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Goodbye Summer, Goodbye Citronella Spray, Hello Fear
Want a good lesson on how not to make thoughtful healthy decisions about risk? Take a lesson from what Health Canada just did. It is a classic example of how our emotional risk perception system can cause us to do really dumb things in the name of keeping ourselves safe.
You know citronella, that familiar lemony-smelling summer time mosquito repellent? It’s in those candles you burn around the pool or the barbecue to keep the bugs away. It’s also used in some bug sprays, for the same reason. (It’s a natural derivative of lemon grass.) But Health Canada has banned the sale of citronella bug spray. Not because there is any serious evidence that it might be harmful. No, this ban is because there is no absolutely conclusive proof that it’s safe.
There is dumbness here at so many levels. First of all, the basic risk standard of proving that something is absolutely safe, while emotionally appealing, is nuts to any objective thinker. You can’t prove a negative. You can’t absolutely prove that something doesn’t cause harm. Health Canada says there are suspicions that citronella oil may contain trace amounts of another natural chemical that may cause cancer and reproductive problems in lab animals exposed to super high doses, way higher than what we we’re exposed to.
But citronella has been as an insecticide in use since just after World War II and there is NO evidence that it does those harms to people. So Health Canada is basically saying to citronella spray sellers “Until you can prove it doesn’t do what it has never been shown to do in more than 70 years, you can’t sell it.” Like I said, proof of safety may feel like a nice protective standard, but consider all the things in the real world we’d have to give up if that were the standard everything had to meet. Dumb # 1.
Dumb # 2 is the inconsistent way Health Canada, and the U.S. and the EU and Japan and most countries, treat the risk of pesticides. (A pesticide is anything that kills whatever we call a pest; insecticides kill bugs, herbicides kill weeds, fungicides kill mold, etc.) Health Canada has NOT banned the use of citronella in candles, or perfumes, or soaps. These sources expose our skin and lungs the very same stuff just as the bug spray does. If there is a risk from one application, it’s there in the others. Why ban only the spray?
Because the rules for pesticides are different, the standards much higher. Why? In part because the word “PESTICIDES!!!” has become so negatively stigmatized that whenever we hear it, we worry about anything associated with it. And we demand that the government protect us. As a result, governments around the world have tighter rules for “pesticides” than for many other potential hazards that could be even greater. For instance, the rules are much less restrictive for the natural products we use to repel pests, like citronella, that are sold in forms (like those candles) that don’t qualify under the ‘pesticide’ rules. Different rules for different risks, all of which potentially threaten us equally, but some of which scare us more. Dumb # 2.
And then there is the lesson of excessive fear because of uncertainty. As researchers in risk perception have found, when we can’t detect something with our senses, or we don’t understand it because it is scientifically complex, we don’t know what we need to know to protect ourselves. That uncertainty leaves us feeling powerless, unable to keep ourselves safe, and that feeling of powerlessness makes any risk scarier. Pesticides, and indeed most industrial chemicals, can’t be detected with our senses and involve some complex hard-for-most-of-us-to-understand toxicological risk details. Lots of uncertainty. Against that natural protective instinct, we want certainty, proof, a guarantee that there are no lurking dangers we don’t know about.
So Health Canada has adopted a super precautionary approach, at least towards pesticides and industrial chemicals, which essentially says that while any uncertainty remains, a substance or process or product is banned. Again, that sort of precaution feels safe, but consider what we’d have to give up if such a standard – absolute and certain proof of safety - were applied against all the substances and processes and products in our modern lives. Dumb # 3.
We all do this same thing in our own personal lives, make decisions and choices about risk based more on how things feel than what makes the most sense if we just looked at things objectively, without all our instincts and emotions and values clouding our view of the facts. I do to. I worry too much about some things – riding as a passenger in car while the driver is talking on her cell phone – and not worrying enough about others things – like talking on my cell phone when I drive. But I know those choices can sometimes get me into trouble and expose me to risks all by themselves. The challenge is to recognize this threat of worrying too much or too little, the risk that sometime arises from the way we perceive risk in the first place, and try and overcome it with a little more careful thinking, in the name of making smarter, healthier choices.
Thank you, Health Canada, for providing one more lesson that might challenge us to think a little more carefully about how to keep ourselves safe.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.