This seems like a good time for a linkage post, since most people are still probably off enjoying the holidays. And if you aren’t busy having holiday cheer somewhere, it will give you some awesome reading material to pass the time!
I unfortunately didn’t think to keep track of where I owe the hat tips for these links, but primary purveyors of awesome include sites like Not Exactly Rocket Science, Slashdot, Racialicious, Bad Astronomy, and Neuroskeptic.
First, the sciency ones! You knew there would be sciency ones.
Is the Cure for Cancer Inside You? gave me the shakes, because holy crap, it sounds like this could actually lead to a cure for cancer. Like, for real. And the personal story of Dr. Steinman’s life and ultimate death from the disease he was researching inside his own body is wrenchingly compelling:
In the long struggle that was to come, Steinman would try anything and everything that might extend his life, but he placed his greatest hope in a field he helped create, one based on discoveries for which he would earn his Nobel Prize. He hoped to reprogram his immune cells to defeat his cancer — to concoct a set of treatments from his body’s own ingredients, which could take over from his chemotherapy and form a customized, dynamic treatment for his disease. These would be as far from off-the-shelf as medicines can get: vaccines designed for the tumor in his gut, made from the products of his plasma, that could only ever work for him.
Steinman would be the only patient in this makeshift trial, but the personalized approach for which he would serve as both visionary and guinea pig has implications for the rest of us. It is known as cancer immunotherapy, and its offshoots have just now begun to make their way into the clinic, and treatments have been approved for tumors of the skin and of the prostate. For his last experiment, conducted with no control group, Steinman would try to make his life into a useful anecdote — a test of how the treatments he assembled might be put to work. “Once he got diagnosed with cancer, he really started talking about changing the paradigm of cancer treatment,” his daughter Alexis says. “That’s all he knew how to do. He knew how to be a scientist.”
Following that, reading Why I’m Feeling So Crabby About Cancer Conspiracy Theories is even more infuriating, because do people really think that research scientists have a cure for cancer and are letting people die? It’s ridiculous. And yet:
The millions of dollars were news to me, given that as a freshly minted PhD I was making C$35,000 (£22,000) a year at the time. However, what really took me aback was the sheer vehemence of the anger being directed at [me]. He jabbed his finger at me as he raised his voice and ranted about how “all you scientists are sitting on a 100% effective cure for cancer” (“a bunch of vitamins smushed together with proteins” were his exact words), watching millions of people die as we counted the royalty money from the “useless poisons” we were forcing people to take.
She actually references Dr. Steinman’s story, pointing out that if such a conspiracy were true, no cancer researcher or her family members would ever die of the disease. Well, unless they were all so seduced by the “millions of dollars” they were getting from the conspiracy they let their loved ones die.
One more cancer link, because clearly I’m trying to depress you during the holidays: The Lying Disease talks about people who fake serious illnesses on the Internet. Which wouldn’t be a big deal, except these people infiltrate support groups of people who really are sick and prey on their emotions during already-traumatic times, often manipulating real victims of cancer into massive outlays of sympathy and support (both emotional and financial) in the name of friendship when there’s nothing wrong with them. The article is long but gripping all the way through.
For more lighthearted science, did you know it might be possible to see an entirely new color? How to See a Redder Red explores allowing humans to see wavelengths normally outside the visible spectrum—in this case, off the longer-wavelength end, beyond the wavelengths that manifest as the reddest reds we see. When I was a kid I used to wonder what it would be like to see an undiscovered color . . .
What To Do When the Bus Doesn’t Come and You Want to Scream explores how our brains perceive time. Through bubble wrap!
Mars One is doing an open call for people to join a one-way mission to Mars. For real. When I saw this, I spent an entire morning depressed because I have too many health problems to qualify for any sort of space mission (although my family probably breathes a sigh of relief about that, since, you know, it’s a one-way trip). My goal in life is now to accumulate $20 million so I can be a space tourist despite my health problems.
My Breakfast with “Scientism” is a totally hilarious satirical rebuttal to anyone who thinks believing in science is somehow a threat to society.
Now for the interesting and cool:
Also from Neuroskeptic we have Why (and How) to Write Less, which is . . . really some very good advice that I should apply in these very blog posts.
55555, or, How to Laugh Online in Other Languages is a fascinating list of onomatopoeic laughter in other languages—it’s not just “haha” and “LOL” globally! Some corrections and nuances are added by global readers in the comments.
And if you like language, have 12 Letters That Didn’t Make the Alphabet, which also links to The Rules for the Long S (the old-timey s that looks like an f). Those would have been really useful to know during a certain social studies project I did in the eighth grade . . .
Representation! Intersectionality! Racism! Sexism! You knew these were coming, too.
No More Excuses: “It’s the Middle Ages, Yo!” is on how excruciating the “it’s the Middle Ages!” excuse is when fantasy books are fraught with racism/sexism/etc. problems:
The highly selective application of “the Middle Ages” excuse is simply another exercise in the denial of one’s own responsibility. “My hands are tied, the setting is supposed to be like the Middle Ages!” This does not wash unless you’re doing a precise historical re-enactment, which no fantasy game, movie, or book has done. Why? Because they aren’t about the Middle Ages. They’re about their own settings and histories. When you create a fantasy world you are not bound to create a world with regressed social relations. If you assert that prejudice is required for verisimilitude in a fantasy world simply because it’s fantasy, that is a prejudiced statement. Period.
Some of the comments are fantastic too, such as:
These kinds of things also bug me because I actually got a masters in Medieval History. What most gamers think of as “The Middle Ages” is mostly a Disneyland mashup of pop-culture along with a few greatest hits style things (a thing gamers generally kind of know: the Inquisition, a thing gamers don’t generally know: the Diet of Worms).
I guess my perceptions are also colored because I specifically worked with the history of emotions, and the gendered aspects of Medieval life, but a lot of people don’t realize that life and gender roles then weren’t as static as we tend to think they were.
Writers are free to create worlds with racism/sexism/etc. in them, but that is their choice. They should know why they are doing it, assume responsibility for it, and, in my opinion, make efforts to subvert any racism/sexism/other -isms in the worlds they build—they can accomplish such subversion through characterization and plot—in order to keep from contributing to the institutional problems that still exist in modern society.
Next, Movie Review: THE IMPOSSIBLE Is Deplorable points out what the movie producers really should have noticed:
The Impossible is a terrible movie even before you realize it’s a film that places the suffering of white people far, far above the suffering of brown people. But the fact that this is a movie set in Thailand during the 2004 tsunami that has no time for Thai people only makes the badness that much worse.
This is a movie that deplorably milks human tragedy for awards season buzz. It’s a film that takes the horrors visited upon millions as an excuse to tell the sad tale of a family who lost all their luggage.
Apparently this movie is about the tsunami that killed almost a quarter of a million people in Thailand, and focuses on a white family that learns some Very Special Lesson when they . . . can’t find each other post-tsunami. And doesn’t feature any Thai people. In Thailand. In the midst of a real-life tragedy that killed hundreds of thousands of real-life Thai people. The review is witty and incisive; I recommend it.
Finally, I’ve been remiss in linking to my own articles at Ars Marginal:
- Contemplating the telling-instead-of-showing treatment of minority characters through Arrow’s Diggle.
- Expressing discomfort at the extensive rape imagery in the latest Dresden Files book.
- Musing on the all-white cast for the Les Miserables movie and why it’s so disappointing.
These were specifically written for the audience at Ars Marginal. You’re welcome to comment over there, but if you have questions on where these posts come from in re: the context of institutional racism and sexism and you haven’t done a lot of reading on oppression and representation, I encourage you to ask those types of questions here instead of over there. The community at Ars Marginal assumes people come in with a certain understanding of the context already and doesn’t have much patience for educating people (rightly so, given the stated mission of the community). But you can feel free to ask me about that context here if you like!
- And you can, of course, feel free to disagree with me in either place!↵