Big Think Interview With Barry Scheck
Barry Scheck is the co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project, a national organization that uses DNA testing to exonerate wrongfully convicted people and implements policy reforms to prevent future injustice. Founded in 1988 under the auspices of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, the Innocence Project has exonerated hundreds through post-conviction DNA testing. Scheck is also famous for having defended notable clients like O.J. Simpson, Hedda Nussbaum, Louise Woodward, and Abner Louima.
Scheck is currently a professor of law at Cardozo and a commissioner on New York's Forensic Science Review Board, a body that regulates all of the state's crime and forensic DNA laboratories. He is first vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and serves on the board of the National Institute of Justice's Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence. In 2001, along with Innocence Project co-founder Peter Neufeld, Scheck co-authored the book "Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution and Other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convicted."
Question: What inspired you to start challenging wrongful convictions?
Barry Scheck: I’ve been a law professor for 31 years at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law here in New York City, and when DNA testing began to get transferred from medial and research uses to the forensic arena, my colleague Peter Neufeld and I became very conversant with it in 1988, 1989. In fact, we tried to get somebody out of prison who’d been convicted in the Bronx represented by the Public Defender’s Office where we used to work, and we tried to do DNA testing before it was even in the courts to prove that he was innocent. He had been convicted of a rape and there were 17 alibi witnesses that he had at a prayer meeting. But there were three eye witnesses, so he was convicted notwithstanding what appeared to be strong proof of his innocence. And we tried to do DNA testing with a new private company named, Life Codes, but we couldn’t get any results and instead we were able to prove him innocent with other kinds of evidence.
But at that time, everybody recognized that DNA was going to be very important, and Governor Mario Cuomo, in his last – one of his last acts in his administration, set up a commission to look at DNA testing and how it might effect the criminal justice system. Now, we’re talking 1988, 1989. And Peter and I were on that commission and we met a number of scientists, particular Dr. Yon Winkowski from Cold Spring Harbor, and he in turn introduced us to a number of scientists, in particular, Dr. Erick Lander, who was then part of the Whitehead Institute, MIT and Harvard and now is one of President Obama’s science advisors one of two or three science advisors. And he is at the Broad Institute. He was both a geneticist and a mathematician and a very brilliant guy. And so he taught us a lot, not just about molecular biology, but also about how science works, technology transfers, and the interplay between scientific institutions – science and governmental institutions. And it was sort of left to us to figure how this was to work in the court system.
So, from the very beginning of learning about this technology, the truth is, we knew it would be transformative, we knew that it would have an enormous impact, not just in exonerating people who were wrongfully convicted, but apprehending people who had really committed the crimes, and just a learning moment so that we could figure out what causes wrongful convictions and how to prevent them.
Question: How does the Innocence Project decide which cases to take up?
Barry Scheck: we do get hundreds of letters per week. And we have still a cue – a waiting list of a few thousand people. But our criteria is very simple. For our project, the point is, if a DNA test could in and of itself prove you innocent. And the way things work now, more than one DNA test. Because when this technology was first transferred to the forensic arena, we were doing what they were known as Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism tests. People would know those as “The Bands,” right. And that was looking at nuclear DNA. That would be a cell that has a nucleus and you would extract the DNA from the nucleus of the cell.
Now, we have techniques using what’s known as **** Chain Reaction and this is – or PCR, and the best way to think about this, it’s molecular Xeroxing. You can take a very, very small amount of starting material and amplify it up and you can look not just a nuclear DNA and the technique that’s now known is Short Tandem Repeat. So there is using these so-called STRs or Tandem repeats, there is now a set of markers that are used for the database here in the United States, and they are also used in the United Kingdom and all over the world, frankly. So we have one – developing one huge DNA database just based on this one particular Short Tandem Repeat system.
But now we can also do what’s known as “Y” DNA testing, which is just looking at DNA from the Y chromosome, and you can amplify that up with a PCR. And then there’s another technique called Mitochondrial DNA testing.
Mitochondrial DNA is a DNA test that literally looks at the mitochondrial within a cell. It’s sort of the powerhouse of the cell. And that’s maternally inherited. So your mitochondrial DNA is the same as your mom’s and your brothers and sisters, unless something really weird is going on in your family.
So, many, many different kinds of DNA tests have developed since we first came into business about 15 years ago, and that has enhanced our capability of answering the simple question that you asked me is, how do we decide to take a case? And the simple answer is, well if DNA can prove you innocent. But now we can do lots of different DNA tests and the methods of extraction have gotten much better, so it’s a misnomer. People talk about touch DNA. That’s really not helpful, but what is really meant there is that you can extract DNA from epithelial or skins cells, for example, that might be found on a piece of clothing or if the assailant left a sneaker or any kind of – a woolen hat or something where you might find saliva or skin cells or any piece of clothing, you can now take cuttings from various different parts of that clothing and develop a DNA profile of the “usual wearer.”
So all of these different techniques, when combined together, I mean you get redundancy of results, can greatly assist in demonstrating that somebody didn’t commit the crime even when you’re looking at cases that are 10, 15, 20 or 30 years old.
Question: How many wrongful convictions have been overturned as a result of the Innocence Project's work?
Barry Scheck: That’s 258 cases I believe as we are sitting here today of post-conviction DNA exonerations. But there are many other cases involving people who were actually sentenced to death in this country, and you can find those on the Death Penalty Information Center website, where there’s substantial proof that innocent people were convicted, but they’ve been exonerated with evidence other than DNA. So, what happened since the Innocence Project really went into business in 1992 is really a movement, a civil rights movement, an innocence movement that is really transformed the way that the criminal justice system looks at error and looks at the interrelationship of science and results. And the one thing we know, because of post-conviction DNA tests is that there are far more innocent people than anybody ever really believed.
Question: What percentage of the cases that you take turn out to have been wrongful convictions?
Barry Scheck: Well, we can give you – and we have posted a pretty precise set of statistics on the number of cases that we take where DNA could prove that somebody’s innocent. It varies because, you know, in most cases – well in many cases, we can’t find the evidence, it’s been lost or destroyed. Remember, we are looking at cases that are 20 or 30 years old. It goes in cycles. In the last few years, about half the time, when somebody writes to us and says, DNA is going to prove me innocent, then we get the case to the lab, meaning we find the evidence, and then we get the test results, about half the time, you know, we can demonstrate their innocence with the DNA test. Sometimes we get no results and sometimes, they’re guilty.
Question: Are some kinds of cases or defendants more likely to result in wrongful convictions?
Barry Scheck: Well, this is a very good question because when Peter Neufeld and I started in this business, you know, we’d been criminal defense lawyers and worked on all kinds of criminal cases. I’ve been a professor, you know, I’ve been doing this for 31 years and training a lot of prosecuters and stayed in the Federal Courts, so I thought I was pretty experienced when it came to looking at cases. And you know, very often I will look at one and I’ll say, “Ah, based on what we know about the **** of wrongful conviction, this sure looks like a bad eye witness identification case.” Or there’s all kinds of evidence here that indicates to me that – I’ll bet this one is going to come out innocent. Right? Did an exculpatory DNA result. And then there’s other ones where I’ll say, “Well, you know, we’re taking this case because in theory, the DNA could prove this individual innocent, but boy they look really guilty to me. I mean, look at all this other corroborating evidence and there’s fingerprint here and there’s all kinds of other evidence.” And were wrong. And that’s the most important thing to know.
We who work within the criminal justice system where the life and liberty of the people are at stake have to have some humility. That’s really what these DNA exonerations are teaching us.
My prosecutor friends and judges will tell you that there are a whole host of cases among these 258 where nobody ever believed that the individual was innocent. But then after the DNA exonerates them and we go back and we deconstruct the case, we find there were all kinds of people who were lying or it turns out that certain forensic techniques that we thought were highly reliable, are not. And things weren’t what they appeared to be.
So I think it’s a really important take home lesson that you have to be humble about these things and that, you know, we really don’t know as much as we think we do about results in the criminal justice system for sure.
Question: Why would anyone—even prosecutors—object to the widespread use of DNA evidence in all cases?
Barry Scheck: Well this has changed over time. At first when we began our work at the Innocence Project, and there’s a problem within the system generally, there were all kinds of what we call “procedural bars.” To getting a post-conviction DNA test, much less being able to offer the results in court. In fact, there were no states that permitted post-conviction DNA testing and there were only nine states that said that you could raise a claim of newly discovered evidence to show that you were innocent at any time. So many states had time limits, statutes of limitations.
In Virginia, there was an infamous 21-day rule. Twenty-one days after the trial, even if you’d found new evidence of innocence you could put it into court as newly discovered. In other states is was one year or two years or three years or six months. I mean, there were all kinds of problems like this. So we were able to get passed now in 48 states, statutes that allow for post-conviction DNA testing. And Massachusetts is one of the states that doesn’t have a statute, but you can, based on what they call common law, you can usually get a test result, but they should pass the statute.
So the point here is that from the very beginning, there were all kinds of impediments to even getting this evidence into court. And at first when we went into court and we said to the prosecutors, “Oh, well look at this case. There’s an obvious basis to doing a DNA test and it could prove somebody innocent and maybe identify the real perpetrator, why don’t you consent to it?” And in many instances they would. In many instances they did not. Not for particularly rational reasons, I must tell you. Which is really, I guess the subject of your question, why would anybody resist this? Right? And then even after the DNA proof came in, why would prosecutors still say, “Oh no, no, we’re going to uphold the conviction.” And that is a question for cognitive psychology. And a lot of people thought about it. I think there are a number of factors. The first is very simply, it’s human nature. People don’t like to admit they’re wrong. We’re all like that. Number two, and maybe well I don’t want to give Primacy to any of these, they’re all worked together. There’s the problem that when somebody’s convicted, there’s a victim, or a victim’s family in the case of a homicide. And the prosecutor has said, “Well, this defendant is a horrible person, a beast, an animal in some instances they would say, “kill this person, committed this most heinous of crimes.” And now you have to go back to the victim’s family and say, “Guess what. We were wrong.”
Well that’s very difficult for a victim or a family and we see it so often in the sexual assault cases. In particular, there was an eye witness misidentification so hard for somebody that’s been subject to such a brutal crime to now – who made an honest mistake in making a misidentification to now say, “Oh my God, I was wrong.” I mean you feel doubly, triply violated. It’s a horrible burden to carry.
So there’s a lot of reluctance to upset victims within a community. So that’s a second factor that inhibits prosecutors sometimes and police from acknowledging a wrongful conviction or even opposing an effort to get a DNA test.
And then finally, and this may be more subtle, but I think it’s a very, very important factor because in a lot of cases we would find the prosecutor, who was standing in the way of the DNA testing and refusing to acknowledge the obvious implications of the new evidence, wasn’t even in office when the crime was committed. And the reason, I think, that some of these prosecutors were so reluctant to go along with what was I think a clearly just outcome or even to find out the truth or get better scientific evidence that would shed light on the truth, is that they’re afraid of the next case.
So if we have an exoneration in an eye witness identification case and now I’m trying a new case in front of the jury, the jury had just heard about this big exoneration and they’re always big news. They should be too. And they’re going to be thinking; maybe I shouldn’t trust this eye witness. Or maybe that case involved police misconduct, maybe I shouldn’t trust the police. Or it was a false confession; maybe I shouldn’t be so sure that a confession means that somebody is really guilty. And on it goes. So I think that they’re worried about the next case.
The truth is that if you are a prosecutor that has the reputation for going back and looking back at old cases and correcting errors, I think that you’re reputation for reliability goes up.
Question: Are there factors that make a jurisdiction more likely to wrongfully convict someone?
Barry Scheck: Any jurisdiction where there is not adequate funding for criminal defense lawyers is a jurisdiction at risk, and that is so many in this country. It’s a longstanding and continuing crisis that we do not adequately fund public defenders or court appointed lawyers because nothing guarantees the conviction of an innocent person more than a lawyer that is not adequately funded or not competent to do the job. You know it is an adversary system and we really do depend upon a vigorous criminal defense function in order to make sure that everything is being done right within the system because if police or prosecutors cross the line in their prosecution of somebody even that is guilty or if the forensic laboratories for example are not examined in every case so that we make sure that they’re doing their jobs correctly you know the whole system will implode on itself and we’re seeing that everywhere. I can rip any headline, so take a look at North Carolina. North Carolina recently there was an exoneration where it was demonstrated that one of the people within the state crime lab had done a presumptive test for the existence of blood. It came out positive and then there is a follow up test you’re supposed to do to see if that really is blood and the follow up test was negative, but the lab only reported the first presumptive test that was positive and that was a regular procedure, so now they have just finished an audit of old cases where that was going on at the SBI and it has created a huge crisis within the North Carolina Criminal Justice System and there is yet more to do looking at other disciplines within the crime lab to see whether we were just getting a reliable result.
The Houston Police Department Crime Lab had an extremely famous scandal where Mike Bromwich who actually had done an analysis of the FBI lab when he was the inspector general in the Reno Justice Department, he did a huge reexamination of the Houston Police Department Crime Lab and literally found that they were not doing a proper job in their serology section in virtually all the cases and this led to not just wrongful convictions, but real assailants getting away with it. I mean they weren’t even… They would find stains, semen, saliva and blood stains that were probative and they wouldn’t even do the tests. It was a gigantic scandal and the same thing has happened in West Virginia years ago with a fellow named Fred Zane where they demonstrated that he was quote, unquote dry-labbing. That is he wasn’t even doing the tests, but he would come in and give results you know so you ask yourself well obviously that is a bad forensic laboratory, but where were the criminal defense lawyers? Why weren’t they challenging any of this and finding out that they weren’t even doing the tests? Same thing happened in Montana. Same thing happened in Oklahoma City with a woman named Joyce Skillkristen [ph]. These all led to wrongful convictions, some in capital cases. A huge problem and so what we’ve found now is that the forensic science community has recognized that this is a very serious issue and we have to have real quality assurance there and there are other problems that I’m sure we’ll talk about concerning the reliability of these forensic tests, but your question you know to me is well what jurisdictions have more wrongful convictions than others. It’s really hard to know. You know tell me about the quality of their criminal defense bar. Tell me the quality of their crime laboratories. Tell me about the quality of their police forces and prosecutors and you know then we have an answer, so the truth is it can happen anywhere and anybody who thinks otherwise is only kidding themselves.
Question: How reliable is eyewitness testimony?
Barry Scheck: Eyewitness testimony of course is the single greatest cause of the conviction of the innocent and what is fascinating about that is that we have now 30 years, more than 30 years of fantastic research from experimental psychologists who have you know recreated crime scene… recreated events and played around with which different way we do a photo array or a lineup and different techniques that are used correlate more with accurate and reliable identifications in which techniques lead to errors and a number of reforms have been adopted by federal commissions and the American Bar Association, the International Association of Police, lots of policing entities based on really good scientific research. I mean a lot of this research is meta analysis. That is where you pull together lots of different studies and you have a lot of confidence that certain things are real affects and I’ll give you some examples that may surprise people.
For example, before you show somebody a photo array or a live lineup you should tell the witness, “We’re now going to show you some pictures or people.” “Please keep in mind that the real perpetrator may or may not be in this photo array or lineup and if you don’t make an identification don’t worry, the investigation will continue.” Just giving that warning dramatically reduces incorrect identifications without really reducing correct identifications and that is of extraordinary importance obviously in terms of being able to go out, find the real perpetrator and not arrest the wrong person. There is lots of reasons we think that this warning will reduce error. Certainly it inhibits people from guessing and there kind of a natural inclination to do that. Another reform that is of really critical importance is that the person that administers the lineup or the photo array should be double blinded. That is to say that the person should not know who the suspect is and that is important for many reasons, not the least of which is the possibility of feedback, confirming feedback.
What again meta analysis have shown is that if you say to somebody, “You picked out number two, good.” Or give some kind of confirming feedback whether you’re a law enforcement person or somebody else frankly what this does is it can falsely inflate the person’s certainty that they made the correct identification, the witnesses’ belief that they had a good opportunity to observe, the witnesses’ belief that they were paying attention when the crime was committed. All of these factors by the way, certainty, opportunity to observe, paying attention are all factors that the courts used to be using or use frankly in trying to weigh the reliability of identification when we know that let’s say some suggestive procedure has been used, so confirming feedback or even just the use of an unduly suggestive procedure can falsely inflate these so called reliability factors, certain, opportunity to observe, attention paid and the legal tests are out of whack with what the scientific evidence shows.
Question: How accurate are forensic tests that do not use DNA?
Barry Scheck: More than a year ago now the National Academy of Science came out with a report about forensic science generally, an extremely important report, a landmark report that anybody really interested in this field should look at and this report basically said look, DNA testing is the only validated forensic discipline we have and in particular when you look at pattern evidence and by this they were talking about fingerprints and tire tracks and looking at striations on bullets and trying to determine whether they came from a gun, particular gun or not, all these pattern disciplines had not be adequately validated because you would have experts coming into court and they’d say, “I’m looking at the striations of this bullet that we recovered from the crime scene and now I found this defendant’s gun and I fired a bullet from that and I’m looking at the two of them under a microscope and I see all these lines and I think there is quote, unquote, sufficient agreement.” And by that and if I’m really a big quality assurance lab I’ll bring my buddy in and he’ll look at the microscope and he’ll say, “I think there is also agreement here and from this I can now tell you that this bullet came from that gun to the exclusion of all other guns in the universe.” Well think about it. Scientifically on what basis? Do you have a database? Can you tell us anything about the frequency of finding similar patterns if indeed you have similar patterns? Do you have measurement area here? Can you give us a number? You know with DNA testing we can give you a number. We can give you the frequency of a particular DNA profile in various different populations. Can you give us a statistic? And the answer if no, they weren’t giving statistics and as a matter of fact they were just saying it’s unique. This bullet comes from that gun to the exclusion of all guns in the universe. This is nonsense and the National Academy of Science said so and said you guys have really got to go back to the drawing board and do some basic research to find out what the answers are to that question. Even fingerprints, which we know if you take all 10 prints and you scan it in and you put it into the database of known fingerprints you can do a pretty good job of identifying somebody, but that is not the question when you’re talking about a small latent print at a crime scene. You get a partial thumbprint let’s say and every time you lay down a print it’s always a little bit uneven and then you compare it to somebody else’s thumbprint. Can you say that this small latent uniquely comes from that individual? Well that is the way the testimony was going in for years and it was without scientific basis to say that it uniquely was this person’s print. You can’t say that.
Question: What do you think are the biggest flaws in the American judicial system?
Barry Scheck: Well there are a lot of flaws in the judicial system. I think we could probably do without elections of judges. That creates problems. I think that we could do a lot more to educate the judiciary in terms of scientific evidence. We have a real problem there. It’s increasingly you know scientific evidence is becoming important in a whole host of cases, not just criminal cases and it’s important that we have a certain level of scientific literacy in the judiciary, much less among lawyers. So I think those are two problems. You know it’s like in all of our politics money can make a real difference in corrupting the process of judicial elections. We’ve… John Grisham has written a wonderful book about this called The Appeal. It’s very quick reading, but it’s very troubling. There have been a number of judicial elections for highest appellate courts in this country where moneyed interests have been able to basically go after certain judges. They’re really interested in their you know corporate cases or maybe some tort reform case, but they’re able to make some kind of ruling in a criminal case or something else, look very scary to the electorate and they all of the sudden outside money comes into a state in an enormous amount and some campaign is run and judges are defeated. It happened to a fabulous judge in Wisconsin. It’s happened all across the country and the most famous instance is one that the United States Supreme Court looked into in West Virginia involving the Massey Coal Company and that was the coal company where we had that terrible accident in the mines recently where the head of that coal company put an enormous amount of money into the judicial election for the West Virginia Supreme Court and then the judge who was the beneficiary of this you know sat on the case and the United States Supreme Court that actually ruled in this case that had an appearance of impropriety. We know it when we see it and reversed the decision in that case, so that’s a… They remanded it for reconsideration. That’s a very, very, extreme example, but unfortunately I think a lot of that is going around the country and that… I know that Sandra Day O’Connor for example feels very, very strongly about judicial elections being a real problem and there is probably a lot of different kinds of merit systems that should be considered across the country.
A conversation with the attorney and founder of the Innocence Project.
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.
- Who am I? It's a question that humans have grappled with since the dawn of time, and most of us are no closer to an answer.
- Trying to pin down what makes you you depends on which school of thought you prescribe to. Some argue that the self is an illusion, while others believe that finding one's "true self" is about sincerity and authenticity.
- In this video, author Gish Jen, Harvard professor Michael Puett, psychotherapist Mark Epstein, and neuroscientist Sam Harris discuss three layers of the self, looking through the lens of culture, philosophy, and neuroscience.
The newly discovered galaxies are 62x bigger than the Milky Way.
- Two recently discovered radio galaxies are among the largest objects in the cosmos.
- The discovery implies that radio galaxies are more common than previously thought.
- The discovery was made while creating a radio map of the sky with a small part of a new radio array.
An extremely active galaxy<p> <br> </p><p>Radio galaxies are galaxies with extremely active central regions, known as nuclei, which shine incredibly brightly in some part of the electromagnetic spectrum. They are known for emitting large jets of ionized matter into intergalactic space at speeds approaching that of light. They are related to quasars and blazars. It is thought that supermassive black holes are the energy source that make these galaxies shine so brightly. </p><p>What makes these two galaxies (known as MGTC J095959.63+024608.6 and MGTC J100016.84+015133.0) so interesting is their size. Only 831 similar, "giant radio galaxies" are known to exist. As study co-author Dr. Matthew Prescott explains, these are particularly large even for <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamiecartereurope/2021/01/18/we-just-found-two-mysterious-galaxies-62-times-bigger-than-our-milky-way-say-scientists/?sh=76edf29c2892" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">giants</a>:</p><p>"These two galaxies are special because they are amongst the largest giants known, and in the top 10 percent of all giant radio galaxies. They are more than two mega-parsecs across, which is around 6.5 million light-years or about 62 times the size of the Milky Way. Yet they are fainter than others of the same size."</p><p>The smaller of the two is just over two megaparsecs across, roughly six and a half million light-years. The larger is almost another half megaparsec larger than <a href="http://www.sci-news.com/astronomy/giant-radio-galaxies-09266.html" target="_blank">that</a>. <br></p><p>Exactly how these things get to be so massive remains a mystery. Some have proposed that they are ejecting matter into unusually empty space, allowing for the jet to expand further, though some evidence contradicts this. The most commonly suggested idea is that they are simply much, much older than the previously observed radio galaxies, allowing more time for expansion to occur.</p>
How does this change our understanding of the universe?<p> While exciting and impressive on their own, the findings also suggest that there are very many more of these giant galaxies than previously supposed. If you were going off the previous estimates for how typical these galaxies are, then the odds of finding these two would be 1 in 2.7×10<sup>6. </sup>This suggests that there must be more, given that the alternative is that the scientists were impossibly lucky. </p><p> In the study, the researchers also apply this reasoning to smaller versions of these galaxies, saying:</p><p> "While our analysis has considered only enormous (>2 Mpc) objects, if radio galaxies must grow to reach this size, then we may expect to similarly uncover in our data previously undetected GRGs with smaller sizes."</p><p> Exactly how common radio galaxies and turn out to be remains to be seen. Still, it will undoubtedly be an exciting time for radio astronomy as new telescopes are turned skywards to search for them.</p>
How did they find them?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/c1ZW3nVfe5A" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> The new galaxies were discovered by the amusingly named <a href="https://www.sarao.ac.za/gallery/meerkat/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">MeerKAT</a> radio telescope in South Africa during the creation of a new radio map of the sky. The MeerKAT is the first of what will soon be the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_Kilometre_Array" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Square Kilometre Array</a> of telescopes, which will span several countries in the southern hemisphere and make even more impressive discoveries in radio astronomy possible. </p>
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU2NzY4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTUwMzg0NX0.BTK3zVeXxoduyvXfsvp4QH40_9POsrgca_W5CQpjVtw/img.png?width=980" id="b6fb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2739ec50d9f9a3bd0058f937b6d447ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1512" data-height="2224" />
What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7XqcvwWp" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8506fcd195866131efb93525ae42dec4"> <div id="botr_7XqcvwWp_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7XqcvwWp-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.</p><p>Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:</p><p>"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region." </p><p>The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its <a href="https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/research/sjades2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" style="">head</a>. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">Great Old Ones</a>. <em></em></p>
Daydreaming can be a pleasant pastime, but people who suffer from maladaptive daydreamers are trapped by their fantasies.
Maladaptive daydreaming<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUwMjgyMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0OTUxNzc3Nn0.yVIUGnZl6VnJhfevESkBpb1TEvwKrHcLtobwNJV55HI/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C63%2C0%2C63&height=700" id="713cf" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e2d24a66284b3aa58ad16b66c135dc9d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
One maladaptive dreamer spent hours a day dreaming he was a powerful man who could solve the world's problems.
(Photo: Pixabay)<p>Daydreaming is an indulgence of the mind and imagination, one provided courtesy of the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/default-mode-network#:~:text=The%20default%20mode%20network%20(DMN,and%20Exercise%20Psychology%20Research%2C%202016" target="_blank">default mode network</a>, a network of interacting brain regions that is active even when the conscious mind is not. But like so many of life's indulgences—wine, steak dinners, video games, and even <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/why-too-much-exercise-can-be-bad-042514" target="_blank">exercise</a>—too much daydreaming can be harmful to our well-being. When daydreaming crosses that threshold, it can be considered maladaptive.</p><p>This disorder was first identified by <a href="https://haifa.academia.edu/EliSomer" target="_blank">Eli Somer</a>, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Haifa, School of Social Work, in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1020597026919" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a 2002 paper</a>. That paper looked to six patients in a trauma center whose daydreaming habits replaced human interactions or interfered with their standard life functions, such as going to school or holding down a job. </p><p>Since then, other case studies have looked at <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/maladaptive-daydreaming#:~:text=Maladaptive%20daydreaming%20is%20a%20psychiatric,life%20events%20trigger%20day%20dreams." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">maladaptive daydreamers</a> and compiled a list of potential symptoms. These include vivid, richly-detailed daydreams; abnormally long daydreaming sessions; daydreams triggered by real-life events; daydreaming sessions that interrupt sleep; and repetitive motions or whisperings while daydreaming. On average, one study reported, maladaptive daydreamers spend <a href="https://bigthink.com/bps-research-digest/people-with-maladaptive-daydreaming-spend-an-average-of-four-hours-a-day-lost-in-their-imagination" target="_self">four hours a day</a> housed in their imaginations.</p><p>"This is not like rehearsing a conversation that you might have with a boss," <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/30/health/maladaptive-daydreaming-feature/index.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Somer told CNN</a>. "This is fanciful, weaving of stories. It produces an intense sense of presence."</p><p>While such symptoms are common, though not comprehensive or guaranteed, how maladaptive daydreams manifest are naturally individual to the dreamers. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6426361/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In one case study</a>, researchers analyzed the diary of a man codenamed "Peter." Peter described investing as many as 14 hours a day online. The news and images he happened upon would trigger related fantasies. For example, he may envision himself as a multimillionaire genius who could prevent bad news from occurring or self-insert himself into the power fantasies of superhero movies or police procedurals for hours at a time.</p><p>"When I felt this pain as a child, I started imagining how things could be different. I created stories which never happened. To suppress that pain I would hug my pillow or quilt, thinking I was being comforted by someone else," Peter wrote.</p><p>In an interview with CNN, Cordellia Rose described her maladaptive daydreaming like a drug and noted that her daydreams developed into intricate storylines that could last for years. These stories proved so distracted that she was unable to complete everyday tasks such as driving lessons.</p><p>"You get hooked on it, because it can be like an action movie in your head that's so gripping that you cannot turn off," Rose told CNN. "This [condition] needs to be public, because these are people suffering, and badly."</p><p>To be clear, maladaptive dreaming is not a <a href="https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/guide/what-is-psychosis#1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychotic disorder</a> like schizophrenia. Daydreamers such as Peter and Rose are aware that their fantasies are as unreal as they may be unrealistic. Because of this, many maladaptive dreamers understand the difficulties they face and the real-life losses they have endured for the sake of their fantasies. </p>