All posts filed under: Science / Tech

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 …

How To Think About Our Problems

As I travel around the United States, giving presentations on human progress, I am encouraged by the enthusiasm with which the audiences receive my message of the improving state of the world. Still, someone in the audience invariably asks, “What worries you?” That’s understandable. Our species has evolved to see the glass of human existence as half empty. To plan for problems ahead, such as droughts, was a better survival strategy than expecting an eternity of bountiful harvests. Here I attempt to outline different types of problems that we will face in the future and evaluate the degree of “alarm” with which those problems should be treated. First, consider known problems with known solutions. Global warming, for example, appears to be a problem that’s partly caused by excessive emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. A third of all U.S. CO2 emissions come from energy generation. But, much of that energy could be produced in a more environmentally friendly way with zero CO2-emitting nuclear power. Unfortunately, irrational fear of nuclear fission and excessive regulatory …

How Damaging Will the Coronavirus be to Xi Jinping’s Authority?

President Xi has become, since his inauguration in 2012, China’s most powerful leader since Mao. His likely longevity in the post is strongly suggested by the presence of those around him in senior positions—all older and therefore unlikely to succeed him. He has been personally popular and has published his own thoughts on China and communism in a form also not seen since the time of Mao. Xi-ism is not quite a thing yet, but the signs are there. So why, then, is his authority under threat? Let’s start with Hong Kong. The stream of protests, which have run there over the last six months—and their enormous scale—has disturbed Beijing. The protests, whatever their immediate cause, are protests against the mainland government and hence the Communist Party headed by Xi. Diplomatic pressure from the U.S., in particular, has hurt. The ineptness of the Hong Kong SAR government, with knee-jerk and ill-thought-out responses that have frustrated both pro- and anti-establishment groups, has not helped. The mainland liaison office in Hong Kong—effectively an embassy—has a new head, who …

Should We Colonize Mars? The Fate of Humanity May One Day Depend on It

On October 21, U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology that he foresees NASA will land astronauts on the moon by 2035. “We need to learn how to live and work in another world,” he told lawmakers. “The moon is the best place to prove those capabilities and technologies.”  The article that follows comprises the seventh instalment in “Our Martian Moment,” a multi-part Quillette series in which our authors discuss what kind of society humans should build on Mars if and when we succeed in colonizing the red planet. Four years ago, at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, Elon Musk set out two possible paths for humanity. “One path,” he told his audience, “is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event.” He was not foretelling immediate doom, just noting that nothing lasts forever. Inevitably, if humans stay long enough, we’ll suffer some sort of extinction-level disaster, similar to previous mass-extinction events encoded in the fossil record. The universe …

I May Have Gender Dysphoria. But I Still Prefer to Base My Life on Biology, Not Fantasy

Feelings and opinions have displaced facts and evidence in many areas of the liberal arts. This is nothing new. A more recent phenomenon, however, is the extension of this trend into the realm of biology, which has fallen victim to the idea that men can become women—and vice versa—merely by reciting a statement of belief. It is an insidious movement that combines the postmodern contempt for objective truth with pre-modern religious superstitions regarding the nature of the human soul. The subordination of science to myth was exemplified in the recent British case of Maya Forstater, who’d lost her job after pointing out the plain truth that transgender people like me cannot change our biological sex by proclamation. “I conclude from…the totality of the evidence, that [Forstater] is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate,” concluded Judge James Tayler at her employment tribunal. “The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” I’m …

Behind the Great Firewall

There is a thriving community of Westerners in China making and posting videos on YouTube about their lives and experiences there. That may sound odd since YouTube, along with literally hundreds of the world’s other most popular websites, is banned in China. Anyone in the country wanting to connect to YouTube (and/or Facebook, Instagram, Google, Wikipedia, etc.) needs to purchase a Virtual Private Network (VPN); software for a phone or computer to disguise its IP address and which enables the user to circumvent the infamous Great Firewall of China. The legality of VPNs in China is another question altogether: selling a VPN is illegal, owning one is iffy, and using a VPN is ubiquitous–but also draws suspicion. Exact numbers are hard to come by but estimates suggest that more than 30 percent of internet users in China have a VPN installed on at least one of their devices. Like so many things in China, legality is often a question of circumstance and usually not even the most important question. YouTubers in China run the gamut …

Streaming Will Never Be as Bad as Cable

Apple and Disney launched new subscription video streaming services in November 2019, joining Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, CBS All Access and HBO, which will become HBO Max in 2020, placing HBO branding and original programming at the helm of a subscription service to stream the content of the AT&T Warnermedia conglomerate. Comcast/NBCUniversal will be launching a streaming service called Peacock in 2020 as well. Since every major media company will soon have its own streaming subscription, we can expect them to stop licensing their film catalogs and their archives of television shows to existing streaming services like Netflix. If you are a current Netflix subscriber, you will lose access to popular shows like Friends and The Office as well as Disney, Pixar and Marvel content. Hulu is losing South Park and Rick and Morty, which will stream on HBO Max, while Disney, which owns much of Hulu, will be adding shows from the FX network to that service, to try to replace some of what Hulu will be losing to HBO Max and Disney+, That …

In Space, Let Meritocracy Reign Supreme

On October 21, U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology that he foresees NASA will land astronauts on the moon by 2035. “We need to learn how to live and work in another world,” he told lawmakers. “The moon is the best place to prove those capabilities and technologies.”  The article that follows comprises the sixth instalment in “Our Martian Moment,” a multi-part Quillette series in which our authors discuss what kind of society humans should build on Mars if and when we succeed in colonizing the red planet.   For science-fiction writers, Mars always has been a blank slate on which to write our hopes and project our fears. Ray Bradbury imagined a Mars settled by farmers who cover the red planet with idyllic midwestern American towns. Robert Heinlein, swept up in 1960s counterculture, imagined a Mars where gnostic aliens teach free love, spiritual wisdom and psychic powers to a hippy messiah. More recently, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars trilogy—science fiction’s War and Peace—imagines …

Why I Resigned from Tavistock: Trans-Identified Children Need Therapy, Not Just ‘Affirmation’ and Drugs

Over the past five years, there has been a 400 percent rise in referrals to the Tavistock Centre in north London, the only National Health Service (NHS) clinic in Britain that treats children with gender-identity developmental issues. During this period, there also has been an abrupt shift in the composition of the children seeking treatment. Formerly, a significant majority of patients had been young male-to-female children. Now, a significant majority are biological females who claim to have a male gender identity, often following the rapid onset of gender dysphoria in their teenage years. We do not fully understand what is going on in this complex area, and it is essential to examine the phenomenon systematically and objectively. But this has become difficult in the current environment, as debate is continually being closed down amidst accusations of transphobia. As I argued in a May, 2019 presentation before the House of Lords, this de facto censorship regime is harming children. Those who advocate an unquestioning “affirmation”-based approach to trans-identified children often will claim that any delay or …