Looking Forward

How the Pandemic Will End (Ed Yong)

Rudderless, blindsided, lethargic, and uncoordinated, America has mishandled the COVID-19 crisis to a substantially worse degree than what every health expert I’ve spoken with had feared.

It’s likely, then, that the new coronavirus will be a lingering part of American life for at least a year, if not much longer. If the current round of social-distancing measures works, the pandemic may ebb enough for things to return to a semblance of normalcy.

Veterans of past epidemics have long warned that American society is trapped in a cycle of panic and neglect. After every crisis—anthrax, SARS, flu, Ebola—attention is paid and investments are made. But after short periods of peacetime, memories fade and budgets dwindle. This trend transcends red and blue administrations. When a new normal sets in, the abnormal once again becomes unimaginable. But there is reason to think that COVID-19 might be a disaster that leads to more radical and lasting change.

The Right Thing

A Public Health Doctor and Head of Corrections Agree (Brie Williams, Leann Bertsch)

Because COVID-19 is highly transmissible, including by asymptomatic carriers, the thousands of people each day who leave their homes, enter a correctional facility and interact in close proximity with colleagues and incarcerated people in these often overcrowded, chaotic environments are at considerable risk of transmitting the virus back to their families and into their communities when they return home. 

Talk About It

How to Talk about the Coronavirus (Liz Neeley)

These steps will help you improve, and check the quality of, your own knowledge, as well as enhance your credibility when you try to communicate it. Inviting your audiences to explore a topic with you and equipping them with the tools to interrogate the process respect their agency and autonomy. Science communication should be about service, not self-importance.

Wear a Mask

Why We Should All Wear Masks (Sui Huang)

Intuition suggests that even an imperfect mask may offer some protection, that is at least in the range of the recommended separation by more than 6 feet in social interactions or washing hands or not touching your face — all recommendation based on mechanistic plausibility without strong epidemiological support.

A Description

A Medical Worker Describes COVID-19 (Lizzie Presser)

Since last week, he’s been running ventilators for the sickest COVID-19 patients. Many are relatively young, in their 40s and 50s, and have minimal, if any, preexisting conditions in their charts. He is overwhelmed, stunned by the manifestation of the infection, both its speed and intensity. The ICU where he works has essentially become a coronavirus unit. 

“And once I saw these patients with it, I was like, Holy shit, I do not want to catch this and I don’t want anyone I know to catch this.”

A Problem Avoiding Being Solved

Shell is Looking Forward (Malcolm Harris)

From a certain vantage, the momentum looks almost definitive, as though nothing could stand in the way of a renewable future. But unlike coal, oil and gas companies are still definitely profitable, even investable, and more oil and gas are being produced, and used, every year — which helps explain why carbon emissions keep rising too. There’s little doubt that fossil-fuels are, culturally speaking, on the wrong side of history. But there is still a lot more money to extract from those wells, and the fossil-fuel businesses are intent on extracting as much as they can.

These companies aren’t planning for a future without oil and gas, at least not anytime soon, but they want the public to think of them as part of a climate solution. In reality, they’re a problem trying to avoid being solved.

In the corporate sector, there’s still faith at the top that economic incentives and profit-seeking behavior can manage the crisis that capitalism has wrought. In such thinking, climate change is like a redux of the hole in the ozone layer: potentially bad but solvable with the tools on hand and without real changes to our lifestyles.

Elizabeth Warren and DNA Testing

Elizabeth Warren, Cherokee Citizenship, and DNA Testing (Adrienne Keene, Rebecca Nagle, Joseph M. Pierce)

The goal of this syllabus is to frame the recent claims to Cherokee ancestry by US Senator Elizabeth Warren as part of a longer history of cultural appropriation, erasure, and settler colonialism. Warren’s claims reveal the pervasive influence of biological essentialism–through the supposed certainty of DNA testing–in the globalized present. As is documented in this syllabus, the juncture of culture, genetics, and Indigenous sovereignty has become a crucial domain of discursive and political contestation. At stake is the ability of sovereign Indigenous nations to determine citizenship and belonging according to their own cultural beliefs and historical understandings of community.

Belief over Science

Scientists Now Think that Being Overweight Can Protect Your Health (Harriet Brown)

Being overweight is now believed to help protect patients with an increasingly long list of medical problems, including pneumonia, burns, stroke, cancer, hypertension, and heart disease. Researchers who have tried to show that the paradox is based on faulty data or reasoning have largely come up short.

We don’t know as much as we would like about the complex relationship between weight and health. We don’t know for sure what the obesity paradox means and how to interpret it. Why does it inspire so much pushback?

Maybe the real paradox here lies in our assumptions about what constitutes normal weight.

The Fruit of Genius

Corn Tastes Better on the Honor System

“Western science makes the claim to pure objectivity and intentionally banishes subjectivity from its explanations in favor of reductionist, strictly materialist approaches.”

“What is our relationship to the plant that has quite literally made us?”

“The writings of some early colonists reveal that they thought corn a primitive crop, because it did not require machines or draft animals to cultivate and process, as did their familiar wheat. They mistook the apparent ease with which corn fed the people for a lack of agricultural sophistication, rather than recognizing the genius of the system.”