“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
A Wall Street Journal examination shows how states allow some police officers to remain on the force despite misconduct
Former Inkster, Mich., police officer William Melendez, here in court last year, was convicted of assault and misconduct. He is appealing the verdict. Photo: David Coates/The Detroit News/Associated Press
Gary Allen Steele fired a gun near his former girlfriend during an argument. Donald Snider harassed a minor. Claudia Wright faced forgery charges. Frank Garcia was accused of shooting out his window while driving drunk.
All pleaded guilty to crimes or left jobs to avoid prosecution. All were police officers at the time of their alleged misconduct. All still are.
They are among hundreds of officers in America who still have badges after being charged with crimes, The Wall Street Journal found in an examination tracking outcomes of police-misconduct cases across every state.
Infractions that can disqualify barbers, child-care providers and others needing state certification don’t necessarily bar officers from retaining jobs or getting new ones. In America’s patchwork system, most states let some officers remain on the force despite misconduct, including actions that other states might consider disqualifying.
With a president-elect who has publicly supported the debunked claim that vaccines cause autism, suggested that climate change is a hoax dreamed up by the Chinese, and appointed to his Cabinet a retired neurosurgeon who doesn’t buy the theory of evolution, things might look grim for science.
Yet watching Patti Smith sing “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” live streamed from the Nobel Prize ceremony in early December to a room full of physicists, chemists and physicians — watching her twice choke up, each time stopping the song altogether, only to push on through all seven wordy minutes of one of Bob Dylan’s most beloved songs — left me optimistic.
Taking nothing away from the very real anxieties about future funding and support for science, neuroscience in particular has had plenty of promising leads that could help fulfill Alfred Nobel’s mission to better humanity. In the spirit of optimism, and with input from the Society for Neuroscience, here are a few of the noteworthy neuroscientific achievements of 2016.
One of the more fascinating fields of neuroscience of late entails mapping the crosstalk between our biomes, brains and immune systems.
In July, a group from the University of Virginia published a study in Nature showing that the immune system, in addition to protecting us from a daily barrage of potentially infectious microbes, can also influence social behavior. The researchers had previously shown that a type of white blood cells called T cells influence learning behavior in mice by communicating with the brain. Now they’ve shown that blocking T cell access to the brain influences rodent social preferences.
People have dreamed about flying cars for decades, but the technology has always seemed far out of reach. Airplanes have long been too big, expensive, dangerous, loud, and complex for personal aviation to be more than a hobby for rich people.
But that might be about to change. “There’s a couple of technologies that are maturing and converging” to make small, affordable airplanes feasible, says Brian German, an aerospace researcher at Georgia Tech.
German argues that lighter and more powerful electric motors, batteries that can store more energy, and more sophisticated aviation software could transform the market for small aircraft.
Indeed, several companies are already working on prototypes of car-size airplanes that could soon become cheap, safe, and versatile enough for ordinary people to use them regularly. Google co-founder Larry Page has secretly funded one startup in this market, Zee Aero, since 2010. In 2015 he also invested in another called Kitty Hawk, led by former Google self-driving car guru Sebastian Thrun.
The flying cars of the future won’t look exactly like the ones on The Jetsons. There’s a good chance you’ll rent them on demand from a company like Uber instead of buying one that parks in your driveway — a possibility Uber explored in a recent white paper. But a future where millions of people take short trips by air on a regular basis could be closer than you think.
An employee arranges glass display containers of marijuana on shelves at a retail and medical cannabis dispensary in Boulder, Colorado, on 11 August 2016. Photograph: Brennan Linsley/AP
This year’s election may have been dominated by Donald Trump, but it was also about marijuana. California, Massachusetts and Nevada made recreational use legal as a bunch of other states moved to legalize medical use. The victories weren’t all about getting high. The promise of marijuana is money – money for state taxes and for the bushels of small businesses that are being created in legal weed’s wake. Next year will be a big test for those businesses and, according to some, those promises are already going up in smoke.
Marijuana retail sales, both medical and recreational, could reach $4.3bn this year, according to the 2016 Marijuana Business Factbook, an annual survey of cannabis-related ventures conducted by Marijuana Business Daily. Access to a multibillion-dollar industry that could create new jobs is a prospect that appeals to voters otherwise uninterested in pot, but some of the aspiring entrepreneurs chasing that dream warn that weed is not an easy business.
James Beacham looks for answers to the most important open questions of physics using the biggest science experiment ever mounted, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. In this fun and accessible talk about how science happens, Beacham takes us on a journey through extra-spatial dimensions in search of undiscovered fundamental particles (and an explanation for the mysteries of gravity) and details the drive to keep exploring.
Clockwise from left: a fire burns near the Burj Khalifa in Dubai; Donald Trump; a memorial for Philando Castile; “Stranger Things”; flowers left at a gorilla statue after the shooting of Harambe; and Prince. (Hassan Al Rasi/Reuters; Evan Vucci/AP; Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press via AP; Curtis Baker/Netflix; John Minchillo/AP; Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
The year started ominously, with a big fire in a big hotel in the Middle East. Remember? You were getting dressed for a party in the waning hours of 2015 and glimpsed cable news in the mirror, where an orange blaze licked the black sky near the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The fireworks show went as planned: artful magenta flashes arching through a drifting wall of smoke. That would be 2016 in a single image. Spectacle upon spectacle.
A band of armed ranchers trapped themselves in an Oregon wildlife refuge, in the name of freedom.
The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, in the name of solidarity.
A woman who represents the mythical illuminati funded by George Soros was beaten to the White House by a man who brags about sexual assault. The woman fled to the woods. The man withdrew to an upper floor of his dark tower, to plan.
About 4.4 million low-wage workers across the country are slated to receive a raise
Workers at a McDonald’s Corp. location in New York. At the start of 2017, the minimum wage for fast-food workers in the city will rise to $12 an hour, just one of many increases to the pay floor across the country to begin the new year. Photo: Richard Drew/Associated Press
Minimum wages will increase in 20 states at the start of the year, a shift that will lift pay for millions of individuals and shed light on a long-running debate about whether mandated pay increases at the bottom do more harm or good for workers.
In Massachusetts, the minimum wage will rise $1, to $11 an hour, a change that affects about 291,000 workers. In California, the minimum goes up 50 cents, to $10.50 an hour, boosting pay for 1.7 million individuals.
Wages are also going up in many Republican-led states, where politicians have traditionally been skeptical of the benefits of minimum-wage increases.
Why we need artificial intelligence to study our natural intelligence.
Over the past several years, Jack Gallant’s neuroscience lab has produced a string of papers that sound absurd.
In 2011, the lab showed it was possible to recreate movie clips just from observing the brain activity of people watching movies. Using a computer to regenerate the images of a film just by scanning the brain of a person watching one is, in a sense, mind reading. Similarly, in 2015, Gallant’s team of scientists predicted which famous paintings people were picturing in their minds by observing the activity of their brains.
This year, the team announced in the journal Nature that they had created an “atlas” of where 10,000-plus individual words reside in the brain — just by having study participants listen to podcasts.
How did they do all this? By using machine learning tools — a type of artificial intelligence — to mine huge troves of brain data and find the patterns of brain activity that predict our perception.
The goal here isn’t to build a mind-reading machine (although it’s often confused for that). Neuroscientists aren’t interested in stealing your passwords right out of your head. Nor are they interested in your darkest secrets. The real goal is a lot bigger. By turning neuroscience into a “big data” science, and using machine learning to mine that data, Gallant and others in the field have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the brain.
The human brain, after all, is the most complicated object we know of in the universe, and we barely understand it. The wild idea of Gallant’s lab — an idea that could lift the field of neuroscience out of its infancy — is this: Maybe we have to build machines to figure out the brain for us. The hope is if we can decipher the intensely intricate patterns of the brain, we can figure out how to fix the brain when it’s suffering from disease.