By Alex DixonStudies in neuroscience and psychology have shown that the brain is wired to respond quickly to possible threats, and in American culture at least, people may have been socially conditioned to see black male faces as one of these threats. This process can even affect people who consciously shun racial bias in any form, police officers who swear to uphold the law without prejudice, and people of color themselves.
By Melinda ChateauvertThree decades before “Nothing about us, without us” became the axiom for policymaking by the sex workers’ rights movement, the national prostitutes’ rights organization COYOTE conducted a “Prostitute Study” which demonstrated that community-based participatory research had the power to revolutionize scientific paradigms. At the start of the AIDS epidemic, almost no one used community-based research to study critical health issues. But San Francisco sex workers, working as peer researchers interviewing and testing marginalized women like themselves, mapped the epidemiology of HIV in 1985. This forgotten study by sex workers on HIV/AIDS was an essential element of their political activism, using evidence-based research for making public policy, designing future medical research and changing public attitudes about the sex industry.
By Steven Lipkin, MD, PhD with Jon L. LuomaIn the next decade, we are likely to see a new generation of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, which could lead to the possibility of actually repairing genes in ART [advanced reproductive technologies] embryos affected by genetic disorders. Recent powerful basic science advances using a technique called CRISPR (pronounced “crisper,” and the acronym for the tongue twister “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”) have offered robust evidence that it’s possible to repair gene defects in embryos of several mammalian model organisms, including nonhuman primates. This is an inexpensive, remarkably effective gene-editing technique easy enough to be performed in literally thousands of laboratories around the world.
By Carole Joffe“(I)t is beyond rational belief that H.B.2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law ‘would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.’” So wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her concurrent opinion with the 5-3 majority in the landmark case, Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstadt.
A Q&A with Steven Lipkin, MD, PhD and Jon L. LuomaWe are living in an age that promises to be a watershed in the history of health and medicine. Genetic testing is experiencing the kind of exponential growth once seen with the birth of the Internet as the plummeting cost of DNA sequencing makes it increasingly accessible for individuals and families. In The Age of Genomes: Tales from the Front Lines of Genetic Medicine, which went on sale this week, geneticist Steven Lipkin, MD, PhD and science journalist Jon Luoma explore the transformative potential and risks of genetic technology through the true stories of patients facing devastating neurological diseases, cancer, and other maladies
“Nice is OK. But let’s admit it: anger is awesome.” That’s what playwright and actor Martin Moran says in his one-man play All the Rage during a scene in which he recounts the time he watched a well-dressed woman on a Manhattan corner scream murderously at an aggressive Humvee driver. “That woman is full of poison,” he goes on to say, “and I need to drink some of that.”
By Alondra NelsonGenetic genealogy testing aligns with an enduring human desire: the search for roots and identity. The appeal of genetic ancestry testing cannot be understood without also understanding the backdrop of the specific example author Alex Haley provided about how this should be accomplished and what effects it might produce. Roots, for which Haley received a Pulitzer Prize, tells the story of Haley’s colorful family genealogy, which he traces back to The Gambia. The story is framed as the author’s “epic quest”: his prodigious efforts across years and continents to uncover his family’s past. In 1977, when Haley’s work was transformed into a television miniseries, the story of his ancestors’ trials, tribulations, and resilience held the country in rapt attention for eight days.
By Gail Forsyth-VailWhen one of my children was five years old, they entered kindergarten. The child we entrusted to the school was a high energy, affectionate, interesting kid. A kid who “bounced,” just like A. A. Milne’s Tigger in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. A kid not always aware of their hyperactivity, nor of others’ reactions to it.
A Q&A with Jay WexlerIn Mumbai, Hindus carry twenty-foot-tall plaster of Paris idols of the elephant god Ganesh into the sea and leave them on the ocean floor to symbolize the impermanence of life, further polluting the scarce water resources of western India. In Hong Kong and Singapore, Taoists burn paper money to appease “hungry ghosts,” filling the air with smoke and dangerous toxins. These are some of the instances of religious practice colliding with environmentalism that humorist and law professor Jay Wexler investigated for his new book that came out this month, When God Isn’t Green. Over two years, he made a round-the-world trip to understand the complexity of these problems and learn how society can best address them. We caught up with Wexler to ask him about his journey and how we can work toward ecofriendly rituals.
What sacrifices does a Pakistani wife have to make while living under a military dictatorship? Why are there still so few women working in the hard sciences? Which historically misunderstood workforce forged alliances with activists in the women’s rights and black freedom movements? The answers lie in the books we are featuring this year during Women’s History Month, which explore and applaud the contributions women have made—through survival, activism, trailblazing—to history. Ranging from the individual voice of memoir to the joint voices of the collective biography, their narratives ring out with equal intensity.
By Philip WarburgSince Beacon’s publication of Harness the Sun last Fall, I’ve spent a lot of time in university classrooms and on radio shows talking up solar power’s potential as a clean energy resource. These discussions have largely focused on the supply side of renewable energy, but there’s a broader and equally exciting story to tell about the rapid transformation of our built environment. It’s a story that is as much about what we can do to reduce our buildings’ energy demand as it is about what we can do to produce the power we need to comfortably use those buildings.
By Carole JoffeThe Zika virus crisis, which is believed to have already caused the birth of thousands of newborns with microcephaly (which causes unusually small heads and underdeveloped brains), has created an acutely distressing situation for millions of women. Most of the affected countries, particularly in Latin America, have extremely strict policies about abortion and very inadequate provision of birth control. Most notably, in El Salvador, where the Minister of Health recently suggested that women delay pregnancy for two years because of the Zika virus, abortion is absolutely forbidden, even in cases where the pregnant women’s life is at risk. Women suspected of abortion, or even in some cases, miscarriages, now languish in El Salvador’s jails. (Other Zika-infected countries which have a similar absolute ban on abortion are Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic). But being pregnant while infected with the Zika virus is not life threatening—so even in Latin American countries which would permit abortion in such cases would not do so, under current law, because of the possibility of the serious birth defects of microcephaly.
Black History Month is as much about rediscovery as it is about celebration and commemoration. At Beacon Press, the books we publish that cover black history reintroduce us to long-forgotten or hidden historical figures, unearth information previously unknown about prominent black leaders, bring us closer to the struggles and triumphs of African ancestors. In the current age of #BlackLivesMatter and other movements that compel us to evaluate our country’s progress in racial justice, it’s important to get reacquainted with the steps black forerunners have taken—and their history—so we can see how to step forward. For this year's Black History Month, we're recommending a list of new and older titles offering biographies, histories, memoir, and more.
By Lydia DenworthIn the tragedy of Flint, Michigan’s lead poisoning crisis, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is one of the heroes. Last September, Hanna-Attisha, director of pediatric residency at Flint’s Hurley Children’s Hospital, stood up at a press conference and presented research suggesting that the city’s water supply was poisoning its children. The number of kids with elevated blood lead levels—five micrograms per deciliter or more—had doubled, she said, and in some neighborhoods, it had tripled.
By Sharon Leslie MorganAs a genealogist, DNA has intrigued me ever since its first promotion as a consumer product in 2003. That was the year Dr. Rick Kittles launched African Ancestry, a company that specializes in uncovering the genetic origins of people of African descent. It marked twenty-eight years into my personal research into a family tree that winds from the backwoods of Mississippi and Alabama through a Great Migration terminus in Chicago. All along the way, one thing I longed to know more than anything else was the root of my continental African origins. This was in spite of the tangled morass of genes that include a copious assortment of Europeans that resulted in me looking more white than many white people I know.
In some ways, the profile of Robert Lewis Dear, the man who was arrested for a shooting rampage at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs on Friday, is similar to that of the other six individuals who have been charged with abortion-related murders in the past two decades. But unlike them, Dear does not appear to have a history of public involvement with the organized anti-choice movement. Though several sources, including an ex-wife, told the New York Times that he was staunchly against abortion, another former partner said that “It was never really a topic of discussion.”
Rampant wildfires across the West, venomous sea snakes on California beaches—sound familiar? Rarely does a day pass without a headline focused on climate-related news. Every time I read one of these stories, my mind goes to the people living amidst it: exhausted hotshot crews in Twisp, WA, barefoot beachcombers in Oxnard, CA. Though national in distribution, every story begins in its own neighborhood.
At last, Back to the Future Day is upon us. We’ve all been tallying the predictions in Robert Zemeckis’s science-fiction adventure comedy that came true and the ones that did not. Take, for example, the rejuvenation clinic that Doc visited in Back to the Future II. Today’s Botox treatments can’t compare to the full blood transfusion, hair repair, and spleen and colon replacement that extended Doc’s life by forty years. In the near future, however, life extension could be a reality. But at what cost? In his new book Our Grandchildren Redesigned: Life in the Bioengineered Society of the Near Future, award-winning historian Michael Bess speculates about the enhancements headed our way, beginning in the next half-century. As Bess lays out the benefits and consequences of our bioenhanced future, he starts many of the chapters with fictional vignettes meant to illustrate what life may be like in the near-future. In the book, he asks readers to consider the overarching implications that these advancements may have on our society.
Today is the day to thank Ada Lovelace for the device you’re using right now to read this. Born Augusta Ada Gordon in 1815, she is recognized as the “first computer programmer.” In the early 1840s, Lovelace translated and expanded on an Italian article describing Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Her elaborate notes included a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers, largely recognized as the first computer code. Lovelace’s notes helped inspire Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers one hundred years later.
For years I dragged around poems in the pockets of my white coat, pressing them into the hands of unsuspecting medical students and residents. As an attending physician at a teaching hospital in New York City, my job was to supervise the medical students and residents. I had to ensure that our patients received good medical care and that our doctors in training were learning the ins and outs of inpatient and outpatient medicine.