Monday, April 30, 2012

Robotic romance?

"Tomorrow’s Romantic Robots could Capture our Hearts"


Dick Pelletier

April 29th, 2012

Instititute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Although many today might find the idea of romance with a machine repulsive, experts predict that as the technology advances and robots become more human-like, we will view our silicon creations in a much friendlier light.

By 2025-to-2030, robots are expected to fill rolls as caregivers and servants, as well as avatars that manage our auto-drive cars, automated homes, and complex entertainment systems.

James Irvine and Sandra Schwarzbach, in a recent Futurist Magazine article, predict that the world will predominantly be driven by two fields: robotics and biotech. These areas will surpass information technologies by 2025, and dominate science research over the next 50 years.

Today’s machines can vacuum our homes, stand in as pets, explore planets, and assist in surgeries. Future ‘bots will do much more. Think brain-machine interfaces that allow handicapped patients to control prosthetic limbs. Or imagine swarms of mosquito-size flying ‘bots that can search collapsed buildings for trapped victims; and spy on terrorists holding people hostage, then relaying Intel back to authorities.

Technologies to build robots that perceive their surroundings, move themselves, and perform tasks without human oversight should reach fruition by 2030 or before, experts say. By 2035, our silicon friends could exhibit human-like consciousness with flesh-like skin; and possess traits vital for a loving partner.

Jason Nemeth, in his essay Should Robots Feel, believes love-companion robots will be practical in the future, and may one day satisfy all our intimate desires. Nemeth is not sure whether human/robot love will experience higher success rates than love between two humans, but he says tomorrow’s robots will unlock the possibilities, and a few bold humans willing to experiment will take it from there.

Carnegie Mellon’s Hans Moravec believes that by late 2020s, we will create robots in humanoid form, powered by fuel cells and cooled by a squeeze pump that beats like a heart with alcohol cooling its circuits. Robots would ‘drink wine’ for fuel, breathe air like us, and appear amazingly human-like.

Design tricks like these, along with soft ‘nanoskin’ will make tomorrow’s ‘bots seem uncannily human, encouraging us to perceive them as friends. Author Ray Kurzweil says tomorrow’s ‘droids could quickly learn to flesh out our positive feelings, providing an addictive allure almost impossible for us to resist.

David Levy, author of Love and Sex with Robots, predicts that as robots become more sophisticated, growing numbers of adventurous humans will enter into intimate relationships with these intelligent ‘bots.

A robot partner would be the perfect mate, never showing boredom or being inattentive, Levy says. You will always be the focus and centerpiece of their existence and you never need worry about their being unfaithful or going astray, because loyalty and being faithful are embedded in their programming.

What about the seamy side of, say, robo escorts. Would this be legal where human prostitution is not? Would we call it infidelity if a spouse indulges in robot passion? In addition, how will religious supporters react to confirmation that the deepest human thoughts and achievements can be duplicated in machines?

Levy doesn’t deny that romantic robots won’t pose problems. In fact, at first, robo-loving may only appeal to loners and misfits, he says; but that really shouldn’t matter. There are millions of lonely people without regular sex lives or relationships. A world where everyone has someone to love and to be loved would raise happiness levels everywhere. It could even be instrumental in achieving global peace.

However, there are robots rights issues to consider. Tomorrows ‘bots may prompt lawmakers to make it illegal to ‘turn off’ a robot without their permission. In addition, should robots and humans marry? If future robots can evoke true love, robo-human marriages might one day become legal and socially acceptable.

As wild as human-machine relationships might seem today, there are reasons to think that love and sex with robots will happen. Robots are already better in math, logic, chess, and games like Jeopardy. With an intelligent mind, and a beautiful sexy human-like body, these ‘bots could easily capture our hearts.

This romantic robot journey winds around unknown turns; but whether you love it or hate it; strong commercial support insures that this futuristic world will be ours to experience. Comments welcome.

 The all-singing, all-dancing female robot that can now be operated using just a mouse

David Coppedge laid off by JPL for religious convictions?

"Computer specialist contends his views cost him his job at JPL"

A computer specialist rankled some of his JPL co-workers by pressing intelligent design and other issues at work. Now a judge must decide if that is why he was laid off.


Ashley Powers

April 30th, 2012

Los Angeles Times

David Coppedge's co-workers at one of the nation's most prominent scientific institutions didn't have to guess his theory as to how the universe was created. He offered to lend them DVDs advocating intelligent design.

An evangelical Christian, he also asked that the holiday potluck at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory be renamed the Christmas potluck and sparred with at least one colleague over their divergent views on Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California.

Coppedge's zest for hot-button topics rankled some co-workers at the facility in La Cañada Flintridge, who complained about him to management. But did it eventually cost him his job?

That's the question a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge presiding over Coppedge's wrongful termination lawsuit is expected to decide in the coming months. JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA, contends Coppedge was laid off in 2011 as part of massive cutbacks because his skill set was outdated and his attitude obstinate.

"What happened to David Coppedge — really what David Coppedge did to himself — had nothing to do with intelligent design or religion but with his own stubbornness," defense attorney Cameron Fox said during closing arguments this month.

To anti-evolution forces, however, Coppedge is a warrior on the front lines of the national evolution debate. They've seized on his otherwise humdrum lawsuit, showering it with resources and publicity.

In fact, defense attorneys alleged in court papers that Coppedge and his supporters were pursuing the case in part to promote intelligent design. In general, its adherents say life is too complex to have stemmed from evolution alone and distinguish themselves from creationists by not tying their beliefs specifically to the Bible.

Coppedge found his lawyer, William Becker, through the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian group that's also helping fund Coppedge's defense. Becker has also worked with the Discovery Institute, a prominent intelligent design group based in Seattle and a key force in helping portray Coppedge as a victim of religious bigotry.

"There is a worldview war in this country," Becker said in an interview. "There's a battle between people who think religious people are trying to disrupt the integrity of the scientific method and those who know we're not."

The intelligent design crowd has won some victories in recent years, including a new law in Tennessee that allows teachers to question evolution and global warming in their classrooms. Opponents derided it as the "monkey bill," a nod to the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a Tennessee man was prosecuted for teaching evolution.

But the attention lavished on the Coppedge case shows that the anti-evolution community is also invested in trying to win lower-level battles. For example, the American Freedom Alliance successfully sued the California Science Center after it canceled a screening of an intelligent design film in 2009.

Critics said it's a sign of desperation. "The creationists keep losing," said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland. "They lost the science battle years ago." He said latching onto the Coppedge case feeds a "narrative of victimization" that paints science and academia as hostile to religion.

But Discovery Institute representatives said their strategy is sound. Any spat, however small, is another opportunity to air their views. The institute sent a spokesman to the Coppedge closing arguments to field questions from reporters, and one of its fellows has regularly blogged about the trial.

"It fits another tile in the mosaic that will eventually be recognized as demonstrating that the scientific 'consensus' against intelligent design is the product of intimidation and group think," fellow David Klinghoffer wrote before opening statements in March. "Coppedge has already contributed his tile."

For all the online buildup, the details of the Coppedge case are somewhat run-of-the-mill. Coppedge is a computer specialist who started as a JPL contractor in 1996. He was eventually brought onto the systems administration staff and given the title of "team lead." He worked on computer networks for Cassini, the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn and its moons.

A bespectacled, white-bearded man, Coppedge never hid his embrace of intelligent design. He maintained a website dedicated to it and sat on the board of Illustra Media, which produces intelligent design DVDs. He tried to get his co-workers to watch at least two of them: "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" and "The Privileged Planet."

In 2009, one co-worker balked. She said Coppedge's DVD had a sticky note that listed fellow colleagues and, next to one name, the phrase "try again." She complained to a supervisor, who told Coppedge to "stop pushing your religion," Coppedge said.

"Imagine if employees were told, stop pushing your gay agenda or stop pushing your feminist agenda, your civil rights agenda," Becker told Judge Ernest M. Hiroshige, who will decide the case. Both sides agreed to forgo a jury.

At JPL, a human resources probe turned up how Coppedge had protested the name "holiday potluck" and purportedly told another co-worker who opposed Proposition 8 that he "must be against children," court papers said. Coppedge received a written warning for "unwelcome and unprofessional" behavior, Fox told the judge.

Coppedge was also stripped of his leadership title and responsibilities, though his salary didn't change. But he clearly felt humiliated; in court papers, he equated the memo announcing his replacement to a "Scarlet Letter or the mark of Cain."

In 2010, he filed suit, alleging religious discrimination and harassment. Less than a year later, he was laid off, and added a wrongful termination claim. In the flurry of legal filings since, Coppedge included cartoons posted at JPL that he said mocked intelligent design. His attorney also wrote up a key conversation as a screenplay, complete with stage directions.

Defense attorneys scoffed at the accusation that Coppedge was targeted because of his beliefs. Due to budget cuts, including to the Cassini project, more than 200 employees also lost their jobs.

Coppedge had also waved off suggestions to update his computer skills and was saddled with a reputation for being "unwilling to listen and always having to do things his way," defense attorneys said in court papers.

In fact, during closing arguments, Fox asked the judge to recall Coppedge's demeanor on the witness stand. He repeatedly wandered off topic to discuss intelligent design.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Deceased--Amos Vogel

Amos Vogel
April 18th, 1921 to April 24th, 2012

"Amos Vogel, Champion of Films, Dies at 91"


Bruce Weber

April 28th, 2012

The New York Times

Amos Vogel, who exerted an influence on the history of film that few other non-filmmakers can claim, founding Cinema 16, which became the nation’s largest membership film society, and directing the first New York Film Festival, died on Tuesday at his home in Greenwich Village. He was 91.

The cause was undetermined, though his kidneys had been failing, his son Steven said.

Cinema 16, the society Mr. Vogel founded in 1947 and ran for 16 years with his wife, Marcia, eventually drew some 7,000 subscribers and provided daring filmmakers from around the world — Roman Polanski, John Cassavetes, Luis Buñuel, Yasujiro Ozu, Robert Bresson, Alain Resnais and Stan Brakhage among them — a place for their work to be screened for American audiences at a time when there were few if any others. It also became a distribution center for experimental films where presenters could find films that had been available only from the filmmakers themselves.

After financial strains forced Cinema 16 to close, Mr. Vogel founded, with Richard Roud, the New York Film Festival, which will present its 50th program this year. As its first director, he gave American audiences their initial exposure to Buñuel’s “Exterminating Angel” and Gillo Pontecorvo’s “Battle of Algiers,” among other films. His 1974 book, “Film as a Subversive Art,” is considered a seminal text dealing with the power of cinema to challenge commonly accepted aesthetic, political, sexual and ideological standards.

“If you’re looking for the origins of film culture in America, look no further than Amos Vogel,” the director Martin Scorsese said last week in a statement to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which produces the New York festival. He described Mr. Vogel as encouraging him and other filmmakers at the start of their careers and added, “Amos opened the doors to every possibility in film viewing, film exhibition, film curating, film appreciation.”

An Austrian-born Jew who was 17 when his family fled to America, Mr. Vogel had a wry manner and an independent, if not contrarian, bent. A leftist who considered himself a radical — the paid death announcement placed by his sons in The New York Times identified him as a “disenchanted Zionist, Trotskyite, life-long anarchist, loving husband and father” — Mr. Vogel advocated for challenging movies: in other words, the antithesis of postwar Hollywood product.

“The commercialization of art and entertainment is a negative factor in human development,” he said in a 2004 documentary by Paul Cronin, “Film as a Subversive Art: Amos Vogel and Cinema 16.”

A Cinema 16 program was typically a mixed bag. It might include a nature film, a silent narrative film, an account of a scientific study, a political propaganda film, an animated short or an avant-garde visual experiment. The films, Mr. Vogel said, “were always selected from the point of view of how they would collide with each other in the minds of the audience.”

He liked to confront taboos, giving film lovers the opportunity to see things that would be shown nowhere else. One was “The Eternal Jew,” a repellent Nazi propaganda film that argued for the Final Solution. “Even when the message of a film is evil, when it represents the ideology of a particular political group — in fact, one that was strong enough to not only take over a country but then started a world war — it was important to show it,” he said. Amos Vogelbaum was born in Vienna on April 18, 1921. His mother, Mathilde, was a teacher, and his father, Samuel, a lawyer. His father helped kindle young Amos’s interest in movies when he brought home a 9.5-millimeter camera. Young Amos became a Vienna film society member and years later fondly recalled seeing “Night Mail,” a 1936 documentary about a British mail train, and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” a 1938 film set in the Jazz Age.

Fleeing the Nazis, his family spent several months in Cuba before coming to the United States. Amos, who was determined to make a life in a Jewish homeland, prepared for living on a kibbutz by studying animal husbandry at the University of Georgia. But by 1941 he had abandoned his belief in Zionism and had settled in New York, where he trained as a diamond cutter in the Manhattan jewelry district.

Cinema 16 grew out of his frustration at being unable to see the experimental films he was reading about. Inspired by Maya Deren, a pioneering experimental filmmaker who had taken the unusual step of presenting her own films at the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village, Mr. Vogel showed his first program there, as well. It included “Monkey Into Man,” a film by Julian Huxley about evolution, and “Lamentation,” a Martha Graham dance film.

His second program included a silent documentary film called “The Private Life of a Cat,“ produced by Deren and her husband, Alexander Hammid, which was banned as obscene because it explicitly showed the birth of kittens. A later program, heavily advertised, almost put the Vogels out of business when a snowstorm kept the audience away. They then decided to turn the society into a members-only club and sell subscriptions, giving them some financial security and allowing them to evade censorship laws that applied to commercial theaters.

Their audience quickly outgrew the Provincetown Playhouse, and Cinema 16 — named for the 16-millimeter film gauge used by most independent filmmakers — eventually moved to the 1,600-seat auditorium of Central High School of Needle Trades (now the High School of Fashion Industries) on West 24th Street.

Mr. Vogel’s wife, the former Marcia Diener, whom he married in 1945, died in 2009. In addition to his son Steven, he is survived by another son, Loring, and four grandchildren.

Mr. Vogel directed the New York Film Festival from 1963 to 1968. He was also director of the film department at Lincoln Center and later a film consultant to Grove Press and National Educational Television. He taught at the Pratt Institute of Art, New York University, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, where he was director of film at the Annenberg Center.

In the documentary about him, Mr. Vogel sought to dispel the notion that running a film society was a simple matter of acquiring films and showing them.

“The individual brave enough to venture into this troublesome field,” he said, “must be, no matter what the size of the audience, an organizer, promoter, publicist and copyrighter, businessman, public speaker and artist. A conscientious if not pedantic person versed in mass psychology, he must have roots in his community. And he must know a good film when he sees it.”
Film As A Subversive Art


Amos Vogel

ISBN-10: 1933045272
ISBN-13: 978-1933045276

Film as a Subversive Art was first published in 1974, and has been out of print since 1987. According to Vogel--founder of Cinema 16, North America's legendary film society--the book details the "accelerating worldwide trend toward a more liberated cinema, in which subjects and forms hitherto considered unthinkable or forbidden are boldly explored." So ahead of his time was Vogel that the ideas that he penned some 30 years ago are still relevant today, and readily accessible in this classic volume. Accompanied by over 300 rare film stills, Film as a Subversive Art analyzes how aesthetic, sexual, and ideological subversives use one of the most powerful art forms of our day to exchange or manipulate our conscious and unconscious, demystify visual taboos, destroy dated cinematic forms, and undermine existing value systems and institutions. This subversion of form, as well as of content, is placed within the context of the contemporary world view of science, philosophy, and modern art, and is illuminated by a detailed examination of over 500 films, including many banned, rarely seen, or never released works.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and position in the history of science

"Goethe and the search for the spirit of science"

Perhaps the time is coming for thinkers to be braver, to push for a truer contemplation of nature that knows its aliveness


Mark Vernon

April 28th, 2012

Is it just me or has the dialogue between science and religion become a bit stale? I thought as much recently while taking part in a conference on the debate. We were all so well defended in our respective corners – atheists, believers, agnostics. It seemed highly unlikely that what anyone said would seriously unsettle anyone else.

The smart and articulate apologists for theism were easily able to accommodate the challenges materialist science throws at faith. The smart and articulate atheists seemed content to accept the limits of the scientific worldview and not really be challenged by the insights of theology.

Something similar troubled me when I was asked to write The Big Questions: God for the series from Quercus (and indulge me if I add, out this week). Many of the contemporary big questions in theology arise from the impact of modern science, so could I find anything new to say? Well, I did find some new names to read, and while not often cited, I think they might yet find that their time will come.

One was the great German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. His place in the history of science is secure, having discovered that human beings possess an intermaxillary bone. Animals had long been known to possess this anatomical feature of the jaw. But in Goethe's day, there was a lively science-and-religion-type dispute as to whether human beings did too. The leading anatomist Petrus Camper denied it and further argued that this demonstrated that human beings were different from animals. Eventually, though, Goethe's research won the day.

It proved to be no trivial discovery but inspired the concept of homology, the study of anatomical features across different species. This proved crucial for Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. We have four limbs because our fish ancestors had four fins, and so on. What is interesting to reflect on now, though, is the means by which Goethe did his science.

His trouble with Camper alerted him to fashions in science – fashions that scientists find difficult to shake off because their reputations are likely to have been secured by those fashions. He was also convinced that good science embraces a subjective as well as objective dimension. This is because what scientists see in the natural world depends upon what they are prepared to contemplate seeing. He was prepared to contemplate the human intermaxillary bone. It demonstrated to him that imagination matters as much as investigation.

By imagination, Goethe meant something more than practical ingenuity or empirical creativity. He meant the capacity to discern the living world in all its aspects. Materialism, for example, does not. It treats the living world as a dead mechanism.

Annie Dillard explores the implications in her essay Teaching a Stone to Talk. She describes a man called Larry who is trying to listen to stones speaking. It seems mad but, Dillard asks, is not that hope what secretly drives the scientific impulse? Meteorologists record the wind's speed, but were they drawn to science because once they also heard the wind's cry? Geologists assess the age of stones, but do they sometimes also hear them "shout forth praise"? "What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab?" asks Dillard. "Are they not both saying: Hello?"

Popular science routinely trades on this sense of nature's aliveness. If you saw Brian Cox's TV series Wonders of the Universe you may recall how images of the cosmos were accompanied by the rising swell and celebratory trumpets of orchestral music. In fact, the producers received a number of complaints from viewers about the music being too loud. They could not hear Cox explain the hard science as he wistfully gazed heavenwards. And yet, you could be forgiven for concluding that the music was more important. It spoke more loudly and clearly to the meaning of being made of stardust. The music interpreted the physics for us. It made the stones speak. That is the sound we wanted to hear.

Another writer who has explored the power of the imagination in our engagement with the world is Owen Barfield. A philologist, he was fascinated by how words change their meaning over time. Take a word like "literal". Today it means straightforward or on the face of it. But when Saint Augustine, for example, wrote The Literal Meaning of Genesis, the last thing he read was that the world was created in six days. Literal then meant the true meaning, which could only be discerned by struggling with the text, as you might a poem.

The flattening out of the word "literal" is just one instance of a trend that Barfield detected across modern English. He proposed that it is tied up with materialism's mechanistic worldview. It flattens our imagination, thereby also deadening our experience of connection and meaning. Unlike our ancestors, we struggle to hear the stones speak.

Barfield argued that we need to recover our full imaginative capacities if we are deeply to know that the world is alive. Matter, he believed, would then be seen for what it once was, as an expression of spirit. ("Matter" is linked to "mater", or mother, remembered in the expression, mother earth.) This might not be so difficult to achieve because, actually, we experience it every day. When you perceive the matter called a human being speaking, you spontaneously know those perceptions as one person communicating with you, another person. You do not have a theory of other minds, as some philosophers have proposed, driven by a flattening scientistic ideology. We know such matter as spirited people – as souls, you might say.

The paradox that Goethe highlights is that materialism understands itself to be the champion of empiricism, when really it detaches us from the world as we experience it, in the name of objectivity. "All theory, dear friend, is grey," he wrote. "But the golden tree of actual life springs ever green."

Perhaps then, this is the problem with the contemporary dialogue between science and religion. Theology has felt obliged to secure a place for itself broadly within the materialist worldview, sensing its main task is apologetic. But perhaps the time is coming for thinkers to be braver, to push for a truer contemplation of nature, one that knows its aliveness, its spirit. Goethe and Barfield, to name just two, offer rich, imaginative resources.

How clever Apple is to avoid a tax free status

"How Apple Sidesteps Billions in Taxes"


Charles Duhigg and David Kocieniewski

April 28th, 2012

The New York Times
Apple, the world’s most profitable technology company, doesn’t design iPhones here. It doesn’t run AppleCare customer service from this city. And it doesn’t manufacture MacBooks or iPads anywhere nearby.

Yet, with a handful of employees in a small office here in Reno, Apple has done something central to its corporate strategy: it has avoided millions of dollars in taxes in California and 20 other states.

Apple’s headquarters are in Cupertino, Calif. By putting an office in Reno, just 200 miles away, to collect and invest the company’s profits, Apple sidesteps state income taxes on some of those gains.

California’s corporate tax rate is 8.84 percent. Nevada’s? Zero.

Setting up an office in Reno is just one of many legal methods Apple uses to reduce its worldwide tax bill by billions of dollars each year. As it has in Nevada, Apple has created subsidiaries in low-tax places like Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the British Virgin Islands — some little more than a letterbox or an anonymous office — that help cut the taxes it pays around the world.

Almost every major corporation tries to minimize its taxes, of course. For Apple, the savings are especially alluring because the company’s profits are so high. Wall Street analysts predict Apple could earn up to $45.6 billion in its current fiscal year — which would be a record for any American business.

Apple serves as a window on how technology giants have taken advantage of tax codes written for an industrial age and ill suited to today’s digital economy. Some profits at companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft derive not from physical goods but from royalties on intellectual property, like the patents on software that makes devices work. Other times, the products themselves are digital, like downloaded songs. It is much easier for businesses with royalties and digital products to move profits to low-tax countries than it is, say, for grocery stores or automakers. A downloaded application, unlike a car, can be sold from anywhere.

The growing digital economy presents a conundrum for lawmakers overseeing corporate taxation: although technology is now one of the nation’s largest and most valued industries, many tech companies are among the least taxed, according to government and corporate data. Over the last two years, the 71 technology companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index — including Apple, Google, Yahoo and Dell — reported paying worldwide cash taxes at a rate that, on average, was a third less than other S.& P. companies’. (Cash taxes may include payments for multiple years.)

Even among tech companies, Apple’s rates are low. And while the company has remade industries, ignited economic growth and delighted customers, it has also devised corporate strategies that take advantage of gaps in the tax code, according to former executives who helped create those strategies.

Apple, for instance, was among the first tech companies to designate overseas salespeople in high-tax countries in a manner that allowed them to sell on behalf of low-tax subsidiaries on other continents, sidestepping income taxes, according to former executives. Apple was a pioneer of an accounting technique known as the “Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich,” which reduces taxes by routing profits through Irish subsidiaries and the Netherlands and then to the Caribbean. Today, that tactic is used by hundreds of other corporations — some of which directly imitated Apple’s methods, say accountants at those companies.

Without such tactics, Apple’s federal tax bill in the United States most likely would have been $2.4 billion higher last year, according to a recent study by a former Treasury Department economist, Martin A. Sullivan. As it stands, the company paid cash taxes of $3.3 billion around the world on its reported profits of $34.2 billion last year, a tax rate of 9.8 percent. (Apple does not disclose what portion of those payments was in the United States, or what portion is assigned to previous or future years.)

By comparison, Wal-Mart last year paid worldwide cash taxes of $5.9 billion on its booked profits of $24.4 billion, a tax rate of 24 percent, which is about average for non-tech companies.

Apple’s domestic tax bill has piqued particular curiosity among corporate tax experts because although the company is based in the United States, its profits — on paper, at least — are largely foreign. While Apple contracts out much of the manufacturing and assembly of its products to other companies overseas, the majority of Apple’s executives, product designers, marketers, employees, research and development, and retail stores are in the United States. Tax experts say it is therefore reasonable to expect that most of Apple’s profits would be American as well. The nation’s tax code is based on the concept that a company “earns” income where value is created, rather than where products are sold.

However, Apple’s accountants have found legal ways to allocate about 70 percent of its profits overseas, where tax rates are often much lower, according to corporate filings.

Neither the government nor corporations make tax returns public, and a company’s taxable income often differs from the profits disclosed in annual reports. Companies report their cash outlays for income taxes in their annual Form 10-K, but it is impossible from those numbers to determine precisely how much, in total, corporations pay to governments. In Apple’s last annual disclosure, the company listed its worldwide taxes — which includes cash taxes paid as well as deferred taxes and other charges — at $8.3 billion, an effective tax rate of almost a quarter of profits.

However, tax analysts and scholars said that figure most likely overstated how much the company would hand to governments because it included sums that might never be paid. “The information on 10-Ks is fiction for most companies,” said Kimberly Clausing, an economist at Reed College who specializes in multinational taxation. “But for tech companies it goes from fiction to farcical.”

Apple, in a statement, said it “has conducted all of its business with the highest of ethical standards, complying with applicable laws and accounting rules.” It added, “We are incredibly proud of all of Apple’s contributions.”

Apple “pays an enormous amount of taxes, which help our local, state and federal governments,” the statement also said. “In the first half of fiscal year 2012, our U.S. operations have generated almost $5 billion in federal and state income taxes, including income taxes withheld on employee stock gains, making us among the top payers of U.S. income tax.”

The statement did not specify how it arrived at $5 billion, nor did it address the issue of deferred taxes, which the company may pay in future years or decide to defer indefinitely. The $5 billion figure appears to include taxes ultimately owed by Apple employees.

The sums paid by Apple and other tech corporations is a point of contention in the company’s backyard.

A mile and a half from Apple’s Cupertino headquarters is De Anza College, a community college that Steve Wozniak, one of Apple’s founders, attended from 1969 to 1974. Because of California’s state budget crisis, De Anza has cut more than a thousand courses and 8 percent of its faculty since 2008.

Now, De Anza faces a budget gap so large that it is confronting a “death spiral,” the school’s president, Brian Murphy, wrote to the faculty in January. Apple, of course, is not responsible for the state’s financial shortfall, which has numerous causes. But the company’s tax policies are seen by officials like Mr. Murphy as symptomatic of why the crisis exists.

“I just don’t understand it,” he said in an interview. “I’ll bet every person at Apple has a connection to De Anza. Their kids swim in our pool. Their cousins take classes here. They drive past it every day, for Pete’s sake.

“But then they do everything they can to pay as few taxes as possible.”

Escaping State Taxes

In 2006, as Apple’s bank accounts and stock price were rising, company executives came here to Reno and established a subsidiary named Braeburn Capital to manage and invest the company’s cash. Braeburn is a variety of apple that is simultaneously sweet and tart.

Today, Braeburn’s offices are down a narrow hallway inside a bland building that sits across from an abandoned restaurant. Inside, there are posters of candy-colored iPods and a large Apple insignia, as well as a handful of desks and computer terminals.

When someone in the United States buys an iPhone, iPad or other Apple product, a portion of the profits from that sale is often deposited into accounts controlled by Braeburn, and then invested in stocks, bonds or other financial instruments, say company executives. Then, when those investments turn a profit, some of it is shielded from tax authorities in California by virtue of Braeburn’s Nevada address.

Since founding Braeburn, Apple has earned more than $2.5 billion in interest and dividend income on its cash reserves and investments around the globe. If Braeburn were located in Cupertino, where Apple’s top executives work, a portion of the domestic income would be taxed at California’s 8.84 percent corporate income tax rate.

But in Nevada there is no state corporate income tax and no capital gains tax.

What’s more, Braeburn allows Apple to lower its taxes in other states — including Florida, New Jersey and New Mexico — because many of those jurisdictions use formulas that reduce what is owed when a company’s financial management occurs elsewhere. Apple does not disclose what portion of cash taxes is paid to states, but the company reported that it owed $762 million in state income taxes nationwide last year. That effective state tax rate is higher than the rate of many other tech companies, but as Ms. Clausing and other tax analysts have noted, such figures are often not reliable guides to what is actually paid.

Dozens of other companies, including Cisco, Harley-Davidson and Microsoft, have also set up Nevada subsidiaries that bypass taxes in other states. Hundreds of other corporations reap similar savings by locating offices in Delaware.

But some in California are unhappy that Apple and other California-based companies have moved financial operations to tax-free states — particularly since lawmakers have offered them tax breaks to keep them in the state.

In 1996, 1999 and 2000, for instance, the California Legislature increased the state’s research and development tax credit, permitting hundreds of companies, including Apple, to avoid billions in state taxes, according to legislative analysts. Apple has reported tax savings of $412 million from research and development credits of all sorts since 1996.

Then, in 2009, after an intense lobbying campaign led by Apple, Cisco, Oracle, Intel and other companies, the California Legislature reduced taxes for corporations based in California but operating in other states or nations. Legislative analysts say the change will eventually cost the state government about $1.5 billion a year.

Such lost revenue is one reason California now faces a budget crisis, with a shortfall of more than $9.2 billion in the coming fiscal year alone. The state has cut some health care programs, significantly raised tuition at state universities, cut services to the disabled and proposed a $4.8 billion reduction in spending on kindergarten and other grades.

Apple declined to comment on its Nevada operations. Privately, some executives said it was unfair to criticize the company for reducing its tax bill when thousands of other companies acted similarly. If Apple volunteered to pay more in taxes, it would put itself at a competitive disadvantage, they argued, and do a disservice to its shareholders.

Indeed, Apple’s decisions have yielded benefits. After announcing one of the best quarters in its history last week, the company said it had net profits of $24.7 billion on revenues of $85.5 billion in the first half of the fiscal year, and more than $110 billion in the bank, according to company filings.

A Global Tax Strategy

Every second of every hour, millions of times each day, in living rooms and at cash registers, consumers click the “Buy” button on iTunes or hand over payment for an Apple product.

And with that, an international financial engine kicks into gear, moving money across continents in the blink of an eye. While Apple’s Reno office helps the company avoid state taxes, its international subsidiaries — particularly the company’s assignment of sales and patent royalties to other nations — help reduce taxes owed to the American and other governments.

For instance, one of Apple’s subsidiaries in Luxembourg, named iTunes S.à r.l., has just a few dozen employees, according to corporate documents filed in that nation and a current executive. The only indication of the subsidiary’s presence outside is a letterbox with a lopsided slip of paper reading “ITUNES SARL.”

Luxembourg has just half a million residents. But when customers across Europe, Africa or the Middle East — and potentially elsewhere — download a song, television show or app, the sale is recorded in this small country, according to current and former executives. In 2011, iTunes S.à r.l.’s revenue exceeded $1 billion, according to an Apple executive, representing roughly 20 percent of iTunes’s worldwide sales.

The advantages of Luxembourg are simple, say Apple executives. The country has promised to tax the payments collected by Apple and numerous other tech corporations at low rates if they route transactions through Luxembourg. Taxes that would have otherwise gone to the governments of Britain, France, the United States and dozens of other nations go to Luxembourg instead, at discounted rates.

“We set up in Luxembourg because of the favorable taxes,” said Robert Hatta, who helped oversee Apple’s iTunes retail marketing and sales for European markets until 2007. “Downloads are different from tractors or steel because there’s nothing you can touch, so it doesn’t matter if your computer is in France or England. If you’re buying from Luxembourg, it’s a relationship with Luxembourg.”

An Apple spokesman declined to comment on the Luxembourg operations.

Downloadable goods illustrate how modern tax systems have become increasingly ill equipped for an economy dominated by electronic commerce. Apple, say former executives, has been particularly talented at identifying legal tax loopholes and hiring accountants who, as much as iPhone designers, are known for their innovation. In the 1980s, for instance, Apple was among the first major corporations to designate overseas distributors as “commissionaires,” rather than retailers, said Michael Rashkin, Apple’s first director of tax policy, who helped set up the system before leaving in 1999.

To customers the designation was virtually unnoticeable. But because commissionaires never technically take possession of inventory — which would require them to recognize taxes — the structure allowed a salesman in high-tax Germany, for example, to sell computers on behalf of a subsidiary in low-tax Singapore. Hence, most of those profits would be taxed at Singaporean, rather than German, rates.

The Double Irish

In the late 1980s, Apple was among the pioneers in creating a tax structure — known as the Double Irish — that allowed the company to move profits into tax havens around the world, said Tim Jenkins, who helped set up the system as an Apple European finance manager until 1994.

Apple created two Irish subsidiaries — today named Apple Operations International and Apple Sales International — and built a glass-encased factory amid the green fields of Cork. The Irish government offered Apple tax breaks in exchange for jobs, according to former executives with knowledge of the relationship.

But the bigger advantage was that the arrangement allowed Apple to send royalties on patents developed in California to Ireland. The transfer was internal, and simply moved funds from one part of the company to a subsidiary overseas. But as a result, some profits were taxed at the Irish rate of approximately 12.5 percent, rather than at the American statutory rate of 35 percent. In 2004, Ireland, a nation of less than 5 million, was home to more than one-third of Apple’s worldwide revenues, according to company filings. (Apple has not released more recent estimates.)

Moreover, the second Irish subsidiary — the “Double” — allowed other profits to flow to tax-free companies in the Caribbean. Apple has assigned partial ownership of its Irish subsidiaries to Baldwin Holdings Unlimited in the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven, according to documents filed there and in Ireland. Baldwin Holdings has no listed offices or telephone number, and its only listed director is Peter Oppenheimer, Apple’s chief financial officer, who lives and works in Cupertino. Baldwin apples are known for their hardiness while traveling.

Finally, because of Ireland’s treaties with European nations, some of Apple’s profits could travel virtually tax-free through the Netherlands — the Dutch Sandwich — which made them essentially invisible to outside observers and tax authorities.

Robert Promm, Apple’s controller in the mid-1990s, called the strategy “the worst-kept secret in Europe.”

It is unclear precisely how Apple’s overseas finances now function. In 2006, the company reorganized its Irish divisions as unlimited corporations, which have few requirements to disclose financial information.

However, tax experts say that strategies like the Double Irish help explain how Apple has managed to keep its international taxes to 3.2 percent of foreign profits last year, to 2.2 percent in 2010, and in the single digits for the last half-decade, according to the company’s corporate filings.

Apple declined to comment on its operations in Ireland, the Netherlands and the British Virgin Islands.

Apple reported in its last annual disclosures that $24 billion — or 70 percent — of its total $34.2 billion in pretax profits were earned abroad, and 30 percent were earned in the United States. But Mr. Sullivan, the former Treasury Department economist who today writes for the trade publication Tax Analysts, said that “given that all of the marketing and products are designed here, and the patents were created in California, that number should probably be at least 50 percent.”

If profits were evenly divided between the United States and foreign countries, Apple’s federal tax bill would have increased by about $2.4 billion last year, he said, because a larger amount of its profits would have been subject to the United States’ higher corporate income tax rate.

“Apple, like many other multinationals, is using perfectly legal methods to keep a significant portion of their profits out of the hands of the I.R.S.,” Mr. Sullivan said. “And when America’s most profitable companies pay less, the general public has to pay more.”

Other tax experts, like Edward D. Kleinbard, former chief of staff of the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, have reached similar conclusions.

“This tax avoidance strategy used by Apple and other multinationals doesn’t just minimize the companies’ U.S. taxes,” said Mr. Kleinbard, now a professor of tax law at the University of Southern California. “It’s German tax and French tax and tax in the U.K. and elsewhere.”

One downside for companies using such strategies is that when money is sent overseas, it cannot be returned to the United States without incurring a new tax bill.

However, that might change. Apple, which holds $74 billion offshore, last year aligned itself with more than four dozen companies and organizations urging Congress for a “repatriation holiday” that would permit American businesses to bring money home without owing large taxes. The coalition, which includes Google, Microsoft and Pfizer, has hired dozens of lobbyists to push for the measure, which has not yet come up for vote. The tax break would cost the federal government $79 billion over the next decade, according to a Congressional report.

Fallout in California

In one of his last public appearances before his death, Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, addressed Cupertino’s City Council last June, seeking approval to build a new headquarters.

Most of the Council was effusive in its praise of the proposal. But one councilwoman, Kris Wang, had questions.

How will residents benefit? she asked. Perhaps Apple could provide free wireless Internet to Cupertino, she suggested, something Google had done in neighboring Mountain View.

“See, I’m a simpleton; I’ve always had this view that we pay taxes, and the city should do those things,” Mr. Jobs replied, according to a video of the meeting. “That’s why we pay taxes. Now, if we can get out of paying taxes, I’ll be glad to put up Wi-Fi.”

He suggested that, if the City Council were unhappy, perhaps Apple could move. The company is Cupertino’s largest taxpayer, with more than $8 million in property taxes assessed by local officials last year.

Ms. Wang dropped her suggestion.

Cupertino, Ms. Wang said in an interview, has real financial problems. “We’re proud to have Apple here,” said Ms. Wang, who has since left the Council. “But how do you get them to feel more connected?”

Other residents argue that Apple does enough as Cupertino’s largest employer and that tech companies, in general, have buoyed California’s economy. Apple’s workers eat in local restaurants, serve on local boards and donate to local causes. Silicon Valley’s many millionaires pay personal state income taxes. In its statement, Apple said its “international growth is creating jobs domestically, since we oversee most of our operations from California.”

“The vast majority of our global work force remains in the U.S.,” the statement continued, “with more than 47,000 full-time employees in all 50 states.”

Moreover, Apple has given nearby Stanford University more than $50 million in the last two years. The company has also donated $50 million to an African aid organization. In its statement, Apple said: “We have contributed to many charitable causes but have never sought publicity for doing so. Our focus has been on doing the right thing, not getting credit for it. In 2011, we dramatically expanded the number of deserving organizations we support by initiating a matching gift program for our employees.”

Still, some, including De Anza College’s president, Mr. Murphy, say the philanthropy and job creation do not offset Apple’s and other companies’ decisions to circumvent taxes. Within 20 minutes of the financially ailing school are the global headquarters of Google, Facebook, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco.

“When it comes time for all these companies — Google and Apple and Facebook and the rest — to pay their fair share, there’s a knee-jerk resistance,” Mr. Murphy said. “They’re philosophically antitax, and it’s decimating the state.”

“But I’m not complaining,” he added. “We can’t afford to upset these guys. We need every dollar we can get.”

Walmart's ethics...what ethics?

A company will do anything to make a buck.

"Walmart's Discounted Ethics"
Rana Foroohar
May 7th, 2012

Walmart became the world's largest retailer by offering "everyday low prices" around the globe. Apparently, though, Walmart was offering something else too. The company has been plunged into a major scandal since a New York Times investigation revealed that Walmart's Mexico subsidiary paid $24 million in bribes to local officials to sidestep regulations and obtain construction permits for new stores. The worst part: the story alleges that then CEO H. Lee Scott and other top executives knew exactly what was going on and tried to hush it up. "This looks to me like a comprehensive failure on the part of Walmart's board," says Stephen Davis, director of the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance at Yale.

The markets agree. Walmart's stock has already fallen 7.5%, knocking $17 billion in value off the company. If there is a too-big-to-fail retailer, Walmart would have to be it. It has sales of $444 billion, employs 2 million people and supports tens of thousands of suppliers, some of them consumer-product giants in their own right. Its stock is held by many of the world's major pension funds--meaning that Walmart's troubles are very likely affecting your retirement money right now.

The bad news is that the corruption scandal doesn't seem to stop with Mexico. According to the Times, the company received 31 similar reports of "significant" allegations of corporate violations, including potential crimes by senior executives, in various global markets in 2006 alone. (The company wouldn't respond to Time's questions about any of this; that might "compromise the investigation," said a spokesperson.) It seems that many of those cases were buried, just like the problems in Mexico. Ironically, at home Walmart has strict policies for its buyers: they can't accept so much as a coffee mug from vendors.

The scandal tells you that doing business in the world's fastest-growing markets can be fraught with peril. Emerging markets now account for the bulk of the world's economic growth, as well as about 30% to 60% of the revenues at many U.S. multinational firms. Indeed, one of the reasons that the stock market has done relatively well throughout the downturn is that it was buoyed by U.S. multinationals earning more and more of their money in these still relatively fast-growing economies. This is particularly true of packaged-goods and retail firms like Walmart.

Many of these markets are rife with corruption--but graft is not necessarily perceived as a serious crime in some places. It's more a way of doing business. In Mexico, "the bulk of retailers pay bribes," says one veteran Mexican fund manager for a large U.S. financial institution. Indeed, Mexican firms are the third most likely to have to pay bribes, right after Russian and Chinese ones, according to Transparency International, an anticorruption NGO.

Most of the hottest markets--Mexico, China, India and others--score quite badly on TI's overall corruption index. But the nuances of corruption differ. I once interviewed a British businessman who led an international rollout for a major U.K. retailer and asked him which emerging markets had the most corruption. He said, only slightly tongue in cheek, "In China, you might pay 20 on the dollar to get your project done, and it will get done quickly. In India, it's 40, and it will get done in a few years. In Russia, it's 80--and you may get shot before it gets done."

There are no such nuances for American companies subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA): regardless of the local practice, bribery is illegal. And as U.S. firms' business in foreign markets has grown, so has the Justice Department's aggressiveness in pursuing FCPA cases, which have been on the rise over the past few years. A number of big retailers have decided that the risk-reward ratio in such markets simply isn't good enough. Ikea, for example, stopped opening stores in Russia because of corruption and delayed its India expansion in part because it didn't believe it could adequately police complex local supply chains there.

It was an unusually proactive move; another lesson from the Walmart case is that it usually takes a crisis to spur real change. Siemens, the German industrial conglomerate, has been rehabilitating itself since a 2006 corruption scandal involving more than $1 billion in bribes across several countries torpedoed its reputation and stock price. After Siemens worked with Justice officials, its codes of conduct became a competitive selling point and were widely copied by other firms. Walmart should take note. As anyone familiar with Watergate knows, the cover-up is usually worse than the crime.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Russian cartoons of the future--1958

"Technicolor visions of the future"


Matt Novak

April 25th, 2012


On 4 October 1957, the Soviet Union hurled a shiny silver ball into space and changed the world forever.

Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to be put into Earth's orbit, was not only a bold display of military might but also a defining moment for popular culture that stretched far beyond its Kazakhstan launch pad. Almost overnight, everything from toys and clothes to cocktails and film began to incorporate sputnik and space iconography. And the pages of newspapers, as well as reporting on the escalating space race, began to fill with science, technology and futurism-themed comics.

This Saturday, 28 April, I’ll be hosting an event in Los Angeles with BBC Future and Atlas Obscura called Retrofuture: Celebrating a Future That Never Was. It will be a paleofuturist party of sorts, showcasing a range artefacts from my personal collection including many items from this defining period. Amongst the space age toys and others artefacts I have chosen to display some of my favourite comic strips triggered by that Soviet launch, including Closer Than We Think and Our New Age, both of which started just one year after Sputnik soared above the Earth.

Closer Than We Think was illustrated by Detroit-based commercial artist Arthur Radebaugh, who was known for his streamlined-futuristic style, most notably doing illustration work for the automotive industry in Detroit. His techno-utopian sensibilities brought stories of future technologies to life, and helped define the jetpack and flying car futurism that so many people look back fondly on today. At its peak, Closer Than We Think reached 19 million readers every Sunday, exploring everything from the future of education to the mechanisation of war.

The first strip ran on 12 January 1958 and was appropriately satellite-themed - a pulp-and-ink answer to the soviet launch. The language in the strip was optimistic: “The far reaches of space are no longer distant. Space stations, anchored in the sky beyond the full pull of gravity, are being planned today. They’ll be the next, nearby step after man-made satellites have proved themselves.” The imagery would not look out of place in a Stanley Kubrick film, but the strip was based on the thinking of the time. Specifically it references a report that outlined a plan by a “famed rocket expert” to build a space station orbiting the earth. The module would be built from pieces carried by a “dozen” rockets, he said.

‘Funny fight’

It all sounds very familiar, particularly to a generation that has grown up with Mir and the International Space station. However, it is also a reminder of just how recently these projects – that are so easy to take for granted – were in the realms of fantasy.

The strip would often draw from news stories of the time and extrapolate fantastical technologies. For example, the 11 May 1958 edition of Closer Than We Think took a report from the American Rocket Society about the potential medical benefits of weightlessness and imagined space hospitals “anchored in the heavens”. The strip went on to describe how “one of these hospitals might be shaped like a disc atop elevator tubes leading to the control section. The mushroom-like disc would contain weightless operating rooms for treating heart and other organic troubles as well as bone diseases.”

Of course, the strip did not just focus on space. Sputnik had lit a touch paper on the whole scientific endeavour.  For example, the 9 February 1958 edition of the strip took a quote about solar technology from a vice president at the car company Chrysler and imagined the solar powered vehicles of tomorrow: “Tomorrow the sunmobile may replace the automobile. The power of bottled sunshine will propel it. Your solar sedan will take energy from sunrays and store it in accumulators that work like a battery. This power will drive your car just like gasoline does today.”

This broader scientific remit is also evident in Our New Age, a strip dreamt up in 1957 by the dean of the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology, Dr Athelstan Spilhaus, and launched in 1958 with illustrator Earl Cros. Spilhaus wrote the strip and would later joke that he wore out three artists, as Earl Cros was later succeeded by E C Felton and then Gene Fawcette. When Spilhaus stopped writing the strip in 1973, Fawcette continued with Our New Age, at least until 1975.

Dr Spilhaus was very upfront about his desire to get kids interested in science after the launch of Sputnik. He recalled in an interview: “I decided to [start writing the comic strip] right after Sputnik, when I was disturbed about kids knowing very little about science. Rather than fight my own kids reading the funnies, which is a stupid thing to do, I decided to put something good into the comics, something that was more fun and that might give a little subliminal education.”

But it wasn’t just kids that were influenced by Our New Age. After President John F Kennedy appointed Dr Spilhaus to a position directing the science exhibits at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, he met with JFK. The president reportedly told Spilhaus at that meeting, “The only science I ever learned was from reading your comic strip in the Boston Globe.” It’s an extraordinary admission, particularly from a president who just a year earlier had announced plans to put an American on the moon.

The 26 September 1965 edition of Our New Age was typical in that it laid out scientific facts and history in the first few panels, and then predicted what modern science might do with future technologies. This strip, on “ultra cold” explained that in 1860 a Scottish scientist had produced a temperature of almost -40 degrees F. By the last panel we see scientists in the year 2165, looking after two people and their dog laying in tubes while in a state of “cryogenic hibernation,” waiting to be brought back to life.

It is easy to dismiss strips like this as simply a technicolor curiosity of an age long gone. However, I believe they offer much more. Pop culture, by its definition, offers a reflection of the interests, preoccupations, fears and desires of the time. The Sputnik launch perfectly exemplifies this – showing an impulsive response to the Soviet’s technological triumph.

The importance of science was suddenly brought home by a distant beep in the skies above the Earth, inspiring a generation to explore new frontiers. And though public opinion polls from the time show that the children of this era were more excited about the prospects of the space age than their parents, the techno-utopian visions of Radebaugh and Spilhaus gave people a window on to these beginnings. The hi-tech world we live in owes a debt to a simple silver sphere that captured the world’s attention more than 50 years ago.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Favorite planets

Keep up-to-date on some planets...

And the Moon .

Religion...intuitive and analytic thinkers

"Losing Your Religion: Analytic Thinking Can Undermine Belief"

A series of new experiments shows that analytic thinking can override intuitive assumptions, including those that underlie religious belief


Marina Krakovsky 

April 26th, 2012

Scientific American

People who are intuitive thinkers are more likely to be religious, but getting them to think analytically even in subtle ways decreases the strength of their belief, according to a new study in Science.

The research, conducted by University of British Columbia psychologists Will Gervais and Ara Norenzayan, does not take sides in the debate between religion and atheism, but aims instead to illuminate one of the origins of belief and disbelief. "To understand religion in humans," Gervais says, "you need to accommodate for the fact that there are many millions of believers and nonbelievers."

One of their studies correlated measures of religious belief with people's scores on a popular test of analytic thinking. The test poses three deceptively simple math problems. One asks: "If it takes five machines five minutes to make five widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?" The first answer that comes to mind—100 minutes—turns out to be wrong. People who take the time to reason out the correct answer (five minutes) are, by definition, more analytical—and these analytical types tend to score lower on the researchers' tests of religious belief.

But the researchers went beyond this interesting link, running four experiments showing that analytic thinking actually causes disbelief. In one experiment, they randomly assigned participants to either the analytic or control condition. They then showed them photos of either Rodin's The Thinker or, in the control condition, of the ancient Greek sculpture Discobolus, which depicts an athlete poised to throw a discus. (The Thinker was used because it is such an iconic image of deep reflection that, in a separate test with different participants, seeing the statue improved how well subjects reasoned through logical syllogisms.) After seeing the images, participants took a test measuring their belief in God on a scale of 0 to 100. Their scores on the test varied widely, with a standard deviation of about 35 in the control group. But it is the difference in the averages that tells the real story: In the control group, the average score for belief in God was 61.55, or somewhat above the scale's midpoint. On the other hand, for the group who had just seen The Thinker, the resulting average was only 41.42. Such a gap is large enough to indicate a mild believer is responding as a mild nonbeliever—all from being visually reminded of the human capacity to think.

Another experiment used a different method to show a similar effect. It exploited the tendency, previously identified by psychologists, of people to override their intuition when faced with the demands of reading a text in a hard-to-read typeface. Gervais and Norenzayan did this by giving two groups a test of participants' belief in supernatural agents like God and angels, varying only the font in which the test was printed. People who took the belief test in the unclear font (a typewriterlike font set in italics) expressed less belief than those who took it in a more common, easy-to-read typeface. "It's such a subtle manipulation," Norenzayan says. "Yet something that seemingly trivial can lead to a change that people consider important in their religious belief system." On a belief scale of 3 to 21, participants in the analytic condition scored an average of almost two points lower than those in the control group.

Analytic thinking undermines belief because, as cognitive psychologists have shown, it can override intuition. And we know from past research that religious beliefs—such as the idea that objects and events don't simply exist but have a purpose—are rooted in intuition. "Analytic processing inhibits these intuitions, which in turn discourages religious belief," Norenzayan explains.

Harvard University psychologist Joshua Greene, who last year published a paper on the same subject with colleagues Amitai Shenhav and David Rand, praises this work for its rigorous methodology. "Any one of their experiments can be reinterpreted, but when you've got [multiple] different kinds of evidence pointing in the same direction, it's very impressive."

The study also gets high marks from University of California, Irvine, evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala, the only former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science to have once been ordained as a Catholic priest, and who continues to assert that science and religion are compatible. Ayala calls the studies ingenious, and is surprised only that the effects are not even stronger. "You would expect that the people who challenge the general assumptions of their culture—in this case, their culture's religious beliefs—are obviously the people who are more analytical," he says.

The researchers, for their part, point out that both reason and intuition have their place. "Our intuitions can be phenomenally useful," Gervais says, "and analytic thinking isn't some oracle of the truth."

Greene concurs, while also raising a provocative question implicit in the findings: "Obviously, there are millions of very smart and generally rational people who believe in God," he says. "Obviously, this study doesn't prove the nonexistence of God. But it poses a challenge to believers: If God exists, and if believing in God is perfectly rational, then why does increasing rational thinking tend to decrease belief in God?"