Nancy Scola

Nancy Scola is a writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in Science Progress, Politics Magazine, AlterNet, and the Columbia Journalism Review.

Recent Articles

More Forgiving Anti-Terrorism Tools.

Laura Rozen quickly picked up yesterday on one striking nugget in the Obama administration's new review of the Christmas Day bomb incident. The report's summary reveals that the State Department didn't know that Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab held a U.S. visa because of a misspelling. Seems perhaps like a pedestrian finding. But it actually seems to be a rather important bit, because it indicates an out-dated relationship between user and information. Much of the attention on how government handles information post-9/11 was focused on addressing the problem of intelligence officials being able to get their hands on relevant data, as they had pre-9/11 been tripped up by bureaucratic obstacles and system interoperability problems. Since 2001, those structural challenges, says the review, have "largely been overcome." Yet as we saw on Christmas Day, the the counterterrorism world's IT still isn't up to the task of making sense of the information it has on hand. The problem...

Lowering Commercial Volume.

My holiday gift to you is a topic of dinner table conversation that, if my experience is any guide, can bring about a rare moment of unanimity regardless of the politics of your assorted relatives. I happened to casually mention during a holiday get together this past weekend that Congress is hot on the case of how loud TV commercials get compared to regular programming. I expected a polite, "That's nice, Nancy." Or maybe a "Talk about overreaching!" Instead, all involved felt this was one of smartest things Capitol Hill has done in many, many years. I tend to DVR my way through commercials, I guess, or else I'm just all that attentive. Other than the occasional Billy Mays shout fest, I've never registered that TV ad spots often run several decibels louder than TV programs. Alas, there doesn't seem to be all that much research available on why that is, though we might imagine that the ad makers are trying to draw your attention away from your commercial-break conversations or trips to...

Snowballs and a Distribution Divide.

On Black Friday, I picked up a sweet 32" Samsung HD TV for about $500. That's not nothing, but it occurred to me after I left Best Buy that the full suite of cutting edge technology I own can today be had for a few thousand dollars (even less if you go MacBook instead of MacBook Pro, get the $99 iPhone, etc.). That's rather amazing, and it means that I can whip up creative content in a way that would blow the minds of gear heads even a decade ago. It doesn't mean, though, that anyone is going to necessarily listen to once I post it online. Julian Sanchez has a nice post on how the story of the DC snowball fight took a big turn when video turned up showing a metropolitan police officer pulling a gun on the crowd, despite the MPD's initial denial. Julian wonders if the accessibility of modern technology is shrinking the power gap between citizens. It's true -- even the free mobile phones that come with the contract these days can take a high-resolution picture. And whether the "victims...

Entertaining the Idea of Open Access.

Ars Technica's Matthew Lasar has a good rundown of what's in the FCC's first national broadband plan status report -- and the total lack of language on open access that has broadband advocates nervous about how ambitious the final plan, due on Obama's desk in mid-February, will be. One reason why open access's absence from the interim plan stands out is that when Obama campaign veteran Julius Genachowski took over the FCC, his broadband unit quickly called on Harvard's Berkman Center to survey how other countries outside the U.S. have managed to increase broadband access. The resulting report from economist Yochai Benkler and his team focused on one common denominator: open access. Benkler et al cited Japan, Denmark, Sweden, France, the UK, and New Zealand for their practice of separating ownership of Internet networks from the service part of the broadband equation. For the most part, we do things differently here in the U.S. Verizon, for example, both owns the FiOS fiber backbone...

Loca-aurism.

One bright spot in the decade it's taken for the House to finally pass a very good bill on community radio licensing might be that all this haggling is defining a place for LPFM (short for "low-power FM") in the regulated media landscape. To make sense of LPFM, it's helpful, I think, to think of the wireless radio spectrum as a pool. It's a community pool, owned by the people of the United States. The FCC is our hired lifeguard. Worried that the pool was getting monopolized by too few swimmers, the FCC took the initiative to start handing out passes to, say, frogs -- who, in our tortured allegory, are grassroots broadcasters working at 10 or 100 watts, which includes schools, unions, and church groups. The existing swimmers -- the National Association of Broadcasters, NPR, and others -- complained to their friends in Congress that the froggies were creating unpleasant ripples in the pool. (Stay with me.) In 2000, Congress ordered the FCC to stop handing out passes, and, so as not to...

Pages