“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
In March 1999, President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno called a meeting of representatives of several federal agencies to discuss what to do about school violence levels, which were high but not increasing. I showed the group a large poster on which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where I was then the director of the injury center, had plotted the frequency of school shootings involving multiple deaths. It showed a steady and frightening increase. I had hoped that this would move the Clinton administration to take rapid steps to prevent more such shootings.
It didn’t. Exactly one month later came Columbine, which took the lives of 13 students and two student perpetrators—at that time, the worst school shooting in U.S. history. We all know what happened next: Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and, most recently, Parkland, with many others in between. According to the Washington Post, “more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.”
If we are waiting for the numbers of school shooting victims—or, for that matter, nightclub victims, concert-going victims, shopping mall victims, young inner-city black men or suicidal veterans—to grow high enough to move legislators to act, it ain’t gonna happen. Numbers have not brought politicians to their senses. Nor has sympathy or compassion: The shootings continue, despite victims, their family members and even the families of perpetrators recounting the horrors of gun violence in predictably tragic media coverage. “Common-sense” policy solutions aren’t enough either, because we are so polarized that what is called common sense by one side of the gun debate is seen as propaganda or false by the other. There are those who favor “gun control,” but the term is not well-defined except by the other side, who see them as so single-mindedly focused on safety that they would happily take all firearms out of civilian hands. On the other side are those who favor gun rights and have been conditioned by the NRA leadership to have zero tolerance for any discussion whatsoever about preventing gun violence. They are seen as irrational “gun nuts” by the gun-control side.
ROBERT MARCHANTE / REUTERS Edward Snowden speaking via video link, May 2017
ll governments, all political parties, and all politicians keep secrets and tell lies. Some lie more than others, and those differences are important, but the practice is general. And some lies and secrets may be justified, whereas others may not. Citizens, therefore, need to know the difference between just and unjust secrets and between just and unjust deception before they can decide when it may be justifiable for someone to reveal the secrets or expose the lies—when leaking confidential information, releasing classified documents, or blowing the whistle on misconduct may be in the public interest or, better, in the interest of democratic government.
Revealing official secrets and lies involves a form of moral risk-taking: whistleblowersmay act out of a sense of duty or conscience, but the morality of their actions can be judged only by their fellow citizens, and only after the fact. This is often a difficult judgment to make—and has probably become more difficult in the Trump era.
LIES AND DAMNED LIES
A quick word about language: “leaker” and “whistleblower” are overlapping terms, but they aren’t synonyms. A leaker, in this context, anonymously reveals information that might embarrass officials or open up the government’s internal workings to unwanted public scrutiny. In Washington, good reporters cultivate sources inside every presidential administration and every Congress and hope for leaks. A whistleblower reveals what she believes to be immoral or illegal official conduct to her bureaucratic superiors or to the public. Certain sorts of whistle-blowing, relating chiefly to mismanagement and corruption, are protected by law; leakers are not protected, nor are whistleblowers who reveal state secrets.
Anne Pierre joins with other activists in front of the office of Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to show support for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on Feb. 2 in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Last week was supposed to be a pivotal moment for an immigration deal. But despite days of debate and numerous proposals, senators were not able to pass a concrete immigration solution.
Part of the conundrum is that President Trump seems unwilling to sign any bill that does not include a commitment to narrowing legal immigration, after originally saying he would pass any bill that lawmakers could agree on.
If Congress does not come up with a solution soon, and the courts don’t offer some clarity, some 700,000 people protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) could lose their status.
Assumption versus reality
Immigration appears thoroughly ingrained in the Democratic brand. When the center-left think tank Third Way conducted surveys after the 2016 election with voters, nearly all of them pointed to the same thing.
“When we asked people what Democrats stood for, immigration was one of the biggest words that came up in the word cloud that people used to discuss Democrats,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, vice president for social policy and politics at Third Way. “[Immigration] was a mainstay of how people saw the Democratic Party.”
And so the logical conclusion ahead of the 2016 presidential election was that Trump’s unfriendly immigration rhetoric would help Democrats.
Most Americans would probably be thrilled to learn extraterrestrials (intelligent or not) exist. Other nationalities beg to differ
When ‘Oumuamua, a mysterious interstellar object, swept through our solar system last October, it elicited breathless news stories all asking the obvious question—is it a spaceship? There were no signs it was—although many people seemed to hope otherwise.
Throughout history most strange new cosmic phenomena have made us wonder: Could this be it, the moment we first face alien life? The expectation isn’t necessarily outlandish—many scientists can and do make elaborate, evidence-based arguments that we will eventually discover life beyond the bounds of our planet. To true believers, what may be more uncertain is whether or not such news would cause global panic—which depends on how our minds, so greatly influenced by our Earthly environment and society, would perceive the potential threat of something utterly outside our familiar context.
“There’s this feeling amongst the public—a very large fraction of the public—that the discovery of intelligent life at least would be kept secret by the government because otherwise everybody would just go bonkers,” says Seth Shostak, an astronomer at the SETI Institute who was not involved with the study. Perhaps it might make sense for our brains—tuned by millions of years of evolution to be wary of predators—to freak out over immensely powerful alien beings arriving on our cosmic doorstep from parts unknown.
But let’s say the situation hasn’t gone full “alien invasion” yet and malevolent starships aren’t sailing toward Earth, but rather we have read news of a definitive discovery of extraterrestrial life. How might we react then? Psychologists at Arizona State University (A.S.U.) used language-analyzing software to gauge feelings associated with 15 news articles about past discoveries that could have potentially been attributed to extraterrestrial life—reports covering items such as newfound Earth-like planets, mysterious astrophysical phenomena and possible life found on Mars. The articles used more positive and reward-oriented words than negative and risk-oriented ones, they report in a study published in January in Frontiers in Psychology. Although not in the paper, the team later similarly found articles about ‘Oumuamua skewed positive. They will report those results on Saturday in Austin, Texas, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Blood and urine test, believed to be first of its kind, could lead to earlier diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders
Scientists in Britain say they have developed a blood and urine test that can detect autism in children.
Researchers at the University of Warwick said the test, believed to be the first of its kind, could lead to earlier diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in children who could then be given appropriate treatment much earlier in their lives.
ASDs mainly affect a person’s social interaction and communication, with symptoms that can include speech disturbances, repetitive and/or compulsive behaviour, hyperactivity, anxiety, and difficulty adapting to new environments.
As there is a wide range of ASD symptoms, diagnosis can be difficult and uncertain, particularly at the early stages of development. It is estimated that about one in every 100 people in the UK has ASD, with more boys diagnosed with the condition than girls.
Scientists said their research found a link between ASD and damage to proteins in blood plasma. They found the most reliable of the tests they developed was examining protein in blood plasma, which found children with ASD had higher levels of the oxidation marker dityrosine (DT) and certain sugar-modified compounds called advanced glycation end-products (AGEs).
Genetic causes are thought to be responsible for about a third of cases of ASD, while the rest are believed to be caused by a combination of environmental factors, mutations, and rare genetic variants. However, researchers believe their new tests could reveal yet-to-be-identified causes of ASD.
Students are planning nationwide #MarchForOurLives protests.
Five students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, made their way through all the major morning talks shows Sunday, appearing on NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and CNN. They announced nationwide marches for gun control next month and ripped politicians, including President Donald Trump, who benefit from the National Rifle Association’s political spending while refusing to act to strengthen gun laws.
“Now is the time to get on the right side of this,” Emma Gonzalez, one of the students, said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Because this is not something we are going to be let [you] sweep under the carpet.” Gonzalez said she was speaking directly to Trump, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R), and other lawmakers who have benefited from pro-gun money.
“These people who are being funded by the NRA are not going to be allowed to remain in office when midterm elections roll around,” she said. “They are going to be voted out of office.”
Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, David Hogg, Alex Wind, and Jaclyn Corin are among the survivors of the shooting that killed 17 people at the high school on Wednesday. They drew praise from network and cable news hosts as they offered pointed advice for lawmakers and older Americans.