TIME Environment

The Climate Deniers’ Newest Argument

Ok, this part is settled. The rest, not so much
Ok, this part is settled. The rest, not so much Meriel Jane Waissman; Getty Images

It's a lot easier to attack environmental scientists when you make up something they didn't say—and then criticize them for saying it

There are few things more satisfying than when people you’re arguing with say something manifestly wrong or tone-deaf. It’s the polemical equivalent of getting a big, fat fastball right right in your sweet spot. Just swing away with a look of disdain or checkable fact and the home run trot is yours.

Alas, that happens less often than one might like, but there’s nothing that stops you from pretending your adversary said something dumb and then pouncing on the imaginary remark. Thus we had the “You didn’t build that” and “Let Detroit go bankrupt” silliness of the 2012 Presidential campaign, in which both President Obama and Mitt Romney were pilloried for saying things they never actually said—or at least didn’t mean—at all. And so, too, we have the “Climate science is settled” charade, in which climate change deniers hand-select four words environmental scientists often do say, reframe those words to mean something else entirely, and then beat the scientists up for faux-saying it.

We saw the examplar of this ignoble formula earlier in the year when Charles Krauthammer, writing in the Washington Post, conceded that CO2 emissions aren’t good for the planet, but declared, “I also believe that those scientists who pretend to know exactly what this will cause in 20, 30 or 50 years are white-coated propagandists.” As I observed at the time, these white-coated propagandists are actually white-coated strawmen, since virtually all credible scientists acknowledge that climate systems are far, far too complex to analyze with precise accuracy. Do environmental researchers and green politicians ever say the science is “settled?” Yes they do—but they mean that the fake debate over whether climate change is a vast hoax is finished. They don’t mean there’s no work ahead.

Krauthammer, of course, is not a climate scientist—which gives him at least a small excuse. The same cannot be said of Steven E. Koonin, whose recent piece in the Wall Street Journal took a more nuanced approach to making the same point. Koonin is director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University and a former Energy Department undersecretary during Obama’s first term. Yet he runs with the same dishonest baton Krauthammer did.

“The idea that ‘Climate science is settled’ runs through today’s popular and policy discussions,” he writes. “Unfortunately, that claim is misguided.” Koonin then ticks off the usual right-wing talking points: The computer models are imperfect; the oceans’ role in warming has not been studied fully; the history of Earth’s climate is poorly understood; there has been a slowing of warming over the past 15 years. Stipulated, stipulated, stipulated and stipulated.

Again and again, climate scientists acknowledge every single one of these x-factors and again and again they come back to the fact that the planet is sick and we’re playing a role. Knowing that cigarettes can kill you is not the same as pretending to predict which fatal illness—if any—you’re going to contract or just when and how severely that disease is going to strike. But you can surely tell when you’re beginning to cough, and if you don’t quit smoking straightaway you’re a fool.

In some ways, Koonin’s own familiarity with the climate field gets in the way of his argument. He cites, for example, the fact that 55 different computer models have been used by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and not one of them is in precise agreement with the others. But where does he get that supposedly damning evidence? From the IPCC’s own 2013 report. That sounds a whole lot like a group of researchers openly acknowledging that the science is not settled, even if it all points in the same direction.

Koonin also makes the mistake of counterfeit-evenhandedness when he writes, “I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is ‘settled’ (or is a ‘hoax’) demeans and chills the scientific enterprise.” That conspicuous parenthetical is meant to provide the illusion of balance, except the deniers truly do make the hoax claim (we’re looking at you Okla. Sen. James Inhofe, former chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee) and climate scientists truly don’t make the settledness claim—at least not the way Koonin is implying.

This isn’t to say all climate papers cover themselves in glory. Just last year, a study published in Nature tried to forecast the exact year in which various cities around the world would reach a tipping point, after which their climates would have moved permanently outside the boundaries of the mean. And so we got New York in 2047, Paris in 2054, Moscow in 2063 and on and on. Yes, there were generous margins of error built into the study, but even to suggest such precision is to misrepresent the science—at least in the popular mind.

Still, studies like this one are outliers—overzealous pieces of prognosticating in a discipline better known for caution and candor. The same moderation has not been true of the folks who have spent the better part of 25 years flinging accusations of conspiracy and fraud at climate scientists just trying to do their work. The disingenuous “settled science” argument may be a less shrill approach, but it’s a no more honest one.

TIME health

Dear Rob Schneider: Please Shut Up About Vaccines

The doctor is in the house: by all means, take vaccine advice from this guy
The doctor is in the house: by all means, take vaccine advice from this guy

State Farm dumps ad campaign after Deuce Bigalow's ignorant remarks about vaccinations

If there’s one thing I regret about the job I’ve done raising my kids, it’s that when it was time to get them their vaccines, I did not heed the wisdom of a man who is currently filming a TV series with a storyline titled “The Penis Episode, Part 2.” And if that doesn’t convince you about this deep thinker’s credibility, consider that his earlier body of work includes such powerful pieces as The Hot Chick, The Beverly Hillbillies movie and Deuce Bigalow Male Gigolo.

How’s that for a guy worth listening to? Not.

We are talking, of course, about Rob Schneider, the Saturday Night Live alum who parlayed a single character—Richard Laymer, the obnoxious office guy—into a career of small-bore, dropped pants, toilet joke movies, plus the occasional cartoon voiceover. Nothing wrong with those kinds of projects; they’re honest work and the checks generally clear.

But Schneider is at the center of a much-deserved storm this week, after State Farm Insurance announced it was pulling a new ad campaign featuring the comedian in a reprise of his office guy role, since—while the company whose job it is to help people live better, healthier, more fiscally secure lives wasn’t looking—its newly minted star has been popping off about (deep sigh here) the hidden dangers of vaccines.

Take this observation from Dr. Bigalow, in a widely circulated video shot when he was campaigning against a California law that would have made it harder for parents to refuse vaccines:

“The efficacy of these shots have not been proven. And the toxicity of these things—we’re having more and more side effects. We’re having more and more autism.”

Or this one: “You can’t make people do procedures that they don’t want. It can’t be the government saying that. It’s against the Nuremberg Laws.”

It’s actually worth watching the entire jaw-dropping display, because Schneider somehow manages to thread the extraordinary needle of being wrong on every single point he makes. Remember in high school when they used to say it was impossible to score a zero on the SATs because you get a few points just for writing your name? Schneider, presumably, would have left that part blank.

And then there are the cringe-worthy Twitter posts suggesting he has been denied his freedom of speech:

For the record Rob, no, there is no government conspiracy to force vaccines on kids. No, doctors are not bought off by big pharma. No, vaccines are not filled with toxins. And no, this is not a free speech issue—it’s a public health, common-sense and, not for nothing, business issue, since State Farm, like any company, is free to sack a spokesperson who makes them look very, very bad. Simply quoting George Washington does not mean any of the great man’s wisdom rubs off on you. It just means you looked up a quote.

But as long as we’re in the quote game, how about one of your own, from your video harangue: “The government,” you said, “can’t make decisions about what I do to my body.” On this score, you’re right. So please do continue making movies that allow you to appear on posters with a towel on your head, seaweed cream on your face and cucumbers on your nipples. Maybe George Washington would have been pleased with you. State Farm? Not so much these days.

TIME vaccines

Watch a Science Cop Take on the Anti-Vaccine Movement

"Again, and always, they're wrong."

Nothing gets the anti-vaccine fringe going quite so much as believing they’ve found a scandal—some bit of gotcha’ proof that the global medical establishment really, truly is covering up a terrible secret about the dangers of vaccines.

Recently, this always-vocal but rarely-rational crowd announced that they had what they were looking for, with the discovery that a comparatively old study had excluded some data suggesting that African-American children who had been vaccinated were slightly likelier than other kids to have developed autism.

But again—and always—the anti-vaxxers were wrong, misunderstanding the science, misrepresenting the findings, and recruiting the worst possible person imaginable to argue their wrong-headed case.

TIME space

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: Space Case

Just because you're a Master of the Universe on Earth doesn't mean the real universe will agree. Rich boys playing with space toys have a lot to learn

Time was, billionaires had no shortage of bling to buy—a yacht here, a Learjet there, a professional football team if you happen to have your Sundays free. But that’s all so yesterday. The must-have, 21st-century toy for the man with real cash to burn is fast becoming a spanking new spacecraft company.

That’s the way is seems at least, with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and, most enigmatically of all, Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos and his double super-secret, my-lips-are-sealed Blue Origin. While the other boys are anything but press shy, Bezos has kept his operation under a comparative cone of silence. The company is based in Kent, Washington, and while it doesn’t have any actual spaceships yet, it does have a website, some cool graphics and a very nifty coat of arms featuring what appear to be two turtles holding a shield with the Earth below them, the cosmos above and the motto Gradatim Ferociter (by degrees, ferociously) inscribed beneath. Really.

The last few days have been big ones for Bezos, however, with the announcement on Sept. 17 that he was partnering with United Launch Alliance (ULA)—itself a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing—to produce a new engine for ULA’s workhorse Atlas V booster. Currently, ULA uses a Russian-made RD-180 engine in the first stage of the Atlas. That became both politically and logistically untenable last spring, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Western sanctions against Moscow and an announcement from Russia that it would tighten sales of the engine in retaliation.

So it’s good news that ULA is swapping out its hardware, but huge news—at least judging by the media response—that the universe’s biggest bookseller is part of the deal. The Washington Post—which is owned by . . . oh, let me check my notes. Ah yes, Jeff Bezos—declared the news “a historic partnership between ‘Old Space’ and ‘New Space.’” Bloomberg News and Businessweek, noting the bad blood that has long existed between Musk and Bezos in the race for the high ground, declared it a “battle of the billionaires” and even ran a madcap little graphic showing the two lads jousting on the backs of cartoon rockets, because why not?

But let’s sweep away the packing peanuts and see what’s really inside this latest shipping box. First of all, this may be a Musk-Bezos cage match, but if so, Bezos really should have been part of the undercard. It is a not inconsequential fact that he has yet to fire so much as a push pin into space, while Musk’s SpaceX is already flying satellite payloads for paying customers and is about to make its fourth unmanned cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Bezos has been talking for a while about taking paying tourists to suborbital space—a dream Branson is chasing too—but he is vague about when this will happen and shows no signs at all of having the wherewithal to do it.

Then too there was the timing of his big announcement, which occurred on the very day that NASA announced the companies it had chosen—after a years-long competition—to take over the business of flying astronauts to the ISS. The two winners were Boeing and, yes, Musk. It’s true that nobody knew exactly the day or time that NASA would be revealing its picks, but everybody in the space world did know it was coming sometime in mid-September. Bezos may or may not have intended to spit in the other guys’ soup, but that’s what he wound up doing.

In fairness to Bezos, the engine he is developing, dubbed the BE4 (for Blue Engine), sounds like a real gem. Most rocket engines run on a combination of liquid oxygen and a fuel known as RP1—which sounds a little less nifty when you realize it stands simply for Rocket Propellant 1, and a lot less nifty when you realize that means kerosene. Bezos plans to replace that with far cleaner liquefied natural gas. He also makes the very good point that most of the engines flying today (excluding Musk’s) were designed in the 50s, 60s and 70s and it really is time to bring 21st century materials and computer models into the mix. One BE4 could produce 550,000 lbs. (250,000 kg) of thrust. That’s less than a Russian RD-180 and much more that Musk’s Merlin. But engines are routinely bundled—Musk’s biggest working booster has 9 Merlins and NASA’s historic Saturn V moon rocket had five massive F-1 engines—so thrust is by no means a deal-breaker.

But the thing is, the F-1’s were real, as is the Merlin and as is the RD-180. The BE4, like so much in the space billionaire’s toy box, is either vaporware or hardware that has yet to actually do anything. Bezos and ULA do promise their engine will be flying by 2018—unless, of course, it’s not.

That uncertainty is the biggest message that guys who fancy themselves Masters of the Universe (albeit on Earth) have to learn. Space travel is hard—exceedingly, often lethally hard. You can’t negotiate with physics or bully orbital mechanics. You can’t delete gravity’s Buy button. Elon Musk—so far—is making a real go of things. The rest are little more than dreamers until proven otherwise. It’s not business, fellas, it’s science.

TIME NFL violence

Why On-Field Violence Continues Off-Field

Leave it on the field: The Vikings' Adrian Petersen, charged with beating his child with a tree switch
Leave it on the field: The Vikings' Adrian Petersen, charged with beating his child with a tree switch Tom Dahlin; Getty Images

When you're paid to hit people, it's not always easy to stop at the end of the work day—a fact the NFL has to reckon with, and fast

It’s hard not to take your work home. Politicians glad-hand even when they’re not campaigning; linguists struggle not to scold poor grammar; off-duty police officers scan the crowd in a restaurant for signs of trouble before they sit down. So what happens when your job involves hitting people—especially when you’re paid very, very well to hit them very, very hard?

There are a lot of explanations for the crisis of violence that has hit the National Football league—and a lot of them have merit. Athletes are spoiled. Check. They feel entitled. Check. They believe they’re outside the rules and that even if they get in trouble they can buy their way out with a top-dollar legal defense—check and check. But there are athletes and there are athletes, and not every player in every sport gets into the same kind of trouble. Increasingly, it seems, it’s those who are violent during their work day who continue to be that way when they go home.

The numbers tell a nasty story. There is the San Diego Tribune’s regularly updated NFL Arrests Database, which tracks every known bust of a professional football player going as far back to 2000, a total that currently stands at 730—and counting. There is the more-comprehensive Arrest Nation, an all-sports database, which has tallied 47 NFL arrests in 2014 alone—with three and a half months still remaining in the year.

There is the compelling number-crunching of the Arrest Nation data, conducted by the website Vocativ, which reveals football to be the most lawbreaking of America’s four major sports, with a rate of 2,465.8 arrests per 100,000 population—if in fact the NFL had a population at least that big. The NBA, in fairness, was not far behind, at 2,156.6. But both were way ahead of baseball—ostensibly a non-contact sport—at 552.8.

So is it the beat-downs the players administer on the field that leads to the ones in the homes? One camp says no, pointing to the fact that the arrest rate for violent crime in the NFL is not much different from the rate for all males in the same age group. But age is only part of it. Income is at least as big an x-factor, and compared to other people earning at least $420,000 per year (which is the NFL’s minimum pay for first year players), the footballers blow the doors off the arrest statistics. That’s because in the high-income crowd you eliminate the violence that comes during robberies and shoot-outs that are related to poverty and drug addiction.

There must then be something that keeps the football players’ violent crime rate as high as it is for other males, and that something is a job in which violence is learned, rehearsed and drilled all day. “There’s actually little doubt about it at all,” says psychologist and violence expert Brad Bushman of Ohio State University. “One study that comes to mind involved researchers using a standard questionnaire to measure levels of aggression among high school football players throughout the year. As the season went on, their scores rose. In a control group of non-football playing students, there were no such findings.”

Something similar is true among combat soldiers, Bushman says: “Too many of them come home from war and are more inclined to abuse a spouse than before they left.”

Testosterone can play a role too. Even male sports fans experience rising and falling hormone levels before and during a game. In one study, investigators found that a male fan whose team has won will have a higher post-game testosterone level than a fan whose team has lost. Disturbingly, the mere fact of handling a gun can also cause a hormone spike—not what you want when that same man still has the gun in his hand as those aggression-promoting chemicals continue to course through his bloodstream. That can lead to a cycle of violence for both the athlete and the gunman, with behavior changing blood chemistry, and blood chemistry, in turn, promoting more aggression.

Fixing the problem is a multi-part thing. Robert Northrop, a former federal agent who is one of the founders of the consulting group Winning Integrity, the curators and creators of the Arrest Nation site, takes a toughish-love approach. “We’re not interested in piling on the players,” he says, “We’re interested in determining what happens and teaching ethics and integrity to prevent it from happening.”

That, surely has its place. The other approach is to come down hard. You’re likelier to stay the hand of the batterer when he knows he’s swiftly and surely going to be battered in return—in the form of arrest, trial, suspension from play or even expulsion from professional football forever. Embattled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell may not last the season—or even the month. But whether he remains in office or someone else takes over, the league needs a sheriff, one whose penalties hit even harder than the players themselves do.

TIME psychology

Kanye West: Narcissist of the Day

Oh, sit down: Kanye in Sydney, where everyone must stand
Oh, sit down: Kanye in Sydney, where everyone must stand Mark Metcalfe; Getty Images

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Insisting that your audience members stand before you'll perform is just bad form—especially when some of them can't stand

Memo to Kanye West: The “O” in “standing O” doesn’t stand just for ovation; it also stands for optional. That’s worth remembering the next time you insist that your entire audience—every single one of them—stand up before you’ll even begin a song, especially if, as is often the case, there are people in that same audience who, you know, can’t stand up.

Precisely that unseemly scene played out over the weekend in Sydney, Australia, when West stopped his show and informed the crowd—who had, as is the custom, paid money to see him perform—that, “I decided I can’t do this song, I can’t do the rest of the show until everybody stands up.” There would, he allowed, be exceptions: “Unless you got a handicap pass and you get special parking and sh*t.”

So everyone stood up, except for two people who, as it turned out, did have “special parking and sh*t.” One was in a wheelchair; the other had a prosthetic limb, which initially did not stop the crowd from booing them and chanting, “Stand up, stand up, stand up,” as West egged them on. “This is the longest I’ve had to wait to do a song,” he griped. “It’s unbelievable!”

Finally, the woman removed her prosthesis and waved it over her head and West polled the people around the wheelchair-bound man: “Now if he is in a wheelchair, that’s fine. He in a wheelchair, there? Only if he’s in a wheelchair.” At last, the fabulously rich entertainer agreed to perform for the disabled audience members.

Yes, there is cellphone camera footage of this; yes, West surely knew there would be. And no, he didn’t give a fig.

This is, as I write in my book The Narcissist Next Door, the same Kanye West who famously interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV awards to announce that Beyonce should have won the award; the West who responded on his blog to the B+ score Entertainment Weekly had given one of his concerts with this blast: “What’s a B+ mean? I’m an extremist, its either pass or fail! A+ or F-! You know what, f**k you and the whole f*****g staff!” And the West who had this to say (in the third person, of course) about, well, Kanye West: “I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means. I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period. By a long jump.”

West is hardly the entertainment world’s only raging narcissist. Indeed, it’s an industry-wide affliction. Narcissism is measured by the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a 40-question survey with a theoretical bottom score of 0 and high score of 40. But only a few points either way can make a difference. The average American weighs in at about 15.5, depending on age, gender and a few other variables. Inmates convicted of violent crimes score from 21.5 to 23. Celebrities don’t fall far shy of those stratospheric highs, coming in at 18.27, according to one study of 200 stars by pop psychologist Drew Pinsky.

But just which kind of celeb you are makes a difference. Reality show stars—no surprise—top the list at 19.45, followed by comedians at 18.89, actors at 18.45 and musicians at 16.67. That last, comparatively low figure makes sense because, as University of Georgia psychologist Keith Campbell told me, “If you’re a musician, you’ve got to play in a band.” Subsuming the individual into the group—the me into The Who, say—is not something the most florid narcissists would permit.

The musician rule is less applicable, of course, if you’re an individual performer like Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber or West, because you are the sole—or at least central—star on the stage. West’s star was surely tarnished by his stunt in Sydney—judging at least by the Internet blowback it’s received. But will he care? No he won’t. Will he change? Not a bit. Audiences, of course, could respond on their own, choosing to remain seated—or better yet, not showing up at all. Even a narcissist would notice an empty hall—and, worse, an empty till.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME History

FDR’s Polio: The Steel in His Soul

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Disease can break a lot of people. As a new film by Ken Burns and an exclusive video clip show, it helped make Franklin Roosevelt

No one will ever know the name of the boy scout who changed the world. Odds are even he never knew he had so great an impact on history. It’s a certainty that he was carrying the poliovirus—but he may not have known that either since only one in every 200 infected people ever comes down with the paralytic disease. And it’s a certainty too that he had it in late July of 1921 when he and a raucous gathering of other scouts had gathered on Bear Mountain in New York for a summer jamboree. So important was the event in the scouting world that it even attracted a visit by the former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and 1920 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Franklin Roosevelt.

This much is painfully certain too: somehow, the virus that inhabited the boy found its way to the man, settling first in his mucus membranes, and later in his gut and lymph system, where it multiplied explosively, finally migrating to the anterior horn cells of his spinal cord. On the evening of August 10, a feverish Roosevelt climbed into bed in his summer cottage on Campobello Island in Canada’s Bay of Fundy. It was the last time he would ever stand unassisted again.

Roosevelt’s polio, which struck him down just as his political star was rising, was supposed to be the end of him. The fact that it wasn’t is a self-evident matter of history. Just why it wasn’t has been the subject of unending study by historians and other academics for generations. This year, Roosevelt and his polio are getting a fresh look—for a few reasons.

October 28 will be the 100th birthday of Jonas Salk, whose work developing the first polio vaccine was backed by the March of Dimes, which was then known as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and which itself grew out of the annual President’s Birthday Balls, nationwide events to raise funds for polio research, the first of which was held on FDR’s 52nd birthday, on January 30, 1934, early in his presidency. That initial birthday ball raised a then-unimaginable $1 million in a single evening, a sum so staggering Roosevelt took to the radio that night to thank the nation.

“As the representative of hundreds of thousands of crippled children,” he said, “I accept this tribute. I thank you and bid you goodnight on what to me is the happiest birthday I have ever known.”

This year too marks one more step in what is the hoped-for end game for the poliovirus, as field-workers from the World Health Organization, Rotary International, UNICEF and others work to vaccinate the disease into extinction, focusing their efforts particularly on Pakistan, one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic.

Then too there is the much-anticipated, 14-hr. Ken Burns film, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, which begins airing on Sept. 14. It is by no means the first Roosevelt documentary, but it is the first to gather together all three legendary Roosevelts—Franklin, Theodore and Eleanor—and explore them as historical co-equals. It’s the segments about FDR and his polio that are perhaps the most moving, however—and certainly the most surprising, saying what they do about the genteel way a presidential disability was treated by the media and by other politicians in an era so very different from our own.

“We think we’re better today because we know so much more,” Burns told TIME in a recent conversation. “But FDR couldn’t have gotten out of the Iowa caucuses because of his infirmity. CNN and Fox would have been vying for shots of him sweating and looking uncomfortable in those braces.”

That’s not a hard tableau to imagine—the competing cameras and multiple angles, shown live and streamed wide. And what Americans would have seen would not have been pretty, because never mind how jolly Roosevelt tried to appear, his life involved far, far more pain and struggle than the public ever knew, as a special feature from the film, titled “Able-Bodied,” makes clear. That segment, which is not part of the broadcast and is included only on the film’s DVD and Blu-Ray versions, which are being released almost contemporaneously with the film, was made available exclusively to TIME (top).

Concealing—or at least minimizing—the president’s paralysis was nothing short of subterfuge, the kind of popular manipulation that wouldn’t be countenanced today. But it’s worth considering what would have been lost by exposing the masquerade that allowed FDR to achieve and hold onto power. Roosevelt, as the Burns film makes clear, was a man whose ambition and native brilliance far exceeded his focus and patience. It was a restlessness that afflicted cousin Teddy too, causing him to make sometimes impulsive decisions, like pledging in 1904 that he wouldn’t run again in 1908—an act he regretted for the rest of his life and tried to undo with his failed third-party presidential bid in 1912.

“Who knows what would have happened if Teddy had had the great crises Franklin had—the Depression and World War II?” Burns says. “I do know he was unstable and always had to be in motion. It fell to FDR, who could not move, to figure out a way to outrun his demons.”

George Will, in an artful turn in the “Able-Bodied” clip, observes that when the steel went onto Roosevelt’s legs it also went into his soul. That may have been true in FDR’s case, but it’s true too that suffering is not ennobling for everyone. Some people are broken by it; some are embittered by it. As polio nears the end of its long and terrible run, the things FDR achieved despite—even partly because of—his affliction remain nothing short of remarkable.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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