TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 30

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Thirty years after the world’s worst chemical plant disaster, we must do more to avoid repeating that calamity.

By Anna Lappé in Al Jazeera America

2. Taking medicine on a schedule is key to fighting Malaria, and simple text message reminders are proving remarkably effective.

By Jesse Singal in New York Magazine’s Science of Us

3. The next step for human exploration of space is interplanetary travel, and asteroids are great stepping stones. We should go to the asteroid, not bring one to us.

By Richard P. Binzel in Nature

4. Science reporting in American media has nearly disappeared, and the Ebola coverage shows we’re worse for it.

By the Editors of the Columbia Journalism Review

5. By coming out as the first gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Apple’s Tim Cook topples a lingering and outmoded bias.

By Tim Cook in Bloomberg Businessweek

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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 health

This Is Where Ebola First Struck in 1976 and What Happened

Ebola Virus
An electron micrograph photo of the Ebola Virus. May 11, 1995. AP Photo

Investigators identified a cotton factory as the source of the infection

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

It began in Nzara, a town inhabited by 20,000 people living in thatch-roofed houses within the dense woods in southern Sudan. Roughly five percent of the population worked in a large cotton factory that was owned by an even larger agricultural company. The factory kept detailed records of its employees’ work hours, perhaps to keep close tabs on absenteeism. Fortunately, it also helped investigators track the pattern of a deadly virus transmission.

On June 27, 1976, one employee would not make it to his work as a storekeeper in the factory. The person, later designated by the initials YG, became very ill, experiencing severe fever, headaches, and chest pains. His brother initially nursed him at home, located 10 kilometers from the factory in a remote and rural area south of Nzara. Three days later, with his condition worsening, he was brought to the Nzara hospital – a small and ill-equipped facility that typically did not admit a lot of patients. By the fifth day he was bleeding from the mouth and nose. He began to suffer from bloody diarrhea. Nine days after his illness began, YG died. His brother became ill a week later but survived.

One of YG’s co-workers, BZ, who was also a storekeeper, was admitted to the same hospital on July 12, six days after YG died. This second storekeeper died on July 14. On July 19, the second storekeeper’s wife also died from the same illness. A third factory employee, PG, worked in the cloth room next to the store.

In contrast to YG and BZ, who usually stayed close to home and had few friends, PG was an outgoing bachelor who lived at the center of town and was quite well known in the area. PG and his two brothers, Samir and Sallah, lived with a merchant, MA. The brothers were active in their community and organized social events such as dances. When PG fell ill in late July, many of his friends naturally came to visit. Two women in particular, HW and CB, were kind enough to nurse him during the first days of his illness. His condition apparently deteriorated rapidly as he succumbed to infection three days later. Samir became ill a day before PG died, and together with Sallah, they travelled 128 kilometers east to Maridi where Samir was admitted to the Maridi hospital. Sallah assisted in caring for his brother who died on August 17. A day later, Samir himself became sick and died not too long after. By this time, the two women who cared for PG, as well as another factory worker and a nurse in Nzara hospital had died from the same disease. Investigators later determined that 48 cases and 27 deaths could be traced to exposure to PG – the ebullient, outgoing bachelor of Nzara.

During this first Ebola outbreak in southern Sudan that started in June 1976, 248 cases were identified. Fifty-three percent of the victims died. Investigators identified the cotton factory in Nzara as the source of the infection. Most of the victims, however, were actually infected in Maridi, which ironically had a more active and larger hospital where transmission of the virus was amplified. By the end of the year, the epidemic also hit the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), infecting more than 300 people and killing almost 90% of the victims.

In late October of 2014, the World Health Organization reported nearly 10,000 Ebola Virus Disease cases from the 2014 outbreak. Nearly all the cases were in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The fatality rate was nearly 50%. Thirty-five years after the initial Ebola outbreak, it is chilling to see the similar pattern of risk of transmission, particularly to the individuals who care for the Ebola victims, being mirrored even within 21st century hospitals.

Rod Tanchanco is a physician specializing in Internal Medicine. He writes about events and people in the history of Medicine. His personal blog is at talesinmedicine.com.
TIME ebola

Chris Christie Defends Controversial Ebola Quarantine

"They don't want to admit that we were right and they were wrong"

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie defended his heavily criticized decision to forcibly quarantine a nurse returning from West Africa for Ebola on Tuesday morning, saying the state’s policy of mandatory quarantining of returning health workers will remain in place.

“I don’t think it’s draconian,” Christie, appearing on the Today show, said of New Jersey’s mandatory 21-day quarantine on health care workers returning from Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea. “The members of the American public believe it is common sense, and we are not moving an inch. Our policy hasn’t changed and our policy will not change.”

Nurse Kaci Hickox was discharged and allowed to go home to Maine Monday after being held in isolation for three days at University Hospital in Newark over protests from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), members of the Obama administration, and her lawyer. “Governors ultimately have the responsibility to protect the public health and public safety,” Christie said, noting that when Hickox tested negative she was sent home.

Christie denied he had acted out of political expediency, arguing that mandatory quarantines are a nonpartisan issue, having been adopted by at least six red and blue states. “I will not submit to any political pressure in doing anything less than I believe is necessary,” he said.

The governor also said the CDC has been too slow to change its policies, and is now “incrementally taking steps to the policy we put in effect in New Jersey.” The CDC announced on Monday new guidelines for people traveling from West Africa, but still recommends voluntary at-home isolation rather than state-mandated quarantines.

“What’s the difference of telling someone who has been a health care worker at high risk that they can’t go in public places, public transportation and we want them to work from home, what’s the difference between that and a quarantine?” he said. “They don’t want to admit that we’re right and they were wrong.”

Read next: Ebola Quarantines ‘Not Grounded on Science,’ Say Leading Health Groups

TIME Science

Humans, Chimps and Why We Need Personhood for All

Tommy the chimpanzee 2014 Pennebaker Hegedus Films, Inc.

Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist at the College of William and Mary.

We accord rights to babies, the profoundly disabled and elderly people with dementia. Is Tommy the ape that different?

Advocates of animal rights are eagerly awaiting the results of a case brought before a New York state appellate court in Albany earlier this month that will decide if a chimpanzee named Tommy is a person. The judge’s decision may be handed down at any time between late October and December. If, in the eyes of the law, 26-year-old ape Tommy is deemed a person, he will be released from the small cage where he is kept in isolation by his owner near Gloversville, New York, and sent to an ape sanctuary in Florida.

Tommy would then become the world’s first non-human animal to be legally granted personhood.

The idea behind the court case, argued on October 8th by lawyer Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project, rests upon Tommy’s right to determine what happens to his own life. And that idea in turn rests on what researchers in my field, primate behavior, know to be true: Our closest living relatives in the animal kingdom (along with their close cousins the bonobos), chimpanzees, are conscious, intelligent and emotional beings. In the wild in Africa, they plan ahead by making tools and carrying them to a site where that technology enables them to get better food; remember details of past encounters according to features like kinship status and dominance rank of their social partners; and cooperate with each other in hunting monkeys and sometimes in carrying out acts of brutal aggression against apes of neighboring communities.

Field researchers across Africa, including Jane Goodall at Gombe, Tanzania; Toshisada Nishida at Mahale, Tanzania; Christophe Boesch at Tai, Cote d’Ivoire; and Jill Pruetz at Fongoli, Senegal, have published abundant evidence in support of these conclusions. This information becomes significant beyond the learned journal and the college classroom when we think about chimpanzees like Tommy who aren’t living in their natural habitat but instead in harsh confinement: It tells us that Tommy isn’t meant to live alone, without companionship, mental stimulation or, at its most basic, freedom to make choices about his own actions.

I’ve never met Tommy, but know that if I were to do so, I’d soon come to see him as a unique personality, an animal with characters traits and likes and dislikes conveyed to those around him–just as I have been privileged to know certain other non-human primates over the years of my own observational studies. There’s no question in my mind that Tommy deserves our help. But is Wise’s approach the best path forward?

In first reading about Tommy, I concluded that we humans need to ramp up our responsible actions toward apes rather than bestowing rights of personhood upon apes. This perspective is beautifully articulated by the philosopher Lori Gruen. And the questions tumble one upon the other when we consider what might happen if Tommy and other apes were to become persons in the eyes of the law. How exactly would they participate in the determination of their own lives? Yes, they are smart creatures, but they are relentlessly non-verbal. Will our observation of their behaviors be enough for us to know what they want? What if they want what we can’t give them (a great deal of space to roam, let’s say) or isn’t good for them (unhealthy but delicious sugary foods)? How would we begin to think about the interrelationship of apes’ rights and responsibilities? What could it even mean for apes to have responsibilities to society?

But I began to wonder, are these questions of mine the most appropriate ones? After all, we protect the rights of many humans who contribute to society simply through their own valued existence: babies, the profoundly disabled, elderly people with dementia. It’s well past time to create new ways of relating to other creatures who are sentient without language.

Having gotten this far in my thinking, I asked Wise to clarify for me how he approaches the question of Tommy’s ability for self-determination. Wise told me:

At the root of the Nonhuman Rights Project’s arguments that a chimpanzee is a legal person possessed of the right to body liberty protected by a common law writ of habeas corpus is [the view that] they are autonomous and self-determining beings. One of our experts defined autonomous behavior as ‘behavior that reflects a choice and is not based on reflexes, innate behaviors or any conventional categories of learning … [It] implies that the individual is directing the behavior based on some non-observable internal cognitive process.’ Because chimpanzees are autonomous, self-determining and social beings, it is unlikely that a mentally healthy chimpanzee would choose a life of forced solitary confinement in an indoor cage in a Northern clime over a life lived with dozens of other chimpanzees, outdoors, in a Southern clime. As human beings who are mentally unable to make complex decisions because they are too young or otherwise mentally incompetent have the right to make simpler decisions about their lives, so chimpanzees should have the right to make those decisions about their lives about which they are capable.

I find this definition of self-determination, which recognizes the reality of different levels of capability across species, and its application to Tommy’s case, to be persuasive. In the end, I think it’s time now to be bold, to throw open our imagination and envision a different future for chimpanzees like Tommy. This is what visionaries like Wise encourage us to do: to stand apart from the mainstream and pose new solutions. If those solutions come with a set of challenging questions attached, let’s open a conversation about them, and meet them head on.

Animal lives matter, all on their own. This is a wonderful and freeing perspective to embrace as we wait for the judge’s decision regarding Tommy.

Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist at the College of William and Mary who teaches, writes and speaks about animal studies, primate behavior, human evolution and evolutionary perspectives on gender. Her latest book is How Animals Grieve, published in 2013.

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 global health

Watch TIME’s Jeffrey Kluger Discuss How to Eradicate Polio

People in three countries still suffer from the disease

Since the development of the first polio vaccine in the 1950s, the number of cases of the devastating disease has been reduced by 99 percent. But despite that extraordinary progress, people in three countries still suffer from polio. Now, Rotary International, along with the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF have brought the world tantalizingly close to eradicating the virus for good.

In recognition of World Polio Day, watch as TIME editor-at-large Jeffrey Kluger moderates Rotary’s live-streamed event in Chicago, on Friday at 7:30 PM, EDT.

TIME Science

Can Neuroscience Debunk Free Will?

David Disalvo is the author of Brain Changer: How Harnessing Your Brain's Power to Adapt Can Change Your Life.

Some research shows that brain activity behind a decision occurs before a person consciously apprehends the decision

One of the lively debates spawned from the neuroscience revolution has to do with whether humans possess free will, or merely feel as if we do. If we truly possess free will, then we each consciously control our decisions and actions. If we feel as if we possess free will, then our sense of control is a useful illusion—one that neuroscience will increasingly dispel as it gets better at predicting how brain processes yield decisions.

For those in the free-will-as-illusion camp, the subjective experience of decision ownership is not unimportant, but it is predicated on neural dynamics that are scientifically knowable, traceable and—in time—predictable. One piece of evidence supporting this position has come from neuroscience research showing that brain activity underlying a given decision occurs before a person consciously apprehends the decision. In other words, thought patterns leading to conscious awareness of what we’re going to do are already in motion before we know we’ll do it. Without conscious knowledge of why we’re choosing as we’re choosing, the argument follows, we cannot claim to be exercising “free” will.

Those supporting a purer view of free will argue that whether or not neuroscience can trace brain activity underlying decisions, making the decision still resides within the domain of an individual’s mind. In this view, parsing unconscious and conscious awareness is less important than the ultimate outcome – a decision, and subsequent action, emerging from a single mind. If free will is drained of its power by scientific determinism, free-will supporters argue, then we’re moving down a dangerous path where people can’t be held accountable for their decisions, since those decisions are triggered by neural activity occurring outside of conscious awareness. Consider how this might play out in a courtroom in which neuroscience evidence is marshalled to defend a murderer on grounds that he couldn’t know why he acted as he did.

Some researchers have decided to approach this debate from a different angle by investigating whether our subjective experience of free will is threatened by the possibility of “neuroprediction” – the idea that tracking brain activity can predict decisions. The answer to this question is not, of course, an answer to the core question about the existence of free will itself. But it addresses something arguably just as important (maybe more so), because ultimately free will has little meaning apart from our belief that it exists.

In a recent study published in Cognition, researchers tested the question with hundreds of undergrads at Georgia State University in Atlanta. The students were first told about a high-tech cap that allows neuroscientists to predict decisions before people make them, based solely on brain activity. The students were then given an article to read about a woman named Jill who tested wearing the cap for a month, during which time neuroscientists were able to predict all of her decisions, including which candidates she’d vote for. The technology and Jill were made up for the study.

The students were asked whether they thought this technology was plausible and whether they felt that it undermines free will. Eighty percent responded that it is plausible, but most did not believe it threatened free will unless the technology went beyond prediction and veered into manipulation of decisions. Only if the neuroscientists had somehow changed Jill’s mind to make decisions she would not have otherwise made did most of the students think her free will was jeopardized.

A follow-up study used the same scenario but added language to the effect of “All human mental activity is just brain activity,” in an attempt to clinically underscore that neuroscientists could interpret and predict Jill’s decisions just by diagraming her brain activity. Again, the majority responded that free will was threatened only if decision prediction turned into decision manipulation.

From the free-will-as-illusion camp, we might expect a skeptical reply to this study along the lines of, “A majority of people thinking Bigfoot exists doesn’t make it so.” That’s an understandable response, but unlike belief in Bigfoot (or insert your favorite myth), the implications for belief in free will are significant. Our subjective understanding about how we process information to arrive at a decision isn’t just a theoretical exercise; what we think about it matters. And it will matter even more as science nears closer to touching uncomfortable possibilities we’ve only been able to imagine.

David Disalvo is the author of Brain Changer: How Harnessing Your Brain’s Power to Adapt Can Change Your Life and the best-selling What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, which has been published in 10 languages. His work has appeared in Scientific American Mind, Forbes, Psychology Today, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Salon, Esquire, Mental Floss and other publications.

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 Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 21

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. After another war, it seems more clear that the Israeli siege of Gaza continues through “inertia.”

By Itamar Sha’altiel in +972

2. A new project looks to inspire a generation to bold new scientific innovation by stimulating creative storytelling.

By Michael White in Pacific Standard

3. Attempts to combat voter fraud should be balanced against a constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.

By Matthew Yglesias in Vox

4. More than meets the eye: Visual inspection is far from sufficient for guaranteeing the safety of meat and poultry. It’s time to reform USDA food safety systems.

By the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Center for Science in the Public Interest

5. Lifting teachers into leadership roles could help achieve the big gains for students we’ve been seeking.

By Ross Wiener in the Aspen Idea

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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 technology

How Edison Invented the Light Bulb — And Lots of Myths About Himself

First Light Bulb
Still life of the first electric light bulb, invented by Thomas Alva Edison in 1879 and patented on January 27, 1880. Welgos / Getty Images

Oct. 21, 1879: Thomas Edison invents a commercially viable electric light

The electric light wasn’t Thomas Edison’s first invention, nor was he the first to create an alternative to gaslight. Electric lights already existed on a streetlight scale when, on this day in 1879, Edison tested the one he’s famous for. Though he didn’t come up with the whole concept, his light bulb was the first that proved practical, and affordable, for home illumination. The trick had been choosing a filament that would be durable but inexpensive, and the team at Edison’s “invention factory” in Menlo Park, New Jersey, tested more than 6,000 possible materials before finding one that fit the bill: carbonized bamboo.

Edison bragged about the filament’s efficacy and economy to a New York Times reporter who toured the factory just after his successful test run:

“As there is no oxygen to burn,” said Mr. Edison, “you can readily see that this piece of carbon will last an ordinary life-time. It has the property of resisting the heat of the current of electricity, while at the same time it becomes incandescent, and gives out one of the most brilliant lights which the world has ever seen. The cost of preparing one of these little horse-shoes of carbon is about 1 cent, and the entire lamp will cost not more than 25 cents.”

While Edison considered the invention his “crowning triumph,” it joined the long list of contributions that made him a record-holder for sheer number of U.S. patents — 1,093 — until the 21st century. His creations included the movie camera and the microphone, the phonograph and the mimeograph, the stock ticker and even the “stencil-pen,” a precursor to the tattoo gun.

And although his accomplishments spoke for themselves, Edison was equally prolific, and ambitious, in inventing myths to boost his reputation as a larger-than-life innovator, as a 1979 TIME profile notes. As a result, his inventions weren’t just scientific discoveries, but also prevarications. For one thing, he often claimed to be entirely self-taught, having never attended a day of school.

“Untrue,” says TIME. “He had at least three years of formal education as a child — a stint that was not unusually short in the rural Ohio and Michigan of his youth. As a budding inventor, he also attended classes in chemistry at New York City’s Cooper Union after realizing that his self-taught knowledge of that science was inadequate.”

He also boasted of never needing more than three hours of sleep a night. That’s a half-truth, although the full story may be even more impressive: He managed to piece together a full night’s rest by napping artfully throughout the day. Per TIME:

When the Ford Motor Co. archives were opened in 1951, researchers found many pictures of Henry Ford and his pal Edison in laboratories, at meetings and on outings. In some of these photos, Ford seemed attentive and alert, but Edison could be seen asleep — on a bench, in a chair, on the grass. His secret weapon was the catnap, and he elevated it to an art. Recalled one of his associates: ‘His genius for sleep equaled his genius for invention. He could go to sleep any where, any time, on anything.’

Read TIME’s piece on the 100th birthday of the light bulb, here in the archives: The Quintessential Innovator

TIME Research

Those Pesky House Flies May Actually Improve Our Health

House Fly
Getty Images

According to new research in 'Genome Biology'

The house fly is a rarely celebrated insect, but new research published Tuesday finally provides the pest with some positive recognition.

The house fly (Musca domestica) has a genome that could actually give scientists insight into pathogen immunity, helping humans live healthier lives, researchers write in the journal Genome Biology. And it’s all because of their, well, gross-factor. Since the house fly lives on animal and human waste, according to Science Daily, “[t]hey are an important species for scientific study because of their roles as waste decomposers and as carriers of over 100 human diseases, including typhoid, tuberculosis and worms.”

Their immunity system genes can be studied to help humans be healthier in toxic and disease causing environments, the researchers add, and detoxification genes could help scientists find better ways to manage toxic environments.

TIME Food & Drink

Why Does Pizza Taste So Delicious? Allow Science to Explain

A look at the chemical reactions that lead to that magical, magical taste

A few months back, an intrepid team of scientists declared that mozzarella is the best cheese for pizza because it melts, bubbles and browns better than any other varieties. Now, some other scientists from the American Chemical Society have taken an even closer look at the chemistry of everybody’s favorite cheesy food with this new video, part of the organization’s Reactions series.

“Whether it’s a plain cheese, a deep-dish stacked with meats or a thin-crust veggie delight, there’s just something about pizza that makes it delicious,” the video description explains. “There’s a lot of chemistry that goes into everything from dough to sauce to toppings to, of course, cheese.”

In particular, as the video explains, there’s something called the Maillard Reaction at work — and that’s what we all have to thank for the magical taste we encounter in every bite.

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