wounded soldiers, but his neglect of his own personal business left him bankrupt and deeply in debt.

He was booted off of the Committee by political rivals, socially isolated, bankrupt, and left home in disgrace to quickly be forgotten. While moving around Europe living on park benches and couch-surfing with friends, he advocated for disarmament, a world library, and an international court to settle disputes (and was an abolitionist and feminist). Meanwhile ending up living off the charity of family in a hospice in Heiden.

Luckily for Dunant, a journalist “rediscovered” him in that hospice, writing a piece on his life that restored Dunant’s place in the history books and earned him supporters across Europe. As a result of his efforts, he was one of the two first recipients of the Nobel Peace Price, though he never touched his prize winnings, and remained in Heidel in paranoia for the rest of his life. His last act was selfless, donating funds to keep a free bed in the hospital to always be open for someone too poor to afford it.

Photo By Time Life Pictures [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

An international congress for the ” complete and final abolition of the traffic in Negroes and the slave trade ” opened in London on 1 February 1875, on Dunant’s initiative. There followed years of wandering and utter poverty for Dunant: he travelled on foot in Alsace, Germany and Italy, living on charity and the hospitality of a few friends.
Finally, in 1887, he ended up in the Swiss village of Heiden, overlooking Lake Constance, where he fell ill. He found refuge in the local hospice, and it was there that he was discovered in 1895 by a journalist, Georg Baumberger, who wrote an article about him which, within a few days, was reprinted in the press throughout Europe.
International Committee of the Red Cross


In September 1895, Georg Baumberger, the chief editor of the St. Gall newspaper Die Ostschweiz, wrote an article about the Red Cross founder, whom he had met and conversed with during a walk in Heiden a month earlier. The article entitled “Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross”, appeared in the German Illustrated Magazine Über Land und Meer, and the article was soon reprinted in other publications throughout Europe. The article struck a chord, and he received renewed attention and support. 


Congratulations, World. We’ve Almost Eliminated Poverty

The world is dominated by negative headlines. Single horrible events, like terrorist attacks or natural disasters. But, in the background, millions of people are making slow and steady progress making our world infinitely better than the world of our ancestors. 

One striking example is the global poverty rate. As recently as the 90s, the portion of humanity that lived in extreme poverty was well over half. Now? As of 2015, it’s estimated that fewer than one in ten people suffer through the same meager existence. The biggest gains have been in India and China, but the progress is truly global. 

It’s entirely possible that someone reading this post will see a world within their lifetime where almost no person ever has to wonder where their next meal is coming from.

Image By Jonathan McIntosh (Own work) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

“In East Asia and Pacific the extreme poverty rate fell from 61 percent in 1990 to 7 percent in 2012, and in South Asia it fell from 51 percent to 19percent (figure 1a). In contrast, SubSaharan Africa’s extreme poverty rate did not fall below its 1990 level until 2002. Based on national growth rates over the past 10 years, the global extreme poverty rate is estimated to be below 10 percent in 2015, a drop of more than two-thirds since 1990.”
The World Bank

The One Economic Principle that Explains the Power of Lobbyists

Pay attention to politics at all, and you’ll come across the term “special interests” to describe lobbyists: the idea that a small minority of the population control Washington and politics in general.

There’s some truth to that idea. And it comes from an economic principle called “concentrated benefits and diffuse costs.” Say there’s a law that will take a dollar from a million people and give it to one person. How hard would you fight to save that dollar?  Would you fly to Washington D.C., hire a lawyer or lobbyist, and go to Congressional hearings for it? The person receiving the million dollars certainly would.

This simple concept explains why a small group of elites with time and money can often out-lobby millions of people, even in a democracy.

Image By Martin Falbisoner (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
(, via Wikimedia Commons

“One reason for this lobbying imbalance was identified by the political scientist James Q. Wilson more than 30 years ago. He noted that many policies tend to concentrate benefits and costs on companies, while dispersing benefits and costs among citizens. The former motivates political action; the latter does not. This makes it much easier for a company like Citigroup to spend $5.3 million a year in lobbying expenditures but much harder for Citigroup customers to organize to, say, reduce fees.”
The Washington Post 


Many members explained their “no” votes by saying they were unwilling to sacrifice the subsidies to airports in their districts. “It’s that old problem of concentrated benefits with diffuse costs. The benefits are lavished on a few select communities, and the costs are diffused across the entire tax base,” McClintock said afterward. The beneficiaries, he said, are the only ones who care enough to fight.
The CATO Institute


The File Drawer Effect, or Why Your High School Psychology Class was Useless


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The world of psychology was rocked recently by a study showing that huge chunks of psychology research weren’t able to be replicated. High-profile studies, like the one linking feeling clean and pure to the judgment of other people’s morals, were involved in The Great Debunking. 

This problem isn’t unique to social psychology. Most fields of science, especially for lower-profile, IFL-science-style studies, are plagued by this replication bias. Even cancer research is impacted.

There’re a few issues contributing. For one, there’s a bias toward findings that are surprising and prove something. That bias, which leads to studies with negative or confirmation results, to end up sitting around file drawers unpublished, is called “publication bias,” or “the file drawer effect.” It also discourages studies simply replicating the results of previous studies. No one makes their mark that way.

The scientific community has been making efforts to fix the problem, and it doesn’t affect high-profile issues of scientific consensus, like the Big Bang, Evolution, or Climate Change, but we have a long way to go.

Image By Sara Franses (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0
(, via Wikimedia Commons

Given the stakes involved and its centrality to the scientific method, it may seem perplexing that replication is the exception rather than the rule. The reasons why are varied, but most come down to the perverse incentives driving research. Scientific journals typically view “positive” findings that announce a novel relationship or support a theoretical claim as more interesting than “negative” findings that say that things are unrelated or that a theory is not supported. The more surprising the positive finding, the better, even though surprising findings are statistically less likely to be accurate.


Publication bias is a type of bias occurring in published academic research. It occurs when the outcome of an experiment or research study influences the decision whether to publish (or otherwise distribute) it. Publication bias is of interest because literature reviews of claims about support for a hypothesis or values for a parameter will themselves be biased if the original literature is contaminated by publication bias.


“Positive results in research studies overall, became 22% more likely to appear in scientific journals from 1990 to 2007,” says the study, which looked at a sample of 4,656 papers over this time period, looking for trends in science journals.
The analysis looked at studies where authors proposed a hypothesis and then sought to test it, either confirming it for a positive result, or not. Overall, 70.2% of papers were positive in 1990–1991 and 85.9% were positive in 2007. “On average, the odds or reporting a positive result have increased by around 6% every year, showing a statistically highly significant trend,” says the study.


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Sorry History Buffs, the Holy Roman Empire WAS Holy, Roman, and an Empire

1. Holy:
Crowned by the Pope, loyal to the Roman Catholic Church for most of its existence, the Holy Roman Empire was as Holy (from the Catholic Church in Rome’s perspective) as a medieval state comes.

2. Roman
The Western Roman Empire before the East split off:

The Carolingian Empire (Holy Roman Empire before it was made that) when Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans:

As the first guy to reunite a significant chunk of the former territory of the Western Roman Empire, the Pope (as the last surviving major official of the former Western Roman government) decided it was appropriate to crown Charlemagne the new Emperor. Also, Rome was a part of the empire (therefore, Roman).

3. Empire
There was an emperor, and multiple medieval kingdoms and kings – like Bohemia and Italy – were subordinate to the emperor. 

Next time someone pulls a “well actually” on the Holy Roman Empire, feel free to “well actually” them right back.

Charlemagne had himself crowned Roman Emperor by the same process; he went to Rome, the people of the City hailed him as Emperor, and then the Bishop of Rome placed a crown on his head. As an Emperor ruling over the city of Rome, and crowned in Rome by the Bishop of Rome according to the constitution of the Roman Empire, he surely had as much right to be called a Roman Emperor as Augustus, Hadrian, Constantine or Theodosius.
In the technical sense, the state was an Empire because that was its official name (Sacrum Imperium Romanum in Latin, Heiliges Römisches Reich in German). European diplomacy gave the Emperor formal precedence over all other secular rulers for ceremonial purposes.
The Empire was made up of several constituent kingdoms — the Kingdom of Germany, Kingdom of Italy, Kingdom of Burgundy and Kingdom of Bohemia. (Stephen Tempest)

Popular Opinion on War is Mostly Based on How Hard We’re Winning

The most important factor that statistically impacts the popularity of a war is whether we are winning. If we’re winning, we as a people tolerate pretty high casualties.

Dr. Feaver, the person who originally published these results from their conflict studies research heavily influenced the Bush administration in how it communicated the Iraq war (as reported by several journalists in 2005-6), and may have been responsible for the emphasis on winning quickly that Bush took with his speeches.

This same effect seems to have been picked up on in general by American politicians (e.g.: Mr. Trump and his fixation on repeating the words “win” and “lose;” Obama consistently downplaying the difficulty of destroying ISIS and repeating simple easy win conditions), so watch out for the impact of that analysis the next time you’re watching a speech.

Image By U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos
(101211-A-7125B-303) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Our core argument is that the U.S. public’s tolerance for the human costs of war is primarily shaped by the intersection of two crucial attitudes: beliefs about the rightness or wrongness of the war, and beliefs about a war’s likely success. The impact of each attitude depends upon the other. Ultimately, however, we find that beliefs about the likelihood of success matter most in determining the public’s willingness to tolerate U.S. military deaths in combat.!385&authkey=!AOvcFBNMiNcM2JE&ithint=file%2cpdf (Success Matters: Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq, Christopher Gelpi, Peter D. Feaver, and Jason Reifler, International Security, Vol. 30, No. 3)


He used the word victory 15 times in the address; “Plan for Victory” signs crowded the podium he spoke on; […] reflected a new voice in the administration: Peter D. Feaver […] They concluded that Americans would support a war with mounting casualties on one condition: that they believed it would ultimately succeed. (Bush’s Speech on Iraq War Echoes Voice of an Analyst, Scott Shane, The New York Times)


[The administration] recognizes that flagging domestic support will translate into a strategic straitjacket […] The Feaver/Gelpi solution to this conundrum is to have the President spell out a clear definition for victory… (Political science enters the White House, Daniel W. Drezner, Foreign Policy)


These results suggest [given] substantial disagreement about the prospects for success, the public’s support is likely to remain low or even decline. (Victory Has Many Friends: U.S. Public Opinion and the Use of Military Force, 1981–2005, Richard Eichenberg, International Security)


As the Washington Post reported nine months ago, Bush’s domestic political spin on the war is guided by the work of two Duke University political scientists, Peter D. Feaver and Christopher F. Gelpi, […] Public support for the Iraq war has faltered because the American people cannot see progress toward a well defined goal and toward success. (Civil War? What Civil War?, Juan Cole, Salon)


“We will have so much winning if I get elected, that you may get bored with winning.”

“Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

“We Do Not Negotiate With Terrorists!” … Sometimes

It’s an old adage, and official policy of many governments. In fact, some upstart terrorist groups count on it in order to pump up their troops and escalate things with the governments they hope to agitate.

But while governments are hesitant to talk to them at first, the more terrorism a terrorist organization does, the more likely the government caves and comes to the table. That also may not actually be a bad thing when you crunch the numbers on it, as it tends to end conflict faster when everyone is able to get together and hash things out.

See the studies below for more details:

Image By BLAKE R. BORSIC, CIV, USAF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When the weakest rebels make demands from the government, they make large demands, ensuring that sufficiently weak types of government reject, preserving their optimism about their chances of victory. As these weakest rebels grow stronger, they are freed to demand less from the government, because the credibility of their threat to fight is no longer in question; they no longer need to believe that the government is very weak in order to credibly threaten to fight. Thus, we show that some common results from the standard approach to crisis bargaining, which assumes the credibility of threats, do not hold when credibility is an issue for uninformed players. (The Rebels’ Credibility Dilemma, Jakana L. Thomas, William Reed, and Scott Wolford, International Organization)


Using the conflicts in Northern Ireland and the southern Philippine region of Mindanao as illustrations, the article argues that the legitimation of `terrorist’ groups through talks can be a means to transform a conflict away from violence, while complexity may in fact open up new possibilities for engagement. The article concludes by examining how the naming of a group as `terrorist’ can and is often designed to forestall nonviolent responses to terrorism. (`We Don’t Negotiate with Terrorists!’: Legitimacy and Complexity in Terrorist Conflicts, Harmonie Toros, Security Dialogue)


Using new monthly data on the incidence of negotiations and the number of concessions offered to groups involved in African civil wars, this paper demonstrates that rebel groups are both more likely to be granted the opportunity to participate in negotiations and offered more concessions when they execute a greater number of terror attacks during civil wars. and (Rewarding Bad Behavior: How Governments Respond to Terrorism in Civil War, Jakana Thomas, American Journal of Political Science, reported on by the Washington Post)


Take a look at some of the most glaring – as well as some of the least well known – examples of U.S. negotiations with terrorists throughout history. [Iran Hostage Crisis, Iran-Contra Affair, Bill Clinton and the IRA, GW Bush and the Abu Sayyaf, Meetings with Hamas, Prisoner Exchanges in Iraq]. (Timeline of U.S. negotiations with terrorists, CNN)

Sesame Street was, by the Numbers, a Great Investment

Education is important for reducing long-term poverty.

Sesame Street has done a great job improving test scores and education outcomes in children, which a study by the National Bureau of Economics Research was able to tell by mapping out where the show rolled out over time, and looking at statistics before and after in each school district.

While it alone can’t miraculously solve poverty, the show did have a small effect on future wages as well, and was incredibly cheap to roll out compared to other programs aimed at poverty reduction.

Image By Staff Sgt. Dijon Rolle (United States Army)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It cost pennies on the dollar relative to other early childhood interventions. Well-designed research studies conducted at that time, reviewed in detail below, indicate that the show had a substantial and immediate impact on test scores,
[…] Our analysis takes advantage of the county-level variation in viewer’s ability to watch Sesame Street generated by these technological constraints that existed when the show was introduced in 1969
[…] The small estimated impact on wages in adulthood, though, is consistent with forecasts based on the estimated improvements in test scores and grade-for-age status brought about by the show’s introduction. (paywall) (Early Childhood Education by MOOC: Lessons from Sesame Street, Melissa S. Kearney, Phillip B. Levine, National Bureau of Economics Research)

Air Conditioning AND Refrigeration Were Killed by Big Icebox

Florida physician John Gorrie invented a machine in the 1840s that could create ice, which he used to cool down his office to comfort fever patients. It was simultaneously the invention of refrigeration and air conditioning, two of the most important underrated inventions in history.

He patented it in 1851… and immediately crashed and burned. He couldn’t get funding because he went head-to-head with the powerful ice lobby, which smeared him and his company until they both died. It took slow progress and a whole other way of refrigerating for the idea to recover over the next 70 years.

Image By Ebyabe (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

But the notion that humans could create ice bordered on blasphemy. In the New York Globe, one writer complained of a “crank” down in Florida “that thinks he can make ice by his machine as good as God Almighty.”
Having found both funding—from a Boston investor who remains unknown—and a manufacturing company willing to produce the contraption, Gorrie became the first person to create a commercially available refrigeration machine. But he quickly fell on hard times.
In 1851, the year Gorrie received a U.S. patent on his ice machine, his chief financial backer died. With his invention being ridiculed regularly in the press, his other investors fell by the wayside. Gorrie suspected that Frederic Tudor had spearheaded a smear campaign against him and his invention.


He looked for financial support for his invention, but had trouble.
[…] “The ice business was controlled by people in places like New England, where in the winter they would chop big slabs of ice out of the water,” Ackermann says. “That’s what people would use in iceboxes to keep their stuff cold. So the ideas of some guy from Florida trying to make things cooler was not necessarily something that the bigwigs, the people who actually had the power, would want to have happen.”
Northern ice makers — who made lots of money shipping ice to the South during the summer — lobbied against Gorrie, and Northern newspapers made fun of his invention.
The patent went nowhere and he died a poor man at the age of 52.