from the world's big
Why You Should Adopt (and Not Create) Children
Given the large number of orphaned children in the world, I can see no reason why people should create children. Secondly, a failure to become adoptive parents is not sufficient reason to then procreate.
The idea of being a parent should be thought through more carefully. When we assess the idea, it is clear that, given the current conditions of the world, there is no reason to create more children.
I proposed this argument in 2010 and received vitriolic replies, which brought more heat than light to the discussion (which isn’t necessarily bad, just unhelpful in many cases). I hope, but do not expect, things to be different here. My argument is simple and I will outline some common responses. I’d also like to thank the few who took the time over the years to extend their support for the argument; indeed who are now involved in adopting and not creating children.
My argument, which I don’t think is original, goes like this.
The Argument for Pro-Active Adoption:
Given the large number of orphaned children in the world, I can see no reason why people should create children. Secondly, a failure to become adoptive parents is not sufficient reason to then procreate. I also think it goes much further, in that I can see no reason for anyone to create children. However, for this initial stage of the discussion, I do at least want to focus on the argument for pro-active adoption.
Two forms of parenthood
The first thing many will say is that there’s no reason to say we ought not to breed. However, that is precisely my point: What reasons do we have for breeding that can’t ethically be catered to by adopting? Or, as in a corollary: What good reasons are there for creating children in general?
The initial aspect to note is that “parenthood” is a messy word: it’s tied up both biologically and symbolically. In the former sense, it’s simply the factual assertion that this or that person gave you half your genes. This is, to me, morally irrelevant: Just as presumably most parents are good to their children, so we also have the Josef Fritzl’s of the world, doing horrific things to their biological children. Though there is a scientific reason why genetic relations will, more than likely, lead to ethical treatment (this is descriptive), it doesn’t mean there will or should be. Just because Josef Fritzl is Elisabeth’s father is no reason she ought to treat him with the dignity and respect many of us accord our parents. Indeed, the only reason we ought to love our parents (and indeed any family members) is the same reason we love anyone else: for what they do for us, not what they genetically gave or share with us. We might as well say we ought to be kind to people who share the same eye-colour for all the moral worth genetics holds. No one gets a free pass because of biological relations.
In terms of parenthood of the symbolic sort, this is the state that probably most biological parents are in and have been: looking after, loving, being kind and wanting the best for the more vulnerable (in this case, children). But notice: this doesn’t depend on biology for it to occur. Adoptive parents do this for their adoptive children, too. Indeed, older siblings or friends can do it for the younger too. (Indeed, you might say that, later in life, some of us will be doing it for our parents.)
I want to make these two definitions of parenthood clear: it is the second one that matters to us, not the first, since biological parenthood only tells us about biological relations, not moral or behavioural ones. (That’s why I’ve always found it strange when people want to find their “real” parents – why? Who cares? Just because they share genes with you doesn’t mean they love or want to love you.)
Why these definitions matter
Why does this matter? The world will be a better place if we had more of the latter type of parenthood (symbolic) and less of the former (biological). That is the essence of my argument. And, keeping with this, it means that creating children is not the essential element of being a parent: it’s about doing the best you can for children.
Our world is overpopulated; it’s teeming with disaster, frustration, misery in individual and collective lives; our environment is getting worse with more demands on ever decreasing resources (or rather, increasingly incapable means of distribution of said resources), made worse by further mouths to feed and bodies to clothe. And, for some reason, we want to create more people, create more burdens on resources, create more lives to suffer? I can see no reason to create life when there are lives, right here and now, that require that attention (symbolic parenthood).
The strangest reply I get to this question is that people want (or "just want") their genes or themselves to continue. This is a strange idea and also an unjustified moral one: There's many things we "want" but what good reasons do we have for wanting them? That is, what’s so essential about our genes that the world needs (more of) it? Legacy is written into our actions, not our blood. Genes of course have some foundation for what kind of person, and therefore, what kind of actions we will have in the world; but that is not morally relevant to the decision on the moral obligation to adopt children. After all, what matters is symbolic parenthood, not genetic.
There is no good reason to create children, when adopting a child can cater for the needs and desires of parents – aside from the morally irrelevant desire to see one’s genes spread.
More importantly, by doing so, in many instances, we are able to help existing children who actually are capable of suffering and joy – unlike potential children who, by definition, do not exist. There is no one being skipped over in your decision to adopt, since your potential offspring do not exist. If no one is being skipped over in your decision to not have children, but someone would be skipped over if you did have children, then the answer seems obvious: we ought, in every instance, to adopt a child since these children actually exist.
No doubt many will reply that adoption is difficult; many people won’t pass the strict adoption laws. I will summarise my reply with a question: If you are unable to adopt, because you are deemed unfit as a parent, doesn’t that give you even more reason not to create a child? And secondly, what’s so essential about breeding that gives you justification to do so? It is particularly this second point that troubles me, since I have yet to find a satisfying answer.
Finally, many might say that if we all did this, the human species would go extinct. According to some estimates, this is going to occur anyway. And, what is wrong with human extinction in general anyway? Pragmatically, it's unlikely many people will adopt my position (ignore the pun) anyway - but those few who do, will no doubt be making a great and good impact on existing people.
If an important aspect of moral action is to try make better lives for more people, or to remove unnecessary suffering, surely the focus should be on existing people - like orphans - who require our love and attention? The non-existent children who so many yearn for by definition don't exist, whereas, right now there is someone who does and could use symbolic parenthood in his or her life.
Further thoughts: Ben and Michael from The Brain Exchange Podcast discuss this article in their second episode, available here.
Image Credit: STILLFX/Shutterstock
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT tomorrow.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.
- One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
- A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
- The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.
WADA uncertainty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDc4NjUwN30.fFTvRR0yJDLtFhaYiixh5Fa7NK1t1T4CzUM0Yh6KYiA/img.jpg?width=980" id="01b1b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fd91a47d91e4d5083449b258a2fd63f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="urine sample for drug test" />
Image source: joel bubble ben/Shutterstock<p>When inhaled β-agonists first came out just before the 1972 Olympics, they were immediately banned altogether by the WADA as possible doping substances. Over the years, the WADA has reexamined their use and refined the organization's stance, evidence of the thorniness of finding an equitable position regarding their use. As of January 2020, only three β-agonists are allowed — salbutamol, formoterol, and salmeterol —and only in inhaled form. Oral consumption appears to have a greater effect on performance.</p>
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTIzMDQyMX0.Gk4v-7PCA7NohvJjw12L15p7SumPCY0tLdsSlMrLlGs/img.jpg?width=980" id="d3141" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebe7b30a315aeffcb4fe739095cf0767" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="runner at starting position on track" />
Image source: MinDof/Shutterstock<p>Of primary interest to the authors of the study is confirming and measuring the performance improvement to be gained from β-agonists when they're ingested by athletes who don't have asthma.</p><p>The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 34 existing studies documenting 44 randomized trials reporting on 472 participants. The pool of individuals included was broad, encompassing both untrained and elite athletes. In addition, lab tests, as opposed to actual competitions, tracked performance. The authors of the study therefore recommend taking its conclusions with just a grain of salt.</p><p>The effects of both WADA-banned and approved β-agonists were assessed.</p>
Approved β-agonists and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzkxODk0M30.3RssFwk_tWkHRkEl_tIee02rdq2tLuAePifnngqcIr8/img.jpg?width=980" id="39a99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1fe4a580c6d4f8a0fd021d7d6570e2a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="vaulter clearing pole" />
Image source: Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock<p>What the meta-analysis showed is that the currently approved β-agonists didn't significantly improve athletic performance among those without asthma — what very slight benefit they <em>may</em> produce is just enough to prompt the study's authors to write that "it is still uncertain whether approved doses improve anaerobic performance." They note that the tiny effect did increase slightly over multiple weeks of β-agonist intake.</p>
Banned β-agonist and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjI3ODU5Mn0.vyoxSE5EYjPGc2ZEbBN8d5F79nSEIiC6TUzTt0ycVqc/img.jpg?width=980" id="de095" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="02fdd42dfda8e3665a7b547bb88007ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="swimmer mid stroke" />
Image source: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock<p>The study found that for athletes without asthma, however, the use of currently banned β-agonists did indeed result in enhanced performance. The authors write, "Our meta-analysis shows that β2-agonists improve anaerobic performance by 5%, an improvement that would change the outcome of most athletic competitions."</p><p>That 5 percent is an average: 70-meter sprint performance was improved by 3 percent, while strength performance, MVC (maximal voluntary contraction), was improved by 6 percent.</p><p>The analysis also revealed that different results were produced by different methods of ingestion. The percentages cited above were seen when a β-agonist was ingested orally. The effect was less pronounced when the banned substances were inhaled.</p><p>Given the difference between the results for allowed and banned β-agonists, the study's conclusions suggest that the WADA has it about right, at least in terms of selection of allowable β-agonists, as well as the allowable dosage method.</p>
Takeaway<p>The study, say its authors, "should be of interest to WADA and anyone who is interested in equal opportunities in competitive sports." Its results clearly support vigilance, with the report concluding: "The use of β2-agonists in athletes should be regulated and limited to those with an asthma diagnosis documented with objective tests."</p>
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.