Middle America vs. the liberal elite: What does it mean to be all-American?

Middle America is tired of those latte-sipping liberals and their "elite media" hanging out in New York City, but Ariel Levy makes the case that Americans aren't as different from one another as they'd like to think.

Ariel Levy: There are lattes in the middle of Ohio now. When Seinfeld was on and everybody loved it, guess what? It was Jews from New York. This idea that we're so out of touch and that this culture we've come up with here is anathema to the rest of the country—guess what: we're as real American as everybody else, and sure there are more liberals here. Sure, we're used to a more heterogeneous population in New York City than what I just saw when I was reporting in Maine last week, but there was plenty of “latte,” and we're not that different, and we're not any less American.

It's also a matter of like: "Sorry about the facts." Sorry that “Big Science”, which is to say scientists, have realized that if we keep doing things the way we're doing them we are going to end the world. "Sorry!" I mean, I wish it weren't so, but it doesn't make [climate change] a liberal phenomenon. It's just beyond my comprehension.

The thing I was going to say about The New York Times is you notice that as much as the president likes to say it's fake news, the minute he goes and meets with their editors he says it's a “great American treasure”.

I mean, it is the paper of record. Now in fairness they did make some mistakes. They're humans. All that stuff around the WMDs and right after the Iraq war—that is serious stuff that happened that The Times got wrong that eroded public trust. But I don't actually think that's what's going on—I don't think that's what this election was about. I mean, we know for a fact that it wasn't. We know for a fact that there was a very targeted system for disseminating the fake news.

Long-form journalism is the only thing I've ever done—that and writing books. I don't know how to be a newspaper journalist. I think what they do is incredibly impressive, but I'm not trained to do it; I don't know how to do it. And they have a different mandate than we do. Their mandate is to attempt objectivity, and ours isn't. I mean, we are meant to tell the truth, and everything you read in The New Yorker has been fact checked more than you can believe, but the overall story I'm telling in any given—no matter what it is—it's always my version. And it's not my mandate to be without a perspective, it's not my mandate to remove myself, to have the least present authorial voice I can. That's not my mandate.

My mandate is to try to make it interesting for the reader while informing the reader, with a complete allegiance to accuracy, but I'm allowed to tell the story however I want to, and that's the luxury. That's being a magazine journalist, and that's what I love about it.

I'm never endeavoring to make myself or my point of view invisible. That's not my mandate. I'm trying to be subtle about it, because the quieter and sort of, you know—if I'm sly about it then it's more persuasive because you don't want to feel that someone has directed you to think this, that, and the other; you want to feel that you think that. But it's my job to lead you to think whatever it is I want you to.

I mean, it depends how honest the individual journalist is, and how much allegiance he or she has to the truth, to accuracy. I am not wed to making every person feel that their perspective has been represented, I'm representing my perspective when I tell a story, but every single detail in that story will be the truth. And no little falsehood is okay, ever, and we take that very seriously.

Middle America is tired of those latte-sipping liberals and their "elite media" hanging out in New York City, but author and New Yorker staff writer Ariel Levy makes the case that Americans aren't as different from one another as they'd like to think—and in fact they are all bound by one thing: truth. "No little falsehood is okay, ever, and we take that very seriously," says Levy, speaking of the allegiance to truth and extreme fact-checking that happens at The New Yorker. Journalists are human, and therein lies inevitable errors, but to claim that fake news is coming from the liberal media or that climate science is liberal propaganda is very much off base, she says. Here she delves into what the journalist's mandate is, and why there's no point making up facts: reality gets you in the end. Ariel Levy's memoir The Rules Do Not Apply, is out now.

Cambridge scientists create a successful "vaccine" against fake news

A large new study uses an online game to inoculate people against fake news.

University of Cambridge
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Researchers from the University of Cambridge use an online game to inoculate people against fake news.
  • The study sample included 15,000 players.
  • The scientists hope to use such tactics to protect whole societies against disinformation.
Keep reading Show less

Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

5 facts you should know about the world’s refugees

Many governments do not report, or misreport, the numbers of refugees who enter their country.

David McNew/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs

Conflict, violence, persecution and human rights violations led to a record high of 70.8 million people being displaced by the end of 2018.

Keep reading Show less