Matt Miller on the Future of Print
Matt Miller is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress; a contributing editor at Fortune; and the host of "Left, Right & Center," public radio's popular week-in-review program. Miller's first book, The Two Percent Solution: Fixing America's Problems In Ways Liberals And Conservatives Can Love, was published in 2003, and was a Los Angeles Times bestseller. His latest book, The Tyranny Of Dead Ideas, was published by Henry Holt/Times Books in January 2009. Miller served as Senior Advisor to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget from 1993 to 1995. He lives with his family in Los Angeles.
Question: What’s the way forward for a magazine like Fortune?Miller: I’m just a contributor to Fortune, so I’m not part of the, you know, the in-house workings, but, look, all the major media are going through this tremendous tumult know, as you know, and the economics of the internet have just changed everything. And so, I’m very bullish about ideas and content finding their audience, because we know that continues to happen. I think that there’s no question it’s going to fundamentally, you know, overhaul the delivery systems that we have for how we get content, and, you know, that’s displacing a lot of people already. I have lots of friends and colleagues I know who have felt the, you know, the sting of this from the cutbacks that different institutions, name brand institutions all over the place, are going through, and yet it’s, it will be interesting to see, you know… One of the things people always say about the media is that the media have always been unsympathetic to those who lose out from free trade because, you know, nobody’s outsourcing editors’ jobs. Well, now, people are outsourcing editors’ jobs and writers’ jobs and, you know, there’s a lot of things you can do all around the world. You’ve even, you know, you’re seeing reports about local papers. I think there’s one in Sacramento that has its reporting done by three people in India. Of course, they’re scouring the local listings and doing it, you know, at 1/20th of the price, and I think we have to be, it’s very disruptive for people. I think it will make the media more sympathetic to the losers from trade, which is something we actually need in the culture, and, you know, who know where it ends? I’m sure, at the end of this, there’ll be, you know, a whole new set of things going on. The one thing I worry about, I guess, is I don't know what we would do without something like the New York Times, for example. For all the ways that, you know, the Times, obviously, because it’s so powerful, has these enormous critics. Most of what, even the critics, most of what even the critics of the New York Times know about the world, they know it from the New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal, or the Washington Post, and without these major national institutions investing in the reporting organizations they have around the world, there is a certain common base of knowledge that you wonder, you know, maybe they’ll just get reinvented in a more cost-effective fashion on the internet, under some of these brands, but it’s hard to know, it’s hard to know which way it goes, and I noticed yesterday, you know, just before we do this interview, the New York Times had its first ever front page ad at the bottom of the front page of the New York Times. Now, I’m not a purist. I’m not against ads in different parts of newspapers, but it was another marker of the times that the New York Times was selling a 2-inch ad along the bottom, you know, full page, 2 inch across the banner ad at the bottom, and I thought it was particularly ironic that it was a CBS ad. So it was, you know, it was an attempt by the New York Times, which is being killed by lack of advertising, with some ad bought by an entity that itself is seeking advertising in troubled times, so there’s some meta irony in that I’m sure, but I’m not smart enough to figure out what it is.
The author talks about the many woes facing newspapers and magazines.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- 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.
A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.
- Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.