All posts filed under: Science / Tech

The Dishonest and Misogynistic Hate Campaign Against J.K. Rowling

When J. K. Rowling first outed herself as a gender-critical feminist, my first thought was: If Rowling can be cancelled, anyone can be cancelled. Not only is she one of the best known and best loved authors in the world (the writer of children’s books, for goodness sake), she also has a personal history that ought to make her un-cancellable. This was the mum who escaped an abusive marriage and lived off benefits, writing the first Harry Potter book in an Edinburgh café while rocking her sleeping baby in a pram. This was the woman who became a billionaire, but then lost her billionaire status by giving away so much money to charity. If anyone was safe, Rowling should have been safe. And it turns out that she was, because despite the best efforts of her critics, she hasn’t yet been truly cancelled. Her latest book, the murder mystery (written under the pen-name Robert Galbraith), was published on Tuesday and, as of Thursday, was number four on Amazon’s bestseller list for all literature and fiction. …

Don’t Listen to the Outrage. ‘Cuties’ Is a Great Film

If you’d asked me a month ago what could possibly break through a news cycle dominated by the biggest global pandemic in a century, the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the worst civil unrest in the United States since the Civil Rights Era, a diverse, French arthouse film about four 11-year-old girls trying to win a dance competition wouldn’t have crossed my mind. Yet since its recent release on Netflix, Cuties has broken through the noise, and how. I wish it were for the right reasons: For instance, because Senegalese-French director Maïmouna Doucouré has written and directed a brilliant, award-winning first feature drawn from her experience growing up as an immigrant kid caught between cultures. Or because it’s alive with tenderness and heartache: a grittier, cross-cultural Eighth Grade about friendship, the love of a parent and child, and our longing to fit in, no matter our age, no matter the price. Or because it’s alive to injustice without preaching or judgement. But no. Cuties has broken through because of grotesquely false …

Patient Safety and the Medical Omerta

September 17th, 2020 will mark the second anniversary of the World Health Organisation’s World Patient Safety Day, a sign of the progress made in highlighting the risks of iatrogenesis—harm caused by medical negligence or error. The loosely defined patient safety movement grew from the work of the American paediatric surgeon Lucian Leape, and the publication of the 1999 Institute of Medicine paper ‘To Err is Human,’ both of which succeeded in drawing attention to the risk of being inadvertently killed or otherwise mistreated by healthcare providers. The patient safety movement has subsequently called for better detection and investigation of error, and while official UK data estimates up to 12,000 deaths from medical error per year, the voice of the medical profession in these matters has been conspicuously quiet. Inquiryitis Here in the UK, there has been no shortage of healthcare scandals within the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS). The history of public inquiries into the NHS reminds us of the inherent power imbalance between healthcare providers and the public. However, over 130 such inquiries have …

At the Intersection of Art and Science: Revisiting EO Wilson’s ‘Consilience’

I first read EO Wilson’s Consilience in the late 1990s when I was a student in a contemporary literary theory class. The class was taught by a poet, Gerald Locklin, who assigned it as a counterpoint to the postmodern theorists we’d be reading that semester. Wilson makes the case for the unification of knowledge—in the convergence of diverse disciplines such as the sciences and the arts, he says, there is an important story to tell, “about where we came from and why we are here: Neither science nor the arts can be complete without combining their separate strengths. Science needs the intuition and metaphorical power of the arts, and the arts need the fresh blood of science.” As someone who writes poetry, novels, and short stories, I have often drawn inspiration from science and its “fresh blood.” When I teach creative writing classes, I tell my students that aspiring writers not only need to read novels if they want to be a novelist, or poems if they want to be a poet, they need to …

The Myth of Harmonious Indigenous Conservationism

It seems like a long time ago. But only six months ago, pundits had convinced themselves that the great morality tale of our time was playing out in an obscure part of British Columbia. Following on an internal political fight within the Wet’suwet’en First Nation over a local pipeline project, one columnist wrote that “the Indigenous people of Earth have become the conscience of humanity. In this dire season, it is time to listen to them.” In fact, the elected leadership of the Wet’suwet’en had chosen to participate in the controverted pipeline project. The nationwide protests against the pipeline that followed were, in fact, sparked by unelected “hereditary” chiefs who long have received government signing bonuses. It’s unclear how this qualifies them for the exalted status of humanity’s conscience. Yet the whole weeks-long saga, which featured urban protestors appearing alongside their Indigenous counterparts at road and rail barricades throughout Canada, tapped into a strongly held noble-savage belief system within progressive circles. Various formulations of this mythology have become encoded in public land acknowledgments, college courses, …

The China Syndrome Part IV: Did China Fudge its Data?

Note: This is the concluding part of a four-part series of essays looking in detail at China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Part One looked at the circumstances surrounding the initial outbreak; Part Two looked at the discovery of human-to-human transmission and the immediate response; Part Three investigated allegations that the pandemic began in a “wet market” or that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan; this part examines charges that China falsified its pandemic data.  Allegations that China was falsifying its COVID-19 figures began to appear when its death and case rates were overtaken by even more dismal figures in parts of Europe and America. How could a repressive society like China possibly be getting this right while the West’s democracies were getting it wrong? As Western numbers climbed, commentators and politicians declared with growing certainty that China’s claim to have successfully suppressed its epidemic was simply the propagandistic lie of a mendacious totalitarian regime intended to fool its own citizenry and the rest of the world. Back in April, Bloomberg reported that, according …

The China Syndrome Part III: Wet Markets and BioLabs

Note: This is the third part of a four-part series of essays looking in detail at China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Part One looked at the circumstances surrounding the initial outbreak; Part Two looked at the discovery of human-to-human transmission and the immediate response; this part investigates allegations that the pandemic began in a “wet market” or that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan; Part Four examines charges that the Chinese have falsified their pandemic data.  Among the most controversial questions debated in the wake of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak are how and why the pandemic began in China in the first place. In the previous part of this essay, I argued that, to the extent that China was blameworthy for the pandemic, it was down to a matter of chance. Had the pandemic started in the West instead of China, it would likely have been much worse, so unless you believe in moral luck it doesn’t make sense to blame China. However, if the outbreak began as a result of Chinese negligence …

Will Corporate Social-Justice Initiatives Be More Than Just a Fad?

On June 16th, PepsiCo officials tweeted the details of their newly launched “Journey to Racial Equality”—a multi-part $400 million campaign that includes everything from “mandatory unconscious bias training” to adding “100 black associates to our executive ranks.” Previously, the company marketed itself with sunny slogans such as “Joy of Pepsi,” “The Choice of a New Generation,” and “For Those Who Think Young.” But its modern corporate mission, as announced in 2019, is far more ambitious, and requires Pepsi to “integrat[e] purpose into our business strategy and brands whilst doing more for our planet and people.” And while it’s not clear how selling sugary drinks and salty, high-carb snacks serves any particular purpose (except high profits), the company promises that its recent announcements are “only the beginning. Over the next few years, we will expand our pursuit of racial and social justice in communities around the world.” We’re committed to doing our part to help dismantle the systemic racial barriers that block social + economic progress for Black people in this country. Today we’re announcing a …

The China Syndrome Part II: Transmission and Response

Note: This is the second part of a four-part series of essays looking in detail at China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Part One looked at the circumstances surrounding the initial outbreak; this part looks at the discovery of human-to-human transmission and the immediate response; Part Three investigates allegations that the pandemic began in a “wet market” or that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan; Part Four examines charges that the Chinese have falsified their pandemic data.  There is evidence that, in mid-January, Chinese officials withheld suspicions that sustained human-to-human transmission was occurring. Nevertheless, most of the claims about Chinese mendacity and its implications have been wildly exaggerated. A useful account of the ways in which the local health authorities delayed the release of crucial information was published on February 5th, 2020, in China News Weekly, but apparently deleted from their website almost immediately. Fortunately, it was archived and eventually translated by China Change, a website created by Chinese human rights activists in the US. A fair-minded story published by Associated Press also illuminates the role played by …

The Philosophy of Pansexualism

The word “pansexual,” denoting those who are sexually or romantically attracted to others regardless of their sex or gender, has been around for at least a century. But the designation remained relatively obscure until about a decade ago, when a number of celebrities began using the word to describe themselves. It quickly became a popular self-identifier for young teenagers. And the idea of “pansexualism” is now increasingly being included in the vast and growing LGBT typology. Earlier this summer, when the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control published its COVID-19 Language Guide on “inclusive language for written and digital content,” for instance, the provincial agency exhorted readers not to use the term “sexual preference,” as it might be offensive to “pansexual people,” since they exhibit no “preference” whatsoever. (The agency offers a similar warning about offending bisexuals, which I distinguish from pansexuals as follows: While the former are attracted to each sex/gender, the latter may also be attracted to those whose genderqueer status removes them from the male-female gender dyad, or who report having no …