Dr. Eric Lander is a pioneer in genomics. What role will he play in the new administration?
- Dr. Lander is a mathematician and geneticist who's best known for his leading role in the Human Genome Project.
- Biden nominated Dr. Lander to head the Office of Science and Technology Policy and also serve as a cabinet-level science adviser, marking the first time the position has been part of the presidential cabinet.
- In an open letter, Biden said it's essential for the U.S. to "refresh and reinvigorate our national science and technology strategy to set us on a strong course for the next 75 years."
Who is Dr. Eric Lander?<p>Born in Brooklyn, New York, Dr. Lander started his academic career as a mathematician, often arriving at high school an hour early to do math. He won multiple awards in mathematics in his teens, including the Mathematical Olympiad in 1974.<br></p><p>Finding mathematics "too monastic" to pursue as a career, he began teaching managerial economics at Harvard Business School. Then, at the <a href="https://www.worldsciencefestival.com/videos/eric-lander-the-genesis-of-genius/" target="_blank">encouragement of his brother</a>, a neurobiologist, Dr. Lander became interested in studying neurobiology and microbiology. This pushed him to his main lifelong pursuit: unraveling the mysteries of the human genome.</p><p>Dr. Lander spent more than a decade as a leader within the Human Genome Project, which provided the world a complete map of all human genes in 2003. In 2004, he founded the Broad Institute, a biomedical and genomic nonprofit research center that partners with M.I.T. and Harvard University.</p>
Credit: Pixabay<p>Broad's <a href="https://www.broadinstitute.org/news-multimedia/basic-q-about-broad-institute" target="_blank">mission</a> is to "fulfill the promise of genomics by creating comprehensive tools for biology and medicine, making them broadly available to the world and applying them to the understanding of human biology and the diagnosis, treatment, and cure of human diseases." The institute aims to diminish diseases by better understanding cellular mechanisms, rather than simply treating symptoms.</p><p>Despite some <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2016/01/25/why-eric-lander-morphed/" target="_blank">minor controversies and patent disputes</a>, Dr. Lander remains a monumental figure in American science, and also previously served as co-chairman of former President Barack Obama's science advisory council.</p>
What will Dr. Lander do in the Biden administration?<p>If confirmed by the Senate, it's not exactly clear what Dr. Lander will do in his role as cabinet science adviser and head of the OSTP. But his primary focus likely won't be COVID-19, considering Biden has already established a task force dedicated to shaping policy and recommendations related to the pandemic.<br></p><p>But Biden revealed some of his expectation in an <a href="https://buildbackbetter.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/OSTP-Appointment.pdf" target="_blank">open letter</a> that posed five questions for the Office of Science and Technology Policy to explore:</p><ol><li>What can we learn from the pandemic about what is possible—or what ought to be possible— to address the widest range of needs related to our public health?</li><li>How can breakthroughs in science and technology create powerful new solutions to address climate change—propelling market-driven change, jump-starting economic growth, improving health, and growing jobs, especially in communities that have been left behind?</li><li>How can the United States ensure that it is the world leader in the technologies and industries of the future that will be critical to our economic prosperity and national security, especially in competition with China?</li><li>How can we guarantee that the fruits of science and technology are fully shared across America and among all Americans?</li><li>How can we ensure the long-term health of science and technology in our nation?</li></ol><p>The president-elect wrote that it's essential to "refresh and reinvigorate our national science and technology strategy to set us on a strong course for the next 75 years," concluding:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I believe that the answers to these questions will be instrumental in helping our nation embark on a new path in the years ahead—a path of dignity and respect, of prosperity and security, of progress and common purpose. They are big questions, to be sure, but not as big as America's capacity to address them. I look forward to receiving your recommendations—and to working with you, your team, and the broader scientific community to turn them into solutions that ease everyday burdens for the American people, spark new jobs and opportunities, and restore American leadership on the world stage."</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>
The attack on the Capitol forces us to confront an existential question about privacy.
- The insurrection attempt at the Capitol was captured by thousands of cell phones and security cameras.
- Many protestors have been arrested after their identity was reported to the FBI.
- Surveillance experts warn about the dangers of using facial recognition to monitor protests.
Brad Templeton: Today's Surveillance Society is Beyond Orwellian<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="06eb4a2ab19b644f5a3c0bf35ac2f42b"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/awFrWxfDA30?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>There's the <a href="https://www.thecut.com/2021/01/capitol-rioter-larry-rendall-brock-identified-to-fbi-by-ex.html" target="_blank">ex-wife of a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel</a> whose neck gaiter was pulled down; the <a href="https://www.inquirer.com/news/nation-world/capitol-insurrectionists-losing-jobs-social-media-identification-20210108.html" target="_blank">patriotic cohort of Internet detectives</a> crowd-sourcing information for the FBI; the director of the infamous pseudoscience film, "Plandemic," <a href="https://conspirituality.net/transmissions/plandemics-mikki-willis-joins-praises-violent-capitol-mob/" target="_blank">praising the "patriots" that breached the building</a> moments after he left the siege himself; and that unemployed actor who regularly attended QAnon events leaving the most public trail imaginable, and who is <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55606044" target="_blank">currently in custody</a> facing serious charges.</p><p>Fish in barrels, all of them. What of the remaining thousands? </p><p>This privacy discussion is not new. Arthur Holland Michel, founder and co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, <a href="https://bigthink.com/technology-innovation/gorgon-stare-surveillance" target="_self">warned Big Think in 2019</a> about the dangers of surveillance technology—specifically, in this case, a camera known as Gorgon Stare. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Say there is a big public protest. With this camera, you can follow thousands of protesters back to their homes. Now you have a list of the home addresses of all the people involved in a political movement. If on their way home you witness them committing some crime—breaking a traffic regulation or frequenting a location that is known to be involved in the drug trade—you can use that surveillance data against them to essentially shut them up. That's why we have laws that prevent the use of surveillance technologies because it is human instinct to abuse them. That's why we need controls."</p><p>Late last year, University of Miami students <a href="https://bigthink.com/technology-innovation/facial-recognition-software" target="_self">pushed back against school administrators</a> using facial recognition software for potentially insidious means—a protest not limited to that campus. Can you place students refusing to attend classes during a pandemic with armed insurrectionists attempting to change the results of a democratic election? Not even close. More to the point, however, we should leave political leanings out of the equation when deciding who we think should be monitored. </p>
Protesters enter the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump.
Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images<p>Shortly after the siege, the New Yorker's Ronan Farrow <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/an-air-force-combat-veteran-breached-the-senate" target="_blank">helped reveal the identity</a> of the aforementioned lieutenant colonel while conservatives <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/01/07/antifa-capitol-gaetz-trump-riot/" target="_blank">claim the riots were actually antifa</a>—a conspiracy theory that's <a href="https://apnews.com/article/virus-outbreak-race-and-ethnicity-suburbs-health-racial-injustice-7edf9027af1878283f3818d96c54f748" target="_blank">been peddled before</a>. Politics simply can't be avoided in this age. Still, Albert Fox Cahn, founder of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, doesn't believe the insurrection attempt <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/opinion-the-capitol-attack-doesnt-justify-expanding-surveillance/" target="_blank">justifies an uptick in facial recognition technology</a>.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We don't need a cutting-edge surveillance dragnet to find the perpetrators of this attack: They tracked themselves. They livestreamed their felonies from the halls of Congress, recording each crime in full HD. We don't need facial recognition, geofences, and cell tower data to find those responsible, we need police officers willing to do their job."</p><p>The New Orleans City Council recently <a href="https://thelensnola.org/2020/12/18/new-orleans-city-council-approves-ban-on-facial-recognition-predictive-policing-and-other-surveillance-tech/" target="_blank">banned similar surveillance technologies</a> due to fears that it would unfairly target minorities. San Francisco was the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/14/us/facial-recognition-ban-san-francisco.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first city to outright ban facial recognition</a> nearly two years ago. Cahn's point is that the FBI shouldn't be using AI to cover for the government's failure to protect the Capitol. Besides, the insurrectionists outed themselves on their own social media feeds. </p><p>When Pandora's box cracks open, it's hard to push the monster back in. Naomi Klein detailed the corporate takeover of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in "The Shock Doctrine." Real estate brokers, charter school companies, and government agencies didn't cause the flood, but they certainly profited from it. The fear is that companies like Clearview AI, which saw a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/technology/facial-recognition-clearview-capitol.html" target="_blank">26 percent spike in usage of its facial recognition service</a> following the attack, will be incentivized, as will police departments to use such technology for any means they choose.</p><p>Cahn comes to a similar conclusion: don't expose American citizens to the "anti-democratic technology" known as facial recognition. New Yorkers had to endure subway backpack checks for nearly a decade after 9/11; this slope is even slipperier. </p>As the US braces for <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/11/politics/fbi-bulletin-armed-protests-state-us-capitol/index.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">further "armed protests"</a> in all 50 states over the coming week, phones need to keep capturing footage. Bystanders need to remain safe, of course. But if last week was any indication, the insurrectionists have difficulty deciphering between social media and real life. Their feeds should reveal enough.<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>
A new survey shows who believes what and how it differs from what Americans believe as a whole.
- The newest survey of congressional religious beliefs shows our representatives aren't quite like us.
- Members of Congress are much more religious and more Christian than the general population.
- The effects of this disconnect are debatable.
The demographics of Congress and their constituents<p> A whopping 88 percent of Representatives and Senators are Christians. Breaking this down, 55 percent of them identify as some sort of Protestant, and another 30 percent are Catholic. Mormons make up around 2 percent of the legislature, with Orthodox Christians following at just above 1 percent. This puts them well behind the Jews, which 6 percent of the body identified as. </p><p>Behind them came the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Humanist, and Unaffiliated members. Each of these categories amounts to under one percent of Congress by themselves, for a collective total of 12 members. </p><p>Eighteen members refused to answer the survey; many of them also refused to answer two years ago—speculation as to why this is and what they actually believe continues elsewhere. </p><p>For comparison, only 65 percent of the general public identifies as a Christian. Beyond that, only 20 percent of the population is Catholic, and another 43 percent Protestant. People with no religious affiliation make up another 26 percent. Judaism is three times as common in Congress as it is elsewhere in the country, with only 2 percent of the population identifying as such. </p><p>Mormons and Orthodox Christians enjoy nearly propositional representation, as they make up 2 percent and just under 1 percent of the population nationally. The remaining represented religions are in a similar situation. They are under-represented but not nearly as much as the non-religious—Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus each make up about one percent of the general population. Unitarian Universalists are seated in Congress at the same rate as the aforementioned faiths but are just under one percent of the population. </p><p>Some trends emerge in this data. Since 1961, the year this survey was first sent out, the percentage of Christians has fallen, though by far less than the population overall. Like the rest of Protestant America, members of Congress are increasingly likely not to name a denomination, such as Lutheran or Baptist, but to instead identify with the more general term of Protestant. </p><p> It is also worth mentioning that there may be more to this topic than these questions can reveal.</p><p>Many Jewish people identify as such while also being agnostic or even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_atheism" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">atheistic</a>. It is possible that the degree of actual belief among some of the members of Congress using the term varies dramatically. Likewise, the one "unaffiliated" member has stated before that they don't want to be bound by <a href="https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2012/11/09/breaking-kyrsten-sinema-is-not-an-atheist/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">labels</a>, further reducing the usefulness of a survey that tries to label everybody.</p>
Why might this be?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Yz8VbAxkaDw" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> In addition to the previously mentioned difficulties of having an entirely representative legislature, some religious groups are still more electable than others.</p><p>A recent <a href="https://news.gallup.com/poll/285563/socialism-atheism-political-liabilities.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gallop poll</a> demonstrates that only about 60 percent of Americans would vote for a qualified atheist and that only a few more would support a similarly capable Muslim. While these numbers have increased over time and differ greatly based on party affiliation, it is probable that many non-Christian potential candidates justify not running on the grounds of these numbers. </p><p> Before you point out that these are majorities, that is who is <em>willing</em> to vote for such a person at all, not a list of people who <em>would</em> for sure. You'd probably want better numbers than that unless you're sure you can get all of them. </p>
What does this mean for legislation?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KS7pnPlQLcY" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> It doesn't necessarily need to mean anything. Representatives of all faiths or lack thereof can govern in a secular manner that doesn't favor any particular worldview.</p><p>The Congressional Freethought Caucus, dedicated to fostering science and reason while defending the secular nature of <a href="https://secular.org/governmental-affairs/congressional-freethought-caucus/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">government</a>, has 14 members. It is, obviously, impossible for all its members to be non-religious. Its members represent a variety of faiths and denominations of Christianity, including humanism, while supporting all people's rights.</p><p>A remaining concern is that the disproportionate representation could lead to specific points of view not being <a href="https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2021/01/04/the-religious-makeup-of-the-117th-congress-includes-a-few-surprises/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heard</a>. There are no atheists in Congress to articulate their viewpoints on legislation that concerns others like them. This lack of representation is <a href="https://www.teenvogue.com/story/why-representation-in-politics-matters" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">something</a> that <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/campaign/297143-why-our-representation-in-government-should-look-more-like-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">can</a> and <a href="https://genderwatch2018.org/scaling-womens-political-representation-matters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has</a> been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2018/oct/04/few-us-politicians-working-class" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> for <a href="https://www.voanews.com/usa/why-arent-more-native-americans-members-us-congress" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">other</a> demographic groups both now and at different points in our history. </p><p>In any small body representing a larger one, there will be strange demographic mismatches by necessity. In the case of the United States Congress, these differences are rather pronounced. While they may have only a limited effect on legislation, there may be other, less tangible ways that this disconnect causes issues. </p><p>Or, it might be nothing more than a statistical curiosity. </p>
"The function of private media is to make money for the people who own the media. It is a business," Sanders said.
- Over his four-decade political career, Senator Bernie Sanders has been an outspoken critic of mass news media.
- In a 1988 speech, Sanders described how it's virtually impossible to meaningfully discuss substantial political issues in 30-second sound bites, and how the consolidation of news outlets makes it harder for alternative views to reach the public.
- Surveys show that America's trust in mass media has been declining for years.