Want to Help Defuse ISIS' Propaganda? See How It Works from the Inside.
The recent attacks in Paris shine a light on the world's current biggest boogeyman: ISIS. "Boogeyman" is a role that delights ISIS leadership, who are always intent on inflating their profile on the international stage. In fact, the urge to aggrandize the group only plays into its hand.
According to author Salman Rushdie, ISIS has proven itself to be extremely savvy at media creation and dissemination. It uses social media sites to assist with recruiting and to boost propaganda. Its violent hype videos are always shot in a way that maximizes horror, especially the grisly beheading ones from last year. The group's goal is simple: Intimidate and scare as many Westerners as possible. Is it working?
Rushdie's new book is titled Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.
We Treat Radical Islam Like Voldemort — That's Bad for a Very Counterintuitive Reason
Author and peace activist Maajid Nawaz argues that we too often treat radical Islam with kid gloves. While our good intentions make us sensitive to the Muslim faith, and keep us from labeling its violent members as radical practitioners, it does society a disservice.
Odd as the comparison may sound at first, it's the same disservice that members of the Hogwarts community do by refusing to mention Voldemort's name. By refusing to label him, they prevent an open and honest discussion from taking place about possible solutions. And that is where Muggle society finds itself today in regards to radical Islam.
Why ISIS Is Still Going Viral, with General Stanley McChrystal
When we think about ISIS, it's important to try to understand what they are and why they're as effective as they are. According to retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, ISIS benefits from the fact that the Middle East and North Africa are so fractured at the moment. Just as a weak disease can prove deadly to someone with a weakened immune system, ISIS takes advantage of the context and situation. They also benefit from a savvy grasp of modern technology, social media, and — believe it or not — effective branding.
Je Suis Muslim: How Universal Secular Rights Protect Muslim Communities the Most
Author and anti-Islamist activist Maajid Nawaz explains how certain members of the "regressive left" threaten progress within minority communities, in particular liberal Muslims. Members of the left too often champion a brand of racism of low expectations, through which they lower their standards when looking at other cultures if those cultures happen to express a level of misogyny, chauvinism, bigotry, or anti-Semitism, and yet hold other white people to universal liberal standards. This misguided prioritization of cultural tolerance over the progress and the advancement of liberal values handicaps the evolution of minority communities and harms the weakest members of those groups. Nawaz' argument is simple: If we claim to support human rights and classical liberalism, why do we pull punches when it comes to criticizing minority communities and cultures that don't live up to those standards?
Former NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on the Threat of ISIS
Anders Fogh Rasmussen served as Secretary General of NATO from 2009 to 2014. In this Big Think interview, Rasmussen explains how NATO evaluates terrorist threats and what the future fight against the so-called Islamic State will look like.
Around the world, home builders are vigilantly reading tea leaves in the fog, trying to figure out how to survive (and even thrive in) an unfolding economic disaster. And we mourn the fallen, working to keep our loved ones healthy and safe.
COVID-19 has drawn a political dividing line in much of the world. It reminds me of something an American revolutionary, Samuel Johnson, said in 1775: "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." In my story, the scoundrel is this virus – COVID-19.
Home builders construct the physical environments for families, who turn them into homes – homes we hope are filled with laughter, love, aspiration and celebration. Good housing is the cornerstone of strong communities.
Much of how COVID-19 impacts us will be determined by science, but not all. "The question of how the pandemic plays out is at least 50% social and political," Sarah Cobey, epidemiologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, told Scientific American.
Just as the Spanish flu gave us the vanity room, which originated as a hand-washing basin immediately inside the front entry of a home, COVID-19 will influence innovation in home design.
Open-plan, ever-larger houses have ruled the market for decades, even though family size has shrunk and middle-class real earnings have remained flat. U.S. households averaged 2.44 children in 1965 but 1.9 by 2015. With 128.6 million households, that's 7 million fewer children. Yet the average size of U.S. houses grew 62% from 1973-2015, from 1,660 square feet to 2,687. House size was still growing in 2018. In Canada, houses have also grown as families shrunk. In Europe, average house size has grown to 1,880 square feet (which Europeans will say astounds them).
Pandemic thinking will likely favour less-open spaces (though people will crave nature-positive spaces), perhaps reviving cozy dens to supplement living rooms. Spending may shift into less obvious enhancements of safety and comfort. Better interior insulation will enable quieter places. Screened-in porches and outdoor spaces, and new approaches to landscaping will help keep mosquitoes and other disease-bearing critters at bay. A bedroom, kitchen, living room area and bath that is a little removed from the core of the house will accommodate adult children now and elderly parents later (at Lennar, we call this the Next Gen Home). Split HVAC systems can prevent sickroom air from being pumped into everybody's space. Such mini-HVAC systems with no ductwork have become very affordable.
Home-based jobs call for better home offices (Lennar calls this the Next Gen Home Office). The infamous toilet flush in the background of U.S. Supreme Court by-telephone oral arguments underscored the perils of inappropriate home-work spaces. So do videos of children and pets interrupting conference calls or other tasks. A larger home-based work force will drive designers to balance job requirements with the privacy and safety of the family.
Pandemic-inspired housing innovation will collide, however, with three critical forces that were already simmering pre-COVID and are now at a high boil.
- Techno-Accelerations. The pandemic has accelerated the already-brisk integration of real and virtual activities, including remote work, remote health, and remote education. But electric and automated vehicle compatibility, delivery-enablement systems, frictionless purchasing and the Internet of Things (IoT) enabling the remote maintenance and repair of homes . . . all require fast bandwidth – faster even than 5G. It also requires security: in a geopolitical environment where surface attack areas have expanded, we all want military-grade cybersecurity.
- Climate. As China began publicly grappling with deaths from COVID-19 in mid-January 2020, the World Economic Forum's "2020 Global Risks Report" was released. It warned that climate change makes more of the planet hospitable to infectious pathogens. Resilience is therefore the watchword of the remainder of the century. Energy and flood resilience, and smart insurance and other financing products that will encourage a great migration away from the coasts . . . these are the characteristics of the new urban morphology brought about by climate change.
- Social Justice. While COVID-19 did not cause the social justice movement that swept many parts of the world this summer and the U.S. in particular, the virus amplifies economic burdens which, in turn, exacerbate the movement's root causes: income inequality is central to this dynamic. The Institute for Policy Studies found America's 400 richest people are worth $US3 trillion, more than all African-American households plus 25% of Hispanic households combined. There's little doubt these numbers err on the low side now. COVID-19 has wiped out the ready resources of many families and that will spark varying degrees of political reaction globally. Populist housing policies that threaten capital investment could deter home building and contribute to future housing crises. Inclusionary housing programmes that accelerate wealth creation among traditionally excluded populations, enable financing, inject innovation into housing use and urgently work toward housing security for vulnerable populations will underpin how governments reallocate precious housing-related subsidies.
The ghosts of the 2008 financial crisis hang over the pandemic economy. But the 2008 crisis was housing-ignited. High-risk mortgages drove up the prices of houses buyers couldn't afford but bought anyway. This textbook housing bubble was buoyed by an irrational conviction that prices would keep rising and rising. Low interest and inflated housing values led millions to refinance or, in the U.S., extract home equity loans to pay for remodelling, cars, boats, campers, and bucket-list quests. The housing bubble popped and its bad ink seeped through world economic systems.
A 6 January 2020 Washington Post article opened with: "A strong job market and low mortgage rates should sustain the housing market in 2020. The problem will be finding enough homes for buyers. With unemployment hovering at a 50-year low and interest rates well below historical norms, the real estate industry is being dragged down by scarcity in housing stock…."
Within three months, U.S. unemployment had surged to historic levels (more than 23 million Americans were officially unemployed at the start of May, more than 30 million by the end) but that Washington Post article still holds true today. Low mortgage costs in the U.S. and the developed world continue to drive affordability. And the deficit in housing production inherited from the 2008 crisis still constrains supply while, at the same time, millennials all over the world are starting their families.
Sales of existing houses — normally about 90% of the U.S. market — have been eviscerated this year. New homes are favoured over resale, and de-urbanisation is occurring where it can. If new-home sales of the late spring and, as reported in the media, the early summer, continue, 2020 could be a fair year for new home builders. There's been a big jump in online sales of new homes, a global spike in online home-searching activity, and purchasing occurring often without buyers even walking through a house. A new, fully warranted home, bought without having to spend time with realtors and owners, has great appeal.
In the last century, vaccines and the public health movement largely eliminated dreaded contagious disease in much of the world. Industrialised countries have periodic outbreaks that remind us of this danger, among which, the HIV/AIDS, SARS, Zika, and West Nile viruses. Public health professionals tell us we could be entering an era in which mass urbanisation, climate change, stressed natural eco-systems and other factors will yield a pandemic (or something approximating one) every 7-10 years. This will force a reckoning with what it means to work together toward a better future. But we will also realise that we will all seek refuge in a home. Maybe knowing that will be our true last refuge.
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic cripples the economy and kills hundreds of people each day, there is another epidemic that continues to kill tens of thousands of people each year through opioid drug overdose.
Opioid analgesic drugs, like morphine and oxycodone, are the classic double-edged swords. They are the very best drugs to stop severe pain but also the class of drugs most likely to kill the person taking them. In a recent journal article, I outlined how a combination of state-of-the-art molecular techniques, such as CRISPR gene editing and brain microinjection methods, could be used to blunt one edge of the sword and make opioid drugs safer.
I am a pharmacologist interested in the way opioid drugs such as morphine and fentanyl can blunt pain. I became fascinated in biology at the time when endorphins – natural opioids made by our bodies – were discovered. I have been intrigued by the way opioid drugs work and their targets in the brain, the opioid receptors, for the last 30 years. In my paper, I propose a way to prevent opioid overdoses by modifying an opioid user's brain cells using advanced technology.
Opioid receptors stop breathing
Opioids kill by stopping a person from breathing (respiratory depression). They do so by acting on a specific set of respiratory nerves, or neurons, found in the lower part of the brain that contain opioid receptors. Opioid receptors are proteins that bind morphine, heroin and other opioid drugs. The binding of an opioid to its receptor triggers a reaction in neurons that reduces their activity. Opioid receptors on pain neurons mediate the pain-killing, or analgesic, effects of opioids. When opioids bind to opioid receptors on respiratory neurons, they slow breathing or, in the case of an opioid overdose, stop it entirely.
Respiratory neurons are located in the brainstem, the tail-end part of the brain that continues into the spine as the spinal cord. Animal studies show that opioid receptors on respiratory neurons are responsible for opioid-induced respiratory depression – the cause of opioid overdose. Genetically altered mice born without opioid receptors do not die from large doses of morphine unlike mice with these receptors present.
Unlike laboratory mice, humans cannot be altered when embryos to remove all opioid receptors from the brain and elsewhere. Nor would it be a good idea. Humans need opioid receptors to serve as the targets for our natural opioid substances, the endorphins, which are released into the brain during times of high stress and pain.
Also, a total opioid receptor knockout in humans would leave that person unresponsive to the beneficial pain-killing effects of opioids. In my journal article, I argue that what is needed is a selective receptor removal of the opioid receptors on respiratory neurons. Having reviewed the available technology, I believe this can be done by combining CRISPR gene editing and a new neurosurgical microinjection technique.
CRISPR to the rescue: Destroying opioid receptors
CRISPR, which is an acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, is a gene editing method that was discovered in the genome of bacteria. Bacteria get infected by viruses too and CRISPR is a strategy that bacteria evolved to cut-up the viral genes and kill invading pathogens.
The CRISPR method allows researchers to target specific genes expressed in cell lines, tissues, or whole organisms, to be cut-up and removed – knocked out – or otherwise altered. There is a commercially available CRISPR kit which knocks out human opioid receptors produced in cells that are grown in cell cultures in the lab. While this CRISPR kit is formulated for in vitro use, similar conditional opioid receptor knock-out techniques have been demonstrated in live mice.
To knockout opioid receptors in human respiratory neurons, a sterile solution containing CRISPR gene-editing molecules would be prepared in the laboratory. Besides the gene-editing components, the solution contains chemical reagents that allow the gene-editing machinery to enter the respiratory neurons and make their way into the nucleus and into the neuron's genome.
How does one get the CRISPR opioid receptor knockout solution into a person's respiratory neurons?
Enter the intracranial microinjection instrument (IMI) developed by Miles Cunningham and his colleagues at Harvard. The IMI allows for computer-controlled delivery of small volumes of solution at specific places in the brain by using an extremely thin tube – about twice the diameter of a human hair – that can enter the brain at the base of the skull and thread through brain tissue without damage.
The computer can direct the robotic placement of the tube as it is fed images of the brain taken before the procedure using MRI. But even better, the IMI also has a recording wire embedded in the tube that allows measurement of neuronal activity to identify the right group of nerve cells.
Because the brain itself feels no pain, the procedure could be done in a conscious patient using only local anesthetics to numb the skin. Respiratory neurons drive the breathing muscles by firing action potentials which are measured by the recording wire in the tube. When the activity of the respiratory neurons matches the breathing movements by the patients, the proper location of the tube is confirmed and the CRISPR solution injected.
The call for drastic action
Opioid receptors on neurons in the brain have a half-life of about 45 minutes. Over a period of several hours, the opioid receptors on respiratory neurons would degrade and the CRISPR gene-editing machinery embedded in the genome would prevent new opioid receptors from appearing. If this works, the patient would be protected from opioid overdose within 24 hours. Because the respiratory neurons do not replenish, the CRISPR opioid receptor knockout should last for life.
With no opioid receptors on respiratory neurons, the opioid user cannot die from opioid overdose. After proper backing from National Institute on Drug Abuse and leading research and health care institutions, I believe CRISPR treatment could enter clinical trials in between five to 10 years. The total cost of opioid-involved overdose deaths is about US$430 billion per year. CRISPR treatment of only 10% of high-risk opioid users in one year would save thousands of lives and $43 billion.
Intracranial microinjection of CRISPR solutions might seem drastic. But drastic actions that are needed to save human lives from opioid overdoses. A large segment of the opioid overdose victims are chronic pain patients. It may be possible that chronic pain patients in a terminal phase of their lives and in hospice care would volunteer in phase I clinical trials for the CRISPR opioid receptor knockout treatment I propose here.
Making the opioid user impervious to death by opioids is a permanent solution to a horrendous problem that has resisted efforts by prevention, treatment and pharmacological means. Steady and well-funded work to prove the CRISPR method, first with preclinical animal models then in clinical trials, is a moonshot for the present generation of biomedical scientists.
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Using a combination of imagination and technology, science tech company Nanotronics aims to revolutionize the factory floor so that industries can have a smaller factory footprint, produce less waste, and rapidly increase the speed from R&D to production—it's this very philosophy that allowed Nanotronics to pivot and manufacture ventilators as a rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this Big Think Live session, presented by BMO Financial Group, Matthew Putman, scientist, musician, and CEO of Nanotronics, and Peter Hopkins, co-founder and president of Big Think, will open a window to the future. Learn how manufacturing disruption will accelerate innovation in a multitude of industries, why impact over profit should be a guiding star for leaders, and watch Putnam settle this question once and for all: Is AI a homicidal, job-devouring nemesis?
Ask your questions for Matthew Putman during the audience Q&A!
Join the live stream at 10am EDT, Tuesday August 11.
Thanks to our partner BMO Financial Group.
Women today are founding more businesses than ever. In 2018, they made up 40% of new entrepreneurs, yet in that same year, they received just 2.2% of all venture capital investment. The playing field is off-balance. So what can women do?
They can get candid with each other. In this Big Think Live session, Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, and Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, will discuss entrepreneurship, decision-making, and leadership lessons from Victoria's new book, Digital Goddess: The Unfiltered Lessons of a Female Entrepreneur. The book is a raw and real roadmap for any woman who has ever thought about striking out on her own, and will empower you to get meetings, raise money, and make hard choices—and never get so serious that you can't still have fun doing what you love.
Victoria Montgomery Brown has built and run Big Think for the last 12 years. It's become the leading digital media knowledge company, making people and companies smarter and faster with the world's best thinkers and doers. It wasn't a venture-funded tech darling, born and raised in a Silicon Valley incubator. It's a scrappy, creative, labor of love that was born in a New York City bar and raised in a rented closet in someone else's office. It's had to fight for its existence most of the time. Her new book is Digital Goddess: The Unfiltered Lessons of a Female Entrepreneur (available for preorder).
Brown graduated from Montreal's McGill University in 1997 and received her MBA from Harvard Business School in 2003.
Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter and the author of Smarter Faster Better, about the science of productivity and The Power of Habit, about the science of habit formation in our lives, companies and societies. Duhigg studied history at Yale, received an MBA from Harvard Business School, and was a reporter at The New York Times for a decade. Today, he is a leading writer on the nature of habits and productivity. He writes books and magazine articles for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker and The Atlantic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
After the U.S. began battling the coronavirus in February, it didn't take long for Americans to make the battle part of the culture war. The left, in general, framed mandatory shutdowns and precautionary behaviors as a moral duty, while parts of the right viewed these reactions not only as overreactions, but as a threat to freedom, coming from untrustworthy sources.
But why? What are the forces or ideas causing so many Americans to behave in ways that are demonstrably exacerbating the spread of COVID-19?
To better understand, some pollsters have examined not only Americans' political views, but also their religious attitudes. The results have suggested that religious Americans — in particular, white evangelicals — are less likely to practice precautionary measures, like mask-wearing and social distancing.
But a new study argues that looking at broad religious attitudes only offers part of the picture.
Published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the study suggests that the far right's behavioral response to the pandemic is largely shaped by Christian nationalism, which they define as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
Christian nationalism is generally characterized as fundamentalist, exclusivist, and supportive of ultra‐conservative ideals, according to the researchers. The ideology includes several key components:
- Skepticism of science and scientists
- The belief that Americans are God's chosen and protected people
- Distrust for news media
- Commitment to President Donald Trump
Past studies have shown that Christian nationalists are likely to affirm statements like: "The United States was founded as a Christian nation," "America holds a special place in God's plan," and "The success of the United States is part of God's plan."
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images
Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.
"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.
"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America back to himself, which assumes the two belong together."
The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.
(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.
In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.
Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."
To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."
The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."
But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.
Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.
"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.