David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Why meritocracy is America’s most destructive myth

Meritocracy doesn't work when some people benefit from the system disproportionately.

DeRay Mckesson: I wanted to write about what it means that some people seemingly have to “earn” or do something to deserve access to things that we think about as basic necessities. So how hard can you work to earn access to a meal every night, or like what do you have to do to “deserve” a good education? What do you have to do to deserve to have housing? And that’s one of the ways that race sort of works in this country, is that there’s some people that are deemed “inherently worthy.” So we think about the way whiteness works and white supremacy, white people are just deemed worthy of things, but there’s this notion that you need to work extra hard to deserve a great public education. I am from Baltimore and when you think about the school system Baltimore City is not funded equitably at all and it’s like, what do those kids have to do to like earn equitable funding? They actually don’t need to do anything besides just be alive! And one of the things that we need to do is make sure that we set up a system where people just have the basic necessities like food, water, education. We can guarantee that. There’s no reason why we don’t have it. I actually think about the difference between equality and equity. Equality is “everybody gets the same thing,” equity is that “people get what they need and deserve.” And the work of justice, we’re almost always fighting for equity. So we think about things like school funding, we are not asking for equal funding, we know that it just costs more to educate kids who grow up in poverty, it costs more to educate kids with special needs, and we know that we need to pay that cost, that those kids deserve that. We’re not saying that every kid it costs the same to educate every kid, that’s just not true. We want a world of equity where people get what they need and deserve. We know the disparities around criminal justice, that there are disparities around race and we want an equitable system that doesn’t penalize people for where they live, how they show up, what ZIP Code they come from. So the difference between equity and equality is an important distinction, and the only way to get to equality—equality of access, whatever metric of equality you want—is by having equity of resources, equity of experiences, that the equity piece says that “you need something different and you deserve something different, and from a system level I’m going to make sure that you have access to that.” So I was talking to somebody about food stamps once and she was like, “People should have to work for food stamps because if they work for it they’ll have dignity.” Like, not eating, I think, is pretty like—not having food is a lack of dignity right there. Food is one of those basic things— we have enough food that we could feed everybody, we have enough water that everybody can have three meals every single day, like we can guarantee those things, we don’t need to artificially create this “requirement” that people work so they can earn food. Like we can actually guarantee these basic things for people. And one of the things that we have to do as we fight for social justice is talk about these things, as basic as they are. That it’s not radical to believe that we can live in a world that police don’t kill people. It’s not radical to say that every kid should be able to read and write. It’s not radical or extreme to say that we can feed every single person every single day. The only radical thing about it is that we have to say it in the first place! Like that is actually where the radical part comes in. And I think about that because polarization thrives in a world of extremes, and so often people want to paint our positions as extreme. It’s not an extreme position to say that like there should be equity and fairness. And that’s not extreme. The only extreme thing about it is that we don’t have it right now and we have to fight for it. I was in a meeting once and we were talking about welfare and it was people from the Right and the Left. And there was a person in it who was sort of against welfare and her push was like, “People need to earn it, people need to like work hard for it, and if they work hard for it they’ll feel better.” And it’s like… I don’t know, I think that people like have already worked hard to get a meal. I think that people being alive is enough of that, and there’s some people who feel like they just deserve everything. Like one of the ways white supremacy works is that people really do feel like they’ve put in the hard work, they’ve done something, or that all the things that they get are actually the benefits of their hard work. You think about the way wealth works in this country is that in 2053 the median wealth for black people is going to be zero dollars; the lowest recorded wealth since we’ve been recording wealth in this way. And you think of what a median wealth of zero dollars, and you think about white wealth, which is, it will be about $100,000—and the median black wealth will be zero. It’s not like white people worked hard for that. It’s not like every white person was like some entrepreneur that like did all these wealth-building things. The government literally gave white people wealth. The government gave white people housing loans with very little interest; the government gave white people land; the Highway Administration created the suburbs. And you think about what it means that the government gave white people like education en masse. Like those things contributed to white wealth, but there are people that are like, “I worked really hard,” and it’s like, how hard did you work for a system that just benefits your skin color at every turn of the way? You didn’t do that. How hard did you work for every Band-Aid to look like you? How hard you work for “nude”(TM) to be the color of your skin and not mine? Like you didn’t do that, a system did that. And like you benefit from the system and part of the work of white people is to understand the privilege of whiteness and to understand how a system provided that, and work to dismantle it. It actually is dangerous to teach it—so there’s a study that came out that for the first time measures how meritocracy impacts middle schoolers, and it’s seventh grade kids. And it shows that kids actually kids of color do worse later if they believe that meritocracy is like a real thing, because the system starts to bear down on them often in hard ways, and they think that it’s a result of “I’m just not working hard,” and it’s like no, we know that the way systemic racism shows up later means that no matter how gifted you are, how great you are, the outcomes still just aren’t the same. We know with criminal justice—you think about New York City—that 90 percent of the people arrested for marijuana are black and brown. You and I both know, that 90 percent of the people in New York City smoking weed are not black or brown! When we think about the arrests, we think about disparities in education, the meritocracy sometimes causes people to blame themselves for outcomes and not realizing the system is almost guaranteeing a set of outcomes.

  • When fighting for social justice, there is a difference between equality and equity.
  • It's not radical to fight for a world where everyone has the same access to education, has food, and is equal in the eyes of the criminal justice system.
  • There is no real meritocracy if some people disproportionately benefit from the system just because of their skin color.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • 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.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 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

nurse wrapping patient's arm

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.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

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.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

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.

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How often do vaccine trials hit paydirt?

Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

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Surprising Science

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.

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