Thursday, May 06, 2021

Summer Projects

The year of online teaching for me has (finally!) come to an end. I taught 4 courses fully online this year, servicing approximately 570 students over the two semesters.  It was an exhausting endeavour, as I decided not to simply record my talking over power point slides, but to actually design video lectures using Camtasia, with embedded videos and new slides as well as adding new substantive content to the course this year (e.g. anarchism and Black political thought).

With the teaching term wrapped up I am looking forward to (a) some downtime!  and (b) making some serious headway on the new projects I have lined up.  I have two immediate short-term projects to complete momentarily- the first is a new paper on the ethics of life extension for an edited volume, the second an R&R submission to a science journal on aging.  Once those are completed my research efforts will be focused exclusively on the following two projects:

1.  I signed a book contract for a new book on the classics of political philosophy for today.  This will cover thinkers from Plato to Franz Fanon and makes the case for engaging (in a critically, inquisitive fashion) with the history of Western political thought.  The preparatory work for this book draws on over 12 years of teaching a year-long course on this subject at Queen's.  But there are new thinkers, topics, criticisms, and empirical insights I want to blend into the mix.  So I still have to undertake some substantive research and writing to make serious headway on this project.  This will preoccupy most of my writing for the remainder of this year.  

2.  The second major project I am undertaking over the next 6 months is designing a new 4th year undergraduate seminar on "The Politics of Pandemics".  I am researching topics as varied as the ethical and social, as well as scientific and policy-related, predicaments that arise in our efforts to prevent, detect and treat different types of infectious diseases (e.g. dysentery, HIV/AIDS, smallpox, TB, malaria, SARS-CoV-2, etc.).  This research will help lay the foundations for writing a new book, over the course of the next 3 years, on pandemic justice.  I had hoped to write this book in a shorter period of time, but the current pandemic revealed many new insights and problems I think need to be addressed by a much deeper dive into the mistakes/successes of the past, as well as with the current predicament. 

These two projects will permit me to pursue two quite disparate (though related) intellectual pursuits- (1) canvassing the political theories advanced in the past for grappling with topics like democratic governance, human nature, statism vs anarchism, feminism, conservatism, racial inequality, utilitarianism, Marxism, etc.  And (2) exploring the perils and successes of our attempt to mitigate the risks posed by inhabiting a planet with over 1400 different infectious organisms that cause disease in humans.  Both are projects I am passionate about, and they should help keep me engaged and productive for the foreseeable future. 

Meanwhile, I am hopeful that some warmer weather will soon be on the horizon, as well as a lifting of the current lockdown restrictions and hopefully something resembling "normality" can return this year.



Wednesday, May 05, 2021

New Study on the Effects of Shelter-In-Place Policies

This study on how (in)effective shelter-in-place policies have been this pandemic was published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.   A sample from the study: 

We study the health, behavioral, and economic effects of one of the most politically controversial policies in recent memory, shelter-in-place orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous studies have claimed that shelter-in-place orders saved thousands of lives, but we reassess these analyses and show that they are not reliable. We find that shelter-in-place orders had no detectable health benefits, only modest effects on behavior, and small but adverse effects on the economy. To be clear, our study should not be interpreted as evidence that social distancing behaviors are not effective. Many people had already changed their behaviors before the introduction of shelter-in-place orders, and shelter-in-place orders appear to have been ineffective precisely because they did not meaningfully alter social distancing behavior.



Monday, April 26, 2021

New Paper Out!

The arrival of the “genomic era” amplifies both the significance and the complexity of advancing a theory of distributive justice in the 21st century. A real “veil of ignorance” concerning the details of the natural lottery of life is being lifted. And as this natural lottery becomes something we can directly influence, our understanding of the moral landscape must also evolve. For the past 20+ years I have been mulling over the question “How should we theorize about the demands of justice in the genomic era?” My latest reflections on this issue are now out in print in the interdisciplinary journal Politics and the Life Sciences, published by Cambridge University Press. The abstract:

The sequencing of the human genome and advances in gene therapy and genomic editing, coupled with embryo selection techniques and a potential gerontological intervention, are some examples of the rapid technological advances of the genetic revolution.This article addresses the methodological issue of how we should theorize about justice in the genomic era. Invoking the methodology of non-ideal theory, I argue that theorizing about justice in the genomic era entails theorizing about (1) the new inequalities that the genetic revolution could exacerbate (e.g., genetic discrimination, disability-related injustices, and gender inequality), and (2) those inequalities that the genetic revolution could help us mitigate (e.g., the risks of disease in early and late life). By doing so, normative theorists can ensure that we develop an account of justice that takes seriously not only individual rights, equality of opportunity, the cultural and sociopolitical aspects of disability, and equality between the sexes, but also the potential health benefits (to both individuals and populations) of attending to the evolutionary causes of morbidity and disability.



Thursday, April 22, 2021

R&D Investment

Many of my compatriots are (understandably) frustrated by the delays in the vaccine rollout in Canada (at least compared to the USA and UK, though our 27.7 per 100 people vaccinated is well above the global average of 11.9 per 100 people). Many factors explain Canada’s lack luster performance, but I think it is worth noting where Canada stands globally in terms of the percentage of our GDP invested in R&D.

Here are some useful comparisons (from the World Bank data in 2018) for % of GDP invested in R&D in general (only part of which relates to healthcare, but it also covers computing, defence, energy, etc.):
World: 2.27% of GDP invested in R&D
ISRAEL: 4.95%
SWEDEN: 3.4%
GERMANY: 3.09%
DENMARK: 3.06%
USA: 2.84%
FINLAND: 2.77%
FRANCE: 2.20%
CHINA: 2.19%
ICELAND: 2.03%
UK: 1.72%
CANADA: 1.57%
Canada should be aiming higher in terms of investment in R&D, not only because doing so would have made us less vulnerable to this particular infectious disease, but because R&D investment (especially in healthcare) is critical to the long-term prospects of any society flourishing in the 21st century (and beyond). We ask a lot of our governments, so it is important to ensure we actually ask for those things that have important significance on the health and wellbeing of the population.

Science covers this story as it relates to France here, and NatureNews has the scoop on the same story in Africa here.


Sunday, April 18, 2021

This new data briefing in the BMJ puts COVID-19 mortality in the UK into its historical perspective.  The graph here is deaths per 100 000 of the population from 1838 through the year 2020.  An even more fine grained picture would be to distinguish between the average age of death over that same time frame.  



Saturday, April 17, 2021

New Study on Magic Mushrooms and Depression

The first randomized clinical trial of “magic mushrooms” (in combination with psychotherapy) for depression was found to be just as effective (with fewer side effects) as the most commonly prescribed antidepressant. The fact that this study is published this week in the top medical journal in the world (NEJM) signals that perhaps the medical establishment is (slowly) shifting to a more genuine evidence-based approach to mental health.



Thursday, April 08, 2021

New Paper on Cancer and Aging

My Opinion article titled "50 Years of the “War on Cancer”:  Lessons for Public Health and Geroscience" has been accepted for publication (update: here it is) in the science journal GeroScience (journal of the American Aging Association) published by Springer.  The abstract:

The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act of 1971 and President Richard Nixon’s declaration of a “war on cancer”.  In 1971 cancer was the second leading cause of death in the US, and today it is still the second leading cause of death with an estimated 606,520 Americans dying of cancer in the year 2020.  The half a century campaign to eliminate cancer reveals at least two important public health lessons that must be heeded for the next 50 years of the war against the disease- (1) recognising the limits of behaviour control and (2) recognising the significance of rate (of aging) control. These two lessons result in a somewhat paradoxical conclusion in that we must have both humility and ambition in our attitudes towards future preventative medicine for the world’s aging populations.  Geroscience must become an integral part of public health if serious headway is to be made preventing not only cancer, but most of the other chronic conditions of late life.