KRWG

Shankar Vedantam

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Every year, many students who have overcome daunting obstacles in high school receive good news — they've been accepted to college.

These kids represent a success story: through hard work and determination, they've made into college, and perhaps even on to a better life.

Except it doesn't always work out that way.

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Turn on the TV, and you'll find no shortage of people who claim to know what's going to happen: who's going to get picked for the NBA draft, who will win the next election, which stocks will go up or down.

These pundits and prognosticators all have an air of certainty. And why shouldn't they? We, as the audience, like to hear the world's complexity distilled into simple, pithy accounts. It doesn't help that these commentators rarely pay a serious price when their predictions don't pan out.

President Trump has often accused the news media of not covering terrorist attacks adequately. In a speech in February he said, "Radical Islamic terrorists are determined to strike our homeland as they did on 9/11, as they did from Boston to Orlando to San Bernardino [...] It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported."

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In 1969, Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist from Stanford University, ran an interesting field study. He abandoned two cars in two very different places: one in a mostly poor, crime-ridden section of New York City, and the other in a fairly affluent neighborhood of Palo Alto, Calif. Both cars were left without license plates and parked with their hoods up.

The Greek poet Archilochus wrote, "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

There are many different interpretations of this parable, but psychologist Phil Tetlock argues it's a way of understanding two cognitive styles: Foxes have different strategies for different problems. They are comfortable with nuance, they can live with contradictions. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, focus on the big picture. They reduce every problem to one organizing principle.

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Magic.

That's what it feels like when you bump into your childhood friend on the first day of college ... or meet someone at a party in Paris, only to discover she lives in your dad's childhood home in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. But mathematician Joseph Mazur says these coincidences are not as extraordinary as we might think.

"People think that their address book is essentially the people they know, and it turns out any address book is about one percent of the people they know in some way," Mazur explains.

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If you've ever visited the palm-lined neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, you've probably noticed that the rich and famous aren't the only ones drawn there.

Stargazers also flock to this exclusive enclave, seeking a chance to peer into — and fantasize about — the lives of movie stars and film directors.

Call it adulation, adoration, idolization: we humans are fascinated by glamour and power.

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So we know that a picture speaks a thousand words, but NPR's Shankar Vedantam is here to tell us how it also gives us really strong impressions of people that we can't seem to shake. Hi, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

It sounds like the plot of a movie.

Police discover a body in a warehouse. It's a young man who's been stabbed multiple times. They swab the body — and it tests positive for a deadly infectious disease.

Investigators realize the people who killed him — members of a street gang — may now be spreading the virus without knowing it.

This actually happened in the West African nation of Liberia in 2015. The deadly disease was Ebola.

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We heard a lot during the presidential campaign about the wage gap, the fact that women often earn less than men for the same kinds of work. Hillary Clinton pushed that issue, and she lost. But it remains a reality in many people's lives.

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Many years ago, Simon and Garfunkel interviewed senior citizens and put their voices on an album. One woman in that compilation says...

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The election of Donald Trump came as a shock to many Americans, but perhaps most of all to those in the business of calling elections. The pollsters on both the left and the right had confidently predicted Hillary Clinton would walk away with the race. They got it wrong. But one man did not: Allan Lichtman.

On Sept. 23, Lichtman, a historian at American University, declared that Trump would win, and he stuck by that call through the tumultuous final weeks of the campaign.

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It's no secret that this presidential campaign season has been tense, with disagreement and rancor even louder than usual.

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Fewer than 1 in 5 members of Congress are women. At Fortune 500 companies, fewer than 1 in 20 CEOs are women. And if you look at all the presidents of the United States through Barack Obama, what are the odds of having 44 presidents who are all men?

If men and women had an equal shot at the White House, the odds of this happening just by chance are about 1 in 18 trillion.

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