All posts filed under: Science / Tech

When Sons Become Daughters: It’s Time to Admit That Reflexive ‘Affirmation’ Has Been a Mistake

What follows is the seventh and final instalment of When Sons Become Daughters, a Quillette series that explores how parents react when a son announces he wants to be a girl—and explains why so many of these mothers and fathers believe they can’t discuss their fears and concerns with their own children, therapists, doctors, friends, and relatives. To find out more about how the author collected and reported information, please refer to his introductory essay in this series. “What are your preferred pronouns?” I ask Rene Jax, somewhat in jest. The answer: “Your Imperial Majesty. Look, you call me what you want. I don’t care. My friends say I’m half this and half that.” Rene (a real name, unlike the pseudonyms I’ve generally been using to describe others) is a 60-year-old male-to-female post-operative transsexual who looks both like a woman (hair, clothing, style of glasses) and a man (hands, Adam’s apple, jawline). My question felt farcical to both of us because Rene has written openly about the pathway that led to transition—and then to regret. …

The Sperm Count Culture War

Attempts to make science conform to ideology have enjoyed a long and dispiriting history. For many centuries, religion was the main perpetrator, and scientists and philosophers who ran afoul of the Church and the Inquisition were burned at the stake or left to rot in prison. In the early 17th century, the astronomer Galileo was convicted of heresy by the Roman Catholic Church for daring to suggest that the Earth revolved around the Sun. His book containing the evidence he had amassed was banned and he was sentenced to prison, and then spent the last nine years of his life under house arrest. In the 1930s, under the banner of “scientific socialism,” the Soviet Politburo imposed the pseudoscientific theories of Trofim Lysenko. Lysenko rejected modern genetics in favor of crackpot ideas that promised to usher in a Soviet utopia. Scientists and farmers who dissented were persecuted and ended up dying in labor camps. As a result, Soviet agriculture was set back for decades, leading to millions of deaths and food shortages. The lesson: Just because …

Why Is the Society for American Archaeology Promoting Indigenous Creationism?

In April, one of us—Elizabeth Weiss—gave a talk, titled Has Creationism Crept Back into Archaeology?, at the 86th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA). The 87-year-old SAA identifies itself as “an international organization dedicated to research about the interpretation and protection of the archaeological heritage of the Americas.” The SAA board of directors includes professors, curators, and government archaeologists, all of whom presumably appreciate the importance of studying artifacts and human remains as a means to understanding the history of our species. The subject of the April 15th talk, co-authored with James W. Springer (who also co-authored this essay), was the threat of religious literalism being used as a means to insist on the repatriation of human remains (mainly skeletons) and artifacts to presumed descendent populations—i.e., present-day Indigenous communities whose members live near the location where such remains are discovered. However, our use of the term “repatriation” more broadly encompasses the new laws, ideological claims, and policies that serve to give Indigenous claimants control over remains and artifacts, as well as over …

Silicon Valley’s ‘Mission Protocol’ Revolution Is Beginning to Attain Critical Mass

In December 2004, during Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, I spent a night in one of the many tents that had been pitched in Kiev’s central square. There were five of us inside, and it smelled like cigarettes, black tea, and sweat. Outside, it was snowing. It seemed that everyone—protesters and riot police—had a megaphone. The voices bounced off the square’s gray facades, blending with snippets of shouting, laughter, dogs barking, a couple in a nearby tent having sex. The 25-year-old travel agent who owned the tent I was staying in had taken the bus from the city of Vinnytsia, a few hours to the southwest, with some friends. The group included a medical student and a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy. “We wanted to see history happen,” the tent owner told me. The pregnant woman interjected: “But we didn’t come until we knew it was safe—until other people would be here.” In the former Soviet Union before social media, there was a calculus to demonstrating. If you wanted to demonstrate against the regime, and …

Could an Invisible Military Laser Steal Your Privacy?

In early 2006, I sat in the Pashtun tribal areas on the Af/Pak border. When not rinsing grit out of my teeth from the thick fog in the air, I awaited information from capricious “allies,” on whether their informant could identify a senior al Qaeda leader who I’ll call “The Moroccan.” At the time, he was al Qaeda’s regional operational commander and well worth removing from the board. I lusted for certainty on the whereabouts of the Moroccan. He remained stubbornly elusive, while I chafed with impatience aggravated by living conditions halfway between a prison and an armed bunker. I watched tantalizing video from “eyes in the sky” of vehicles associated with the Moroccan heading towards the funeral of a militant. The funeral was attended by hundreds of men, all sporting traditional bushy beards and the long, baggy shalwar-kameezs Pashtuns favored, topped by either a turban or pakol cap. Making a positive ID in that crowd was like locating a particular stalk of wheat in a bumper crop. Was the Moroccan there? Or in a …

The Importance of Understanding the Nonspecific Effects of Vaccines

The world’s attention is presently focused on the mRNA vaccines, which may turn out to be the most revolutionary vaccines ever produced. However, very few doctors, and certainly not the public, have any awareness at all of the nonspecific effects of vaccines (NSEs). The specific effect of a vaccine is immunity to a target infection; the nonspecific effect refers to the off-target effects of all vaccines. These can be positive or negative. The beneficial effects are improved immunity to a variety of infections and all-round health, and the negative effects are the inverse—a predisposition to off-target diseases and immune dysregulation, whilst still conferring immunity to the targeted pathogen. These discoveries have surprised the scientific community and left researchers scratching their heads as to how and why such important effects could have been overlooked by epidemiologists for over a century. It began with observations made in the small West African nation of Guinea-Bissau from 1979. Anthropologist Peter Aaby was sent to investigate malnutrition in the country but found none. Instead, he ran headlong into a measles …

When Sons Become Daughters, Part VI: Asexuality, Intelligence, and the Trans Co-Option of Intersex Discourse

What follows is the sixth instalment of When Sons Become Daughters, a seven-part Quillette series that explores how parents react when a son announces he wants to be a girl—and explains why so many of these mothers and fathers believe they can’t discuss their fears and concerns with their own children, therapists, doctors, friends, and relatives. To find out more about how the author collected and reported information, please refer to his introductory essay in this series. Whether they exhibit autism spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, many trans-identified boys seem to be fixated on a hypothetical future self: Once brought to life, it is believed, this woman’s mere presence will resolve whatever existential crisis the young man is going through. In many cases, the boy will spend a lot of his time thinking about the differences between his status quo and his imagined (feminine) ideal. This “hyper-ruminative” behaviour is something many parents I interviewed discussed with me. From Milwaukee, Liz emails me a number of papers she’s found over the years …

Winners and Losers: The Global Economy After COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the world economy in ways that will be debated by pundits and future historians for decades to come. Yet, as hard as it is to predict a disrupted future accurately, the pandemic (not to mention its probable successors) looks likely to produce clear economic winners and losers. The top digital companies—Amazon, Apple, Tencent, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Ant, Netflix, and Hulu—have thrived during quarantines and the ongoing dispersion of work. These are the most obvious winners in what leftist author Naomi Klein has called a “Screen New Deal” that seeks to create a “permanent and profitable no-touch future.” Since 2019, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have added over two-and-a-half trillion dollars to their combined valuation, and all enjoyed record breaking profits in 2020. But it’s not just the tech oligarchs who have benefited from the pandemic disruption. Companies that keep the basic economy functioning—firms dealing in logistics, for example, or critical metals or food processing—have become, if anything, even more important. With the shipping supply chain disrupted due to the …

Understanding the Unidentified

An advantage of having worked in the skeptical business for 30 years is institutional memory that enables me to place current claims and controversies into historical context. So, when the New York Times published their article on “The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program” in December 2017, and CBS’s 60 Minutes reported that “UFOs Regularly Spotted in Restricted U.S. Airspace” in May 2021—the reports bracketing the latest wave of apparent sightings—I immediately recalled similar waves dating back to the 1890s groundswell of “mystery airships” (later identified as dirigibles). Historian Mike Dash’s description of the 1896–1897 reports in his book Borderlands: The Ultimate Exploration of the Unknown will sound familiar to those energized by the latest round of UFO videos: Not only were [the mystery airships] bigger, faster and more robust than anything then produced by the aviators of the world; they seemed to be able to fly enormous distances, and some were equipped with giant wings … The files of almost 1,500 newspapers from across the United States have been combed for reports, an astonishing feat of …

In Defense of the Universal Values of Science

The progress of modern science has been a truly global phenomenon, a fact worth celebrating, just as the technological fruits of science have, to varying degrees, impacted the lives of everyone on the globe.  Scientific breakthroughs have paid no heed to geographic boundaries. Modern algebra owes its origins to 10th century Arabic mathematicians. Around the same time Chinese astronomers recorded an early supernova that formed the Crab Nebula, even when no record of this remarkable object was made in Europe. In spite of the attempts by British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington to quash the impact of an otherwise unheralded young Indian physicist, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the latter’s groundbreaking work on stellar evolution altered our picture of stars so significantly that he was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his work. Nevertheless, the postmodern notion that empirical scientific knowledge is somehow culturally derived, with little or no objective underpinning, has continued to persist in various social science and literary corners of academia far removed from the rush of scientific progress.    Until recently, it seemed inconceivable …