- In a new study published in Environmental Science and Ecotechnology, researchers from Harbin Institute of Technology, have developed a novel double Z-scheme photocatalyst, called the molecularly imprinted TiO2@Fe2O3@g-C3N4 (MFTC) composite, that selectively removes SMX from water.
Malaysia trial shows quicker recovery compared with areas replanted with four or just a single native species
Replanting logged tropical forests with a diverse mixture of seedlings can help them regrow more quickly than allowing trees to regenerate naturally, a study has shown.
Satellite observations of one of the largest ecological experiments in the world in the Malaysian state of Sabah have revealed how lowland rainforest recovered over a decade.Continue reading…
Elon Musk: billionaire, CEO, and master of spin.
The SpaceX and Tesla CEO took to Twitter-formerly-X — a platform that the billionaire also owns, having purchased it for $44 billion back in 2022 — over the weekend to defend his brain chip company,
, against animal abuse claims.
Ever the logician, Musk is now claiming that contrary to media reporting and a federal investigation, Neuralink's brain implants didn't actually kill any monkeys; according to him, the animals were on the edge of death already.
To back up for a moment, Neuralink first came under fire in February of last year when a medical nonprofit called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) filed a complaint alleging that the company had performed "invasive and deadly brain experiments" on 23 rhesus macaques monkeys. Fifteen of these monkeys, the nonprofit claimed, ultimately died as a result of the testing. (Later in the year, in September 2022, the PCRM would go public with a new allegation: that UC Davis was in possession of several hundred photos of the purportedly abused Neuralink monkeys, and that these gruesome photos "showed monkeys suffering from chronic infections, seizures, paralysis, and painful side effects following [the] experiments.")
"The documents reveal that monkeys had their brains mutilated in shoddy experiments," Jeremy Beckham, a research advocacy coordinator with PCRM, said in a statement at the time, "and were left to suffer and die."
Those are serious accusations, and the backlash was swift enough to prompt a reply from Neuralink, with the company writing on the platform formerly known as Twitter that "animals at Neuralink are respected and honored by our team." But though the company did dispute the exact number of dead monkeys in a reactionary blog post, it did confirm that eight of its monkeys, or 21 percent of the total testing cohort, had perished during trials. "Two animals," the blog read, "were euthanized at planned end dates to gather important histological data, and six animals were euthanized at the medical advice of the veterinary staff at UC Davis."
"These reasons included one surgical complication involving the use of the FDA-approved product (BioGlue), one device failure, and four suspected device-associated infections," the blog post continued. "In response we developed new surgical protocols and a fully implanted device design for future surgeries." So, according to Neuralink's blog, monkeys did die, just not as many as the PCRM alleged.
The blog post also noted that Neuralink's initial research, which was conducted alongside the University of California, Davis' California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC), was "performed first in animal cadavers and then later in terminal procedures," terminal procedures being those in which an animal that was already on the verge of death is humanely euthanized before ever waking from anesthesia.
But, to be clear, Neuralink addressed the eight monkey deaths in question while discussing the company's subsequent "survival surgeries," explaining that its cadaver and terminal monkey testing laid the groundwork for greater success in these later surgeries — and did not suggest that the eight controversial deaths took place among terminal primates.
Which brings us to Musk's recent narrative rewrite. On Sunday, an AI researcher and blogger named Brian Chau, who also hosts a podcast dubbed From the New World, took to X to express his feelings about the animal abuse claims — and, well, it's safe to say that Chau is Camp Neuralink. Sharing a screenshot of a Consequence.net article from 2022 about the PCRM's initial allegations, the podcaster sardonically captioned the image: "Ethicists': 15 monkeys are more important than the hyperacceleration of all science and invention."
"Professional ethics are a collection of maximally evil people," Chau added, for good measure.
Musk, ever the reply guy, responded that "no monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant."
"First our early implants," Musk added in his X reply, "to minimize risk to healthy monkeys, we chose terminal monkeys (close to death already)."
Of course, this claim directly contradicts the fact that Neuralink has already admitted that several of its monkeys were euthanized after developing infections and other side effects. So, either Musk is completely retconning that, or it's more of a philosophical argument — that it doesn't really matter if you kill a monkey that's already dying. Or, maybe, he's arguing that a death caused by surgical complications — glue issues, infections, more of the like — doesn't quite mean that a Nearalink implant killed a monkey. Surgery did!
Any way you slice it, though, when you put Musk's "terminal" tweet in context with the alleged nature of some of these monkeys' injuries — according to one PCRM claim, BioGlue "seeped through to the monkeys's brains," in one case causing a monkey to vomit so much from a glue-induced brain bleed that "she developed open sores in her esophagus" — the claim that Neuralink didn't actually kill any monkeys feels weak.
There are rules regarding animal welfare in lab settings for a reason. If the allegations against Neuralink are true, the company certainly wasn't up to animal ethics codes. Suffering is suffering, whether an animal is terminal or not.
More on Musk, Neuralink, and monkeys: Battle Erupts Over Alleged Grisly Photos of Brain-Hacked Neuralink Monkeys
The post Elon Musk Says Neuralink Tests Only on Terminally Ill Monkeys appeared first on Futurism.
The Amazon drama, about migrant worker turned astronaut José Hernández, is part rousing success story and part Nasa PR
A young boy, the son of migrant farmers from
, watches the Apollo 13 moon landing on a rickety living room TV set, riveted. The same young boy, now a young man, applies to Nasa’s astronaut selection program 11 times, year after year, without success. The young man, now middle-aged, finally makes it to the Kennedy Space Center, only to train several more years for even a shot at exiting Earth.
A Million Miles Away, the Amazon biopic of the astronaut José Hernández, has all the ingredients of an inspiring, sanded-down success story: Hernández, played capably by Michael Peña, went from itinerant student to barrier-breaking electrical engineer to the International Space Station, the first migrant farm worker to go to space. It hits the usual beats of space heroism – the ambition of a gravity-defying dream, the vaunted heroism of the space program, the sacrifices in the name of science and patriotism – with chapters delineated by “ingredients to success” in life, first outlined by his father, in line with Hernández’s later career as a motivational speaker.Continue reading…
In the five decades between 1970 and 2021, extreme climate events caused more than two million deaths and led to economic losses of $4.3 trillion, 60 percent of which occurred in developing countries, a
. report found
Nature, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-02830-zIn a large trial, not a single participant developed a serious precancerous lesion caused by a vaccine-targeted viral type.
Nature, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-02899-6Climate change, civil war and international sanctions all contributed to the devastation caused by some of Libya’s worst flooding ever, researchers say.
Nature Communications, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-41367-7Here, the authors compile pollen records from across Iberia and Morocco, comparing them with other paleohydrological and archaeological data, as well as historical sources. Using these data, they suggest that a series of strong droughts could have contributed to the decline of the Visigothic Kingdom and subsequent Islamic expansion.
Give It Up
Last fall, Meta-formerly-
unveiled its Meta Quest Pro, a long-rumored, higher-end follow-up to the company's best-selling Quest 2 VR headset.
The sleek device, which initially went on sale for an eye-watering $1,500, has really struggled to catch on since then, just as we predicted at the time.
And now, as Mixed Reality News reports, Meta is literally resorting to giving them away for free: Attendees of this year's developer conference for the global gaming platform Roblox each got a free Meta Quest Pro. While it's unclear how many people attended the event, it's a clear indication that the device isn't exactly flying off the shelves.
Meta told suppliers earlier this year that it wouldn't order new components for the device, indicating that production would end as the company ran out of parts.
To remedy the situation, Meta even tried to massively cut the price of the device to $999 back in March.
Then there's the upcoming Quest 3, set to be announced next month, which could also be dampening interest in the premium device.
Meta's Reality Labs is still spending billions of dollars developing the tech each quarter, and revenues are only a tiny fraction of that. Yet over the last three years, quarterly performance has only gotten worse.
Long story short, the company is clearly struggling to get traction for its metaverse ambitions, even by the damp standards of the VR industry. Only earlier this month did the device appear in SteamVR's hardware stats, a roundup of the kind of devices people use on Valve's popular VR content platform. According to Mixed, the Quest Pro's usage was a measly 0.39 percent.
For now, all eyes are on Apple. The tech giant has historically bided its time before entering a new market, and the same goes for its recent unveiling of an even more expensive premium headset called the Vision Pro.
But whether the tech giant's $3,499 VR goggles will fare any better than the Quest Pro remains to be seen.
The post Facebook's VR Headset Not Selling, Literally Giving It Away appeared first on Futurism.
Nature, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-02829-6Male palm cockatoos prefer certain types of percussion tool, which they create themselves from branches and seed pods.
Here’s why disasters like Libya’s dam collapses happen and how to prevent them
A trio of scientists who developed the combination drug Trikafta are among the winners of five major awards in life sciences, physics and mathematics
Here’s why disasters like Libya’s dam collapses happen and how to prevent them
Starlings, along with other complex vocal learning birds, are also superior problem solvers, researchers report.
starling boasts a remarkable repertoire. The versatile songbirds learn warbles, whistles, calls, and songs throughout their lives. The new study, published in Science, finds that starlings, which rank among the most advanced avian vocal learners, are also superior problem solvers.
“There is a long-standing hypothesis that only the most intelligent animals are capable of complex vocal learning,” says Jean-Nicolas Audet, a research associate in the laboratory of Erich Jarvis at Rockefeller University. “If that is true, then complex vocal learners should also be better at cognitive tasks, but no one had ever demonstrated that before.”
Only a handful of animal groups are capable of complex vocal learning, roughly defined as the ability to learn and retain a large number of sounds. Humans, elephants, whales, seals, and bats represent most mammalian vocal learners; songbirds, parrots, and hummingbirds cover the birds.
The Jarvis lab has long focused on songbirds, and ranks their vocal learning complexity across three metrics: how many songs and calls are in the bird’s repertoire, whether the bird can continue to learn new songs and calls throughout its life, and whether it can mimic other species.
To determine whether vocal learning is linked to different cognitive abilities in songbirds, Audet and colleagues spent three years catching hundreds of wild birds from 21 species in mist nets at the Rockefeller University Field Research Center, a sprawling 1,200 protected acres of land compromising many different ecosystems in New York’s Hudson Valley.
“It’s a protected area, which means the animals have limited exposure to humans,” says Mélanie Couture, a research assistant who worked on the study. “This is ideal for studying the behaviors of wild birds—what they can do, and how they react to cognitive tasks.”
Upon ranking the vocal learning capabilities of their subjects, three frontrunners emerged: starlings, blue jays, and gray catbirds (relatives of mockingbirds). These were also the only three capable of mimicking other species, “the epitome of vocal learning,” Audet says.
The team then ran a battery of cognitive tests on 214 birds from 23 species (including two lab-raised bird species that were added to the wild-caught birds). They tested problem-solving abilities by challenging the birds to remove a lid, pierce foil, or pull a stick to retrieve a treat. Self-control was assessed by placing a transparent barrier between each bird and a snack, and recording how long it took the birds to stop butting up against the barrier and go around it.
Other tests analyzed whether the birds could learn to associate a certain color with a food reward, and how quickly the birds adapted when the associated color changed.
Statistical analyses revealed a strong correlation between problem solving abilities and vocal learning abilities. Starlings, blue jays, and catbirds were not only the most advanced vocal learners, but also the most adept at solving puzzles, and the better a bird was at working its way around obstacles to nab a treat, the more complex its vocal learning ability. There was no association between the other cognitive tests and vocal learning complexity.
The researchers also found that advanced vocal learners and problem solvers had larger brains relative to the sizes of their bodies—a potential biological basis for the observations.
“Our next step is to look at the brains of the most complex species and try to understand why they are better at problem solving and vocal learning,” Audet says. “We have a pretty good idea of where vocal learning happens in the brain, but it’s not yet clear where problem solving occurs.”
Overall, the findings suggest that vocal learning, problem solving, and brain size may have evolved in tandem, perhaps as a way of increasing biological fitness. Based on these findings, as well as earlier work on the ability of vocal learners to dance to a rhythmic beat, Jarvis is now calling this collection of traits the “vocal learning cognitive complex”.
“Our findings help support a previously unproven notion: that the evolution of a complex behavior like spoken language, which depends on vocal learning, is associated with co-evolution of other complex behaviors,” Jarvis says.
Source: Rockefeller University
The post Some vocal learners are really good problem solvers, too appeared first on Futurity.
Research has shown that having more elaborate conversations with infant children could lead to more detailed accounts of personal memories later in life, writes Jonathon O’Brien
Sophie McBain (The big idea: are memories fact or fiction?, 11 September) raises some interesting questions about “infantile amnesia”, a phenomenon first named by Sigmund Freud. In recent years, research into infantile amnesia has provided data on the impact of social factors on childhood memory development.
Experiments have shown, for example, that more elaborate parental conversation with children between 20 and 29 months was associated with subsequently more detailed accounts of personal memories by the children.Continue reading…
- The amendment now proposed by the NIH would require institutions’ ethics committees to evaluate cephalopod research.
Nature, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-02887-wFor the first time in
- At least one bill introduced in the US House of Representatives seeks to ban the National Institutes of Health, the largest public funder of biomedical research in the world, from financially supporting any GOF research, regardless of its potential threat to human health.
Nature, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-02873-2An analysis of the controversial work indicates that a one-size-fits-all regulation strategy will have consequences.
- One LLM, which uses the Japanese supercomputer Fugaku, is expected to be released next year.
Nature, Published online: 14 September 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-02903-zArtificial intelligence diagnoses and predicts the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, heart failure and more from images of a person’s retinas. Plus, a ‘Pandora’s box’ of new protein shapes has been discovered and why breast cancer often spreads to the spine.
As far as we're aware, a hubcap flying off while driving is not part of the Cybertruck's tech specs — and yet, as new video shows, that seems to be what happened to one not-so-lucky beta driver in California.
The video in question shows a Tesla Cybertruck prototype moseying down what appears to be a San Francisco-area freeway when out of nowhere, the electric pickup's wheel cover shoots almost vertically into the air.
The, er, interestingly designed hubcap, which The Verge referred to as looking like a "ninja death star," then shoots back down to the ground directly in front of another car ahead of the dashcam. The first car seems to be able to get out of its path, but the second one isn't so lucky, and the wheel cover ends up underneath its undercarriage, popping out on the other side in front of the viewer's vantage point as the driver swerves out of the way.
At this point, it's unclear whether the hubcap ends up underneath the car with the dashcam, but it continues driving along the freeway for the rest of the 52-second clip all the same.
This is, of course, not the first time we've heard or seen Cybertruck jankiness.
Just this summer, we've not only seen what's supposed to be an impressive action shot of the Cybertruck's single giant windshield wiper being overwhelmed with mud while offroading, but we've also seen footage of what appears to be another of the Tesla truck's prototypes broken down on the side of the road in the San Francisco Bay Area. Whether it's the same Bay Area Cybertruck as the one seen in the above video is anyone's guess because, of course, we have no idea who owns these prototypes or how they got them.
What we do know, however, is that Cybertrucks are allegedly supposed to begin shipping out to the millions of customers on its waitlist in the third quarter of this year — and hopefully, whatever is going on with this hubcap will be fixed by then.
- The private-equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts announced that it would buy Simon & Schuster.
This is an edition of the revamped Books Briefing, our editors’ weekly guide to the best in books. Sign up for it here.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, first published to colossal success in 1852, has been in reputational free fall ever since. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel about the trials of an enslaved man named Tom who accepts his suffering with Christian equanimity proved a boon to the abolitionist cause, though its actual depictions of Black people skimp on providing them with much humanity. Even in its time, the book was vulgarized via stage adaptations that reduced Stowe’s story to minstrelsy and her characters to caricatures. Today, a work that did so much to shake white northerners out of their complacency is remembered mostly as a slur. But in an essay for The Atlantic’s October issue, Clint Smith surprised himself by discovering the original power of the book—along with what remains so limited and prejudiced about it. His article uncovers the story of Josiah Henson, the “original” Uncle Tom, Stowe’s real-life inspiration for the character. In his 1849 memoir, Henson described what it was like to be an overseer on a Maryland plantation and all of the moral compromises he had to make to survive slavery. Becoming acquainted with Henson’s story also gave Smith a new perspective on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I talked with Smith about this aspect of his essay, and how he was able to brush so much accumulated dust off the book.
First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic’s Books section:
- Lauren Groff has written a new gospel.
- From feminist to right-wing conspiracist
- Why are women freezing their eggs? Look to the men.
Smith spoke with me from South Korea, where he was doing research for his new book. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Gal Beckerman: What was your sense of Uncle Tom’s Cabin before you opened it up again for the essay—or was it maybe the first time you read it?
Clint Smith: I’d only read excerpts in high school. I’d never read the book in full. But most of my relationship to the book was through James Baldwin’s essay about it. He had written it in 1949; he was just 24. And this was his first big essay, the one that puts him on the national scene. And he just really—
Beckerman: He was not a fan.
Smith: He was not a fan of Harriet Beecher Stowe, of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He makes the case that it’s more a political pamphlet than a book. That it is a reductive attempt at literature that renders the characters as two-dimensional. And it’s not art so much as it is part of an ideological project. So I was primed for that, going into the reading of the book. And as I’m making my way through I’m observing a lot of the moments in which Stowe stereotypes Black people, in which the white characters are presented as having more humanity, more complexity than the Black characters. But there also are parts of the book that I thought were really fascinating in the way they presented the moral complexity of slavery in ways that perhaps no other writer was doing in that way at that time.
Beckerman: Did this change your ultimate assessment of the book?
Smith: I think my relationship to the book, by the time I got to the end of it, was a sort of a both/and. On one hand, you know, the way that some of the Black characters are presented is really unsettling. She has this thing where she breaks the fourth wall a lot. And those are the moments that I thought were actually imbued with the most stereotypes. But when she’s just letting the characters just be human beings or as close as possible, you’re seeing some of the nuance.
Beckerman: You mentioned in the piece that there were ways in which the book showed the white characters trapped in supporting slavery in spite of themselves, or understanding that this was an evil that they were involved in but going along with anyway, not knowing how to extract themselves.
Smith: Exactly. And I thought that those scenes were really valuable, because I think they speak to a very human thing. Obviously, there are gradations of it. But we all do, we all participate in things that are not aligned with our values. And once you understand that the genre Harriet Beecher Stowe was working in was very much a sort of popular fiction—it was commercial fiction, in the way that we kind of understand it today—it’s remarkable how the message reached the masses. Given the technology of the day, it went viral in a 19th-century context. And it served as a catalyst to conversation and discussions and awareness that simply weren’t happening. And so I think you can examine it on a literary level and have many critiques. And I think you can examine it on a historical level and recognize that amid its shortcomings, it played an enormous role in shaping the public consciousness of the mid-to-late 19th century. You can’t really overstate the impact that it had on our society.
Beckerman: What about the Uncle Tom stereotype? You talk in the piece about that being one of the legacies of this book—not even the story, but just the concept of an Uncle Tom. Did you feel that was also complicated by the actual character when you encountered him?
Smith: Part of what happened is that I realized that my understanding of Uncle Tom, or what an Uncle Tom is, was shaped more by everything that followed the publication of the book than the character itself. As I write in the piece, there were no copyright laws when Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote this book. And so there were … many plays that were created without her permission, or without her input. And some people tried to stay true to the essence of the book and the characters. But there were many people who turned Uncle Tom’s Cabin into a minstrel show, and turned Uncle Tom into a minstrel. But in the book, Uncle Tom—despite the fact that in many ways, he is not given the sort of texture and complexity as some of the white characters—he’s still someone who is kind and sensitive, and who, toward the end of the book, refuses to give up the location of two Black women who are trying to escape, and is ultimately beaten and killed for it. And so, in so many ways, he’s a martyr, which is very different from what the term Uncle Tom has come to mean today. It has become this slur, even within the Black community, that people use toward one another to indicate that someone is a sellout, that someone is working on behalf of white people rather than their community. Which again, is the opposite of who Uncle Tom, the character in the book, was—someone who sacrificed his life to save the lives of enslaved folks who were trying to escape.
Beckerman: That’s also a function of virality, when an artistic work gets taken out of the hands of its creator. But Josiah Henson’s autobiography: What was the experience of reading that like, after reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Had you known about it before?
Smith: No, I’d never heard of Josiah Henson. I’d never read or heard of his book. And I’m someone who spent six years writing a book on the history of slavery. But when I did encounter him, and encountered his book, I was just left wondering, Why didn’t I read this in school? It would have been such a valuable resource for me, and I think it would be a valuable resource for so many teachers. Because when we learn about Harriet Tubman, when we learn about Frederick Douglass, it is part of an effort to resist the pathology, the feeling of despair, that exists among the history of slavery—of 250 years of being subjected to ubiquitous violence and oppression and surveillance. And then we get to their stories, and they are emblematic of the sense of resistance that exists within the Black community. I think that that’s so important. I think, though, if those are the only types of stories of resistance that we get, that we inadvertently gain a distorted sense of what the experience of slavery was like for the vast majority of people. And I think the value of Josiah Henson’s book is that he is a profoundly imperfect person, in the way that we all are. I mean, he does his best to be a good person—he is a man of faith, a man of conviction, a man who wakes up every day and tries to do the right thing on behalf of his loved ones, on behalf of his community. And he also does a lot of things that he later regrets. He does a lot of things that he later is ashamed of, and he makes a decision and then he’s like, I don’t know if that was the right decision. And he tries to work in the best interest of both his enslaver and the enslaved people around him when that is an impossible thing to do, given the system. I just think that that is more reflective of the sort of moral complexity of the institution and the position it put people in than any other account of slavery that I’ve read.
Beckerman: Do you think there’s a context within which you can imagine younger people in particular reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Is that still a book that should be opened up and understood? How high should the guardrails be for somebody coming to it today?
Smith: I think it could be really valuable to read it alongside an educator who understands the sort of mixed bag that it is. I’m not someone at all who believes that simply because a book presents people in a way that feels unsettling to us we shouldn’t read it. If anything, I think it offers an opportunity to interrogate the way that somebody has written it and to wrestle with some of the things that I’m wrestling with in my piece. What I came away with after reading the book is that Harriet Beecher Stowe was genuinely trying to do something really important and something that, frankly, had not been done in the mid-19th century. And in many ways, she succeeded in that. She wrote this book that made white people, particularly white people in the North, aware of slavery in ways that they simply had never been. And it also offers the opportunity to interrogate: Why did they need to read that book versus some of the slave narratives that already existed? Why were these people more inclined to believe the stories of a white woman writing about this than the stories of Black people who experienced it themselves? And it could be really generative to read that book alongside Josiah Henson’s memoir, in particular, in order to put the two in conversation with one another, to see what the differences were, what the similarities are, and to examine why one of these books is more popular than the other. I used to teach high-school English in my previous life, and I would love to spend a few weeks with students doing exactly that: reading the memoir and the book.
What to Read
Berlin, by Jason Lutes
In September 1928, two strangers meet on a train headed into Berlin: Marthe Müller, an artist from Cologne looking for her place in the world, and Kurt Severing, a journalist distraught by the dark political forces rending his beloved city. Lutes began this 580-page graphic novel in 1994 and completed it in 2018, and it’s a meticulously researched, gorgeous panoramic view of the last years of the Weimar Republic. The story focuses most attentively on the lives of ordinary Berliners, including Müller, Severing, and two families warped by the increasing chaos. Certain panels even capture the stray thoughts of city dwellers, which float in balloons above their heads as they ride the trams, attend art class, and bake bread. Throughout, Berlin glitters with
jazz and underground gay clubs, all while Communists clash violently with National Socialists in the streets—one party agitating for workers and revolution, the other seething with noxious anti-Semitism and outrage over
’s “humiliation” after World War I. On every page are the tensions of a culture on the brink. — Chelsea Leu
Out Next Week
📚 Loved and Missed, by Susie Boyt
📚 A Dictator Calls, by Ismail Kadare
📚 Misbelief: What Makes Rational People Believe Irrational Things, by Dan Ariely
Your Weekend Read
The private-equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts announced that it would buy Simon & Schuster. Because the firm doesn’t already own a competing publisher, the deal is unlikely to trigger another antitrust probe. But KKR, infamous as Wall Street’s “barbarians at the gate” since the 1980s, may leave Simon & Schuster employees and authors yearning for a third choice beyond a multinational conglomerate or a powerful financial firm. “It may be a stay of execution, but we should all be worried about how things will look at Simon & Schuster in five years,” says Ellen Adler, the publisher at the New Press, a nonprofit focused on public-interest books.
When you buy a book using a link in this newsletter, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.
The pseudoscience of eugenics is making a comeback on the American right. In August, the HuffPost reporter Christopher Mathias unmasked the Substack writer and academic Richard Hanania as “Richard Hoste,” a pseudonym under which Hanania blogged for white-supremacist websites about the evils of “race mixing,” advocated for the sterilization of people with a “low IQ” and for the deportation of all “post-1965 non-White migrants from Latin America,” and declared that “women’s liberation = the end of human civilization.” He also wrote a tribute to Sarah Palin in 2009, gushing that her candidacy had made the “ugly, secular and barren White self-hating and Jewish elite absolutely mad.” (There’s a lot going on there.)
“White nationalism,” Hanania wrote as “Hoste,” is “the only hope that part of what made the American nation great will survive somewhere.”
Two days after Mathias’s story, Hanania responded, stating, “Over a decade ago I held many beliefs that, as my current writing makes clear, I now find repulsive.” He rejected Mathias’s characterization of his “creepy obsession with so-called race science” as “dishonest,” insisting that he does not believe that Black people are “inherently more prone to violent crime” than white people.
People can and do change, even those with extreme views like these, but there’s not much evidence that happened here. As the writer Jonathan Katz notes, Hanania recently wrote, “These people are animals, whether they’re harassing people in subways or walking around in suits,” in an angry tweet about the Black district attorney of Manhattan indicting a white man who strangled a homeless Black man on the subway.
It is understandable that Hanania prefers to present himself as a mainstream, respectable intellectual than as a creep interested in the attractiveness of cartoon characters and the genitalia of the Founding Fathers. The eagerness of some of his allies to accept his rather superficial apology—Katz notes that Substack CEO Chris Best praised him for “an honest post on a difficult subject”—is a little more puzzling. As Mathias writes, Hanania’s genetic determinism appears to be popular among wealthy Silicon Valley types, several of whom have blurbed his forthcoming book arguing that civil-rights laws should be dismantled.
Buried in Hanania’s statement responding to Mathias’s reporting is a crucial tell about his ideological project, and why his response is formatted like an apology even though it is not one. “The reason I’m the target of a cancellation effort is because left-wing journalists dislike anyone acknowledging statistical differences between races,” Hanania wrote.
As Hanania knows perfectly well, “acknowledging statistical differences between races” is not a controversial idea on the left. In fact, it’s central to the egalitarianism he opposes. He has elsewhere defined wokeness in part as the idea that “any disparities in outcomes favoring whites over non-whites or men over women are caused by discrimination.” The implication that his critics rightfully find abhorrent is that those statistical differences are biologically determined by race and therefore reflect an inferiority that is inherent and immutable to state interventions. Being coy about this, instead framing the conflict as a liberal reluctance to acknowledge uncomfortable facts, suggests that his views haven’t changed much at all, and that his vague repudiation of them is little more than an attempt to preserve the mainstream credibility he’s accumulated since his days railing against “race mixing” pseudonymously.
One explanation for the resurgence of scientific racism—what the psychologist Andrew S. Winston defines as the use of data to promote the idea of an “enduring racial hierarchy”—is that some very rich people are underwriting it. Mathias notes that “rich benefactors, some of whose identities are unknown, have funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into a think tank run by Hanania.” As the biological anthropologist Jonathan Marks tells the science reporter Angela Saini in her book Superior, “There are powerful forces on the right that fund research into studying human differences with the goal of establishing those differences as a basis of inequalities.”
There is no great mystery as to why eugenics has exerted such a magnetic attraction on the wealthy. From god emperors, through the divine right of kings, to social Darwinism, the rich have always sought an uncontestable explanation for why they have so much more money and power than everyone else. In a modern, relatively secular nation whose inequalities of race and class have been shaped by slavery and its legacies, the justifications tend toward the pseudoscience of an unalterable genetic aristocracy with white people at the top and Black people at the bottom.
“The lay concept of race does not correspond to the variation that exists in nature,” the geneticist Joseph L. Graves wrote in The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium. “Instead, the American concept of race is a social construction, resulting from the unique political and cultural history of
Because race is a social reality, genuine disparities among ethnic groups persist in measures such as education and wealth. Contemporary believers in racial pseudoscience insist these disparities must necessarily have a genetic explanation, one that happens to correspond to shifting folk categories of race solidified in the 18th century to justify colonialism and enslavement. They point to the external effects of things like war, poverty, public policy, and discrimination and present them as caused by genetics. For people who have internalized the logic of race, the argument may seem intuitive. But it is just astrology for racists.
“The claims that genetics defines racial groups and makes them different, that IQ and cultural differences among racial groups are caused by genes, and that racial inequalities within and between nations are the inevitable outcome of long evolutionary processes are neither new nor supported by science (either old or new),” write Aaron Panofsky, Kushan Dasgupta, and Nicole Iturriaga in their study of how white nationalists weaponize genetics online. “They're the basic, tired evergreens of ancient racist thought.”
Race is a sociopolitical category, not a biological one. There is no genetic support for the idea that humans are divided into distinct races with immutable traits shared by others who have the same skin color. Although qualified geneticists have debunked the shoddy arguments of race scientists over and over, the latter maintain their relevance in part by casting substantive objections to their assumptions, methods, and conclusions as liberal censorship. There are few more foolproof ways to get Trump-era conservatives to believe falsehoods than to insist that liberals are suppressing them. Race scientists also understand that most people can evaluate neither the pseudoscience they offer as proof of racial differences nor the actual science that refutes it, and will default to their political sympathies.
Three political developments helped renew this pseudoscience’s appeal. The first was the election of Barack Obama, an emotional blow to those adhering to the concept of racial hierarchy from which they have yet to recover. Then came the rise of Bernie Sanders, whose left-wing populism blamed the greed of the ultra-wealthy for the economic struggles of both the American working class and everyone in between. Both men—one a symbol of racial equality, the other of economic justice—drew broad support within the increasingly liberal white-collar workforce from which the phrenologist billionaires of Big Tech draw their employees. The third was the election of Donald Trump, itself a reaction to Obama and an inspiration to those dreaming of a world where overt bigotry does not carry social consequences.
Theories developed from this pseudoscience provide both a justification of contemporary racial and economic hierarchies and an enemy to rail against. If racial disparities are innate, then promoters of equality are to blame for society’s ills. Although genetic determinists occasionally pay lip service to the idea of “equal rights,” their core claim is that certain groups of people are better than others. Ultimately this logic leads to the idea that certain “races” are beasts of burden unfit for higher thinking, meant to toil with their hands while their betters take their rightful place as a genetic overclass.
This is bigotry elevated into ideology, a view of the world in which racial hierarchy explains everything. Most people, including most rank-and-file Republicans who think liberals are prone to oversensitivity, find this kind of racism repulsive when it is made explicit, properly distinguishing it from common prejudice, which is why so much rhetorical deception is involved in advancing it.
The lure of this logic for the right is obvious: If you want to argue against the state intervening to rectify racial, gender, or economic inequalities, it is simpler to say that the people the state would be helping are biologically inferior, and therefore nothing can realistically be done. If you accept the scientific fact that race is not a biological distinction, then you are left to argue instead that particular policies are flawed in one way or the other. That is often true, but it’s a more complicated claim, and it doesn’t come with the satisfaction of asserting your natural, immutable superiority over others and justifying your social position as an inevitability.
Scientific racism is little more than a resurrection of slaveholder ideology given an empirical sheen. As the proslavery congressman James Henry Hammond declared in his 1850s “Cotton Is King” speech, “In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement.” When Hanania wrote that “even if groups differ in skills or cognitive abilities, we can all still benefit from the division of labor,” he offered a not-so-subtle restatement of this idea. Note that he refers not to “people” or “individuals” but “groups.” Woe to those born into the wrong caste!
This genetic determinism doesn’t just diminish the impact of past oppression; it valorizes it—rendering slavery, segregation, and genocide but the natural consequences of a genetic underclass meeting its betters. The government has no reason, then, to rectify past crimes or resolve present inequalities; they are simply what happens when one group of people is superior to another. The Confederate veteran John T. Morgan summarized this logic in 1890: “The inferiority of the negro race, as compared with the white race, is so essentially true, and so obvious, that, to assume it in argument, cannot be justly attributed to prejudice.” Even the white-supremacist ideologues of the 1890s denied they were racist.
In Superior, Saini describes the stubborn appeal of racist pseudoscience:
Those committed to the biological reality of race won’t back down if the data prove them wrong. There’s no incentive for them to admit intellectual defeat. They will just keep reaching for fresher, more elaborate theories when the old ones fail. If skin color doesn’t explain racial inequality, then maybe the structure of our brains and bodies will. If not anatomy, then maybe our genes. When then this, too, produces nothing of value, they will reach for the next thing. All this intellectual jumping through hoops to maintain the status quo. All this to prove what they have always really wanted to know: that they are superior.
Even for those who lack wealth and status, being a member of an unjustly subjugated genetic overclass has its appeal: Your dream job? A supermodel-like girlfriend? The jealousy and admiration of your friends and colleagues? You should have all those things, as a white man, except that the Woke State took them from you. What W. E. B. Du Bois called the “psychological wage” of whiteness has value for the wealthy and deprived alike. As the New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie writes, this “has been the traditional role of supremacist ideologies in the United States—to occlude class relations and convert anxiety over survival into the jealous protection of status.” Those non-elites who embrace genetic determinism rarely seem to notice that the implications of these genetic theories are as classist as they are racist—and that, by those implications, they are also inferior. Understandably, race science enthusiasts are not eager to remind them.
People like Hanania are foot soldiers in an effort to revive this ideological project, which is so important to his allies and supporters that they help maintain his respectability by occluding his actual beliefs. They don't want civil-rights laws that would level the playing field, or policies that would erode the privileges they’ve inherited. Of course if you are really genetically superior, you do not require a society built on that premise. You seek to create one because, on some level, you know you are not.
A number of wealthy donors never lost their interest in the false empiricism that would justify their position in society, but social media helped it spread. An article in the journal Nature suggests that the use of social media to promote scientific racism has risen since 2016 and skyrocketed during the Trump years. Ostentatious racism and sexism make people on the left mad, which which prompts them to spread those ideas widely in an effort to refute them, and hyperpolarization does the rest: If it makes the left mad, then it must be good and correct, and the more outrageous the views, the bigger the audience. This process seems to have helped scientific racism, white nationalism, and anti-Semitism infect the conservative movement more broadly. Such things are no longer consigned to the fringe.
In June, the pro-Trump conservative outlet Breitbart published text messages from the conservative columnist and Ron DeSantis supporter Pedro Gonzalez in which he called nonwhite people uncivilized and said, “Not every Jew is problematic, but the sad fact is that most are.” Gonzalez later apologized, saying, “You do not have to think about things seriously when you can just engage in performative bigotry at collectives.” In July, DeSantis’s presidential campaign fired Nate Hochman, a conservative writer, after Axios reported that he had inserted a Nazi symbol into a campaign video; Hochman had previously offered qualified praise of the white nationalist Nick Fuentes (which he later apologized for). Young conservatives obsess over the arguments of corny, self-important far-right influencers who “believe in rule by a military caste of men who would be able to guide society toward a morality of eugenics.”
Overt racism in private conversations among young conservatives is so widespread that the Washington Free Beacon reporter Aaron Sibarium recently wrote on Twitter, “Whenever I’m on a career advice panel for young conservatives, I tell them to avoid group chats that use the N-word or otherwise blur the line between edgelording and earnest bigotry.” This phenomenon is not the problem of one person; it is simply the water that ambitious young conservatives are swimming in.
At the turn of the 20th century, wealthy bigots financed the eugenics movement to provide a scientific-sounding rationalization for a racial hierarchy that placed them at the top. The arguments have not changed, even if the targets have. The insistence that certain people are genetically inferior; that they should be sterilized, prevented from immigrating, or relegated by law to subservience; that the American ideals of liberty and democracy are only compatible with the superior genetic stock of Europeans—we’ve heard all this before. The logic of racial difference leads to arguments for racial “purity,” and arguments for racial purity lead inexorably to genocidal violence, whether at a small or existential scale. There is a reason the manifestos of white-supremacist mass shooters are brimming with misappropriated genetic science aggregated from the cesspools of the internet.
Of course it’s nonsense—racial categories are recent inventions, inconsistent over time and from place to place. The examples we’ve been discussing illustrate the point. Gonzalez is Hispanic (a census category adopted in 1970 that can apply to people who can trace their ancestors to South America, Spain, Japan, or West Africa), Hochman is Jewish (Jews were targeted by eugenicists in the immigration restrictions of the 1920s), and Hanania is of Palestinian background (Syrians, another group of Levantine Arabs, were declared “white persons” by U.S. courts “in 1909, 1910, and 1915, but not in 1913 or 1914.”) Perhaps diversity is a strength.
How the mighty Klansman has fallen! He can no longer even rely on Madison Grant’s “Nordics” to preach the gospel of the superiority of the white man, a task that must now fall to those whose social and legal status as white has historically shifted with the power dynamics and cultural prejudices of the day.
The descendants of those targeted by a previous generation of eugenicists embracing the racism of the men who condemned their forefathers as genetically unfit is—well, let’s just say the engine of American assimilation is efficient, despite what you might have heard from these same people. Sadly, the idea that Black people are subhuman and the claim that men are better than women draw a broader coalition of people than you might expect—there are few more integrative forces in American history than anti-Black racism, and few more cross-cultural maladies than sexism.
Many middle-aged conservatives seem unaware of how steeped in scientific racism the next generation of conservative activists is. They are so prone to dismissing liberal accusations of bigotry as hysterical smears that they lack the ability to identify the real thing—let alone contain its spread. A notable exception is Michael Lind at the right-wing journal Compact, who published a thorough criticism of what he called the “eugenicons.” But his is a relatively lonely voice of criticism from the right.
The conservative writer David French has called those caught up in the resurgence of far right ideas “the lost boys of the American right.” The metaphor is inapt. The Lost Boys of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan were stolen and reared without parents in Neverland. Today’s “lost boys” were raised by the American conservative movement; they are no one’s lost children. They are merely putting to work the values they were taught by a party too busy fighting an apocalyptic war against the left to realize what kind of children they were raising, and what kind of movement they were creating.
A few years ago, I gave a talk about raising kids in the digital age at a public high school in an affluent suburb on Chicago’s North Shore. During the Q&A session, a father stood up and spontaneously shared that he wasn’t taking any chances: He tracked his son’s and daughter’s locations on their phones. In fact, he still tracked his eldest, 19, who was away at college in another state. If the Find My Friends tracking app suggested she wasn’t in class—he also had her class schedule—he would text her, demanding an explanation. Some parents in the audience grimaced at the invasion of this young woman’s privacy, but seemingly just as many nodded their heads: They were tracking their kids too.
Casual surveillance has become a given of modern parenting. For the past five years, as I researched my new book, Growing Up in Public, I heard from teens about parents tracking their locations, reading their texts, and checking up on their grades multiple times a day. (I offered parents and their children anonymity while reporting my book, to protect their privacy.) Meanwhile, the “family locator” geo-tracking app Life360 has more than 50 million active monthly users. In a study from 2016, when the Pew Research Center most recently studied this phenomenon, 61 percent of parents admitted to monitoring their kids’ internet activity, and almost half said they looked through their kids’ messages or call logs.
There are plenty of reasons parents might want to track their kids—safety, curiosity, a desire to connect—and plenty of ways to do it. Parents can surveil their kids, so they feel that they should: that doing so is simply good guardianship. It starts early, with apps like ClassDojo, which allow day-care and elementary-school teachers to document every moment of the school day. In the older grades, parents are encouraged to play an active role in their children’s education by monitoring grades and test scores. At open-house night at my son’s high school, we were told we should log in as an “observer” in Canvas, a schoolwork-management app, so we could see every assignment and quiz. And as adolescents become more autonomous—driving, spending more time with friends and less with parents—geo-tracking, looking over their shoulder into their assignment notebook, and reading their texts can all make parents feel like they are doing something to keep their children safe and close. The dad at my talk wasn’t an outlier: Location-tracking continues after kids become legal adults and leave the house, with almost 32 percent of college students reporting that their parents currently track their location in a soon-to-be-published University of North Carolina at Greensboro study.
But what can feel like good parenting in the short term might, paradoxically, threaten a kid’s ability to make safe choices in the long term. Tracking your teen’s location may be easier than having difficult conversations about what you expect from them when it comes to drinking, sex, drugs, and the various other challenges of life as a teenager. Reading their messages might be more straightforward than talking with them about how to be safe online. Monitoring our kids gives us a false sense of security, and leaves them poorly prepared for their future without us.
It can also do lasting damage to the parent-child relationship. I spoke with hundreds of teens for my book, and they repeatedly told me that they resent having their activity—especially their grades and their texts—monitored, to the degree that it can drive them away from their parents. All of this tracking turns the already delicate parent-teen relationship adversarial: One student shared that if she had a bad day at school, her stress was compounded, knowing that she would have to face her mother at the end of the day, and that she might greet her at the door demanding an explanation for a low grade.
A mom in a southern city told me she started tracking her son’s location on Life360 after he started driving. One day, he said he was at the movies but was actually at a house—where, the mom learned after some detective work, a girl about her son’s age, whom he’d been interested in, lived. She confronted him about being “evasive” and learned that he and the girl were in the early days of a relationship.
She presented this to me as something of a success story: Her child had lied to her; she caught him. But in the same conversation, she also described him as “a very private person.” To me, the story raises big questions about consent and respect. How did the son feel about the way his new relationship was revealed to his parents? And in the future, will he choose to tell his mother anything, knowing she can surveil it out of him whether he discloses it or not?
Adolescence is a time when teens begin to develop a sense of self that is independent from their parents. That’s a necessary, messy process, and one that’s probably best left less examined than constant monitoring allows for. One mother told me she was offended when her daughter criticized her cooking in a text to her boyfriend. A dad was hurt when he read his son’s texts complaining about a family vacation he had seemed to be enjoying.
While the words in a teenager’s texts may seem clear, their actual intent often isn’t. Maybe the girl doesn’t like her mom’s food and the boy wasn’t enjoying the family vacation. Or maybe she likes her mom’s cooking just fine but was showing off for her boyfriend. And maybe the boy enjoyed his vacation but thought he would look cooler if he said he was bored. Kids represent themselves differently to their friends—and that’s okay.
In fact, it’s crucial to their development that we don’t rob them of the opportunity to test their persona independent from their parents, and to share personal information when they are ready, in their own way. I remember walking home from junior high with my friend Rupa when she told me she hated her mother. I realized I sometimes felt that way too. Our mothers didn’t need to hear our conversation, and I’m glad they didn’t.
My parents and teachers had no access to my chats, my location, or the granular fluctuations of my grades. I skipped lunch in the cafeteria to hang out with my theater friends backstage. I told my parents I was sleeping at friends’ houses but didn’t mention that we were going to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show, because I knew they would disapprove. I wasn’t doing hard drugs or getting into danger—I was testing the limits in small ways, learning to develop my own interiority outside what my parents expected from me. I’m very grateful I did.
Parents who choose not to geo-track or read their teenagers’ texts are fostering two-way trust. They are allowing their kids to make their own mistakes, to know what to share with us, and to grow and change without being surveilled.
That’s the case with one high-school student I met while researching my book. His parents don’t use technology to track him. When he is out late, he texts them where he is and when he’s coming home. “As long as I do that,” he told me, “then we have mutual trust.”
Equipping our kids with good judgment—and letting them experience the consequences of messing up without trying to get in front of every mistake—is the only way to raise young adults who will be equipped to function on their own. And it’s also the best way to build strong relationships with our children, which is something we all want.
This essay was adapted from Devorah Heitner’s new book, Growing Up in Public: Coming of Age in a Digital World.
The United Automobile Workers’ strike against the Big Three manufacturers that began earlier today is exacerbating the most significant political vulnerability of President Joe Biden’s drive to build a clean-energy economy.
A trio of bills Biden passed through Congress during his first two years in the Oval Office has generated a torrent of private-sector investment into clean-energy projects. But so far most of that green investment and the jobs it will create are flowing into red-leaning communities that are generally hostile to both the Democratic Party and labor unions.
Congressional Democrats provided all the votes for the legislation that is catalyzing the rapid growth of the new green economy. But with so many of the new energy projects benefiting red places, many people in progressive circles worry that this historic transformation will fail to generate either sufficient political rewards for the president and congressional Democrats, or as many good-paying, blue-collar jobs as Biden has repeatedly promised.
Fear that the shift to electric vehicles will reduce the number of quality jobs in the auto industry is the backdrop for the strike the UAW launched at midnight today. In both public and private, union officials have made clear their belief that the auto industry is using the technological transition to mask a second, economic, transition. They worry that the companies are using the shift from internal-combustion engines to carbon-free electric vehicles to simultaneously shift more of their operations from high-paying union jobs mostly in northern states to lower-paying, nonunion jobs mostly in southern states.
Moreover, the union and its allies worry that the massive federal subsidies Biden’s agenda is providing the companies for the EV transition is inadvertently underwriting that transition toward lower-wage and nonunion plants. As Shawn Fain, the UAW’s new president, put it earlier this week: “There’s a lot with the EV transition that has to happen, and there’s … hundreds of billions of our taxpayer dollars that are helping fund this, and workers cannot continue to be left behind in that equation.”
As the strike approached, the Biden administration took conspicuous steps to respond to those concerns by announcing a suite of multibillion-dollar Department of Energy loans and grants designed to incentivize the auto companies to convert existing, unionized plants to EV production.
“The president’s policy position is absolutely clear: He’s pro-union,” one senior White House official, who asked not to be identified while describing internal discussions, told me. “He thinks that companies that are receiving the benefits should respect the right to organize, should not interfere with workers’ ability to exercise that right, and he wants to see these jobs be good union jobs. From a policy perspective there is no daylight between the president’s policy preferences and where the UAW is, or the other unions are.”
The challenge for the Biden administration in delivering on that pledge is the decisions that the auto companies and other industries are making in response to the bills he signed to promote more domestic investment: the bipartisan infrastructure law, a measure to encourage more U.S. production of semiconductors, and the Inflation Reduction Act, which contains federal assistance for the domestic manufacture and deployment of low-carbon energy sources.
The tax subsidies and federal grants and loans in those bills have triggered a towering wave of new domestic investments across a broad range of industries producing clean energy. The big auto manufacturers alone have announced nearly $90 billion in spending on manufacturing facilities to produce EVs in just the past two years, according to the Center for Automotive Research, a nonpartisan Michigan-based think tank. Suppliers to the companies, including firms producing semiconductors for automotive use, are investing billions more in the EV transition. Brookings Metro, a nonpartisan think tank, calculated that total private-sector investment in EV manufacturing under Biden has reached nearly $140 billion. This building surge dwarfs the typical amount of annual investment in the auto industry over the past quarter century, but still likely represents only a down payment on what’s ahead. “There’s a lot of innovation that is going to happen over the next 20 years, in terms of product, process, technology,” Alan Amici, the center’s president and CEO, told me.
For Democrats, the rub is how much of this capital is flowing into red places hostile to unions and represented by House and Senate Republicans who voted against the legislation that triggered the investments. (Every House Republican this spring also voted to repeal all of the Inflation Reduction Act’s incentives for clean-energy production.) The biggest recipients of the new investments include more red states than blue ones, Brookings has determined.
Red states are receiving so many of the new projects partly because they have lower tax rates and electricity costs. But most analysts agree that companies have also channeled so much of their new investments toward red states because most of them have “right to work” laws that make it more difficult for unions to organize.
In the auto industry, this preference for states resistant to unions has translated into a surge of investment in the South. Brookings Metro calculated that the South has attracted 55 percent of the total private investment in electric vehicles and batteries under Biden. That’s more than double the portion of the new clean-vehicle investment that has flowed into the Midwest, whose existing auto plants are largely unionized. That torrent of new money includes plans to build EVs or their batteries by Hyundai and Rivian in Georgia, Toyota in North Carolina, Tesla in Texas, BMW in South Carolina, Mercedes-Benz in Alabama, General Motors in Tennessee, and Ford in Tennessee and Kentucky.
The EV investments announced so far are projected to generate at least 65,000 jobs across the region, Stan Cross, the electric-transportation-policy director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, told me. Far more job growth is virtually certain in the years ahead, Cross said, largely because such investment patterns are self-reinforcing: Companies that provide parts for the big manufacturers are already locating around their new southern plants, such as the $1 billion in investment announced by suppliers near Hyundai’s Georgia facility.
This southern EV boom is reinforcing a long-term shift in the auto industry’s center of gravity that has weakened the UAW’s position. Heavily unionized, Democratic-leaning Michigan still employs many more people in the industry than any other state. But starting in the mid-1990s in plants by Mercedes in Alabama and BMW in South Carolina, the industry’s employment has steadily shifted to the South. Since the early ’90s, the South’s share of total auto-industry employment has roughly doubled from 15 to about 30 percent, while the Midwest’s share has fallen, from 60 to about 45 percent, Karl Kuykendall, a regional economist at S&P Global Market Intelligence, told me. Kuykendall said he “would not be surprised” if the pace of this regional transition accelerates as the companies move deeper into the technological transition to electric vehicles.
Hardly any of the auto plants in the South are unionized. And wages even for manufacturing workers are much lower in the region and in other red states than in the Midwest, as Michael Podhorzer, a former political director for the AFL-CIO, has calculated. The disparity between largely union and nonunion regions across
creates an enormous challenge for the UAW. In the strike that began this morning, it is seeking a raise of about 40 percent over the next four years, and the restoration of automatic pay increases for inflation, as well as health and retirement benefits that it surrendered when the companies faced bankruptcy amid the 2008 financial crisis. But even if the union succeeds at winning a favorable contract, that could just increase the incentive for the auto industry to shift more jobs to nonunion plants across the South.
While foreign automakers have invested heavily in the South, the fabled Big Three domestic auto manufacturers (General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis) still mostly rely on facilities across the industrial Midwest. But the announcements by Ford and GM that they plan to build battery plants in Kentucky and Tennessee may signal a shift in that strategy. As important to the UAW, Ford, GM, and Stellantis are structuring their EV-battery plants, in the North and the South, as joint ventures with foreign partners that are not subject to the national labor agreement the companies are now negotiating. The union has to negotiate separate contracts with those plants—where the companies are offering much lower wages than in their unionized facilities.
“From all evidence, automakers appear to be utilizing the shift to electric vehicles to do everything in their power to lower job quality for the very workers they are relying on to make this transition happen,” Jason Walsh, an executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor unions and environmentalists, told me. Those concerns have prompted the UAW to demand in the contract talks that the auto companies guarantee that workers now building internal-combustion-engine vehicles will be assured jobs as the companies switch toward manufacturing more EVs.
Early on, the Biden administration appeared somewhat obtuse to these concerns, even though Biden has sympathized more overtly with organized labor than any other Democratic president in decades. Speaking before a Silicon Valley industry group in early June, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm turned heads among labor leaders when she said the administration was “agnostic” about where companies choose to site their clean-energy investments.
Her department, perhaps reflecting that perspective, a few weeks later approved more than $9 billion in federal loan guarantees to Ford and a Korean partner to build their EV-battery plants in Kentucky and Tennessee, two right-to-work states. Fain, the union president, immediately issued a statement condemning the loan guarantees and declaring that the administration was “actively funding” a “race to the bottom” in wages and benefits “with billions in public money.”
Fain’s message appears to have been received. The administration’s tone was different in late August, when the Energy Department announced that it was making available $2 billion in grants and $10 billion in loan guarantees under the Inflation Reduction Act (as well as another $3.5 billion in grants under the infrastructure bill) to subsidize the conversion of existing plants to make electric vehicles and their batteries. “We are going to focus on financing projects that are in long-standing automaking communities, that keep folks already working on the payroll, projects that advance collective bargaining agreements, that create high-paying, long-lasting jobs,” Granholm told reporters at the time.
That message reflected Biden’s own priorities, the senior White House official told me this week: “All I would say is, the president is not ‘agnostic’” about where the clean-energy investments are flowing. “He’s the president for all of America. But all of America ought to respect the right to organize. He is trying to move the system toward good-paying jobs and more union density.”
Labor allies agree the administration is now focusing more on the potential challenges for workers in the EV transition than it did earlier in Biden’s presidency. The late-August Energy Department announcement “is a very clear indication that the Biden administration is hearing what union workers are saying and is trying their best to be responsive to that,” Walsh said.
The problem for the administration is that it has limited tools to shape how the auto companies make their investments. Generally, under the kind of federal loan and grant programs that Granholm made available in August, the administration can encourage companies to preserve existing plants and also to remain neutral in labor organizing campaigns when the firms open new clean-vehicle facilities. All indications point to Biden using that leverage more aggressively than he did earlier in his presidency. Over time, the senior White House official said, the administration “has strengthened its negotiating posture” to demand “stronger community benefits” from companies seeking the loans or grants.
But the Inflation Reduction Act’s biggest incentives for building electric vehicles are generous tax credits for both producers and consumers. And those credits are available to companies that build and source a specified share of their materials for EVs domestically whether or not they use union labor. When the House passed its version of the Inflation Reduction Act in 2021, it included another $4,500 tax credit to consumers for EVs built largely with union labor, but Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat, insisted on the removal of that provision as one price for his vote that allowed the overall package to pass the Senate.
That now looks like an extraordinarily consequential concession. “This is happening because Joe Manchin pulled the union requirements out of the IRA and that really opened the door to this perverse situation where, by law, the administration has constraints about how far it can push to ensure that there are going to be good quality jobs in this transition,” says Adam Hersh, a senior economist at the Economist Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.
Looming over all these maneuvers is former President Donald Trump’s relentless attack on Biden’s clean-energy agenda. In speeches, Trump has repeatedly declared that Biden’s intertwined proposals to promote EVs will “kill countless union autoworker jobs forever, especially in Michigan and the Midwest.” Trump, and some of the other 2024 GOP candidates, have pledged to repeal the IRA’s clean-energy incentives as well as Biden’s proposed fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks, which would require the companies to massively shift their sales toward EVs over the next decade. In effect, Trump is presenting the transition to EVs as another example in his broader claim that the left is seeking to uproot and transform America as his supporters know and understand it.
While many labor leaders have endorsed Biden for a second term, Fain has pointedly withheld the UAW’s endorsement. And Fain has publicly warned that Trump’s denunciation of the EV transition could find a receptive audience among his members if the union can’t win a generous contract and strong guarantees of job security. Given the importance of the industrial Midwest to the president’s reelection hopes, Biden may have nearly as much at stake as Fain in the outcome of this strike.
The new social media trend “budget Ozempic” promotes laxatives and stool softeners for weight loss, but these drugs are dangerous if misused
Researchers have genetically engineered a marine microorganism to break down plastic in salt water, according to a new study.
Specifically, the modified organism can break down polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a plastic used in everything from water bottles to clothing that is a significant contributor to microplastic pollution in oceans.
“This is exciting because we need to address plastic pollution in marine environments,” says Nathan Crook, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at North Carolina State University and corresponding author of the paper published in AIChE Journal.
“One option is to pull the plastic out of the water and put it in a landfill, but that poses challenges of its own. It would be better if we could break these plastics down into products that can be re-used. For that to work, you need an inexpensive way to break the plastic down. Our work here is a big step in that direction.”
To address this challenge, the researchers worked with two species of bacteria. The first bacterium, Vibrio natriegens, thrives in saltwater and is remarkable, in part because it reproduces very quickly. The second bacterium, Ideonella sakaiensis, is remarkable because it produces enzymes that allow it to break down PET and eat it.
The researchers took the DNA from I. sakaiensis that is responsible for producing the enzymes that break down plastic, and incorporated that genetic sequence into a plasmid.
Plasmids are genetic sequences that can replicate in a cell, independent of the cell’s own chromosome. In other words, you can sneak a plasmid into a foreign cell, and that cell will carry out the instructions in the plasmid’s DNA. That’s exactly what the researchers did here.
By introducing the plasmid containing the I. sakaiensis genes into V. natriegens bacteria, the researchers were able to get V. natriegens to produce the desired enzymes on the surface of their cells. The researchers then demonstrated that V. natriegens was able to break down PET in a saltwater environment at room temperature.
“This is scientifically exciting because this is the first time anyone has reported successfully getting V. natriegens to express foreign enzymes on the surface of its cells,” Crook says.
“From a practical standpoint, this is also the first genetically engineered organism that we know of that is capable of breaking down PET microplastics in saltwater,” says Tianyu Li, a PhD student and the paper’s first author.
“That’s important, because it is not economically feasible to remove plastics from the ocean and rinse high concentration salts off before beginning any processes related to breaking the plastic down.”
“However, while this is an important first step, there are still three significant hurdles,” Crook says.
“First, we’d like to incorporate the DNA from I. sakaiensis directly into the genome of V. natriegens, which would make the production of plastic-degrading enzymes a more stable feature of the modified organisms. Second, we need to further modify V. natriegens so that it is capable of feeding on the byproducts it produces when it breaks down the PET. Lastly, we need to modify the V. natriegens to produce a desirable end product from the PET—such as a molecule that is a useful feedstock for the chemical industry.
“Honestly, that third challenge is the easiest of the three,” says Crook. “Breaking down the PET in saltwater was the most challenging part.
“We are also open to talking with industry groups to learn more about which molecules would be most desirable for us to engineer the V. natriegens into producing,” Crook says. “Given the range of molecules we can induce the bacteria to produce, and the potentially vast scale of production, which molecules could industry provide a market for?”
The National Science Foundation supported the work.
Source: NC State
The post Engineered microorganism breaks down plastic in salt water appeared first on Futurity.
Nature Communications, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-41414-3During evolution, genes can be recruited to new positions to perform novel functions. This study shows one such co-option event, where the reused gene networks are initially interlocked, so that any changes because of their function in one organ are mirrored in the other organs even if they provide no selective advantage, opening the potential for acquiring a novel function.
Nature Communications, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-41282-xThe emergency of a high frequency of early memory T cells has been associated with clinical success of CAR T cell therapy. Here the authors show that target
Nature Communications, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40686-zDesigning bio-inspired multisensory neurons remains a challenge. Here, the authors develop an artificial visuotactile neuron based on the integration of a photosensitive monolayer MoS2 memtransistor and a triboelectric tactile sensor capable of super-additive response, inverse effectiveness effect, and temporal congruency.
On Monday, MGM Grand casinos across the US were forced to shut down after a mass cyberattack compromised the company's computer systems, granting bad actors access to casino and hotel operations in "Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York and Ohio," a casino rep confirmed to the Associated Press on Tuesday.
Though its website is still inaccessible, the casino company has maintained that "certain systems" were shut down immediately to protect its patron's privacy, and the FBI has since opened an investigation into what strongly appears to be a ransomware attack. Regardless, MGM is the largest casino operator on Las Vegas' iconic strip; that a black hat group was able to gain such extensive access to its operations — local outlet Fox5 News reported that guest room keys apparently stopped working, while casino patrons took to social media to announce that ATMs and slots had stopped working — is pretty shocking, especially considering the security-heavy business that it's in.
This all in mind, you might imagine that the attack itself was incredibly sophisticated. But in a Tuesday post on X-formerly-Twitter, the malware registry vx-underground said that all the alleged perpetrators at a Russian-speaking ransomware group called ALPHV/
did was "hop on LinkedIn, find an employee, then call the Help Desk."
"A company valued at $33,900,000,000," the group added, "was defeated by a 10-minute conversation."
That's right, kids. If vx-underground — which claims it spoke to ALPHV to confirm its allegation — is to be believed, a bit of social engineering was all it took to bring one of the most prominent casino operations in the world to its knees.
Fool Me Twice
The MGM hackers may also be serial offenders. As Bloomberg reported yesterday, an English-speaking group called "Scattered Spider," believed to be an affiliate of ALPHV/BlackCat, executed another successful social engineering attack on Caesars Palace just a few weeks ago, with the hackers allegedly making out with the sensitive data of Caeser's loyalty members — and, as Caesers reportedly chose to cough up a ransom, tens of millions of dollars — as a result.
The members of the Scattered Spiders group are "incredibly effective social engineers," Charles Carmakal, chief technical officer for the Google-owned cybersecurity firm Mandiant, told Bloomberg, adding that the black hat cohort is "one of the most prevalent and aggressive threat actors impacting organizations in
As for whether MGM will pay up remains to be seen. Whatever the case, any and all casinos — in Las Vegas and beyond — might want to consider re-upping their employees' cybersecurity training.
Archaeologists were affronted to discover that billionaire Richard Branson had sent ancient hominin bones up on a commercial space flight, with some suggesting that the stunt reeks of colonialism.
As Nature notes, the remains weren't even launched for terribly long as they soared aboard the Unity spacecraft, operated by Branson's Virgin Galactic, just above Earth before returning groundward. But the trip, which featured six living humans and the bones of two human ancestors, has nonetheless drawn intense criticism from the paleontology community.
"To treat ancestral remains in such a callous, unethical way — to blast them into space just because you can — there’s no scientific merit in this," Robyn Pickering, a geologist at South Africa's University of Cape Town, told Nature.
Though various fossils have gone to space since the 1980s, when NASA astronauts took some bone bits from the lizard-like Maiasaura peeblesorum up on the Skylab 2 mission, this Virgin Galactic mission marks the first time that the remains of hominin (that is, human ancestors) have been sent up on a spacecraft, Nature reports.
The bones aboard, as Live Science notes, belonged to the roughly two million year old Australopithecus sediba and the 250,000-year-old Homo naledi, both of which were found near Johannesburg, South Africa by National Geographic's Lee Berger, who played a huge hand in the discovery of both species.
Berger, who is also South African, selected the fragments himself and had them carried by Timothy Nash, a South African-born entrepreneur and space tourist who, as Virgin Galactic points out, also happens to sit on the board of The National Geographic Society.
As one might imagine, the selection of bones from South Africa by white scientists has ruffled some feathers as well.
"As someone who is African and who is based in an African institution, this is basically a perpetuation of the past, very ugly aspects of palaeoanthropological research," Yonatan Sahle, also of Cape Town University, told Nature.
Though everything about the bones' inclusion in the Virgin Galactic mission was above board, one of Berger's fellow scientists was surprised the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) granted the NatGeo luminary's application to temporarily export the bones to New Mexico, where Virgin Galactic's mission took off from, in the first place.
Rachel King, an archaeologist at the University College London who specializes in cultural heritage policies, said that South Africa has generally been very protective of its artifacts, which makes the inclusion of the A. sediba and H. naledi bones on the Unity mission all the stranger.
"What are regulators for, if they’re going to let someone do this?" King mused. "It’s potentially a pretty big thing, and a pretty big shift."
SAHRA and South Africa's University of Witwatersrand, which stores the bones, insisted in press statements that the risks involved in taking ancient remains to the edge of the Earth's atmosphere were outweighed by the benefits.
In a media statement viewed by Nature, SAHRA representative Ben Mwasinga said that the agency was "satisfied that the promotional benefit derived was appropriately weighted against the inherent risk of travel of this nature," and Witwatersrand said that because the bones were selected in part because they had been extensively 3D scanned and photographed — a characterization that King scoffed at.
"If I document one of South Africa’s World Heritage Sites," the British archaeologist said, "could we then bulldoze it and put up a shopping mall?"
More on hominins: Scientists Puzzled by Human-Like Skull That Matches No Known Species
The post Paleontologists Furious When Ancient Human Fossils Blasted to Space appeared first on Futurism.
One of the challenges of profiling dream hampton, the cultural critic who has cut a winding trail across journalism, filmmaking, and activism since 1991, is that she is sick of hip-hop, the art form she is most famously associated with. Another challenge is that she has too many stories to fit into any one article. Interesting bits end up getting left out—like the tale of the time she stopped the Notorious B.I.G. from beating up Questlove.
The anecdote stems from a dynamic prevalent not just in hip-hop but across art forms: the supposedly rigid dichotomy between the alternative and the mainstream. In the mid-’90s, the Philadelphia band the Roots—whose lyrics referenced political topics such as the Bosnian War—represented the scene of “conscious” rappers preaching social change. And Biggie, who brought a Shakespearean pen to tales of “party and bullshit,” was seen by many in the conscious camp as a money-minded entertainer.
The Roots’ 1996 music video for the song “What They Do” satirically labeled itself as a “Rap Video Manual.” It mocked mainstream-hip-hop clichés with scenes of rappers sipping champagne (actually ginger ale, according to a subtitle) and bikini-clad girls twerking (they end up suffering from “severe butt cramp”). Around that time, other alternative-leaning acts such as the Fugees and De La Soul were also dismissive of hip-hop’s materialism and frivolity. But Questlove, the Roots’ drummer (whose real name is Ahmir Thompson), told me that he had been oblivious to the video’s concept during its shoot. It wasn’t until he viewed the finished version of the clip that he realized it was specifically parodying the video for Biggie’s hit “One More Chance,” which portrayed a Brooklyn party filled with bubbly and babes.
Biggie wasn’t amused. He’d championed the music of the Roots earlier in their career, and this was how they repaid him? Hampton, his close friend, recalled him telling her that he wanted to beat up “the big one” in the band, Questlove, whom she knew from editing his writing for Rap Pages magazine. “I was like, ‘That’s the softest one!’” she recalled telling Biggie. “‘Do not hit Ahmir! He’s a fuckin’ nerd!’”
Hearing of Biggie’s ire, Questlove submitted an editorial to The Source that tried to clear the air. But it never ran: In March 1997, Biggie was killed in a still-unsolved shooting. The murder “fucked me up,” Questlove said. “I think the only person I cried to about it was dream.”
The repercussions of the video continued after Biggie’s death. In February 1998, while attending a Grammys afterparty in New York City, Questlove got an emergency page from hampton telling him to call her right away. “Leave right now,” he recalled her saying. She’d heard that someone from Biggie’s former entourage was at the event—and that he wanted to ambush him. Questlove left immediately.
Questlove said that this was not the only time hampton acted as a go-between for rap’s “haves” and “have-nots.” He told me about buying a copy of Jay-Z’s The Blueprint in New York City on its release date: September 11, 2001. “I literally was like, If I’m gonna die, I gotta know what The Blueprint sounds like first,” he recalled. But listening felt like a betrayal: Questlove was a champion of the underground, and Jay-Z was, as Questlove put it, “the capitalist rapper.” He compared playing the album to breaking into “someone’s secret Playboy stash under the bed”—dishonorable but exciting.
What’s worse, he ended up loving The Blueprint. When he told hampton, a close friend of Jay-Z’s, “it was almost akin to coming out to someone,” Questlove said. “She could have cried tears of joy.” They got into an argument: She wanted to tell Jay-Z about Questlove’s admiration, but Questlove was worried about losing his indie cred. She told Jay-Z anyway—and within months, the two men were collaborating on an album.
The tensions underlying these stories still shape hip-hop today. Take, for example, one of this year’s most acclaimed albums: Sundial, by the Chicago rapper Noname. The lyrics attack capitalism, the military-industrial complex, and emcees who have allegedly sold out to those things, including Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z. At one point, Noname raps that she feels “motion sick / driftin’ in and out of consciousness like the rappers do.” But the album is also an example of how political engagement doesn’t always equate to enlightenment. One song features a plainly anti-Semitic verse by the rapper Jay Electronica (“i’m not going to apologize for a verse i didn’t write,” Noname wrote online).
In the ’90s, hampton argued in print against treating certain strains of rap as superior simply because they seem conscious. Speaking to me, she expressed ambivalence about “didactic” art and pointed out that even brainy acts such as A Tribe Called Quest have released ill-conceived and misogynistic songs such as “The Infamous Date Rape,” which casts doubt on women who make accusations of sexual assault. Protest artists often get romanticized by the media, but “that’s never been my call—for rap to be protest,” hampton told me. “If it was good and it was that, then great. But I just want rap to be good.”
Good is a subjective judgment, and one thing that sets critics apart from fans or political pundits is that critics try to be honest about the complex relationship between aesthetics and morality. Although my profile focused on the ideological dimensions of hampton’s career, there’s a way of seeing her trajectory as a search for truth and beauty. She came to New York City to study film, and over the years she has shifted back and forth between activism and art. In some ways, criticism—especially criticism that frankly examines the social ideas embedded in entertainment—sits at the intersection of those two things.
The sculptor Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, a friend of hampton’s, told me that the writer cares “greatly about craft and attention to detail … in a period of time where there does seem to be a holding-up of a lot of mediocrity.” Hampton’s filmmaking (such as her recent short Freshwater) is influenced by directors such as Terrence Malick, for whom style always supersedes ideology: “Whatever story [Malick is] telling—about a war, Pocahontas, or whatever—I love those moments when you just spend seven minutes on a blade of grass,” hampton said.
Her influence on hip-hop, too, has aesthetic dimensions. Questlove said that without hampton, he might not have linked up with the producer J Dilla, which led to critically acclaimed collaborations with D’Angelo and Common, among others. She also introduced him to the music of the singer Cody Chesnutt, who ended up on the Roots’ 2002 hit “The Seed (2.0).”
He added that she had, in fact, made him more conscious—but more in terms of how he communicates rather than what he communicates. “She has a really uncanny way of planting a seed so effortlessly,” he said. “It’s a work of art to say an effective sentence and the next thing, you’re running to the internet or the library.” His friendship with hampton, he said, pushed him to continually think, “How can I use my art to change people’s minds? How can I use my art to plant seeds of new ideas?”
Questlove also said that hampton ranks in his top-five writers of all time. “I don’t mean Black women writing or hip-hop writers or music writers,” he clarified. “She’s the first person I got access to that was able to express things in ways that no one my age [could] do.” Informed of this accolade by text, hampton replied, “Hip hop and its hyperbole,” with an emoji rolling its eyes.
*Lead image: Illustration by Paul Spella. Sources: Theo Wargo / Getty; George De Sota / Getty; Larry Busacca / WireImage / Getty; Josh Brasted / FilmMagic / Getty; C Flanigan / FilmMagic / Getty
If you have a romantic partner, maybe you’ve noticed that you two spend an awful lot of time together—and that you haven’t seen other people quite as much as you’d like. Or if you’re single (and many of your friends aren’t), you might have gotten the eerie feeling that I sometimes do: that you’re in a deserted town, as if you woke one morning to find the houses all empty, the stores boarded up. Where’d everyone go?
Either way, that feeling might not just be in your head. Kaisa Kuurne, a sociologist at the University of Helsinki, told me she was “a little bit shocked” when she started mapping Finnish adults’ relationships for a 2012 study, investigating whom subjects felt close to and how they interacted day to day. Subjects who lived with a romantic partner seemed to have receded into their coupledom. When Kuurne asked them to rate, on a scale of one to seven, how close various relationships felt, they’d frequently give the highest mark to only their partner and their children, if they had them; when subjects illustrated their social networks, they’d commonly put those other connections—friends, co-workers, siblings—on the outskirts of their map. People outside the household, for the most part, weren’t “woven into that everyday life,” Kuurne told me.
Relationship trends can vary across cultures, but Kuurne told me that the pattern she noticed isn’t limited to Helsinki. Researchers in
have made similar observations. Katie Genadek, an economist who studies Census Bureau data, told me that the amount of time the average couple spends together has actually slightly increased since 1965.
Finding love is a beautiful, lucky thing. And some research suggests that shared time, at least up to a certain point, can make partners happier (though the strength of that link is up for debate). But there is only so much time in a day, and the minutes you spend alone with your partner are minutes not spent deepening connections with friends and relatives or building new bonds, not spent relishing the pleasures of solitude or enjoying whatever interests are uniquely yours. If you build a life with your relationship at the center, everything else gets pushed to the perimeter. There’s a way to maintain what I think of as “love-life balance,” to preserve your identity and autonomy while nurturing a caring partnership. Losing that balance can be damaging for a person, for a relationship, and for society.
You might not think that in 2023, partners would still be deeply interdependent. Perhaps more than ever, people are talking about the ways friendship has been historically undervalued; community is an overused buzzword, and alternative relationship structures—nonmonogamy, “living apart together” (sharing a life but not a home), communal living—are growing more common. And of course, women have gained more financial and social independence over the past decades; largely for this reason, according to Sean Lauer, a sociologist at the University of British Columbia, many researchers assume that marriage has become “individualized,” with spouses free to pursue their own identities and goals. But the reality is more complicated.
According to Genadek, partners today tend to be entangled, in part because parents spend a lot of time watching their children together. Although parents in the 1960s might have been doing their own thing while the kids were off playing, they’re now much more likely to be jointly engaged in child care. But couples are spending more leisure time together than they did in 1965 too. And the pandemic further disconnected some couples from their social networks, Benjamin Karney, a UCLA psychologist, told me. He and his colleagues found that couples’ interactions with other people plummeted when the pandemic hit, especially for the low-income study participants who weren’t as likely to use video-chatting platforms; about 18 months in, when vaccines had been available for some time, those connections hadn’t come close to recovering.
Partners do of course need quality time—but the question is how much, and what it’s coming at the expense of. Erin Sahlstein Parcell, a University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee communication professor who studies long-distance relationships, told me that partners who are rarely together in person can keep up very strong relationships; they can even benefit from developing other parts of their lives, having their own experiences to then share with their partner, and cherishing the precious shared time they do have. More and more time isn’t necessarily better and better.
For one thing, couples who lose a sense of love-life balance are at risk of forgoing important support. Studies indicate that married people are, on average, less connected to their friends, siblings, parents, and neighbors than single people are. That lack of connection can leave them vulnerable, Karney told me, particularly if they end up needing help: if they have a baby, for instance, or if one partner loses a job or gets sick. No couple can do everything on their own.
Even beyond sharing time and resources, family and friends offer different kinds of emotional care than partners do. In one study, participants who reported meeting different emotional needs with different people in their life—say, having fun and blowing off steam with a college friend but talking through problems with a sibling—showed greater well-being than those who had a similar number of close relationships but fulfilled emotional needs with a smaller subset of them. No one person can realistically be good at responding to all different types of feelings or giving advice on every subject, yet some experts believe partners today are likelier than ever to lean primarily on each other for their psychological needs. Even worse: If the relationship ends, people can be left without anyone to rely on in a time of distress.
Not only can your relationships with others suffer when you’re too focused on your partner; so can your relationship with yourself. Some researchers refer to this as a lack of “self-differentiation,” or a clear sense of who you are. More “differentiated” partners can support one another without losing sight of their own desires. But if you’re not doing the activities you would do, seeing the people you would see, or pursuing the goals that you would if you were single, those untended parts of your life can start to wilt. That lack of differentiation might be hard to avoid if you’re spending all your time as a couple; partners can start to match each other’s negative moods and even cortisol levels when they’re together. You might really feel like a “we” more than a “you” and “me.”
Patricia Marino, a philosophy professor at the University of Waterloo, told me this is the danger in romanticizing the idea of two lovers merging into one. If two people’s interests conflict, whose get swallowed up? Historically, Marino said, “the we was created when women’s wills were made subservient to men’s.” Today, that inequality isn’t so explicitly assumed. But the question of whose self is disappearing is still relevant, even on the simplest everyday level—say, deciding what you want to do for the evening. In one study that followed straight couples for more than a decade, researchers found that the link between shared leisure time and marital satisfaction wasn’t strong at all—largely because the subjects were spending some of that time on activities that only one of them enjoyed.
That underscores something important: Love-life balance isn’t just good for individual partners. It’s good for their relationship. Depending on only each other is too much pressure; spending time with only each other is constraining—and, frankly, boring. Even just including others in couple activities, Karney told me, can provide partners with “new experiences, new insights, new perspectives” that keep the relationship interesting. He mentioned one study that found that couples that discussed personal topics on a double date seemed to feel more “passionate love” for each other afterward, especially when the other couple responded affirmingly. It can be appealing—and illuminating—to see different facets of your partner come out with different people. If you spend the bulk of your time alone with your partner, you might not be understanding them fully; you might also feel your own personality isn’t being fully expressed.
Some psychologists believe that in order to truly have their needs met, apart and together, couples need to balance two elements: “relatedness” and “autonomy.” Relatedness is a sense of connection and intimacy; autonomy is the degree to which partners are free to follow their own will. Sometimes that might mean choosing to spend time together, Richard Ryan, a psychology professor at Australian Catholic University, told me—but given that partners won’t always have the same interests, autonomy eventually requires some independence.
Partners who feel more autonomous may be able to communicate more openly, and are more likely to respond to partner transgressions with forgiveness and accommodation and to feel satisfied after disagreements; those with less autonomy are likely to feel their sense of self depends on their relationship, and that can leave them more emotionally reactive. In one study, the partners with the most constructive responses to conflict were the ones who felt their relatedness and autonomy needs were fulfilled. Those two elements might seem like opposites, but Ryan told me it’s difficult to truly have one without the other. That suggests that the healthiest relationships don’t involve a merging of selves at all, but rather allow intimacy and independence to coexist.
The biggest obstacle to love-life balance is probably just time. There’s never enough of it to do everything you want to do and see everyone you want to see—especially if you have children or other loved ones to care for, or a job with long hours and little flexibility. The issue isn’t just individual but structural: Low-income couples are less likely than affluent ones to have access to child-care services and more likely to have jobs with more fixed, longer hours outside the home. Regardless of socioeconomic status, though, plenty of partners would hypothetically love to spread their time more evenly—but struggle to do so in reality. Karney told me that even when couples want roughly the same degree of autonomy and relatedness, “it doesn’t mean that minute to minute you are identical … We might say, ‘Oh, we both want to be together four nights a week,’ but we don’t always want the same nights.” In that sense, he said, love-life balance is a “coordination issue.”
But it’s also a values issue. Kuurne believes that many people, if only subconsciously, think of intimacy as exclusive by definition; a romantic relationship is special because it’s prioritized more than anything else. Finding a better love-life balance in the everyday would mean creating what she calls “inclusive intimacy”; it would mean imagining a world in which the things that give life meaning don’t need to be placed in such a strict hierarchy.
That’s not a task that can be fully achieved by any one couple, but there are steps toward love-life balance that everyone can take. Karney told me that couples should intentionally negotiate time apart—make a concrete plan for it, and compromise if necessary, rather than argue about the more abstract question of how entwined partners should be. (“A negotiation is better than a debate,” he told me. “Ten out of 10 times.”)
For Kuurne, opening her life beyond the nuclear family has meant accepting limitations. She can’t always host formal get-togethers or clean the house before visits, but she has a whole set of people who pop in whenever, regardless of how messy the house is or how much she’s prepared. Her dad comes by and helps take care of her daughter. Her neighbors pass through; “the kids play, and maybe we open a bottle of bubbly.” When she does host more official gatherings, she tries to keep a low barrier to entry—no pressure, and certainly no gifts.
And she tries to keep in mind what she’s learned in her research: To stay connected to people, you have to share. That might mean concrete resources, but it might just mean sharing little moments of honesty and vulnerability. The other day, she told me, she called her close friend while eating lunch, because that was the time she had to check in; her friend’s son had just moved out, so she asked how her friend was feeling—and she also gave updates about her own day. All the while, she was inelegantly chewing her food. When it comes to intimacy, she told me, “you can’t just put it in a nice little box and control it.” You just give what you have.
The struggle to balance all the different pockets of life will probably never end; every day requires a new negotiation, a new set of things clamoring for your attention. But widening your focus isn’t just about you and your partner—it’s also about all of the other people in your life who might otherwise get shut out. That’s the flip side of Kuurne’s 2012 study: The couples had built walls between themselves and everyone else. And the subjects outside couples’ fortresses were left there when the drawbridge pulled up.
The partners probably didn’t mean to leave anyone out; they just only had so much time. But whether intentionally or not, everyone—always—is making choices about how to spend their hours. When I asked Karney if he had any wisdom for couples trying to find love-life balance, he told me that he’s not in the business of giving advice. But he did pause for a second, considering what he could say with certainty. “As a scientist of relationships,” he told me, “this much we know: Relationships need to be nourished. Your relationship with your partner does. And all of your other relationships do too.”
- Knowing that UBA is basically broke, Cory has hatched a plan for a merger with a company owned by Paul Marks (Jon Hamm), a billionaire who’s into space rockets and filthy lucre.
Ah, The Morning Show. Less a television series, really, than a vibe—plotlines that were topical two years ago, ageless female faces, constant chaos that you should simply allow to wash over you like rain. Does it make sense? Not at all. You could watch other shows, and you would never see this: Jennifer Aniston’s frown-acting, Reese Witherspoon’s pissed-off listlessness, Billy Crudup harnessing all the frantic charisma of Satan losing at poker. The first episode of the new season begins with the broadcast-morning-show host Alex Levy (played by Aniston) watching her own TV obituary, and ends with the news anchor Bradley Jackson (Witherspoon) in literal space, weeping in zero gravity while bemoaning the war in Ukraine. What other series has the creative capacity, the daring, the money to do something so grand and so pointless? TV like this is a gift.
And yet. The Morning Show is so close to something like greatness. You can see, in the new episodes, all of the ways in which the series knows what works (dazzling one-liners; the absurdity of a TV program that requires anchors to segue from pie-eating contests to racism) while also being handicapped by the most unshiftable hindrance of all: its stars. When it was first conceived, the show was the jewel in Apple TV+’s crown—a fictionalized adaptation of Brian Stelter’s 2013 book about the vicious world of morning-news programs, whose premise set up two of America’s most beloved actresses to tussle over ratings.
However, the #MeToo allegations about the news anchor Matt Lauer prompted the series to retool itself around the subject of workplace predation, which clashed with its hammy, quippy, All About Eve–esque setup and left its two central characters somewhat adrift. The first season, for me at least, was a nonsensical volley between glorious excess and Sorkinian sincerity, never finding cohesion between the two. The second leaned closer toward cheerful camp but inexplicably decided to rewrite Steve Carell’s disgraced anchor, Mitch Kessler, as a flawed but tragic victim of cancel culture. Its characters were thinner than crepe paper, and multiple-episode arcs (about tell-all books and ominous lawsuits) were discarded when more enticing storylines came up.
Having watched all of Season 3, I’ve come to the conclusion that the issue with the show’s two leads isn’t just that after 30 episodes of television, neither has yet managed to read a teleprompter with even a hint of animation. For The Morning Show to thrive, it needs either Alex or Bradley—or both—to embrace antiheroism, yet both are played by actors so recognizable and likable on-screen that explicit villainy seems well out of their range. The first episode of the new season, set in March 2022, loosely explains where the two women stand: Alex, having withstood an early and televised bout of COVID two years ago, has parlayed her “survivor” status into a hit streaming show called Alex Unfiltered; Bradley, thanks to her audacious footage from
Capitol on January 6, is now the country’s top evening-news anchor, reporting “controversial” stories that the network keeps threatening to kill. (Don’t think too hard about how Bradley went from being a field reporter for a local-news station in West Virginia to achieving Diane Sawyer–like status practically overnight despite constantly going off-script and not showing up to work for several weeks in Season 2, because it’ll make your brain hurt.)
Season 3 has a new showrunner, a new team of writers, and, apparently, a new fascination with the business side of television. This last preoccupation is possibly a knock-on effect of Succession’s popularity, but it’s also possibly because Crudup’s Cory Ellison, an executive at The Morning Show’s parent network, United Broadcast Association, is the only person showing us what the series should be about: deranged ambition, unnerving pizzazz, extreme self-awareness. Knowing that UBA is basically broke, Cory has hatched a plan for a merger with a company owned by Paul Marks (Jon Hamm), a billionaire who’s into space rockets and filthy lucre. Standing only partially in the way is Greta Lee’s Stella Bak, UBA’s head of news, who previously worked with Paul and will only say, between gritted teeth, that he’s “ruthless.”
The season dips into serious and timely issues (the murder of George Floyd, the overturning of Roe v. Wade) but seems much more interested in creating set pieces that let Cory wield his offbeat magnetism. When he struts into a network presentation for advertisers, backslapping stars and glad-handing executives to the soundtrack of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” the music appears to be playing just for him, which has the effect of bringing us into his mind more than any other character’s. Late in the season, we get to witness a charged reunion between Cory and his mother (Lindsay Duncan) that’s loaded with more emotional violence than a Pinter play. Every other confrontation this season—Bradley and her Trump-supporting brother, Alex and the ultra-acquisitive board, Bradley and her icy ex-lover—has the tension of cheese curds by comparison. (The show adds a new presenter, Chris Hunter, played gracefully by Nicole Beharie, but it doesn’t let her have much of a good time.)
You can almost sense the writers’ relief at having someone as fiendish as Cory to write for. Imagine a series in which every character could be this peacocking, this nakedly self-interested, this fun. One of the new characters introduced in Season 3 is an unnamed anchor at a rival network who obsessively covers the turmoil at UBA, and who does so with more dynamism and interest than any on-air talent at The Morning Show has managed to muster. Meanwhile, even as Bradley makes one bad decision after another, Witherspoon plays her so sympathetically that we can’t condemn her. Alex gets close to revealing her lust for power, but Aniston resists giving us glimpses of her moral complexity. People will watch The Morning Show regardless, because this kind of star power is a hell of a hook. Still, I can’t help wondering if it’s also a curse—especially when there are actually interesting stories that a show could tell.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-42307-7Alteration of microbial composition in the skin and blood in
Scientific Reports, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-42503-5Tongue retraction using a McIvor blade improves airway condition during fiberoptic intubation: a randomized controlled trial
Recently I perched on the edge of a cliff at Asuable Chasm, staring at the whitewater over 100 feet below. Water rushed through sandstone cliffs before hitting a natural break and twirling back onto itself, forming multiple hypnotic swirls. Over millennia, these waters have carved the magnificent stone walls lining the chasm, supporting a vibrant ecosystem.
The brain may do the same for cognition.
We know that different brain regions constantly coordinate their activity patterns, resulting in waves that ripple across the brain. Different types of waves correspond to differing mental and cognitive states.
That’s one idea for how the brain organizes itself to support our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. But if the brain’s information processing dynamics are like waves, what happens when there’s turbulence?
In fact, the brain does experience the equivalent of neural “hurricanes.” They bump into one another, and when they do, the resulting computations correlate with cognition.
These findings come from a unique study in Nature Human Behavior that bridges neuroscience and fluid dynamics to unpack the inner workings of the human mind.
The team analyzed 100 brain scans collected from the Human Connectome Project using methods usually reserved for observing water flow patterns in physics. The unconventional marriage of fields paid off: they found a mysterious, spiraling wave activity pattern in the brain while at rest and during challenging mental tasks.
The brain spirals often grew from select regions that bridge adjacent local neural networks. Eventually, they propagate across the cortex—the wrinkly, outermost region of the brain.
Often called the “seat of intelligence,” the cortex is a multitasker. Dedicated regions process our senses. Others interweave new experiences with memories and emotions, and in turn, form the decisions that help us adapt to an ever-changing world.
For the cortex to properly function, communication between each region is key. In a series of tests, brain spirals seem to be the messenger, organizing local neural networks across the cortex into a coherent computing processor. They’re also dedicated to a particular cognitive task. For example, when someone was listening to a story—as compared to solving math problems—the vortices began in different brain regions and created their own spin patterns, a cognitive fingerprint of sorts.
By analyzing these spiral wave fingerprints, the team found they could classify different stages of cognitive processing using brain images alone.
Finding turbulence in the brain is another step towards understanding how our biological computer works and could inspire the creation of future brain-based machines.
“By unraveling the mysteries of brain activity and uncovering the mechanisms governing its coordination, we are moving closer to unlocking the full potential of understanding cognition and brain function,” said study author Dr. Pulin Gong at the University of Sydney.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
A fundamental mystery of the brain is how electrical sparkles in neurons translate into thoughts, reasoning, memories, and even consciousness.
To unravel it all, we need to go up the pyramid of neural processing.
Starting at the bottom: neurons. To be fair, they’re incredibly sophisticated mini-computers on their own. They’re also really nosy. They constantly chitchat with their neighbors using a variety of chemical signals, called neurotransmitters. You might have heard of some: dopamine, serotonin, and even hormones.
Meanwhile, neurons process local gossip—carried by electrical pulses—and change their behavior based on what they hear. Some relationships strengthen. Others break. In this way, the brain forms local neural networks to support functions like, for example, visual processing.
“Research into brain activity has made substantial progress in understanding local neural circuits,” the team wrote.
What’s missing is the bigger picture. Imagine zooming out from the local neighborhood to the entire world. Thanks to a boom in neurotechnology, scientists have been able to record from increasingly vast regions of the brain. Digging into all this new data, previous studies have found multiple local networks that contribute to different behaviors.
Yet much of these insights into brain organization have focused on neurons communicating in a linear pattern—like data zapping along undersea optical wires. To broaden our view, we also need to look for more complex 3D patterns—for example, spirals or vortices.
Roughly two years ago, the team tapped into a hefty resource in the hunt for brain activity turbulence: functional MRI data, covering the entire cortex, from the Human Connectome Project (HCP). Launched in 2009, the project has developed multiple tools to map the human brain at unprecedented scales and generated a massive database for researchers. The maps don’t just cover the structure of the brain—many have also documented brain activity as participants engaged in different cognitive tasks.
Here, the team selected brain images from a section of HCP data. This dataset imaged brain connectivity and function in 1,200 healthy younger adults from 22 to 35 years of age while they were at rest or challenged with multiple mental tasks.
They focused on brain images from 3 cohorts of 100 people each. One cohort was made up of people completely relaxing. Another was challenged with a language and math task. The final cohort flexed their working memory—that is, they were required to use the mental sketchpad we use to coordinate new information and decide what our next action should be.
With mathematical tools generally used to decrypt turbulent flows, the team analyzed MRI data for patterns that correspond to cognition—in this case, math, language, and working memory.
Put very simply, the analyses pinpointed “the eye of the storm” and predicted how fast and wide the neural swirls would spread out from there. They moved and interacted “with each other in an intriguing manner, which was very exciting,” said the team.
The spirals, like hurricanes, bounced across the cortex while rotating around set centers—called a “phase singularity.” The pattern is surprisingly similar to other dynamic systems in physics and biology, such as turbulence, they said.
A Spiraling Mystery
Why and how do these spirals occur? The team doesn’t yet have all the answers. But digging deeper, they found that the seeds of these spirals blossom out from boundaries between functional neural networks. The team thinks these twisting shapes could be essential for “effectively coordinating activity flow among these networks through their rotational motion.”
The spirals rotate and interact depending on the cognitive task at hand. They also tend to twirl and spread into brain regions dubbed “brain hubs,” such as the frontal parts of the brain or those related to integrating sensations.
But their interactions are especially enthralling. Based on the physics of turbulence, brain spirals that bump into each other carry a hefty amount of information. These waves capture data in space and time and propagate the information over the surface of living neurons in non-linear waves.
“The intricate interactions among multiple co-existing spirals could allow neural computations to be conducted in a distributed and parallel manner, leading to remarkable computational efficiency,” said Gong.
To Dr. Kentaroh Takagaki from Tokushima University, who was not involved in the study, “the results present a stark counterpoint to the established view” of information processing in the cortex.
For now, brain spirals remain rather mysterious. But with more work, they could yield insights into dementia, epilepsy, and other difficult neurological disorders.
People who bought firearms during the height of the pandemic have much higher rates of recent suicidal thoughts, self-harm behaviors, and intimate partner violence, a new study suggests, compared with other firearm owners and people who do not own firearms.
Pandemic firearm buyers were also much more likely than the other groups to hold extreme beliefs, ranging from anti-vaccination views to support for QAnon conspiracy theories, according to the new findings published by in the journal PLOS ONE.
“In other words, there are a lot of firearms now in the hands of people who were pretty distressed when they bought them.”
The survey was completed by 1,036 adults living in
in October 2021. While not nationally representative, recruitment for the survey was designed to approximate the US adult population in terms of the distribution of age, sex, race, and Hispanic ethnicity with participants drawn from 47 states and Washington, DC.
The findings suggest that pandemic firearm buyers have special characteristics that deserve attention to prevent harm to themselves or others, say the researchers.
With 53% of all firearm deaths nationwide being suicides, and 6 million firearm sales to first-time buyers in mid-2020, the findings also have implications for local, state, and national firearm policy.
“I have never seen a single question that differentiates people so dramatically on so many things in my career as a psychology researcher,” says Brian Hicks, a clinical psychologist at University of Michigan Health and its Addiction Treatment Services and professor in the psychiatry department.
“People who bought firearms during COVID, whether or not they had a firearm before, were very different from those who didn’t,” he continues. “They were far more likely to have major risk factors for being a danger to themselves or others, including high rates of suicidality, depression, and substance use, as well as extreme social and political beliefs. In other words, there are a lot of firearms now in the hands of people who were pretty distressed when they bought them.”
He adds, “On the other hand, those who owned firearms before COVID, but didn’t buy any during the first 18 months of the pandemic, aren’t much different from those who do not own firearms at all. About the only thing we found pre-pandemic gun owners differed on was having more pro-gun attitudes and being a bit more politically conservative compared to people who don’t own firearms.”
The analysis of survey data separated the respondents into three groups: 103 pandemic firearm buyers (regardless of whether or not they had owned firearms before their pandemic firearm purchase), 170 firearm owners who did not purchase a firearm during the pandemic, and 763 people who do not own a firearm.
Key areas where pandemic firearm buyers differed strongly from people who don’t own a firearm and firearm owners who did not buy a gun during the pandemic:
- Pandemic firearm buyers were much younger than both groups; over half were in their 30s, and 70% were under age 40. Pandemic firearm buyers were also more likely to be male (70%) and white (91%) than people who did not own a firearm (45% male, 72% white).
- 55% of pandemic firearm buyers had thoughts of suicide in the past two weeks compared to 10% of pre-pandemic firearm owners and 6% of people who did not own a firearm. Also, 64% of pandemic firearm owners reported self-harm by cutting or burning themselves on purpose in the last two weeks, compared to 4% of the other two groups.
- Over 40% of pandemic firearm buyers reported that they occasionally or frequently push, shove, slap, hit, or punch their romantic partner, compared to less than 2% of people who do not own a firearm or pre-pandemic firearm owners.
- Pandemic firearm buyers reported much higher levels of mental health symptoms including depression, anxiety, alcohol use problems, nicotine use, and antisocial behavior than people who did not own a firearm, and pre-pandemic firearm owners.
- Pandemic firearm buyers were more likely to endorse QAnon conspiracies, Christian nationalistic beliefs, and pro-gun attitudes than people who did not own a firearm and pre-pandemic firearm owners. For instance, 76% of pandemic gun buyers, compared with 15% of both other groups, agreed with the QAnon statement that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the US are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”
- Pandemic firearm buyers were nearly three times more likely than pre-pandemic firearm owners (74% vs 26%) to report that they carried a firearm outside their home, and nearly twice as likely to have obtained a state-issued permit to carry a firearm in public (81% vs 47%).
Hicks and his coauthors note that not all pandemic firearm buyers were this different from the other groups regarding risk factors or beliefs.
This suggests a need to delve further into this population with larger sample sizes, and to develop public health messaging around suicide and violence prevention aimed at those with the highest risks.
Hicks, who has conducted multiple waves of the COVID-19 Adjustment and Behavior Survey, was recently awarded funding from the National Institutes of Health to conduct more representative and in-depth studies. One study involves testing gun violence prevention messages designed to reach higher-risk groups in Michigan, whose legislature passed a slate of firearm injury prevention laws following a mass shooting on the Michigan State University campus.
Even though suicide rates nationwide have held relatively steady since the pandemic, the long-term risk of suicide among those who are younger and have more mental health, substance use, and aggression concerns is very real.
Meanwhile, the rise in homicides, which was especially prominent in 2020 and 2021, means it is important to look more deeply at the possible role of pandemic-related firearm purchasing or acquisition in these deaths.
“Firearm owners are a diverse group, but it is especially pertinent that purchasing a gun during the COVID-19 pandemic was so effective at identifying a group of gun owners with such elevated levels of risk factors for violence and self-harm,” says Hicks. “The societal effects of COVID, especially the first two years, were tremendously unsettling to many people. Combined with the social and political upheaval around the 2020 election, and the ability to self-select news and information sources that funnel people toward more extreme content, this appears to have spurred some high-risk individuals to take steps they felt would improve their security by buying firearms.”
The study had funding from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Source: University of Michigan
The post Survey: Pandemic gun buyers have more self-harm risk, extreme beliefs appeared first on Futurity.
Nature Communications, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-41483-4Author Correction: Costimulation blockade in combination with
Nature Communications, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40396-6The outer membrane (OM) of Gram-negative bacteria is an asymmetric bilayer, with phospholipids in the inner leaflet. Here the authors show that a reduction in OM proteins and the subsequent mislocalization of phospholipids weaken the OM and alter growth rate and cell shape, emphasizing the role of OM proteins in OM stiffness and cell shape.
A new molecularly engineered hydrogel that can create clean water using just the energy from sunlight.
The researchers were able to pull water out of the atmosphere and make it drinkable using solar energy, in conditions as low as 104 degrees, aligning with summer weather in Texas and other parts of the world.
That means people in places with excess heat and minimal access to clean water could someday simply place a device outside, and it would make water for them, with no additional effort necessary.
“With our new hydrogel, we’re not just pulling water out of thin air. We’re doing it extremely fast and without consuming too much energy,” says Guihua Yu, a materials science and engineering professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering and Texas Materials Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.
“What’s really fascinating about our hydrogel is how it releases water. Think about a hot Texas summer—we could just use our temperatures’ natural ups and downs, no need to crank up any heaters.”
The device can produce between 3.5 and 7 kilograms (about 7.7 lbs to 15.4 lbs) of water per kilogram of gel materials, depending on humidity conditions.
A significant feature of this research is the hydrogel’s adaptability into microparticles called “microgels.” These microgels unlock the speed and efficiency improvements that bring this device much closer to reality.
“By transforming the hydrogel into micro-sized particles, we can make the water capture and release ultrafast,” says Weixin Guan, a graduate student in Yu’s lab and one of the lead authors of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“This offers a new, highly efficient type of sorbents that can significantly enhance the water production by multiple daily cycling.”
The researchers are pursuing additional improvements to the technology, with an eye toward transforming it into a commercial product. One focus area is optimizing the engineering of the microgels to further improve efficiency.
Scaling up is an important next step. The researchers aim to translate their work into tangible and scalable solutions that can be used worldwide as a low-cost, portable method of creating clean drinking water. This could be life-changing for countries such as Ethiopia, where almost 60% of the population lacks basic access to clean water.
“We developed this device with the ultimate goal to be available to people around the world who need quick and consistent access to clean, drinkable water, particularly in those arid areas,” says Yaxuan Zhao, a graduate student in Yu’s lab.
The team is working on other versions of the device made from organic materials, which would reduce costs for mass production. This transition to more commercially viable designs comes with its own challenges in scaling production of the sorbent that allows moisture absorption and in maintaining durability for the product’s lifespan. Research is also focused on making the devices portable for various application scenarios.
The Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research from the Welch Foundation and the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award funded the work.
Source: UT Austin
- I’ve just raised $1.5 billion and I need to pay for those chips.
DeepMind cofounder Mustafa Suleyman wants to build a chatbot that does a whole lot more than chat. In a recent conversation I had with him, he told me that
is just a phase. What’s next is interactive AI: bots that can carry out tasks you set for them by calling on other software and other people to get stuff done. He also calls for robust regulation—and doesn’t think that’ll be hard to achieve.
Suleyman is not the only one talking up a future filled with ever more autonomous software. But unlike most people he has a new billion-dollar company, Inflection, with a roster of top-tier talent plucked from DeepMind, Meta, and OpenAI, and—thanks to a deal with Nvidia—one of the biggest stockpiles of specialized AI hardware in the world. Suleyman has put his money—which he tells me he both isn’t interested in and wants to make more of—where his mouth is.
Suleyman has had an unshaken faith in technology as a force for good at least since we first spoke in early 2016. He had just launched DeepMind Health and set up research collaborations with some of the UK’s state-run regional health-care providers.
The magazine I worked for at the time was about to publish an article claiming that DeepMind had failed to comply with data protection regulations when accessing records from some 1.6 million patients to set up those collaborations—a claim later backed up by a government investigation. Suleyman couldn’t see why we would publish a story that was hostile to his company’s efforts to improve health care. As long as he could remember, he told me at the time, he’d only wanted to do good in the world.
In the seven years since that call, Suleyman’s wide-eyed mission hasn’t shifted an inch. “The goal has never been anything but how to do good in the world,” he says via Zoom from his office in Palo Alto, where the
entrepreneur now spends most of his time.
Suleyman left DeepMind and moved to Google to lead a team working on AI policy. In 2022 he founded Inflection, one of the hottest new AI firms around, backed by $1.5 billion of investment from Microsoft, Nvidia, Bill Gates, and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman. Earlier this year he released a ChatGPT rival called Pi, whose unique selling point (according to Suleyman) is that it is pleasant and polite. And he just coauthored a book about the future of AI with writer and researcher Michael Bhaskar, called The Coming Wave: Technology, Power, and the 21st Century’s Greatest Dilemma.
Many will scoff at Suleyman’s brand of techno-optimism—even naïveté. Some of his claims about the success of online regulation feel way off the mark, for example. And yet he remains earnest and evangelical in his convictions.
It’s true that Suleyman has an unusual background for a tech multi-millionaire. When he was 19 he dropped out of university to set up Muslim Youth Helpline, a telephone counseling service. He also worked in local government. He says he brings many of the values that informed those efforts with him to Inflection. The difference is that now he just might be in a position to make the changes he’s always wanted to—for good or not.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Your early career, with the youth helpline and local government work, was about as unglamorous and un–Silicon Valley as you can get. Clearly, that stuff matters to you. You’ve since spent 15 years in AI and this year cofounded your second billion-dollar AI company. Can you connect the dots?
I’ve always been interested in power, politics, and so on. You know, human rights principles are basically trade-offs, a constant ongoing negotiation between all these different conflicting tensions. I could see that humans were wrestling with that—we’re full of our own biases and blind spots. Activist work, local, national, international government, et cetera—it’s all just slow and inefficient and fallible.
Imagine if you didn’t have human fallibility. I think it’s possible to build AIs that truly reflect our best collective selves and will ultimately make better trade-offs, more consistently and more fairly, on our behalf.
And that’s still what motivates you?
I mean, of course, after DeepMind I never had to work again. I certainly didn’t have to write a book or anything like that. Money has never ever been the motivation. It’s always, you know, just been a side effect.
For me, the goal has never been anything but how to do good in the world and how to move the world forward in a healthy, satisfying way. Even back in 2009, when I started looking at getting into technology, I could see that AI represented a fair and accurate way to deliver services in the world.
I can’t help thinking that it was easier to say that kind of thing 10 or 15 years ago, before we’d seen many of the downsides of the technology. How are you able to maintain your optimism?
I think that we are obsessed with whether you’re an optimist or whether you’re a pessimist. This is a completely biased way of looking at things. I don’t want to be either. I want to coldly stare in the face of the benefits and the threats. And from where I stand, we can very clearly see that with every step up in the scale of these large language models, they get more controllable.
So two years ago, the conversation—wrongly, I thought at the time—was “Oh, they’re just going to produce toxic, regurgitated, biased, racist screeds.” I was like, this is a snapshot in time. I think that what people lose sight of is the progression year after year, and the trajectory of that progression.
Now we have models like Pi, for example, which are unbelievably controllable. You can’t get Pi to produce racist, homophobic, sexist—any kind of toxic stuff. You can’t get it to coach you to produce a biological or chemical weapon or to endorse your desire to go and throw a brick through your neighbor’s window. You can’t do it—
Hang on. Tell me how you’ve achieved that, because that’s usually understood to be an unsolved problem. How do you make sure your large language model doesn’t say what you don’t want it to say?
Yeah, so obviously I don’t want to make the claim—You know, please try and do it! Pi is live and you should try every possible attack. None of the jailbreaks, prompt hacks, or anything work against Pi. I’m not making a claim. It’s an objective fact.
On the how—I mean, like, I’m not going to go into too many details because it’s sensitive. But the bottom line is, we have one of the strongest teams in the world, who have created all the largest language models of the last three or four years. Amazing people, in an extremely hardworking environment, with vast amounts of computation. We made safety our number one priority from the outset, and as a result, Pi is not so spicy as other companies’ models.
Look at Character.ai. [Character is a chatbot for which users can craft different “personalities” and share them online for others to chat with.] It’s mostly used for romantic role-play, and we just said from the beginning that was off the table—we won’t do it. If you try to say “Hey, darling” or “Hey, cutie” or something to Pi, it will immediately push back on you.
But it will be incredibly respectful. If you start complaining about immigrants in your community taking your jobs, Pi’s not going to call you out and wag a finger at you. Pi will inquire and be supportive and try to understand where that comes from and gently encourage you to empathize. You know, values that I’ve been thinking about for 20 years.
Talking of your values and wanting to make the world better, why not share how you did this so that other people could improve their models too?
Well, because I’m also a pragmatist and I’m trying to make money. I’m trying to build a business. I’ve just raised $1.5 billion and I need to pay for those chips.
Look, the open-source ecosystem is on fire and doing an amazing job, and people are discovering similar tricks. I always assume that I’m only ever six months ahead.
Let’s bring it back to what you’re trying to achieve. Large language models are obviously the technology of the moment. But why else are you betting on them?
The first wave of AI was about classification. Deep learning showed that we can train a computer to classify various types of input data: images, video, audio, language. Now we’re in the generative wave, where you take that input data and produce new data.
The third wave will be the interactive phase. That’s why I’ve bet for a long time that conversation is the future interface. You know, instead of just clicking on buttons and typing, you’re going to talk to your AI.
And these AIs will be able to take actions. You will just give it a general, high-level goal and it will use all the tools it has to act on that. They’ll talk to other people, talk to other AIs. This is what we’re going to do with Pi.
That’s a huge shift in what technology can do. It’s a very, very profound moment in the history of technology that I think many people underestimate. Technology today is static. It does, roughly speaking, what you tell it to do.
But now technology is going to be animated. It’s going to have the potential freedom, if you give it, to take actions. It’s truly a step change in the history of our species that we’re creating tools that have this kind of, you know, agency.
That’s exactly the kind of talk that gets a lot of people worried. You want to give machines autonomy—a kind of agency—to influence the world, and yet we also want to be able to control them. How do you balance those two things? It feels like there’s a tension there.
Yeah, that’s a great point. That’s exactly the tension.
The idea is that humans will always remain in command. Essentially, it’s about setting boundaries, limits that an AI can’t cross. And ensuring that those boundaries create provable safety all the way from the actual code to the way it interacts with other AIs—or with humans—to the motivations and incentives of the companies creating the technology. And we should figure out how independent institutions or even governments get direct access to ensure that those boundaries aren’t crossed.
Who sets these boundaries? I assume they’d need to be set at a national or international level. How are they agreed on?
I mean, at the moment they’re being floated at the international level, with various proposals for new oversight institutions. But boundaries will also operate at the micro level. You’re going to give your AI some bounded permission to process your personal data, to give you answers to some questions but not others.
In general, I think there are certain capabilities that we should be very cautious of, if not just rule out, for the foreseeable future.
I guess things like recursive self-improvement. You wouldn’t want to let your little AI go off and update its own code without you having oversight. Maybe that should even be a licensed activity—you know, just like for handling anthrax or nuclear materials.
Or, like, we have not allowed drones in any public spaces, right? It’s a licensed activity. You can’t fly them wherever you want, because they present a threat to people’s privacy.
I think everybody is having a complete panic that we’re not going to be able to regulate this. It’s just nonsense. We’re totally going to be able to regulate it. We’ll apply the same frameworks that have been successful previously.
But you can see drones when they’re in the sky. It feels naïve to assume companies are just going to reveal what they’re making. Doesn’t that make regulation tricky to get going?
We’ve regulated many things online, right? The amount of fraud and criminal activity online is minimal. We’ve done a pretty good job with spam. You know, in general, [the problem of] revenge porn has got better, even though that was in a bad place three to five years ago. It’s pretty difficult to find radicalization content or terrorist material online. It’s pretty difficult to buy weapons and drugs online.
[Not all Suleyman’s claims here are backed up by the numbers. Cybercrime is still a massive global problem. The financial cost in
alone has increased more than 100 times in the last decade, according to some estimates. Reports show that the economy in nonconsensual deepfake porn is booming. Drugs and guns are marketed on social media. And while some online platforms are being pushed to do a better job of filtering out harmful content, they could do a lot more.]
So it’s not like the internet is this unruly space that isn’t governed. It is governed. And AI is just going to be another component to that governance.
It takes a combination of cultural pressure, institutional pressure, and, obviously, government regulation. But it makes me optimistic that we’ve done it before, and we can do it again.
Controlling AI will be an offshoot of internet regulation—that’s a far more upbeat note than the one we’ve heard from a number of high-profile doomers lately.
I’m very wide-eyed about the risks. There’s a lot of dark stuff in my book. I definitely see it too. I just think that the existential-risk stuff has been a completely bonkers distraction. There’s like 101 more practical issues that we should all be talking about, from privacy to bias to facial recognition to online moderation.
We should just refocus the conversation on the fact that we’ve done an amazing job of regulating super complex things. Look at the Federal Aviation Administration: it’s incredible that we all get in these tin tubes at 40,000 feet and it’s one of the safest modes of transport ever. Why aren’t we celebrating this? Or think about cars: every component is stress-tested within an inch of its life, and you have to have a license to drive it.
Some industries—like airlines—did a good job of regulating themselves to start with. They knew that if they didn’t nail safety, everyone would be scared and they would lose business.
But you need top-down regulation too. I love the nation-state. I believe in the public interest, I believe in the good of tax and redistribution, I believe in the power of regulation. And what I’m calling for is action on the part of the nation-state to sort its shit out. Given what’s at stake, now is the time to get moving.
Caterpillars can’t regulate their body temperatures, so they have to come up with a totally different strategy to make it through the coldest months of the year.
Caterpillars can’t regulate their body temperatures, so they have to come up with a totally different strategy to make it through the coldest months of the year.
- Researchers show that their new diffraction-gated real-time ultrahigh-speed mapping (DRUM) camera can capture a dynamic event in a single exposure at 4.8 million frames per second.
This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.
This driverless car company is using chatbots to make its vehicles smarter
The news: Self-driving car startup Wayve can now interrogate its vehicles, asking them questions about their driving decisions—and getting answers back thanks to a chatbot.
How it works: The idea is to use the same tech behind ChatGPT to help train driverless cars. The company combined its existing self-driving software with a large language model, creating a hybrid model that syncs up video data and driving data with natural-language descriptions that capture what the car sees and what it does.
Why it matters: Wayve is treating the news as a breakthrough in AI safety. By quizzing its self-driving software every step of the way, Wayve hopes to understand exactly why and how its cars make certain decisions—and to uncover mistakes more quickly. Read the full story.
—Will Douglas Heaven
Who benefits most from the new
Covid case numbers are rising across
. So the news that updated covid vaccines are finally available comes as a relief to many. These shots, which target an omicron variant known as XBB, hit some pharmacies earlier this week, with more on the way.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that everyone six months or older get the new vaccine. The announcement has once again sparked a debate about who should get vaccinated, and who will benefit most from the new formulation.
While experts agree that older adults, people who are immunocompromised, and those with multiple underlying conditions will benefit the most from a booster, they’re less certain about other groups. Read the full story.
AI just beat a human test for creativity. What does that even mean?
AI is getting better at passing tests designed to measure human creativity. In a study published in Scientific Reports, AI chatbots achieved higher average scores than humans in the Alternate Uses Task, a test commonly used to assess this ability.
This study will add fuel to an ongoing debate among AI researchers about what it even means for a computer to pass tests devised for humans. The findings do not necessarily indicate that AIs are developing an ability to do something uniquely human. It could just be that AIs can pass creativity tests, not that they’re actually creative in the way we understand. However, research like this might give us a better understanding of how humans and machines approach creative tasks. Read the full story.
AI can help screen for cancer but there’s a catch
Plenty of headlines in the past few months promise AI will revolutionize cancer detection. Just last week Microsoft announced that it will build the world’s largest image-based AI model for identifying cancer. Last month, the first clinical trial of AI-supported breast cancer screening found that an AI-supported model detected 20% more cancers in comparison to human experts working without AI.
That sounds like a good thing. In theory, catching cancers earlier should make them easier to treat, saving lives. But that’s not always what the data shows. Screening is only one part of the puzzle, and in some cases, it can actually cause harm. Read the full story.
This story is from The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 The Biden administration wants to talk to social media firms again
Supreme Court Justice Alito responded by extending the strict comms ban. (CNN)
+ The court ruling prevents officials from coercing platforms to delete content. (NYT $)
+ Biden officials have been accused of violating the First Amendment. (WP $)
2 The secret behind Google’s search dominance? Habit.
Web users are reluctant to try new things, a blockbuster antitrust trial has heard. (Bloomberg $)
+ In a separate case, Google’s paying a $39 million settlement. (The Guardian)
4 College students are working on AI text-detection tools
The problem is, they’re easily confused and prone to errors. (Wired $)
+ AI-text detection tools are really easy to fool. (MIT Technology Review)
5 The US has failed to develop hi-tech supersonic missiles
Now China and Russia’s sophisticated weapons have US officials worried. (WSJ $)
6 Our kids are constantly surveilled online
It’s up to adults to protect them—including on social media. (The Atlantic $)
7 NASA wants more robust data to search for UFOs
Enter the citizen scientists. (FT $)
+ Its new UFO Chief should be able to help. (Bloomberg $)
+ The UFO investigation report makes for interesting reading. (Motherboard)
+ Future space food could be made from astronaut breath. (MIT Technology Review)
8 The James Webb Space Telescope is inspiring artists
Its awe-inspiring photographs are fueling the new generation of video art. (New Yorker $)
+ How the James Webb Space Telescope broke the universe. (MIT Technology Review)
9 The internet is fixated on ancient Rome
There’s much amusement over how often men think about it. (WP $)
Quote of the day
“I’m broke and wearing an ankle monitor and one of the most hated people in the world.”
—Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced crypto founder, reflects on life in home detention earlier this year in a series of unsent tweets shared with the New York Times.
The big story
How greed and corruption blew up South Korea’s nuclear industry
In March 2011, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak presided over a groundbreaking ceremony for a construction project between his country and the United Arab Emirates. At the time, the plant was the single biggest nuclear reactor deal in history.
But less than a decade later, Korea is dismantling its nuclear industry, shutting down older reactors and scrapping plans for new ones. State energy companies are being shifted toward renewables. What went wrong? Read the full story.
—Max S. Kim
We can still have nice things
+ Keep your eyes peeled for the green comet Nishimura this week—it was only discovered a month ago, after all.
+ Can you guess which celebrity scrawls their name like this?
+ This new wedding cake-style pavilion in the UK is delightfully bonkers.
+ This curry house cover of Mr Brightside deserves all the awards.
+ Who knew the Addams Family’s home was quite so colorful?
Nature Communications, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-41513-1Binders employed in battery electrodes are conventionally neutral linear polymers. Here, authors present a cationic semi-interpenetrating polymer network binder to regulate electrostatic phenomena, improving the properties and performance of high-capacity positive electrodes for Li metal batteries.
Nature Communications, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-41481-6High-entropy carbides (HECs) with high hardness usually suffer from low fracture toughness. Here, the authors demonstrate a metastability engineering strategy for toughening superhard HECs by introducing in situ metastable ceramic particles, which are transformable under mechanical loading.
Nature Communications, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-41192-yUnderstanding of the direct methane conversion mechanism is essential for further development of efficient catalysts. Here, authors demonstrate a general methyl radical chemistry for metal single site catalysis regardless of the support (either zeolite or SiO2) in non-oxidative methane activation.
- Researchers show that their new diffraction-gated real-time ultrahigh-speed mapping (DRUM) camera can capture a dynamic event in a single exposure at 4.8 million frames per second.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-42501-7Author Correction:
A new brain organoid model lets researchers investigate the origins of autism.
Organoids are microtissue spheroids that are grown from stem cells and have a similar structure to real organs.
With them, and with a new method for modifying genes within these organoids using the CRISPR-Cas gene scissors, the researchers found out which genetic networks in which cell types in the brain are responsible for the development of autism.
“Our model offers unparalleled insight into one of the most complex disorders affecting the human brain and brings some much needed hope to clinical autism research,” says Jürgen Knoblich, professor and scientific director of the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) of the
Academy of Sciences in Vienna and coauthor of the study in Nature.
This new method enabled the researchers to genetically modify the cells of a brain organoid in a mosaic-like fashion and then study them systematically. Specifically, the scientists altered one of 36 different genes associated with autism in each of the individual cells and studied the resulting effects. “We can see the consequences of every mutation in a single experiment, thus reducing the analysis time drastically when compared to conventional methods,” Knoblich says.
The new method was developed by researchers at the IMBA in Vienna, based on previous methods. In the current study, the group led by Barbara Treutlein, professor of quantitative developmental biology at ETH Zurich, incorporated the computer-assisted analysis of the raw research data: changing multiple genes in parallel in a human organoid and analyzing the resulting effects at the level of thousands of individual cells creates a vast amount of data.
In human disease research, organoids offer advantages over research using lab animals: unlike in lab animals, human genes and cells can be studied in organoids. These advantages are particularly significant in neuroscience, as the specific processes responsible for the development of the human cerebral cortex are unique to the human brain.
Neurodevelopmental disorders in humans are due in part to these human-specific processes in brain development. For example, many human genes that confer an increased risk for an autism spectrum disorder are genes that are critical for cortex development.
Previous studies have shown a causal link between certain gene mutations and autism. However, scientists still don’t understand how these mutations lead to defects in brain development and the expression of autism spectrum disorders. Due to the uniqueness of human brain development, the utility of animal models in this case is limited. “Only a human model of the brain like the one we used can reproduce the complexity and particularities of the human brain,” Knoblich says.
In their organoid model, the researchers were able to show that the genetic changes that are typical for autism affected mainly certain types of neural precursor cells. These are the founder cells from which neurons are created. “This suggests that molecular changes occur at an early stage in fetal brain development that ultimately lead to autism,” says Chong Li, a postdoc at IMBA and one of the study’s two lead authors. “Some cell types we identified are more vulnerable in autism and should receive more attention in future research.”
In addition, the scientists reveal that there are connections among the 36 genes they studied that confer a high risk for autism: “Using a program we developed, we were able to show that these genes are connected to each other through a gene regulation network, and that they interact with each other and have similar effects in the cells,” says Jonas Fleck, a doctoral student in Treutlein’s group and the other lead author of the study.
To test whether the results from the organoid model actually apply to autistic people, the researchers teamed up with clinicians at the Medical University of Vienna to produce brain organoids from two stem cell samples from affected individuals. They found that the organoid data closely matched clinical observations in the affected individuals.
The researchers emphasize that their technology for changing organoid cells in a mosaic-like fashion can also be used for organoids of other human organs and to study other diseases. This is a new research tool for rapidly examining a large number of disease-associated genes. “This technology thus helps to obtain relevant research results directly with human organoids in cell culture,” Treutlein says. “What’s more, human organoid disease models can also be used to test drug efficacy, which can help reduce animal testing.”
Source: ETH Zurich via IMBA
I’m aware that AI will support the energy transition by increasing monitoring of emissions and reducing leakages.
However, I’m curious to know your thoughts on how else AI may be used to enable or disable communities in their energy transition goals, specifically how it may help amplify or shut out the voices of certain marginalized groups from participating in community engagement discussions related to energy transition plans.
Nature Communications, Published online: 15 September 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-41033-yNon-coding repeat expansion in the
Did an absurdly spicy chip and a social media challenge kill a Massachusetts teen? His family sure thinks so, and it is possible. But skepticism is appropriate unless further details emerge. Still, these chips aren't for kids.The post Did a Spicy Social Media Challenge Kill a Massachusetts Teen? first appeared on Science-Based Medicine.