From saunas to flesh-eating insects: the big long reads of 2021


The year started with bots and ended with sessions – well, it did on the Insights desktop anyway. The long-running series of The Conversation is all about variety, and that’s certainly what 2021 has brought.

Our authors have researched the world on a wide variety of topics. Whether they’re experts on flesh-eating beetles or climate change, anthropologists studying loneliness or historians uncovering the hidden tales that have shaped our present, they all have one thing in common: they know how to tell a story.

Some took us on the author’s intensely personal research journey and reflected the suffering COVID caused in 2021.

Others were surprising and hopeful, not to mention the intricate details and extensive research. Here are some of our personal highlights.

Historian of medical science, Matthew Eddy, has told the incredible story of James McCune Smith – the first known African-American physician to be published in a British medical journal and an indomitable abolitionist. Eddy’s story traces McCune Smith’s move from New York to Glasgow where he studied medicine and his efforts to expose harmful drug trials conducted by a senior white professor who was experimenting on vulnerable women. The play highlights a very important, but little-known event in British history.

It is difficult for many people to imagine what life will be like in old age. But one of the biggest worries about aging is whether or not we’ll have someone by our side to help us through these difficult years. COVID-19 and the lockdown have brought the long-standing issue of loneliness and isolation in the lives of older people back into the public consciousness. A new study has looked at what this type of isolation really is.

The Loneliness Project – an in-depth, large-scale exploration of how older people experience loneliness and what it means to them – generated over 130 hours of conversation. These honest and moving discussions were moderated by researchers Sam Carr and Chao Fang.

They found that loss, physical deterioration, biographical pain and regret all engender a unique sense of disconnection from the world. As Sam says, “Loneliness later in life runs deep – much deeper than you think.” In 2009-10, James Cummings spent 12 months studying Mandarin Chinese in Hainan and made friends in local gay communities. Inspired by these experiences, he spent eight years researching gay men in the area and, in 2018, completed a doctorate. thesis exploring the life of homosexuals in Hainan. He wanted to discover how the lives of homosexuals are lived on the fringes of global LGBT politics and activism, far from cities imagined as cosmopolitan centers of modernity.

Hainan is located in the Gulf of Tonkin, 30 km off the southern coast of mainland China. The region has historically sat on the fringes of the nation, long imagined as an isolated tropical wasteland of little economic or cultural value.

His revealing work explores how gay men claim spaces and build communities in their secret worlds.

2021 was also a year dominated by the climate crisis. There have been roaring fires from Canada to California to Greece, devastating flooding in Germany and China, and all the while greenhouse gas emissions have risen after the blow from the closures. of 2020. November saw the 26th UN climate change summit, COP26, which yielded mixed results and a lot of hot air on so-called “net zero” policies.

Net-zero, it seems, has become the litmus test for gauging how seriously a country (or business or person) is tackling the uncertain and damaging consequences of global warming. But concerns are growing that net zero itself is not fit for purpose. This is the claim made by three top climatologists in an article we published last April in collaboration with the editors of Apple News.

In the authors’ view, there is a dangerous problem with the concept at the heart of global climate policy. These scientists – including a former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – argued that for decades the concept of net zero has held back effective action and even encouraged the burning of fossil fuels. And many believe it continues to do so.

For something a little less tirelessly depressing, immerse yourself in the world of “wireheading”. It refers to a kind of behavioral loop in which stereotypical drug addicts and RNs get stuck, where the reward is sought at the expense of other goals. This phenomenon is quickly becoming a hot topic in the machine learning community and those concerned with AI security.

The story was written by two experts – one with a background in computational neuroscience and the other a historian. It’s an exciting read covering the hunt for the brain’s pleasure center, the cocaine rat experiments, video game fears, and an AI-driven future.

And maybe my favorite story of the year – and one I’ll take to heart over the Christmas season – is a story about the health benefits of saunas and hot tubs. It turns out that bathing regularly in hot water or in an even warmer room can cause some of the same physiological reactions as going for a run. Let’s drink to that!

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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