When is a quarantine justified? A group of philosophers offers an answer.

Quarantines are worth the trouble to keep the next pandemic at bay but they need to be applied intelligently.

A trainee, wearing personal protective Equipment (PPE), takes part in a training session held by the military trained Civil Security (Securite civile), on checking and treating suspected victims of the Ebola virus. (JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)
  • A new essay argues that quarantines are often needed, but require strict guidelines on when they can be used.
  • Pandemics are inevitable, and actions that can save lives must be planned now.
  • The arguments in this essay will undoubtedly be of use during the next outbreak.
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Surprising Science

How Preventing One Suicide Can Save Many Lives

Recent research shows that suicidal behavior is a social contagion that spreads through families and classrooms. The good news? So does suicide prevention.

Much of the research on suicide prevention focuses on individual risk factors—but what about suicide as a social contagion? Professor Jason Fletcher and colleagues decided to examine the social processes related to suicide and found that it spreads through families, and spills over into classrooms—and, most intriguingly, that it moves along gender lines. This seems like terrible news, but discovering this mechanism actually has policy implications for suicide prevention: "Successful suicide prevention programs have this potential for spilling over on people who aren’t treated themselves or who aren’t intervened on themselves," Fletcher says. Preventing one suicide in a family can reduce the likelihood of an attempt for an adolescent within that family, but also for the adolescent’s classmates—that's a pretty astonishing finding. If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741, and to find support for yourself or a loved on, reach out to someone at The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention . This video was filmed as part of the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism.

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Surprising Science

How the World Lost the Fight to Separate Church and State

Religion influences politics more now than it did 50 years ago. Are we going forward or backward?

Religion influences politics more now than it did 50 years ago. To help explain how we moved seemingly backward from global secularism to increased religious involvement in public policy, Professor of International Politics Monica Duffy Toft explains the threefold story of failed modernization, democratization, and globalization, and how they propelled religious figures and ideas into the political arena once again. Monica Duffy Toft's work at the Center for Strategic Studies is made possible through funding from the Charles Koch Foundation. The Charles Koch Foundation aims to further understanding of how US foreign policy affects American people and societal well-being. Through grants, events, and collaborative partnerships, the Foundation is working to stretch the boundaries of foreign policy research and debate by discussing ideas in strategy, trade, and diplomacy that often go unheeded in the US capital. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org.

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The Universe May Not Have a Purpose — But You Do, Thanks to Science

Life is a temporary, cosmic accident and the universe may very well be meaningless. That's depressing — or is it?

The universe doesn't care about you, and the future is miserable. So begins theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss' guide to optimism. Optimism? You heard us right. We may never find meaning or purpose in the universe, but to assume that our purpose is interlinked with that of the universe is what Krauss calls the height of solipsism. Life is beautiful precisely because it's so temporary, and if anything helps us to be optimistic in a morally neutral universe, it's science. Asking questions and understanding what something is helps us realize the consequences of our actions. Armed with knowledge, we can make decisions for the common good. If that's not hope, what is?

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