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

Pasting the Web

A recent flare-up over Twitter's URL shortener demonstrates one of the little ways we're letting the Internet get away from us. 

Flickr/The Next Web
Flickr/The Next Web Short-linking—that act of repackaging ungainly, often ugly strings of letters, numbers, ampersands, and question marks into elegantly tiny URLs—has been around for more than a decade, but only gained mainstream traction with the 2006 launch of Twitter and its capping of tweet-length at 140 characters. While the mechanics are complicated, the short story about the recent techie flare-up over short-linking is that Twitter has moved away from third-party shorteners to its own , the use of which is now mandatory for all links shared directly on the service. For the uninitiated, here's an example: Long link for this piece: Short link for this piece: It's been a small shift, little noticed by most, but now that trading links on social media— Hey, check out this video of Hillary yelling at Republicans! —is a main feature of the Internet-connected world, short-links are part of the...

Making Prisoners Count

For legislative districts, inmates are considered part of communities where they’ll likely never live as free citizens.

Add these two facts together: (1) To the United States Census Bureau, where prisoners have their “usual residence” is the prison in which they’re incarcerated and (2) The findings of the decennial census are used to draw political boundaries. The sum of those parts does strange things to the notion of how Americans elect people to represent us in state and local governments. “Our system for making political decisions in this country,” says Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative, “is being distorted by the miscounting of two million people.” In an era obsessed with political data— Microtargeting! Swing-state polling!! —and in a country where we incarcerate people at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world, thinking through the political counting of prisoners calls for the same enthusiasm, because the way we do it now corrupts the very equations upon which representative democracy is built. What’s the big...

The First Call Is Free; the Rest Are a Fortune.

Pressure mounts for prisons to improve their outdated and costly phone systems.

(Flickr/ danostamper714) Paying a $4.25 connection fee and then 75 cents per minute thereafter seems costly, unless, perhaps, we're talking about a phone call from our future Mars colony back to Earth. It is, though, what an operator at the phone company Global Tel*Link says it costs for a call from Pennsylvania's Carbon County Correctional Facility to anywhere beyond the local calling area. That's in line with the rates other companies charge for prisoners around the country to make simple long-distance phone calls. To compare, prepaid cell phones on the outside top out at about 20 cents a minute, and a standard residential landline plan at just half that. If you find it difficult to rally sympathy for prisoners' hefty monthly phone bills, consider two things. First, we know that contact with the outside world while in prison is tied to better outcomes after prison . Second, those costs are generally borne by families and friends, either through collect charges or the refilling of...

A Mayor for the Occupy Set

Jefferson Smith isn't planning to shed his activist and political organizer cred if elected to run Portland.

(Flickr / hotshot977)
In the early 2000s, Jefferson Smith grew a reputation in progressive grassroots political circles as the hulking 6’ 3” strawberry-blond force of nature behind Oregon’s The Bus Project , a non-profit merry band of allies named for a 1978 touring coach bought on eBay, which busied itself , training scores of young people in the mechanics of democracy, signing up tens of thousands of new voters, and selling t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Vote, F*cker.” In 2008, Smith won election to the Oregon House of Representatives, where he memorably convinced colleagues on both sides of the aisle to Rickroll the chamber , one word at a time. A well-styled and widely-circulated TED talk last summer on the structural opportunities of politics in the public interest added to his mainstream credibility as a big thinker. In some liberal circles, Smith, now 38, is the embodiment of the promise of netroots-generation politics: the idea that, as the Bus Project puts it,...

Copyright Fight Hits the Lab

The Research Works Act keeps the battle started by SOPA and PIPA in the headlines.

(AP Photo/ailatan)
This week, the scientific publishing giant Elsevier , which produces thousands of academic journals, and Representatives Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, and Darrell Issa, a California Republican, withdrew their support for the Research Works Act after public outcry from public-access advocates. Currently, some federal agencies require that researchers who rely on government funding make their resulting journal publications freely accessible online. The Research Works Act would have forbidden any agency from imposing this requirement, allowing publishers to retain rights to the papers. As with the recent battles over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), opposition and the sudden drop-off in support for the legislation suggests that big content companies are losing some of the traction in Washington they once enjoyed. But the Research Works Act was always largely symbolic. “It’s a stake in the ground,” said Allan Adler of the American...