All posts filed under: Science / Tech

Sickness and Stoicism

In less than three months, COVID-19 has changed from a peripheral concern, barely registering in presidential debates, to the greatest global crisis since World War II. We are living in extraordinary times, and there is scarcely an industry or country that has escaped the impact of the new virus. In the United States, the Federal Reserve estimates that the unemployment rate could briefly skyrocket to 32 percent—higher than anything the country experienced during the Great Depression. People have lost their livelihoods. Many others are scared about what is to come when they develop a fever or cough. Illness, financial hardship, and loneliness are, nevertheless, well-trodden paths. One man who can guide us along the way is Seneca the Younger, a Roman philosopher and statesman and contemporary of Jesus. Seneca suffered from asthma, and his condition sometimes left him bedridden and gasping for air. As he grew older, he even contemplated suicide because his affliction was so severe. Seneca’s lifelong illness, as well as his background in Stoic philosophy, gave him the insight he needed to …

Warehouse Work in an Age of Contagion

As regular readers of Quillette will know, I work at a warehouse in West Sacramento, California, where every workday I toil in close quarters with dozens of other employees. In the days before the advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic, that wasn’t a problem. Now, however, it’s a little bit frightening. Last week, along with all other members of the company’s workforce, I received an email informing me that a supplier of surgical masks for all warehouse workers hasn’t yet been found. In the meantime, employees are improvising. People are covering their faces with bandanas, like stagecoach bandits in the Old West. Others are wearing ski masks, like contemporary bank robbers. Some wear scarves around their faces, even though the weather is fairly warm now. And some have even managed to procure actual facemasks. But most of the employees, like me, work uncovered. Although we are encouraged to stay six feet away from each other at all times, that isn’t really practical. We’re all hauling bags and packages out of narrow aisles and it isn’t …

Social Distancing and Stay-Home Orders Are Likely To Save Millions

A new study by influential researchers at Imperial College, London finds that COVID-19 is more infectious and deadly than scientists had thought.  The new Imperial study finds that had nations done nothing, COVID-19 would have killed 40 million and infected seven billion.  An earlier, March 16th study by Imperial College, predicting millions of deaths, helped inspire UK, US, and other governments around the world to take much stronger actions including stay-at-home orders, last week. Some conservative pandemic skeptics misrepresented the new study as saying something closer to the opposite of what it actually said. “Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, who created the highly-cited Imperial College London coronavirus model,” wrote the Daily Wire, “offered a massive revision to his model on Wednesday.” What the reporter failed to note was that the revision to the model was based on the nationwide lockdown the UK government imposed, not because researchers had over-estimated the risk. “Our analysis, therefore, suggests that healthcare demand can only be kept within manageable levels,” the Imperial researchers conclude, “through the rapid adoption of public health measures… …

The Coming Age of Dispersion

As of this writing, the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic remain uncertain. But one possible consequence is an acceleration of the end of the megacity era. In its place, we may now be witnessing the outlines of a new, and necessary, dispersion of population, not only in the wide open spaces of North America and Australia, but even in the megacities of the developing world. Much of this has been driven by high housing prices and growing social disorder in our core cities, as well as the steady rise of online commerce and remote working, now the fastest growing means of “commuting” in the United States. Pandemics naturally thrive in large multicultural cities, where people live “cheek by jowl” and travel to and from other countries is a fact of international tourism and commerce. Europe’s rapidly advancing infection rate is, to some extent, the product of its weak border controls, one of the EU’s greatest accomplishments. Across the continent, cities have become the primary centers of infection. Half of all COVID-19 cases in Spain, …

The Complicated Science of a Medically Assisted Death

Jeff was ready to die. An Oregon man in his late 50s with kidney failure, he had cleared all the legal and practical hurdles that can keep someone from pursuing a medically assisted death. All that was left for him to do was ingest the lethal medication. Or so he thought. For much of his life, Jeff had worked as a long-haul trucker, sleeping in the cab of his truck and going fishing in between jobs. When his kidneys started to fail and he went on dialysis, he gave up trucking and became homeless. Jeff eventually stopped dialysis. He knew he wasn’t eligible for a transplant, and he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life hooked up to a machine. By the time Jeff was admitted to a Portland nursing home and enrolled in hospice, he had come to accept that he was dying. And he wanted to go out on his own terms. When Jeff first made his request to use Oregon’s assisted dying law, no one was sure whether he would …

Masculinity, Emasculation, and Breast Cancer in Men

For some reason news stories on sex-associated cancers are most common in the months of September, October, and November. This may be because September is officially Prostate Cancer Month. October is Breast Cancer Month. And November is the month when the Movember Foundation encourages men to grow moustaches to raise awareness of men’s health issues, in particular prostate and testicular cancer. Last October, there was a flood of stories about breast cancer. However, what was unusual this time around was the attention given to stories about breast cancer in men. This coverage was driven by a variety of factors, but two stand out. The first is that Beyoncé’s father has breast cancer and that provided a journalistic hook for stories about the challenges men face with that disease. The New York Times, CNN and many other media outlets jumped on the bandwagon. A second hook, which bridged the three months, was the realization that many of the same genetic mutations that are indicative of aggressive breast cancer are also indicative of aggressive prostate cancer. The …

An Alternative Feminist Perspective on Abortion

Having studied law and worked on the U.S. east coast for three years, I was well prepared for the long-delayed debate about abortion in my native country, Argentina, when it began in March 2018. However, it did not unfold as I expected. Abortion is a crime under Argentine law, except in cases of rape or life/health threatening pregnancies (See Section 86 of the Argentine Criminal Code). Nevertheless, in practice, there are significant differences in how abortion is treated across the country—in some jurisdictions, a woman may find it hard to undergo an abortion in those circumstances exempted by the Criminal Code, while in others, any woman asking for help with an unwanted pregnancy at a public hospital will be advised to declare that it was the result of non-consensual sex or to submit a doctor’s certificate stating that it threatens her mental or “social” health, thereby making her eligible for a free abortion provided by the state. In Argentina, the debate about abortion divides the population, so I expected the discussion to address its philosophical …

Peter Singer and the Narrowing of Discourse

You might expect a row between a moral philosopher and a casino company to involve the former lecturing the latter on the ethics of profiting from gambling. But it is Peter Singer, sometimes called “the world’s most influential living philosopher,” who finds himself rebuked by SkyCity, New Zealand’s biggest promoter of poker machines. Singer had been booked to speak at a SkyCity venue as part of a ThinkInc tour to raise money for his charity The Life You Can Save, which seeks to reduce global poverty. But then an article appeared on New Zealand webzine Newshub reminding readers of Singer’s longstanding views on infanticide. “New Zealand’s disabled community is outraged a controversial Australian philosopher who justifies infanticide is being allowed to speak here,” Newshub reported. “Peter Singer, who’s been described as the most dangerous man in the world, has argued it’s ethical to give parents the option to euthanise babies with disabilities.” The report went on to compare Singer to ethnonationalists. This “wouldn’t be the first time a controversial speaker had been barred,” the site …

Losing the Mandate of Heaven

A pandemic would spread quickly, overwhelming China’s healthcare system, causing a breakdown in social order. Then the old chaos of the past will come again. The mighty CCP of today might suddenly look a weak and vulnerable thing. ~Kerry Brown, 2019 1 Earlier this month, Xi Jinping was exposed to the sharpest critique that any mainlander has dared to make since China’s president-for-life first took power. Xi was blamed for the coronavirus epidemic in the widely shared essay “Viral Alarm: When Fury Overcomes Fear.” True to his subtitle, the author eschewed anonymity. Xu Zhangrun is a law professor at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University. After attacking China’s dictatorial system in a series of articles published in 2018, Xu was demoted and banned from teaching, writing, and publishing. Undeterred, he adopted an even sharper tone in his latest piece. The coronavirus epidemic has revealed the reality of politics under the Communist Party, he says: “the fragile and vacuous heart of the jittering edifice of state… a storied bureaucratic apparatus… [that] repeatedly hid or misrepresented the facts.” And …

Lee Jussim Is Right to Be Skeptical about ‘Stereotype Threat’

Rutgers University professor and social psychologist Lee Jussim recently posted a link on Twitter to a study that found “neither an overall effect of stereotype threat on math performance, nor any moderated stereotype effects”: In Which I Explain Why I am Exceedingly Skeptical of Stereotype Threatin response to a Harvard grad astonished that folks are skeptical and a postdoc asking, "Know of any large-scale studies in the real world?" Well, yes.Thread. https://t.co/gVF1jLSFXA — Lee Jussim, The UnCanceled (@PsychRabble) February 17, 2020 He did so in response to a Harvard University graduate student expressing surprise that there are people who think “stereotype threat” doesn’t exist: People out here thinking stereotype threat don’t exist? I believe Evelyn put it best; there are certain phenomena that feel real, and *because* they feel so real they exist in some important sense. Stereotype threat is one of those cases. Wasn’t there a replication project??? https://t.co/WX2QwNvSXo — Sa-kiera T. J. Hudson (@Sakiera_Hudson) February 17, 2020 Dr. Robin DiAngelo would also be quite surprised to hear such doubts. In her book, What …