We look back at a year ravaged by a global pandemic, economic downturn, political turmoil and the ever-worsening climate crisis.
Billions are at risk of missing out on the digital leap forward, as growing disparities challenge the social fabric.
Image: Global Risks Report 2021<h3>Widespread effects</h3><p>"The immediate human and economic costs of COVID-19 are severe," the report says. "They threaten to scale back years of progress on reducing global poverty and inequality and further damage social cohesion and global cooperation."</p><p>For those reasons, the pandemic demonstrates why infectious diseases hits the top of the impact list. Not only has COVID-19 led to widespread loss of life, it is holding back economic development in some of the poorest parts of the world, while amplifying wealth inequalities across the globe.</p><p>At the same time, there are concerns the fight against the pandemic is taking resources away from other critical health challenges - including a <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/charts-covid19-malnutrition-educaion-mental-health-children-world/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disruption to measles vaccination programmes</a>.</p>
Debating is cognitively taxing but also important for the health of a democracy—provided it's face-to-face.
- New research at Yale identifies the brain regions that are affected when you're in disagreeable conversations.
- Talking with someone you agree with harmonizes brain regions and is less energetically taxing.
- The research involves face-to-face dialogues, not conversations on social media.
There are two kinds of identity politics. One is good. The other, very bad. | Jonathan Haidt<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6f0e52833af5d35adab591bb92d79f8e"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/l-_yIhW9Ias?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Unsurprisingly, harmonious synchronization of brain states occurred when volunteers agreed, similar to <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322764116_Creativity_and_Flow_in_Surgery_Music_and_Cooking_An_Interview_with_Neuroscientist_Charles_Limb" target="_blank">group flow</a>—the coordination of brain waves that hip-hop and jazz musicians (among others) experience when performing together. Coordination exceeds the social, into the neurological. As the team writes, "talking during agreement was characterized by increased activity in a social and attention network including right supramarginal gyrus, bilateral frontal eye-fields, and left frontopolar regions."</p><p>This contrasts with argumentative behavior, in which "the frontoparietal system including bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, left supramarginal gyrus, angular gyrus, and superior temporal gyrus showed increased activity while talking during disagreement."</p><p>Senior author Joy Hirsch notes that our brain is essentially a social processing network. The evolutionary success of humans is thanks to our ability to coordinate. Dissonance is exhausting. Overall, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210113090938.htm" target="_blank">she says</a>, "it just takes a lot more brain real estate to disagree than to agree," comparing arguments to a symphony orchestra playing different music. </p><p>As the team notes, language, visual, and social systems are all dynamically intertwined inside of our brain. For most of history, yelling at one another in comment sections was impossible. Arguments had to occur the old-fashioned way: while staring at the source of your discontent. </p>
People of the "left-wing" side yell at a Trump supporter during a "Demand Free Speech" rally on Freedom Plaza on July 6, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Credit: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images<p>Leading us to an interesting question: do the same brain regions fire when you're screaming with your fingers on your Facebook feed? Given the lack of visual feedback from the person on the other side of the argument, likely not—as it is unlikely that many people would argue in the same manner when face-to-face with a person on the other side of a debate. We are generally more civil in real life than on a screen.</p><p>The researchers point out that seeing faces causes complex neurological reactions that must be interpreted in real-time. For example, gazing into someone's eyes requires higher-order processing that must be dealt with during the moment. Your brain coordinates to make sense of the words being spoken <em>and</em> pantomimes being witnessed. This combination of verbal and visual processes are "generally associated with high-level cognitive and linguistic functions."</p><p>While arguing is more exhausting, it also sharpens your senses—when a person is present, at least. Debating is a healthy function of society. Arguments force you to consider other viewpoints and potentially come to different conclusions. As with physical exercise, which makes you stronger even though it's energetically taxing, disagreement propels societies forward.</p>In this study, every participant was forced to <em>listen</em> to the other person. As this research was focused on live interactions, it adds to the literature of cognitive processing during live interactions and offers insights into the cognitive tax of anger. Even anger is a net positive when it forces both sides to think through their thoughts and feelings on a matter. As social animals, we need that tension in our lives in order to grow. Yelling into the void of a comments section? Not so helpful. <p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
Plan S is starting to take hold, but the cost is merely shifting even more to the researchers.
- Launched in 2018, cOAlition S is trying to make all of the world's state-backed scientific papers open-access.
- Prestigious publishers like Springer Nature and Elsevier have now adopted a Plan S option for researchers.
- While more studies will be available to read for free, some of the expense is being passed back to authors, which could limit research in the future.
Chart: Science<p>The cost to publish remains prohibitive for some researchers, with certain journal prices for one article exceeding annual budgets. This has forced many researchers to confront an existential question: publish behind a paywall and wither in obscurity, or pay up and hope enough people read (and cite) your work.</p><p>While inflated journal prices have plagued the scientific community, Brainard notes that a purely open-access model could place even more of a burden on researchers. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"A complete shift to open access could lead publishers to boost publishing fees even further, to try to make up for lost subscription revenues[...] Although just over 30% of all papers published in 2019 were paid open access, subscriptions still accounted for more than 90% of publishers' revenues that year."</p><p>cOAlition S is advocating for increased transparency to push back on price gouging. Just as researchers must disclose funding and conflicts of interest, "Plan S requires publishers to disclose to funders the basis for their prices, including the cost of services such as proofreading, copy editing, and organizing peer review."</p><p>Although Brainard briefly mentions an increase in the number of non-researchers and institutions—laypeople—reading open-access journals, this topic is relevant to this conversation. America is suffering from a longstanding dearth of public science information, evidenced in the <a href="https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-12-18/anti-vaxxers-team-up-alt-right-against-covid-19-vaccine" target="_blank">anti-vax fervor</a> that's growing in volume (<a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2020/12/03/intent-to-get-a-covid-19-vaccine-rises-to-60-as-confidence-in-research-and-development-process-increases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">if not in numbers</a>) since the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccines. </p><p>Access to scientific studies won't solve all of our woes. But lack of transparency is a major reason why so many citizens have grown suspicious of pharmaceutical companies and public health agencies. An ability to read studies without having to pay exorbitant prices (to the layperson) would be an important step in public health and science education. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
Spoiler: Most people actually approved of their government's approach.
Image: Pew Research Center<p>Denmark recorded the highest government response approval rating of the countries surveyed (95%), followed closely by Australia.</p><p>Support for their government's actions was also shown in countries like South Korea and Canada, along with European nations like Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden, where more than two-thirds of respondents approved.</p><p>But a different picture emerged in the US and UK, where delayed action to combat COVID-19 received less emphatic support. More than half of those polled in each country said they thought the pandemic had been handled poorly.</p>
Image: Pew Research Center<h3>Divided or united?</h3><p>Opinions were also split on whether the pandemic had increased the sense of national unity.<br><br>Again, Denmark proved to have the most optimistic outlook with 72% of respondents believing the country more united following the virus outbreak. In Canada, Sweden, South Korea and Australia, over half of respondents believed their country was more united.<br><br>Despite approving of their country's response to the pandemic, in European nations like Spain, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, a majority of people thought their country was more divided post-lockdown.<br><br>In the US, in an era of divisive politics and with no coordinated response to the pandemic in place, more than three-quarters of respondents believed their country was now more divided than before the pandemic.</p><p>The perceived strength of national unity is linked to trust in others, the report found. As a general principle, people who thought others couldn't be trusted were more likely to see divisions in their own country.<br><br>National divisions were most pronounced in France, where almost two-thirds of respondents who think people can't be trusted also see the country as more divided than before the pandemic.</p>
Image: Pew Research Center<h3>The role of international cooperation</h3><p>But did this perceived drop in national cohesion prevent countries seeking international help to combat the spread of the virus? And would cross-border cooperation have resulted in fewer cases?<br><br>For the majority of respondents, the answer was yes.<br><br>Across the 14 countries surveyed, 59% of respondents believed greater international cooperation would have reduced the number of coronavirus cases in their own country. In Europe, this average increases to 62%, with seven of the nine countries surveyed expressing belief in the benefits of international cooperation, which was strongest in countries like Belgium, the UK and Spain.</p><p>Outside of Europe, support for international cooperation was also notable in the US (58%) and South Korea (59%), according to the report.</p><p>In Denmark, however, 78% of people thought international cooperation would not have reduced the number of cases. A majority of people in Australia, Germany, Canada and Japan also held little store in international cooperation to tackle the pandemic.<br><br>The World Bank, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and other stakeholders, held a virtual roundtable to devise an action plan <a href="https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/statement/2020/04/21/the-world-bank-wef-gsma-and-itu-mobilized-in-the-fight-against-covid-19" target="_blank">to facilitate international cooperations and communications to better tackle the pandemic</a>.</p><p>International <a href="https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/hurdles-developing-covid-19-vaccine-why-international-cooperation-needed" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cooperation is a key element of producing an effective vaccine at scale</a> to protect the global population against COVID-19, according to Chatham House. By working together, researchers, business leaders, policy-makers and other stakeholders can more quickly overcome scientific, regulatory and market challenges to developing and distributing a vaccine.</p><p>Reprinted with permission of the <a target="_blank" href="https://www.weforum.org/" rel="noopener noreferrer">World Economic Forum</a>. Read the <a target="_blank" href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/covid-19-survey-trust-unity-cooperation/" rel="noopener noreferrer">original article</a>.</p>
Google's "Year in Search 2020" results reveal a year when "why" was searched more than ever.
The year of coronavirus<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk1ODk0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MzA5NzI1OH0.vimp4BokTC01Fl9fIWkplEKWdHpO6aX-TSFdnmzynMc/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="64208" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a78d75a3c2cc81a2b421296fdd831f89" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
The new national pastime<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk1ODk1NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzc5MzQ3M30.sfNgt_x0PrynD5Brdku6L045lxOuU7PVYw3n9598Dlk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="82bbe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3e30b2180da0cd13e0f6a011d006ae1f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
The Electoral College recently cemented Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election. Congress is scheduled to confirm the votes on January 6, 2021.
Livin' in virtual insanity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk1ODk1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MzMxNjUyOX0.x-ttrIxjl9_LfCN9GNNGy5ZocwjtsUYd0kZN--Yeut4/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C345%2C0%2C345&height=700" id="4e759" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dc71bbeb7cd9423709008b3bd8ab2b23" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
New York students returned to school for in-person learning this December.
Personal growth becomes personal beauty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk2NDUwNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjIxNjcxMH0.Ng9pn9K_jbVQCZZY7o7i0HpfHPI6o8OzV5nEvLPS57Y/img.jpg?width=980" id="e4b04" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8477605b3cc2e1d8682fbc94e07f5f44" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="at-home haircut" data-width="7360" data-height="4912" />
Credit: Eugenio Marongiu / Adobe Stock<p><a href="https://www.bigthinkedge.com/5-things-to-learn-about-personal-growth-and-how-to-achieve-your-own/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Personal growth</a> and health habits typically have a strong standing in Google's "Year of Search," but in 2020, diets and mindfulness took a backseat to the how-to's. How-to questions became trending searches thanks to Americans being cut off from amenities such as beauty parlors and nail salons.</p><p>Most of the trending how-to searches were for hair care. How to cut men's hair and women's hair. How to plop hair, <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/does-hair-dye-cause-cancer" target="_self">color hair</a>, and style curtain bangs. Americans clearly pined for their stylists in 2020. </p><p>Other notable how-to's included dermaplaning, washing hands properly, sewing a face mask, and rocking sweatpants with style. And if that list doesn't signal just how difficult 2020 was, then what else does?</p>
Mother Nature pushes back<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9bb94f5d5a58d40f03e1515f3c2e467c"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gzksqQDI_kE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Well, science news may. 2020's trending science searches centered on natural disasters. Americans googled "fires near me" as conflagrations devoured the West Coast, destroying <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/too-many-trees" target="_self">forests</a>, neighborhoods, and even <a href="https://www.usnews.com/news/top-news/articles/2020-09-09/explosive-western-us-wildfires-threaten-oregon-towns" target="_blank">whole towns</a> as they went. <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/hurricane-laura-live-updates" target="_blank">Hurricane Laura</a>, a Category 4 storm, also trended after slamming into Louisiana this August.</p><p>All told, 2020 witnessed <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-running-list-of-record-breaking-natural-disasters-in-2020/" target="_blank">record-breaking levels of natural disasters</a>, many hitting with a force more devastating than previous years. This <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/10/1075142" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rise in climate emergencies</a> is part of a two-decade trend that scientists have linked to climate change and increased global temperatures.</p><p>When not worrying about natural disasters, Americans were fretting over "murder hornets," another trending term. Entomologists discovered the murder hornets—actually named the Asian giant hornets—in Washington state this year. Because native bees have no natural defenses against this <a href="https://bigthink.com/kevin-dickinson/invasive-species-how-the-tegu-lizard-could-invade-the-southern-us" target="_self">invasive species</a>, their colonies can be massacred by a few dozen hornets in mere hours. While one murder hornet's nest was discovered and destroyed near Blaine, Washington, experts worry there may be more.</p><p>At least there was that baby platypus to enjoy. Except no. In true 2020 fashion, <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/the-incredibly-cute-baby-platypus-that-went-viral-has-a-dark-secret-you-ought-to-know" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that picture was bogus</a>—although, not to be a total buzzkill, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhVCwtW6gQ0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">real platypus babies</a> are darn cute.</p>
Aiming to make 2021 a better year<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk1ODk2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjM4NzcyNn0.9p5TuitsBtuKblWPCM_mR8DCL7mxoBdrcfMyncrj9vk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C215%2C0%2C215&height=700" id="78c31" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="240158cc13d58aab62156ce4be124409" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Students line up to receive food aid packages provided by the charity Secours Populaire in France.