Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


From the Editor

ps-issue

Introducing the New Issue of ‘Pacific Standard’

• September 02, 2014 • 2:00 AM

The science of self-control, the rise of biblical counseling, why middle school doesn’t have to suck, and more in our September/October 2014 print issue.

My mother still lives in the house where I grew up, so in our frequent talks, she’ll give me neighborhood updates. A few months ago, she mentioned that one of our neighbors—a highly respected emeritus engineer from the University of California-Berkeley—was scammed by a phone call. On the line: a young guy in great distress, claiming to be one of our neighbor’s grandsons and saying that he was in trouble. The neighbor, not an easy man to dupe, wired off a lot of money. Then, not two weeks later, Mom told me about another friend—another retired professor—who was so shaken by a call she received that she, too, sent off a lot of money. We figured someone must be targeting retired Berkeley professors. Maybe through Facebook?

“In stressful situations, worries and distracting thoughts essentially rob people of the thinking and reasoning skills they need to make rational decisions.”

When I mentioned these stories to a co-worker, she told me that someone impersonating her son had called his grandmother, who nearly wired off a pile of money. (The grandmother was stopped by relatives who smelled a rat.) Then another friend said, “My fiancée’s grandmother sent off thousands.” The scam seemed to be everywhere.

My mom has two grandsons, and she started thinking about what she would have done if she got such a phone call. If, for just a millisecond, she feared the call was real, wouldn’t she come to the aid of a grandkid? So many friends have said to her, “That would never happen to me, I would never be duped.” But plenty of perfectly savvy people are wiring money to God-knows-where.

University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock, who studies how people perform under pressure, points out, “In stressful situations, worries and distracting thoughts essentially rob people of the thinking and reasoning skills they need to make rational decisions.” With that in mind, my mother became convinced that it was imprecise to assume scammers were getting the best of her friends because 70-somethings were somehow more mentally vulnerable than anyone else. (Spoiler: She was right.) All this to say: We asked my mother (who is also a longtime journalist and author) to write a story for Pacific Standard about why this very personal, and very cruel, deception works so damn well.

september-october-2014-cover-largeAs we were building the stories that you will see on this website over the next few weeks (and that are gathered in our September/October print issue) the notions of deception and trust came up a lot. In “How Should We Program Computers to Deceive?,” which you’ll be able to read here on September 3, Kate Greene delves into the question of how much our computers hide the truth from us—and how much they ought to. In “Unreal Estate: The Art of Scrubbing All Identity From a Home” (which will post on September 10), Kyle DeNuccio explores the expensive artifice of home staging. And in the magazine’s cover story, “A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal With Its Impulses” (September 15), the psychologist David DeSteno draws an unexpected evolutionary link between trustworthiness, emotion, and self-control.

So as not to deceive our readers, one more disclosure: Our In the Picture feature (September 24), is about the Indian Trust, a program I worked on in my two years with the Department of the Interior.

Of course, you could subscribe to either our print magazine here, or our digital edition of the magazine via the Apple Store Newsstand here, or—brand new—the Google Play store, here. That way you can get all these stories today (voila, no waiting). We hope you do.


For more on the science of society, and to support our work, sign up for our free email newsletters and subscribe to our bimonthly magazine. Digital editions are available in the App Store (iPad) and on Google Play (Android) and Zinio (Android, iPad, PC/MAC, iPhone, and Win8).

Maria Streshinsky
Maria Streshinsky is the editor of Pacific Standard, and was formerly the managing editor of The Atlantic in Washington, D.C. She spent two years working at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

More From Maria Streshinsky

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 31 • 4:00 PM

Should the Victims of the War on Drugs Receive Reparations?

A drug war Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the lines of post-apartheid South Africa is a radical idea proposed by the Green Party. Substance.com asks their candidates for New York State’s gubernatorial election to tell us more.


October 31 • 2:00 PM

India’s Struggle to Get Reliable Power to Hundreds of Millions of People

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known as a “big thinker” when it comes to energy. But in his country’s case, could thinking big be a huge mistake?


October 31 • 12:00 PM

In the Picture: SNAP Food Benefits, Birthday Cake, and Walmart

In every issue, we fix our gaze on an everyday photograph and chase down facts about details in the frame.


October 31 • 10:15 AM

Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.


October 31 • 8:00 AM

Who Wants a Cute Congressman?

You probably do—even if you won’t admit it. In politics, looks aren’t everything, but they’re definitely something.


October 31 • 7:00 AM

Why Scientists Make Promises They Can’t Keep

A research proposal that is totally upfront about the uncertainty of the scientific process and its potential benefits might never pass governmental muster.


October 31 • 6:12 AM

The Psychology of a Horror Movie Fan

Scientists have tried to figure out the appeal of axe murderers and creepy dolls, but it mostly remains a spooky mystery.


October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”


October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.


Follow us


Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.