At SU, our Faculty continually discover great content that prompts stimulating discussions and learnings among ourselves and with those of you who attend our programs. Here are a few of the items that we were buzzing about this month.
Rolling Stone has joined the clamor of reporting on The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest dire warning about humanity’s trajectory. This time the IPCC focused on food security: as Rolling Stone summarizes, “On our current path, with warming of more than 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, the world faces nearly certain and widespread freshwater shortages, permanent vegetation loss, uncontrollable wildfires, permafrost thawing, and declines in crop yields to the point that famine and instability could be pervasive especially in some parts of the tropics.” Scared enough to change? Eat less meat and more plants. You’ll reduce your water, carbon, and energy footprints, and help lessen the misery of billions of sentient living things every year. While plant-based protein is better for the planet than animal meat, remember that processed plants are not a healthy substitute for whole, fresh fruits and vegetables. Focus on plants and your body will thank you—and so will the planet.
Got brains on your brain? In late July 2019, Nature ran a special series of articles focused on the human brain and how technologies are both unraveling its mysteries and enhancing its function. From mapping brain connections to decoding consciousness to inspiring AI to the crucial ethics underpinning brain-machine interfaces (and more), this Outlook covers a broad swathe of the cutting edge of neuroscience. There’s something for everyone here, and well worth your time as brain-machine interfaces become more prevalent in medicine and in everyday life.
My colleague Darlene Damm, SU’s Vice Chair & Principal Faculty of Global Grand Challenges, recently blogged about the process undertaken by a passionate team bringing the Future of Learning into focus. The result was the Exponential Guide To The Future of Learning, a deep dive into SU’s vision for how convergent exponential technologies can—and should—be harnessed to democratize learning for maximum impact around the world. From the past to the present to the future, this report will quickly bring you up to speed on the exciting opportunities and challenges in this space. The team even put together a graphic novel to help you visualize various potential Futures of Learning. How will you positively impact a billion learners?
The microbiome is a burgeoning market space for health and wellness (and not just in humans!)—which means there’s a great deal of hype embedded within the hope. In this article, The Scientist brings us up to date on the use of fecal transplants for a variety of diseases. This reality check is particularly important in light of the USA FDA’s recent freeze on clinical trials of fecal transplants. As always, let’s take a hard look at the science before jumping to conclusions, either as optimists or as pessimists. While we wait for data and regulation, resist the temptation to DIY. You wouldn’t give yourself a blood transfusion, would you?
Bonus: Book Reviews
I don’t have a lot of time to read these days, and so I often find myself relying on book reviews—rather than books themselves—to show me what’s important in the world. Here are two book reviews in Nature, one of the world’s premier science journals, that recently sparked my interest.
Srinath Perur recently showcased Banu Subramaniam’s deep dive into how rising Hindu nationalism is hijacking both science and history to drive politics. Melding belief, fact, and interpretation can have both positive and negative effects, as Subramaniam teases apart in Holy Science: The Biopolitics of Hindu Nationalism. I’m looking forward to exploring the nuances of the application and misapplication of science and identity narratives to the search for an abundant future for one of the world’s largest populations.
Check out Angela Saini’s nuanced review of Gavin Evans’ new work, Skin Deep: Journeys in the Divisive Science of Race. Interestingly, Evans has tapped his own experience as a white man growing up in apartheid South Africa as a lens for exploring the persistent hijacking of science to promote racial agendas—in this case in sport. Saini points to her own body of work (Superior, which focuses on race, and Inferior, which focuses on gender) to link Evans’ insights to the current political and cultural climate. As a brown scientist American woman, I find this intersection utterly intriguing.