from the world's big
Can an Unequal Society Become Sustainable?
Kate Pickett is a Professor of Epidemiology at the University of York and a National Institute for Health Research Career Scientist. She studied physical anthropology at Cambridge, nutritional sciences at Cornell and epidemiology at Berkeley before spending four years as an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago. Her work, with Richard Wilkinson, on "The Spirit Level" was shortlisted for Research Project of the Year 2009 by the Times Higher Education Supplement, and their book was chosen as one of the Top Ten Books of the Decade, by the New Statesman.
Question: What is the connection between sustainability and equality?
Kate Pickett: Yeah. I mean, I think this goes back to the idea I was talking about earlier that, in a sense, in the rich developed countries we’ve come to the end of what economic growth can do for us in terms of better quality of life. We also know that we’ve got to constrain economic growth to deal with the challenges of climate change. And we need to develop more sustainable economies. And we think that equality has an important role to play here in several different ways. The first is the increased status competition that I talked about in more unequal societies. That drives consumerism. And we know that high levels of consumerism are a major cause of high levels of carbon emissions and that we need to rein in consumerism to cope with climate change. So, I think more equal societies will be better places to be able to do that because there will be less drive to consume.
Also because we find that levels of trust are much higher in more equal places, social cohesion is better. People are more willing to act together for the common good, there’s a greater public spiritedness and people are less out for themselves. And we see that in more equal countries, this translates into the way the population acts with respect to the planet and with respect to other countries. For instance, more equal countries donate more in foreign aid. A greater portion of their national income is given in foreign aid and they do better at recycling across a whole variety of waste goods. And in more equal countries, business leaders are more likely agree that their government should comply with environmental regulations. So, there are all kinds of ways in which more equal societies seem better able to act for the common good.
But there’s a third thing as well, and I think this is really important because I think a lot of people have thought in the past that we need a certain level of inequality to drive aspirations and creativity. And we’ve actually found that using a sort of proxy measure of innovation, we use the number of patterns grounded per head of population, sort of a measure of innovation and creativity, and we find that there is a significant tendency for more equal countries to have a higher level of patterns grounded per capita than the more unequal ones. Probably because in more unequal societies educational achievement is lower and social mobility is lower. So, they’re wasting a much higher proportion of their potential human capital.
So in terms of consumerism, acting in a public spirited way, and being creative and innovative, it looks as if greater equality might be a very necessary precondition as far as coping with climate change.
Question: What practical steps can countries take to enhance equality?
Kate Pickett: I think the first thing to note is that not only do we find that inequality is related to a whole range of social problems, we also find that it affects the vast majority of the population, and I think that’s really key to getting greater support for measures that would make our societies more equal. Greater equality won’t just benefit the poorer in our society; the benefits seem to extend all the way up the population so that even among the wealthier, more educated, affluent sections of our populations, they are healthier and do better in a more equal society. So, I think that’s really key.
But we also find that it is the level of inequality that matters for all of these health and social problems and it doesn’t seem to matter how that greater equality is achieved. So we often point to the contrasts between Sweden and Japan, for instance. Both of them are at the more equal end of the spectrum and they do very well in terms of health and social problems. But they achieve their greater equality in very different ways.
Sweden has quite large income differences to start with and redistributes through taxes and benefits, whereas Japan has smaller income differences to start with. And that doesn’t seem to matter, it’s the level of inequality of equality that they achieve that matters. And we find the same contrast actually among the U.S. states. So, we have two states bordering each other, Vermont and New Hampshire, culturally very alike, but New Hampshire has very low levels of state expenditure and taxation and Vermont much higher. So, New Hampshire looks a bit more like Japan and Vermont a bit more like Sweden. But because they are among the more equal states, they do very well in terms of health and social problems.
So we don’t advocate any particular way of achieving greater equality. There are big state interventions that could work such as higher tax rates on higher incomes, or raising minimum wage levels. But there are sort of small state solutions as well that are around institutions, how companies decide to set their salary structures. And it does seem that where there is more economic democracy, more employees on the board for instance, or promotions from within a company, more employees owning shares in a company. Income differences within those institutions are kept smaller. So, there are lots of different ways that greater equality can be achieved
Highly unlikely, explains the epidemiologist. The lack of social cohesion creates a dynamic that makes us too untrusting, consumption-driven and anxious to conquer such a demanding task.
If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.
- Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
- Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
- One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.
Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.
- Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
- The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
- The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
Duke researchers have developed the first gel-based synthetic cartilage with the strength of the real thing. A quarter-sized disc of the material can withstand the weight of a 100-pound kettlebell without tearing or losing its shape.
Photo: Feichen Yang.<p>That's the word from a team in the Department of Chemistry and Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University. Their <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/adfm.202003451" target="_blank">new paper</a>, published in the journal,<em> Advanced Functional Materials</em>, details this exciting evolution of this frustrating joint.<br></p><p>Researchers have sought materials strong and versatile enough to repair a knee since at least the seventies. This new hydrogel, comprised of three polymers, might be it. When two of the polymers are stretched, a third keeps the entire structure intact. When pulled 100,000 times, the cartilage held up as well as materials used in bone implants. The team also rubbed the hydrogel against natural cartilage a million times and found it to be as wear-resistant as the real thing. </p><p>The hydrogel has the appearance of Jell-O and is comprised of 60 percent water. Co-author, Feichen Yang, <a href="https://today.duke.edu/2020/06/lab-first-cartilage-mimicking-gel-strong-enough-knees" target="_blank">says</a> this network of polymers is particularly durable: "Only this combination of all three components is both flexible and stiff and therefore strong." </p><p> As with any new material, a lot of testing must be conducted. They don't foresee this hydrogel being implanted into human bodies for at least three years. The next step is to test it out in sheep. </p><p>Still, this is an exciting step forward in the rehabilitation of one of our trickiest joints. Given the potential reward, the wait is worth it. </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>
What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?
Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.
An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.
- 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
- Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
- Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.
The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.
In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.
That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.
70 data points and machine learning
Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash
Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:
"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."
The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.
Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."
Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.
Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.
On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.
Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash
Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."
"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.
The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.