Weekly Newsletter

Public Health #

Why an iron fish can make you stronger
Presents a simple but ingenious way to combat anaemia in Cambodia by giving villagers iron fish to put in their cooking pots.

Osama Bin Laden Raid Questions #

I’m trying to cover this issue in depth since I think it sits at the intersection of a few key issues: balancing transparency and national security concerns, the efficacy of torture, and the treatment of journalists in the United States. After reading Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide, which discusses his experience as the journalist entrusted by Edward Snowden to report on his case and keeping his documents safe, I’m much more sympathetic to Hersh’s version of events. Furthermore, as discussed in the fourth article I’ve included about this, the media’s treatment of Hersh follows a troublingly similar pattern that Greenwald discusses at length in his book. All this being said, the author of the second article, the former Islamabad ambassador to Washington, raises serious concerns regarding Hersh’s version of the story. And, as seen in the third article, Hersh doesn’t respond to criticism or questions about his work gracefully. In light of this, you’ll have to come to your own conclusions about what elements of the White House’s and Hersh’s stories are valid.

The Killing of Osama bin Laden (Don Casler)
Don submitted this article and wrote this description:

“Seymour Hersh is a very well-regarded journalist who is famous for having exposed American atrocities at My Lai during the Vietnam War and at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. In this article, he weaves a very plausible alternative narrative to what the Obama White House has pushed since May 2011, when Osama Bin Laden was killed in a raid on his compound in Pakistan. I think the jury is still out on the truth, and we may never know what really happened, but if Hersh is right, it raises pretty serious questions about the trustworthiness of the Obama administration and the Pakistani government alike. Now, we know that governments lie all the time, but I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled to hear that the country with the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal in the world (Pakistan) may have been so disingenuous as to deliberately hide Bin Laden from its erstwhile ally, the US, for upwards of five years.”

He also included this shorter NY Times explainer for those of you who want more context or are unwilling to read the longer piece Seymour Hersh Article Alleges Cover-Up in Bin Laden Hunt.

The media’s reaction Seymour Hersh’s Bin Laden scoop has been disgraceful
Argues that major news outlets have favored ad hominem attacks over investigations of Hersh’s actual claims. This article highlights a few tactics major outlets have taken in an attempt to discredit Hersh – most fit into the pattern described by Greenwald in his book.

“I Am Not Backing Off Anything I Said” Interviews Seymour Hersh, the author of the prior article. Hersh, although at first respectful, becomes increasingly combative throughout the interview. I suspect part of this combativeness may come from the fact that Slate published five pieces essentially criticizing Hersh in the 36 hours between when he released the story and when this interview ran. Even keeping this in mind, Hersh is clearly not an easy person to work with or interview. I find this characteristic less surprising in light of Hersh’s history of breaking controversial, hard-hitting stories. Writing stories that question the largest government in the world time and time again requires a certain steely disposition that, in Hersh, seemingly manifests itself as combativeness.

What Pakistan Knew About the Bin Laden Raid
The former Islamabad ambassador to Washington questions Hersh’s narrative of the Bin Laden raid and raises his own concerns about the US government’s version of events. Of the articles I read, this one focused the most on Hersh’s claims rather than his character, and established plausible alternatives to certain components of his narrative.

Placebo Effect and Psychology #

Use Stress to Your Advantage
Argues that embracing stress rather than trying to calm it down improves performance. I included this article under the section titled “Placebo Effect” because I feel that the phenomenon discussed exemplifies a trend I’ve noticed more and more in pop science articles. The article discusses a technique to harness the placebo effect in order to change participants’ responses to the physiological correlates of stress. I’m highlighting this because I wish scientists and doctors explored the power of the placebo effect more. Presently, most doctors’ attitudes amount to “it’s there and let’s make sure not to let it hurt our studies.” This is understandable in light of the massive industry devoted to peddling pseudoscience and the questionable scientific basis of the positive psychology movement. While I understand the difficulty of testing a phenomenon as difficult to pin down as belief, I think the gains in efficacy and understanding of the connection between thought and physiology would make it worthwhile.

Other Contributions #

The Masculine Mystique (Will Hickman)
Will’s currently studying in Germany and sent me this blurb about the article which is better than anything I can come up with:

“I thought this was a really interesting piece, especially statement that lower- and middle-class men are essentially powerless in the “hollow patriarchy” of American society, but are still considered a part of that patriarchy. Also the stuff about work-life balance felt particularly relevant to me, because Germans have a much different attitude towards than people from the U.S. as far as I can tell.”

The Rise and Fall of Krugmania in the UK (Will Baird)
Baird sent me this note to go along with the article:

“British historian Niall Ferguson once again presents a thorough take-down of Paul Krugman, this time with respect to Krugman’s terrible track record on making economic predictions for the UK. Ferguson’s final note on Krugman’s influence abroad is particularly damning.”