Feb 16, 2017 5 min read

#80: When Things Go Missing

#80: When Things Go Missing

Iserotope Extras is now The Highlighter ! I’m very excited about the digest’s new name, and I thank you all for your support as I ruminated (and ruminated) over this gargantuan decision. (Press R to let me know what you think!) To celebrate its new name, The Highlighter #80 is big and bold, with six

Iserotope Extras is now The Highlighter! I’m very excited about the digest’s new name, and I thank you all for your support as I ruminated (and ruminated) over this gargantuan decision. (Press R to let me know what you think!)

To celebrate its new name, The Highlighter #80 is big and bold, with six articles, two photographs, and a new feature called Reader Annotations. There’s something for everyone!

This week, enjoy razor-sharp writing (“When Things Go Missing” and “A Shot in the Arm”), two articles on juvenile justice (including punishment that involves reading), a piece that will make you think twice about going on a cruise, and a health warning (to get a grip).

I’m also hoping you’ll make time to read the digest’s first contribution to Reader Annotations, where loyal subscribers respond to last week’s issue. Hope you enjoy!

When Things Go Missing

When Things Go Missing

Kathryn Schulz (author of “The Really Big One,” about the catastrophic earthquake destined to hit the Pacific Northwest) begins this astounding piece with anecdotes about losing things — her keys, her wallet, her car. Then Ms. Schulz turns to the loss of her father, who died last year. Her writing is exquisite, and her thesis—that living is losing—will bring you pause, even if reading about death is something you’d rather not do.

America Is Losing Its Grip

Another science article! This one is about grip strength, and how we’re losing it, and how that may mean really bad things for our health and lifespan. It turns out that humans are meant to brachiate (swing through trees) and to make tools (thank you, opposable thumb), except we do neither anymore. Should this concern us? The early evidence suggests maybe.

Meet Bacon. He is the new dog of loyal subscriber Nick.

What’s Justice for Kids Who Kill?

As many of you know, I’m very interested in juvenile justice, particularly when it comes to youth under age 18 who commit violent crimes (e.g., this Texas Monthly article from #75). This piece is about Kahton Anderson, who at age 13 killed an innocent man on a New York City bus, claiming he was defending himself against a rival neighborhood crew. Is there a way to acknowledge a young defendant’s immaturity and potential to change while simultaneously holding him accountable for a terrible act?

Teenagers Who Vandalized Historic Black Schoolhouse Are Ordered to Read Books

After teenagers in Virginia pleaded guilty to vandalizing an historic black schoolhouse, the judge sentenced them to read 12 books geared to build their background knowledge on African American history, the Holocaust, and the history of discrimination. My first two reactions: (1) It’s great to treat this as a learning opportunity, (2) Reading for punishment isn’t great. (At least the reading list involves choice.)

Always a good choice: The Awakening, by Kate Chopin.

A Shot in the Arm: Donating Plasma to Pay the Bills

Journalism professor Josh Roiland, who makes $52,000 a year at the University of Maine, is $200,000 in debt from student loans. He makes ends meet by traveling two hours to donate plasma at $50 a pop. (The gas he puts on a credit card.) In this first-person piece, Prof. Roiland argues that, with 40 percent of new Ph.Ds in 2014 unable to find tenure-track positions, it may no longer be true what his undergraduate adviser said: “If there’s anything worth going big-time in debt for, it’s education.”

Below Deck

Have you ever been on a cruise? Several friends tell me how wonderful and relaxing they are, how it’s great to get away. If you agree, you may want to skip this article, which exposes the dark side of the cruise ship industry. Particularly for Filipinos, who make up 1/3 of the worldwide workforce, a job on a cruise ship is horrific, with long hours without breaks, meager pay, and insufficient medical care. You’ll also learn how the big cruise ship companies avoid American regulations by registering in other countries, “flying a flag of convenience.”

From loyal subscriber Phoebe, an oceanographer, on last week’s article, “Cancer Studies Are Fatally Flawed. Meet the Young Billionaire Who’s Exposing the Truth About Bad Science.

It’s true there is a lot of bad science that gets reported (especially in nutrition and wellness), and it pains me that the whole enterprise suffers as a result. You know that science is in big trouble when its validity gets made fun of on even the most liberal of outlets (e.g., John Oliver, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, Harpers). If the Right doesn’t believe in facts, and the Left is led to think that all science is silly, there’s no escaping a post-factual world.
The thing I love about science is the philosophy underlying it: There’s a requirement that you change your conclusions in the face of new, conflicting information. And for it to be useful, you have to place your new, conflicting information in the context of studies that came before. Science isn’t about being good at math, or having special skills; it’s a way of approaching and evaluating information.

I agree there can be perverse incentives in academia to publish sensational things. That is exacerbated by journalists who only want to report the most sensational implication, so even a thoughtful study is frequently misrepresented in the media. (I have personal experience with this.) But I have also had very good experiences in academia, where I or my colleagues are rewarded for doing thoughtful work, not for doing flashy, sensational work. I think it depends on the culture of the field and institution that you’re in.

I can’t decide whether I liked or hated the article. I support the rooting out of bad science, but as bad science gets more press, I worry that there is not enough science literacy for people to understand what that means, and that all of science gets tarnished as a result.

Thank you, Phoebe, for your thoughtful response! I welcome reader annotations, so when you feel moved, please press R to reply to this email digest, and you can send me your thoughts. (I won’t publish anything without your consent.)

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Thank you for opening up and reading The Highlighter #80! Also, I’m proud to report that this digest is getting a ton of readership. We’re up to 116 subscribers now! Thank you for getting the word out. (But don’t force people!) This week, I’d love to receive more Reader Annotations, and I’d love the digest to gain more subscribers. If you’d like to help out with that, please go ahead, that would be very kind! As always, have a great week, and see you next Thursday at 9:10 am.

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