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Big Think Interview With Max Lugavere
Max Lugavere is a filmmaker, journalist, and co-founding producer/host of Current TV, the Emmy Award-winning media company founded by Al Gore. A graduate of the University of Miami, he has worked with friend and co-producer Jason Silva to create the documentary, “The Textures of Selfhood". Hailing from New York City, he now lives in Los Angeles.
Max Lugavere: My name is Max Lugavere. I am one half of Max and Jason of Current TV.
Question: How is Current TV different from other networks?
Max Lugavere: Well, I think that the most obvious way in which Current is different from other networks is that the values that are sort of written into our constitution are inherently, you know, born of this web 2.0 time, which we sort of have all come into where we sort of accept an interactive medium as sort of standard where, as like CNN has iReport, and MTV thrived with MTV Flu-which is a website.
Current TV is inherently a dual screen experience where users can participate in a multitude of ways in our programming and, you know, that can range from creating a short form documentary in its entirety to submit to the network or, you know, you can leave web comments and text comments, web cam responses on our website for inclusion into our show or on the air many other ways. We sort of launched with the goal of seeing Al Gore's mission of democratizing the most powerful medium that exists. And that...we haven't gone a day without trying to figure out new and more innovative way to do that.
Question: Why is your user-generated content so important?
Max Lugavere: Our favorite segments to talk about on-air are the viewer-created segments, because part of the reason why we came onboard was because we submitted a film that we produced in college, and so it's always refreshing for us to see the work of other young filmmakers. Not only on that but sometimes you get-most of the time you get-a perspective that you just won't see on traditional news media. It's not always journalism, but the perspectives are just unbelievable, I mean, we feel very honored to sit on the frontline of this, sort of the highest value, user-generated content production pipeline that exists today.
I mean, YouTube obviously is bigger and more ubiquitous, but you have a lot of videos of like people's cats jumping through hula-hoops or the next Chris Crocker. It's all entertaining, but the user-generated content that you are going to see in Current is just, the production values is just impeccable most of the time, and so we love it. We get to see stories like, you know, the underground party scene in Karachi, Pakistan, nose jobs in Iran-apparently it's the nose job capital of the world. You know everything from that to underground drifting circles in Northern California. So it's just, it's really compelling and it's great for us because...we get to keep our finger on the pulse of what's on the mind of people our age, you know, these are in short documentaries that come from focus groups or board rooms and large media conglomerates, you know, they came from people just like Jason and I, so it's great. Those are our favorite pieces, those and then the in-house journalism that Current produces on our vanguard show.
Question: Is Internet content too dumb?
Max Lugavere: I think that one of the reasons why the Internet is amazing is because you really can have both, and I don't see a problem, per se, with enjoying the occasional consumption of celebrity websites and the like. I think ultimately you want to live a life of balance. I do think though that what a journalist is...that perception is shifting and evolving at a rapid phase. Now it's social broadcasting sites like Twitter news, and information is disseminated often from regular people that haven't gone to graduate school for journalism, and I think that we're starting to see that people are becoming more engaged with conscious media. We've seen Obama come to office and we definitely... Jason and I have been privy to the entire generation of outspoken passionate people that really see changing the world and have created ultimately the changing of the world with his election. Yeah, so I think that with sites like Twitter and even Facebook, people are definitely using media for the betterment of a... for a society. While they have their Firefox tab open to Paris Hilton, like that's another situation, but I wouldn't bash it 'cause, you know, occasionally people want to know what's up with the latest.
Question: What's the appeal of short form content?
Max Lugavere: Well, I think the virtue of short form programming is that it's well suited to a generation where we're all sort of media over-saturated. We all have ADD to one degree or another. I think it's, I just think it's easier to consume a broader range of media when it's all sort of, you know, short form. I mean, Twitter's super popular for having status messages that can only be a 140 characters. Also, I think that in terms of production, because I'm also a filmmaker. I went to school for film... the immediacy of getting to create a short form documentary is great, because, I mean, it requires so much less time to tell a story than the production that would go into a feature length documentary. I don't want to discredit feature length documentaries, I think that some stories you know, when a story is good you can, you know there is no time limit as we've seen with "Inconvenient Truth" and you know "Sicko," I love Michael Moore's documentaries but I don't agree to everything he does, but I think that he obviously has a knack for creating feature length documentaries that are compelling all the way through. But in terms of daily consumption, I just think there is an immediacy to the short form pod that didn't exist before bite size information was really as ubiquitous as it is today.
Question: How do you keep people from using Current as a platform for their causes?
Max Lugavere: Well, I know that it's a struggle that we've faced before. For example, we have a segment on Current where one of our journalists infiltrated the sort of skinhead sect in Russia. There's a large population, I guess, of neo-Nazis in Russia and, you know, that is a story that needs to be told and nobody else has really told it the way that we did but you, you know, you always want to be careful to not perpetuate their hate. You don't want give them a voice, you want to tell people what's going on without sort of giving them a soap box to stand on, so to speak. So that is definitely a tricky situation, but that has always been a tricky situation for any journalist. I think that with the sort of ability for... with the range of stories that are now being told and sort of with the information or overflow that is at all our fingertips, I just think that people are going to... their sensors are going to be more into it to detect what is bullshit, what is not; what is sort of, you know, worth reading up on, or what is not, and I just think that the more information the better.
The more information we have available to us, the more fine-tuned our filtering-our internal filtering devices-will get. It's not a one-way broadcasting network, it's sort of a communication with the powers to be in media in general, and with that will become a greater sort of medium, where the truth lies.
Question: What's the craziest story you've covered for Current?
Max Lugavere: When we first launched, one of the first stories that I covered with Jason was certainly crazy for me because I graduated from college like 6 months ago-prior to that point. I was going to purchase a fake social security card with Jason in Macarthur Park, and obviously Jason speaks Spanish so he was, you know, able to go in and really speak the language and get the job done, whereas I stuck out like a sore thumb. I wearing board shorts at the time and sunglasses... in the context of the segment I looked ridiculous, but at the same time it was pretty interesting for the two of us to really get to see that world. And so Jason, you know, bought himself a fake social security card which a lot of undocumented workers in Los Angeles need order to-at least on paper-be able to say they can legally work for whatever it is, a carwash, you know. And so we wanted to sort of see how that was done before...like seeing how everyone was talking about it and so we did that, and Anderson Cooper actually had us on the show to talk about what that experience was like. So that was definitely crazy, I mean, I was sort of... Jason was actually in the room, I was walking around Macarthur getting accosted by sex workers and drug dealers while he was getting the ID, but it was crazy nonetheless. I think, you know, we've covered the immigration situation in Miami; we've covered the homeless situation in L.A., all interesting topics. I can't say that we've really risked our lives to tell a story, it's not something that we want to do-we love telling stories. We're both passionate storytellers. But there are journalists on Current TV that are way more courageous in that sense.
Question: Where do you see Current TV in 5 years?
Max Lugavere: I think we have yet to see mobile technology really coming to fruition in the way that I think it eventually will. I think Current will be heavily involved in that when it does. I also think that Current has a long way to go in terms of mass penetration which, you know, for better or worse, all of our marketing up until this point has been very grassroots. It's just people that stumble upon the channel or see something about us on the web, tune in and then become hooked and then they told their friends. It's been very vital in that sense. But that said, it doesn't have the mainstream following that "The Hills" has and I think that that is sort of a crime, you know, and then, I think that in 5 years what I'd like to see is just Current being a massive hit, with people all over the world tuning into Current TV to see a perspective that you are not going to see anywhere else. We really want to enrich the dialogue between young people and the concept of news, it's just... it's all about information dissemination and I think that the more eyes, the more power you have, and Current definitely, we want to have the power, we want the influence, we want to use it for good.
Recorded on: April 14, 2009
A conversation with the host of Current TV.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.
Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.
An article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry raises questions about the goal of these advocacy groups.
- Two-thirds of American consumer advocacy groups are funded by pharmaceutical companies.
- The authors of an article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry say this compromises their advocacy.
- Groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness act more like lobbyists than patient advocates.
The Corruption That Brought Prozac to Market — Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bea9cff2b25efc18b663a011a679ba16"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UyaJExxFPAE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Consumer-oriented groups gained steam over the ensuing decades. Their efforts helped inspire the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act after over 100 people (mostly children) died from a sanctioned drug, Sulfanilamide. If not for the hard work of these advocates, this case might have been overlooked.</p><p>Early efforts also focused on the food industry, which was increasingly using chemical preservatives. The origin of Consumer Reports can be found in the consumer advocacy movement. Both the food and drug industries were getting a free pass to experiment on citizens with few repercussions.</p><p>These movements provided a social foundation for important advocacy work in the second half of the century. Female-led groups evolved to focus on women's reproductive rights, AIDS, and mental health. As the authors write, these groups struck a balance between working <em>with</em> and <em>against</em> current trends. Sometimes you need to craft legislation with officials; at other times, you have to rage against the machine with everything you've got. </p><p>Advocacy marked an important turning point in public health (and culture in general). These groups were tired of placating to a medical model that treated the male body as the standard. This wasn't limited to anatomy. As I <a href="https://bigthink.com/coronavirus/pandemic-warnings-rp-eddy" target="_self">wrote about last week</a>, a high-profile 1970s-era conference about the role of women on Wall St featured no women on stage. You can imagine what reproductive health looked like during that time. </p><p>Advocacy groups made real impact in public health. Then the money began pouring in. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"These groups were funded largely by individual donations with some foundation support, but in the late 1980s, newer women's health groups moved to professionalize, effectively splitting the women's health movement."</p><p>A number of groups resist corporate ties to this day, such as the National Women's Heath Network and Breast Cancer Action. Too often, however, groups argue that their existence depends on corporate funding. This can lead to uncomfortable compromises. </p><p>An estimated two-thirds of patient advocacy groups in America accept funds from the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma companies gave <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11673-019-09956-8.pdf" target="_blank">at least $116 million</a> to such groups in 2015 alone.</p><p>For example, over a three-year period, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which was founded by two mothers whose sons suffered from schizophrenia, received nearly $12 million from 18 pharmaceutical companies. The largest donor was Prozac manufacturer, Eli Lilly. By 2008, three-quarters of NAMI's budget was funded by the pharmaceutical industry. It gets worse:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An Eli Lilly executive was even 'on loan' to NAMI, paid by Eli Lilly, while he worked out of the NAMI office on 'strategic planning.'"</p>
A customer waiting for his medication at the Headache Bar in a pharmacy in Sydney, Australia. Among the items on sale are 'Paigees with Chlorophyll' and Alka Seltzer on tap.
Photo by Dennis Rowe/BIPs/Getty Images<p>This influx of cash skews public understanding of drugs. It also influences advocates to overlook real problems caused by pharmaceutical interventions, especially when it comes to mental health.<br></p><p>For a real-world example, consider how Xanax came to market. As journalist Robert Whitaker <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e829xdb4AA" target="_blank">explains</a>, an <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1463502/?page=1" target="_blank">initial study</a> was conducted to determine efficacy in treating panic attacks. After four weeks, Xanax was outperforming placebo, which is common with benzodiazepines over short-term usage. But it wasn't a four-week study; it was a 14-week study.</p><p>At the end of eight weeks, there was no difference in efficacy between Xanax and placebo.</p><p>At the conclusion of the study after 14 weeks, the placebo outperformed Xanax. By a lot.</p><p>Why is Xanax still prescribed for panic attacks? Because the pharmaceutical company, Upjohn, only published the four-week data. The 14-week data was not in its favor. Nearly forty years later, over <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/781816/alprazolam-sodium-prescriptions-number-in-the-us/" target="_blank">25 million</a> Americans receive a prescription despite its <a href="https://drugabuse.com/xanax/effects-use/" target="_blank">long list</a> of side effects and addictive profile. </p><p>As the authors note, many consumers are not aware of how advocacy groups are funded.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An international study of groups in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and South Africa found that the extent of relationships with industry was inadequately disclosed in websites that addressed ten health conditions: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, depression, Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis."</p><p>That's a tangled web of relationships. Pharmaceutical industry funding negatively impacts the work advocacy groups should be focused on: protecting us. NAMI, for example, claims that as a "natural ally" to the pharmaceutical industry, it helps consumers access "all scientifically proven treatments." When the industry ignores evidence of long-term damage caused by its treatments, you have to wonder what's being advocated. </p><p>Although, as the authors conclude, that question is easy to answer. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Instead of drawing insights from patient experience to set organizational agendas and challenge industry agendas, today's groups are silent on high prices and drug harms, oppose efforts to regulate these basic rights, and demand access to drugs that challenge the safety and effectiveness."</p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
Want help raising your kids? Spend more time at church, says new study.
- Religious people tend to have more children than secular people, but why remains unknown.
- A new study suggests that the social circles provided by regular church going make raising kids easier.
- Conversely, having a large secular social group made women less likely to have children.