History may not repeat but it does rhyme.
The fascist philosopher behind Vladimir Putin’s Russia
Some ideas lie dormant for decades, and such is the case with Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin, whose anti-communist stance got him—along with about 160 other intellectuals—expelled from Soviet Russia in 1922 aboard the 'philosopher's ship'. So who was Ilyin, and why has Russia's President Vladimir Putin breathed new life into his writings more than 60 years after Ilyin's death? Yale University's Professor Timothy Snyder gives a crash course in three pillars of Ilyin's philosophy of fascism and explains why this worldview is so appealing to Putin: it defines freedom as knowing your set place in society, asserts that democracy is a ritual and not a reality, and maintains that there are no facts in the world—Russian nationalism is the only truth. Perhaps the most fascinating part of this is how new technology—like Facebook—is turning old fascism into political warfare. "The fundamental way that Russia works in American politics is by transmitting the idea that's nothing is real... What the fascist ideas do with the new technology is they drive [Americans] into a situation where we think the real stakes of politics are all emotional and all about enemies—usually enemies at home," says Snyder. Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election in such a way that Americans couldn't see where the trouble was coming from. "A lot of us are still having a lot of trouble seeing what was happening," he says. Snyder's most recent book is The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America.
Pablo Escobar’s hippos: Why drug lords shouldn’t play God
Lucy Cooke—an acclaimed zoologist, author, and TV presenter—talks to us about Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar's animal menagerie, which included four hippos illegally stolen from Africa. Four became eight, and eight became sixteen, and so on, and since these hippos have no other hippo competition there's a strong potential that you may have a brand new species of hippo, which Cooke refers to as "Hippopotamus Escobarus." Her latest book is The Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife.
How Ernest Shackleton survived a doomed Antarctic expedition
Great leaders are few and far between but Nancy Koehn, a historian of business at Harvard Business School, has put together a compendium of anecdotes from five great leaders throughout history. It reads like a whos-who of humanitarianism, with true stories of grit and determination from the likes of explorer Ernest Shackleton, American president Abraham Lincoln, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the Nazi-resisting Lutheran minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the environmental activist Rachel Carson. Here, Nancy Koehn talks to us about how Ernest Shackleton overcame some incredible odds to hold his team together on a doomed Antarctic expedition, and how we can learn from his stories. Nancy's great new book is Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times.
The chronology of crazy in the USA
Since a boat of religious fanatics with buckles on their hats hit the shores near Plymouth Rock and claimed that this was their utopia, America has always been a little bit crazy. It's this kind of wide-eyed "anything can happen if you believe" mentality that, at its best, can produce incredible art. But at its worst, it can be cruel and conspiratorial. We live in a country where people refuse to believe vaccination can help you and where a White House is spinning "alternative — but Kurt Andersen is here to say that this is nothing now. At the time of the Civil War, society had become split by two sides that refused to listen to each other. Back then, the political and social divide is stoked by a hyperbolic partisan media where anyone could publish whatever they wanted in a pamphlet without fact-checking. Sound familiar? It definitely should. Kurt's latest book is appropriately titled Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.
The feats and failures of hierarchical power: Stalin, Xi Jinping, Macbeth
If you want to understand what a truly hierarchical political system looks like, just look at Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, says historian Niall Ferguson. Stalin wanted to be all-powerful and omnipresent; he tapped phones, policed relationships and spied on everything—he was totally paranoid, says Ferguson, and for good reason. Social networks are lethal to top-down hierarchies and dictatorships, which is what makes this model of governance so unsustainable. But there is an exception that has stunned observers, Niall Ferguson included: China. Under leader Xi Jinping, China's economy has soared over the last 30 years, but it is now vexed with the largest middle class in history. Can this system endure through the 21st century? That's a huge question for China's leaders, and for the world. Niall Ferguson is the author of The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.
"Never Again?" How fascism hijacks democracies over and over
Rob Riemen — founder and president of the Nexus Institute — posits that the type and level of toxicity in today's political climate is a breeding ground for fascism. He argues that most people in fully democratic Germany in the early 1930s didn't think that by decade's end they'd be a fully fascist country, and goes further to say that perhaps history will look back on the 2016 American election in the same way. Is he correct? You be the judge. Rob Riemen's latest book is To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism.
How social networks shaped 500 years of revolutionary progress
Facebook might be the biggest social network but it's far from the first, despite what those in Silicon Valley will have you believe. Stanford University fellow and Oxford University historian Niall Ferguson argues that social networks have been around for centuries and the most prominent of which — the Freemasons — could very well be responsible for democracy as we know it. Started in the 1700s in England and carried over to what would later become America, it was a place where class and social strata didn't count and people could exchange ideas freely... and its members included none other than George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Niall's latest book is the tantalizing The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.
A lesson in power and influence from Abraham Lincoln
Class and race: Driving American politics since revolutionary times
- Coral reefs may not be able to survive another human decade because of the environmental stress we have placed on them, says author David Wallace-Wells. He posits that without meaningful changes to policies, the trend of them dying out, even in light of recent advances, will continue.
- The World Wildlife Fund says that 60 percent of all vertebrate mammals have died since just 1970. On top of this, recent studies suggest that insect populations may have fallen by as much as 75 percent over the last few decades.
- If it were not for our oceans, the planet would probably be already several degrees warmer than it is today due to the emissions we've expelled into the atmosphere.
- The United States health care system has much room for improvement, and big tech may be laying the foundation for those improvements.
- Technological progress in medicine is coming from two fronts: medical technology and information technology.
- As information technology develops, patients will become active participants in their health care, and value-based care may become a reality.
In his book Health Care Reboot, Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's CEO, argues that "[the United States] is constructing a solid foundation upon which the new American health care is being erected." To those steeped in news of health care's administrative bloat, under-performing primary care, and low levels of insurance coverage, such a thesis may seem bold, wishful, or downright delusional.
But Dowling does not ignore the health care system's need for improvement. Rather, he believes that contemporary trends can foster such improvement if we recognize their value. He cites advances and disruptions in areas such as consolidation, education, payment reform, and mental health to support his progressive view that "better, safer, and more accessible care" is coming.
Among those trends is big tech's move into health care, or as Dowling puts it, technology may soon move us into the age of smart medicine.
Medical tech marvels
Dowling sees big tech's stride into health care as coming from two fronts: medical technology and information technology. On the medical technology front, the technology available to doctors has accelerated at an unprecedented pace, resulting in tools and techniques that are "the stuff of Star Wars."
"Some of the most advanced technology tools ever developed in any field are in use to care for patients. Look at any modern operating room or intensive care unit, and the technology to treat patients and keep them alive is remarkable," writes Dowling.
To pick one of many examples, Northwell Health's Cohen Children's Medical Center was the first pediatric program on Long Island to institute ROSA, a "robotic operating surgical assistant." Before ROSA, children suffering epilepsy would have to undergo a full craniotomy to target and monitor areas of seizure activity. With ROSA's assistance, surgeons can get the same results through a minimally invasive procedure, reducing the risk of infection and strain on the patient.
Even technology not designed for therapy has been co-opted to play small, yet supportive, roles in quotidian treatment. A study out of the Children's Hospital Los Angeles found that virtual reality can help reduce a child's anxiety and stress during basic procedures such as a blood draw.
Information tech plays catch up
Photo: Sisacorn / Shutterstock
Dowling characterizes the information technology front as "less impressive," pointing to the well-known difficulties of onboarding electronic health records. Beyond concerns of cybersecurity and interoperability, such systems have caused widespread burnout and dissatisfaction among practitioners thanks to their time consumption and complicated workflows.
But progress is being made. Apple recently added a Health Records app to its iPhone, giving patients from 39 health systems access to their medical records.
"This existing new reality is that a fat file, that until recently was stored away unavailable to the patient, now sits in its entirety on the patient's phone," writes Dowling. "For patients with chronic conditions who make frequent use of medical services, this leap forward enables them, whether a mile from their doctor's office or a thousand miles, to track and share with their doctor essential data on blood pressure, heart rate, glucose levels, and scores of other important clinical markers."
But to succeed, this information must be gatherable, accessible, and understandable to any patient. Big tech will need to streamline such systems for maximum user-friendliness, all while keeping operations on a device with which patients and practitioners are intimately familiar.
That device will be the smartphone and tablet. 77 percent of Americans own smartphones. Among Americans over 65 years of age — the demographic most in need of such advancements — 46 percent own a smartphone, a number that is likely to climb.
Big tech's vision of integrating information technology with health care is some ways off. Much experimenting must be done, and big tech needs to better collaborate with traditional health care stakeholders. Even so, these incipient steps may lead to a framework where practitioners can gather more data more quickly and with greater ease, while patients become partners, not passive recipients, of their health care team.
Accelerating value-based care
In the United States, value-based health care exists today as a should-we, could-we debate topic. Big tech's entry into the field could push value-based care closer to practice. As noted on the health care blog Tech Prescribed, integrating improved data acquisition with AI-powered platforms could turn value-based care into a manageable venture.
"As a result, we will see the move to VBC accelerate even further as more firms turn a profit through this business model. Good news for docs — this will make you the primary customer for provider technology and really improve your user experience as a side effect," writes Colton Ortolf of Tech Prescribed.
The Northwell Health entity Pharma Ventures was created both in response to collaborating with big pharma and as a means to promote value-based care. Pharma Ventures was designed "to link drug prices to drug performance" and "to serve as a super-site for clinical trials." The goal is to drive down costs while simultaneously improving patient experience. Such an initiative is only possible due to Northwell's integrated systems and system-wide electronic health records.
Entering the smart age of medicine
For Dowling, health care in the United States is laying an important foundation for the medicine of tomorrow. We're moving away from the view that health care is something the patient receives at a medical facility. Soon, health care will see the patient take an active role alongside a team of health care providers.
"The new American medicine is proactive and has physicians working in teams with nurses and other caregivers to reach out to patients and guide them along a pathway to health and wellbeing," writes Dowling.
By creating new machines, proliferating information, and making that information easier to obtain, big tech's dive into health care will be a fundamental element in this upcoming paradigm shift.
- Marie Kondo's 2014 book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, has sold over 9 million copies.
- The Japanese organizer's success has turned into a popular Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.
- De-cluttering your home has an emotional resonance, says Kondo.
A bad habit: I tend to avoid popular trends. While it saves me the hassle of terrible pop music and "influencer" nonsense, gems slip by. I was aghast when the KonMari Method first appeared in 2014. Clean up your room? Spark joy? Treat your socks with respect? Around the corner I'd be sold workshops on adulting. Not interested.
My curiosity was piqued, however, when I stumbled upon an article discussing the Shinto influence on Marie Kondo's techniques. In college I was enamored with the Shinto myths of Amaterasu and her spirited brother, Susano-O. While Zen eclipsed other Japanese folk religions on the global stage, Kurosawa fans recognize the Shinto influence on samurai culture. I reconsidered tidying. Bad habits are what the Konmari Method are all about breaking, after all.
The experiment actually began thanks to the Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, which my wife got hooked on. Timing was fortuitous: I had just read the Shinto article, so when she suggested we give it a shot I was game. Besides, tidying has never been completely absent from my life. For many years, when I suffered from major panic attacks, cleaning was one activity that focused my mind enough to keep the terror at bay. Organizing, vacuuming, discarding (or donating), and dusting have an emotional appeal, the very basis of the her method.
Order is genetically encoded in us. Our ancestors had no closets or online organizing tools. Recalling where scarce assets were hidden was an essential skill. Hoarding is an evolutionary glitch in the matrix, with corresponding neuroses. It only occurs in times of excess. For most of history, such a concept was not available.
As I wrote last week, mental health issues are increasing in America. Gathering data from 2005–2017, a team led by Jean Twenge discovered that the most affected demographic is the wealthiest among us. Humans are not designed for surplus. (One positive thanks to Kondo: the resale market is growing faster than fast fashion.) Simultaneously, scarcity mechanisms encoded in our biology for times of famine cause us to collect. Yet the more we're tasked to track, the less happy we are. The more "stuff," the greater the cognitive burden.
10 Amazing Tips from Tidying Up with Marie Kondo
Put into perspective, Kondo's bestseller, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, makes sense. There is room for cherished mementos that "spark joy," but not so much for empty boxes. Sort your belongings by category, not location. Fold better. Hold onto cherished photos, discard the rest. Reduce, reduce, reduce; discover what's really necessary.
I thought I had learned this lesson before. I moved to San Francisco shortly after graduating college in 1997. Life happened and I only stayed for half the year, so back to Jersey went my life. UPS went on strike on my way home. This resulted in two weeks of living out of one suitcase.
What I discovered then is what I rediscovered upon moving to Los Angeles in 2011, which is what I also rediscovered during our first weekend trying out the KonMari Method: we own much more than we need. Though simplistic on the screen, sorting, collecting and discarding objects is cathartic. Like emotional baggage, you realize how much you're holding onto, as well as how good it feels to let it all go.
And so my wife and I began cleaning on another level. A caveat: we didn't follow instructions perfectly. Kondo suggests cleaning by category. For example, pile all of your books in the center of a room. All clothing, kitchenware, and so on. Instead, we tackled the project room by room, with some categorizing, such as the linen closet and bathrooms.
From our closets went nine bags to the Salvation Army, plus items I've been holding "just in case," like a giant backpack I used to travel around Europe in 2000 and the comic book collection I'd stowed in a box in high school and never opened again. Two sets of utensils are unnecessary for two people. Do we really need a few dozen mugs? Of course not. Is my life enhanced by old magazines I never thumb through? The answer is obvious.
Organizing guru Marie Kondo arrives for the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2019. Photo credit: Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images
Yet, as mentioned, sentimental objects are different. Magazine cover stories I wrote warrant filing for the simple reason that they transport me back to a place and time: sitting across from a still-bearded Matisyahu as he prayed over his lunch in downtown Manhattan; drinking too many cappuccinos with Karsh Kale at Cafe Orlin while discussing his latest experimentation with Indian electronica; chatting with the creative Anoushka Shankar about continuing her father's incredible legacy. Moments before all of my writing lived on a screen are part of an autobiography I'd like to track.
Placing your life into a pile is an incredible way to grapple with your agency. Sure, this "collection of things" might not be the "true you," but it represents facets of your existence. Which of them would be required if you lived a life of scarcity? What would really matter then? How about a life of enough instead of excess? Such questions are impossible to ignore when everything is spread out in front of your eyes.
Cathartic, yes, but also healing. Also fun. There are many types of work; the most draining and exhilarating inspire emotions. The reorganization process is aspirational. You're putting your life back together — a life you aspire to, one of order and need, not chaos and gluttony. As Kondo writes, you might be angry at your family because your space is cluttered. We are animals of our environment. Create space in yours and emotional clarity ensues.
Yet I must push back on her feelings about books. Not that I hold onto all of them. I've donated more than I've kept, but the 300 or so surrounding me remain an important aspect of my identity. Perhaps it's not Shinto, but another Japanese word contradicts Kondoism: tsundoku. Unread books elevate your space.
As with closets, dressers, and cabinets, Kondo asks that you move all of your books into a pile in the center of your room. She continues,
"The criterion is, of course, whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it."
I might not give agency to inanimate ideas like gods, but books hold a certain power. (The power is the experience of having read it, of course. But still.) I agree with Kondo, that "you are going to read very few of your books again." At least I have the excuse of citation: many of the underlines and notes make their way into articles and books. Books are also how I like to decorate.
It's the one step I'm not ready to take. Maybe in the future — never is a promise you should never make. Regardless, Marie Kondo has made a huge impact in our home. I'm just not letting her invade my library, though… yet.
- University of Pittsburgh researchers identified four major trends fueling the anti-vaxx movement.
- Using comments originating from a Facebook video, they documented 197 profiles as the basis of their paper.
- Every major medical institution agrees that vaccines are safe and effective, but the movement persists thanks to false information spread online.
Andrew Wakefield's infamous 1998 study connecting autism with the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine raised skeptical eyebrows shortly after its publication. It took the journal 12 years to retract the paper, however, and by then its contents had been broadly disseminated. In 2006, investigative journalist Brian Deer revealed in the Sunday Times of London that Wakefield had been paid over £400,000 to fabricate his findings.
By then, the denounced "scandal" had been released to the masses. A small but extremely loud faction took Wakefield's bait, however. They're still chewing on the debunked carcass, but interestingly, as a new study points out, the underlying reasons for this movement diverged. It's no longer all about autism.
The study, led by University of Pittsburgh professor Brain A. Primack, focuses on parents reluctant to vaccinate their children. This paper comes in the wake of Facebook's announcement that it will "tackle vaccine misinformation" by removing "vaccine hoaxes" on its platform. Instagram and Amazon are also following along.
The study was inspired after researchers noticed a flood of comments on an informational video about the HPV vaccine from more than 800 people. The team chose a random sample of 197 comments, studying the profiles of each respondent in depth. While also observing political affiliations (56 percent Trump supporters), gender (89 percent female), and geographical location (California and Texas being the most common), the team discovered four main drivers fueling anti-vaxxers.
In the 21 years since Wakefield's discredited study, the reasoning has morphed while the underlying fear remains the same. Uncertainty about the efficacy of vaccines is not new; when Edward Jenner introduced the term "vaccination" into medical nomenclature in the 18th century, skeptics abounded.
Check the timeline: soon after the adoption of vaccines (along with other medical advancements, including the discovery of germ theory), world population hit one billion people, after over 200,000 years since the genus homo split from apes. Two hundred years later and seven billion human beings were walking around. While not an argument in favor of such proliferation, which is proving unsustainable, vaccines cured many issues related to mortality.
Afforded the comforts of modernity an unhealthy skepticism, powered by the easy spread of misinformation on social media, is reversing those trends. There is an ethical argument to be made for combating this rhetoric. As Alex Berezow and Ethan Siegel note,
"When we choose to live in a society, there are certain obligations—both moral and legal—to which we are bound. You cannot inflict harm or infringe on the rights and liberties of those around you."
Whether financially incentivized or prone to conspiracy, a growing cadre of anti-vaxxers is moving us backward. Below are the four main reasons why this is the case.
Mistrust of Science and Government Agencies
Given our current political climate it makes sense that many citizens don't trust the government. This sentiment isn't limited to the current administration; long-standing issues of deception and misinformation have created an incredulous public. This has inspired numerous factions that lead with "personal liberty" on every issue, vaccines included.
As Berezow and Seigel write in Scientific American, "freedom" does not entail putting others at risk. That's not liberty; it's stupidity. There are credible reasons why certain children cannot be vaccinated—religious exemption should not be one of them—so putting them at risk because of a Facebook meme is irresponsible. What follows are situations like this anti-vaxx mother asking how to protect her three-year-old in the wake of a measles outbreak.
The answer: vaccinate your child.
We should not weigh deception by politicians against the good work being done by the many scientists and researchers tasked with finding cures to diseases. Public health is an ongoing and at times contentious occupation. The field changes as diseases mutate and confound. This is the nature of science: to evolve with the evidence, which at times requires honesty about previous misgivings. Writing off the many well-intentioned researchers because you've confused their work with the rantings of incentivized congressmen and senators leads to reckless decisions.
The origins of the anti-vaccine movement
Fear of safety risks
The basis of this reason is also understandable. I've heard horrible tales of aggressive vaccine scheduling. Research should be conducted. Using Facebook as your go-to source is not the best idea, especially when the researchers write statements like,
"A common feeling in the commentary is the belief that parents are more well-informed than physicians about the dangers of vaccines."
Perhaps a dialogue with your doctor instead? An anecdotal example: I've covered literature debating the dangers of dietary cholesterol. When my doctor wanted to immediately put me on a statin after an uptick in my levels, I debated the decision. While I suffer genetic high cholesterol, I'm not certain a lifetime of statins is the best decision.
Instead of just refusing, however, we engaged in a long conversation, going point by point based on collective research. Granted, not all doctors are willing to engage so openly, which is its own problem. We've decided to monitor my levels over the next half-year and mutually agree how to proceed.
Unfortunately, children cannot debate. This means parents have to better educate themselves on what vaccines are necessary and, if they so choose, which to skip. That burden falls not just onto parents, but physicians as well. As the researchers note, only 5-15 percent of online respondents identify as medical professionals. More doctors need to take advantage of social media to better inform their patients and the public at large.
WATCH: Teen explains why he defied mother's anti-vaccination ideas
Belief in conspiracy theories
While the first two themes require nuance, the second pair does not. Yet these reasons must be taken seriously. If anything, they are more dangerous, as the above can lead to valuable discussions and dialogues. Engaging with conspiracy theorists is predominantly a lesson in futility. But we cannot ignore them.
As previous research has shown, believing in one conspiracy theory makes it likely that you'll fall for others—it's a style of thinking. The second most common topic in the Pittsburgh study was "media, censorship, and 'cover up.'" Distrusting the government on one topic can make you susceptible to any number of insane theories (such as the notion that vaccines cause autism). Then again, two decades is nothing in the larger scope of time: the legacy of the John Birch Society fluoridation scare remains popular today. Cautious skepticism is healthy; contrarianism for the sake of it is not.
Tech's fight against anti-vaccine content prompts free speech debate
Support of alternative disease treatments
Let's stop calling it "alternative" medicine. A 2017 review speculates that the "complementary and alternative" market will generate $196 billion by 2025. That is a gargantuan industry, not a group of alchemists brewing Peruvian elixirs in a cave. A wide range of systems fall within this category, some worth pursing, many not, as there is simply medicine that works and medicine that does not. The alternative to working is inefficacy. Besides, the reason many treatments work is due to placebo.
Your homeopathic concoction is not going to accomplish what a vaccine does, even if they share similar philosophical roots. The fact that the authors note that some anti-vaxxers "also expressed vegan activism" clues you into the mindset: the pursuit of inner purity and natural remedies trumps the weird stuff invented in a laboratory. Problem is that weird stuff has saved millions of lives. Another problem: vegan activists are also incentivized to lie.
Nature isn't here for our benefit. Humans evolved despite nature, not because it was helping out. It took us 200,000 years to make widely available vaccinations. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that armed with a little knowledge and a contrarian attitude, laptop warriors are battling common sense with such vehemence. Not surprising, but tragic all the same, especially for children suffering the results of such foolishness.
- In Japan and South Korea, there is a common belief that blood types determine character much in the same way Western countries believe in the zodiac.
- While there's little scientific evidence to back up the claim, the blood type theory of personality remains wildly popular.
- However, how this theory came to be has its roots in a dark history.
If you were to ask a stranger at a bar what their blood type was, the best-case scenario in most of the world would be that you'd receive some very strange looks. But if you were in Japan or South Korea, you might actually get a response. In these cultures, blood type is believed to influence personality much in the same way that zodiac signs work in Western cultures. The reason why this came to be a cultural phenomenon in these places, though, has something of a dark history.
How the blood types break down
For the curious, here's how the system works. People with type A blood are warm, friendly, compassionate, and kind. They get along well with people and make good friends. However, they can be a little obsessive, fastidious, and shy. Sometimes their affection can be overbearing, and they tend to neglect their own happiness. Since the blood type personality theory parallels the zodiac sign system, there's also romance a component: Type A people should try to date other type A people or type AB people.
Type Bs are creative, outgoing, spontaneous, and extroverted. On the negative side, they can be self-centered, impatient, and overly independent. Their dating life looks like type As': they should date other type Bs or type Abs.
Type ABs are, naturally, a mix of type A and type B qualities. They somewhat contradictory—they can be shy at times and outgoing at others. They are considered to be very rational and adaptable, but they can be critical, indecisive, and aloof. Since they're so flexible, they can date pretty much anybody.
Type Os are confident, strong-willed, and competitive. On the negative side, they can be very selfish, arrogant, and aggressive. Again, their best bet is to date other type Os or type ABs.
While there are other blood types out there—like the so-called "golden" blood type, Rh-null—the personality theory really only accounts for the major types listed above.
It's certainly fun to compare and contrast the purported traits with yours and others' blood types, but like zodiac signs, there's little scientific evidence to back up the claims. However, the history of the blood type personality theory does have its roots in academia.
From eugenics to pop psychology
Tim Boyle/Getty Images
Blood types were first discovered in 1901 by the Austrian physician Karl Landsteiner. The discovery was monumental. If an unfortunate individual were to receive a blood transfusion from an incompatible donor, they could expect a host of undesirable symptoms: fever, burning sensations, chills, the formation of lethal blood clots in the veins, and an inexplicable sense of impending doom.
While it ultimately became one of mankind's greatest medical achievements, this research was also turned to dark ends. In the early 20th century racially charged thinking and eugenics were growing in popularity across the world. The Nazis would become obsessed with the idea of blood purity. The different blood types were believed to correspond to the different races, and although the ratio of blood types do vary by ethnicity, researchers at this time also ascribed different racial characteristics according to blood type. In particular, type B blood was seen as degenerate. As reported by Der Spiegel, one bacteriologist claimed that carriers of type B blood had more "individuals identified as inferior," and that the blood type often found in "psychopaths, hysterics and alcoholics" as well as—weirdly—"brunette individuals."
By the mid-1920s, this strand of research had made its way to Japan. One study by the social psychologist Takeji Furukawa titled "The Study of Temperament through Blood Type" put forth the first iteration of the blood type personality theory. His study was significantly flawed, as it used an excessively small sample size and unsound statistical methods to reach its conclusions. Furukawa, however, enthusiastically promoted the research, and it took hold in Japan. Some employers began including a box in their job applications to see if potential hires had compatible blood types for the work, and the increasingly nationalistic and expansionistic Japanese government even began to apply the concept in their military, going so far as to group soldiers by their blood types.
Furukawa himself argued that the blood type personality theory could be useful in the field of eugenics, which had become the subject of a great deal of interest in Japan during the first half of the 20th century. Some pundits believed that it was essential for the Japanese to remain junketsu or pure bred, while others argued that konketsu or mixed-bred Japanese could acquire desirable qualities believed to be found in other races. Furukawa would later engage in a study of Taiwanese blood types to try and clarify why they so passionately resisted being conquered by Japan in 1895. Since the majority of Taiwanese were type O, he concluded that it was due to the alleged type O tendency towards aggression and stubbornness.
How did this disturbing history translate to the comparatively banal (though sometimes still discriminatory) practice of using blood type that we see in modern Japan and South Korea? As the 20th century moved on, the idea of blood types having an influence on personality dropped from the public consciousness until the 1970s, when it was revitalized by a journalist named Masahiko Nomi. Nomi's work removed much of the racist and eugenic aspects of the theory's earlier incarnation. Once again, the subject proved to be wildly popular. Nomi published 65 bestselling books, and, after his death, his son Toshitaka Nomi continued the work until his own death in 2006. The modern incarnation of the blood type personality theory largely originates from these two writers, and, although it is significantly less prejudiced than it was in the early 20th century, people are still sometimes bullied or denied employment because of their blood types. There's even a term for harassment based on blood type: bura hara.
The scientific community
Although the theory has clearly captured the attention of many Japanese and South Koreans, its scientific evidence remains scant. A study by Kengo Nawata, for instance, studied the blood types and personalities of over 10,000 people and found that blood type explained just 0.3% of the variation in personalities, a number that could easily result from statistical error. Other researchers have found that blood type does have a relationship with personality in countries where belief in the blood type personality theory is strong. This study concluded that people changed their personalities to fit their blood type instead in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The theory certainly holds more water than the idea that zodiac signs influence personality. It's difficult to see how the position of the stars could have an effect on an individual, but its conceivable that some genetic factors might contribute to both blood types and personality to some extent. Still, the bulk of the scientific research on the topic has failed to find any significant correlation between personality and blood type, with only a few controversial outliers. While the idea might be a pleasing diversion, it's probably for the best that human beings aren't so easily placed into boxes based on whether they're a Taurus or a type B. If one had to choose between a world where one's personality was determined by circumstance or molded throughout the course of one's life, most would probably prefer the latter.