Vaccines and Their Critics, Then and Now

by Aaron Rothstein

Recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases have brought renewed attention to the critics of vaccination. Aaron Rothstein explains why vaccination is a valuable tool for individual and public health, and reveals the surprisingly long history of opposition to vaccines, so that we might better educate and persuade the critics.


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The Neuroscience of Despair

by Michael W. Begun

We often think of depression as a disorder caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Not only is this idea empirically flawed, but it has drawn our attention away from the important social and psychological aspects of mental illness. Michael W. Begun shows how we got here and explains why a neurobiological understanding of depression can never be complete.

Abstract composition by Victor Hugo
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Losing Liberty in an Age of Access

by James Poulos

Americans increasingly rely on subscription services like Netflix and sharing services like Airbnb, Uber, and Zipcar, renting access to goods instead of buying them. While some pundits have heralded the so-called sharing economy, James Poulos asks whether freedom can flourish when access no longer involves ownership.


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Confronting the Technological Society

by Samuel Matlack

In 1954, a Frenchman named Jacques Ellul penned one of the most bracing twentieth-century critiques of technology. Translated into English in 1964, The Technological Society was commended by the likes of Aldous Huxley and Robert K. Merton but written off by others as little more than a lamentation of modernity. Samuel Matlack revisits Ellul’s perplexing book and explains why it is still relevant today.


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The Optimistic Science of Leibniz

by Marc E. Bobro

When Leibniz is remembered at all today, it is usually for inventing the calculus or for calling this “the best of all possible worlds” — a phrase that Voltaire famously scorned. Marc E. Bobro argues that Leibniz’s optimism is best understood in the context of his grand project to unify science, religion, and pretty much everything else.

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From our archive...

Virtual Reality as Moral Ideal

by Matthew B. Crawford

The physical world resists our will. Matthew B. Crawford considers how we try to insulate ourselves from the limitations and frustrations of physicality — but thereby make ourselves more fragile and, ironically, more pliable to the wills of others.


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Bioethics

First Thoughts on Germline Engineering


For the first time in history, scientists have genetically modified human embryos. New Atlantis assistant editor Brendan P. Foht explains why this technique is morally troubling, and puts it in the context of other bioethical issues.


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Correlation, Causation, and Confusion

by Nick Barrowman

“Correlation,” as the saying goes, “does not imply causation.” But if you want to understand the statistics that appear everywhere in our daily lives — in sports reporting, in weather forecasts, and of course in politics and medicine — it helps to know just what correlation does imply. Nick Barrowman explains why some disciples of “big data” think causation is passé, and why they’re wrong.


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In Defense of Prejudice, Sort of

by Ari N. Schulman

Prejudice is the Enlightenment’s most detested foe, the vampire that withers in the light of Reason. But an ambitious new book argues that prejudice, properly understood, is a prerequisite for lucid thinking. In this review, Ari N. Schulman explains why our modern ideal of perfect rationality is irrational.


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Regarding Life at the Beginning

by Gilbert Meilaender

Unborn children are hidden from our view and totally dependent on us. Yet the debate over abortion usually treats the human community as made up only of free subjects that can enter into mutual dialogue or contractual relations. Gilbert Meilaender reviews a new book that offers a phenomenological critique of the abortion debate.


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Flickr Jerry Lai (CC)

 

Modernity and Our American Heresies

by Peter Augustine Lawler

Critics of America have often argued that the country is too individualistic and materialistic, doomed to a kind of techno-obsessive liberal nihilism. But, as Peter Lawler explains, the American story is really a tale of constant compromise between our Lockean and Puritan tendencies, accommodating the need for both freedom and community.


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Image: The Apostle (Butcher's Run Films, 1997)

Practicing Medicine

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A Feeling for Pain

by Ronald W. Dworkin

Modern medicine has mastered the elimination of pain to an impressive degree. But as Ronald W. Dworkin, a practicing anesthesiologist, shows, when science tries to explain pain, it often muddles what we know from experience.


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Detail of Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time (ca. 1546), by Agnolo Bronzino (via Wikimedia)