Discourse in Progress: The Experts Behind the Issues

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Age of Ambition

As the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, Evan Osnos was on the ground in China for years, witness to profound political, economic, and cultural upheaval. In Age of Ambition, he describes the greatest collision taking place in that country: the clash between the rise of the individual and the Communist Party’s struggle to retain control. Read more…

WarWhatIsItGoodFor_Morris

“War! . . . . / What is it good for? / Absolutely nothing,” says the famous song—but archaeology, history, and biology show that war in fact has been good for something. Surprising as it sounds, war has made humanity safer and richer. In War! What Is It Good For?, the renowned historian and archaeologist Ian Morris tells the gruesome, gripping story of fifteen thousand years of war, going beyond the battles and brutality to reveal what war has really done to and for the world. Read more…

Bad Pharma

We like to imagine that medicine is based on evidence and the results of fair testing and clinical trials. In reality, those tests and trials are often profoundly flawed. We like to imagine that doctors who write prescriptions for everything from antidepressants to cancer drugs to heart medication are familiar with the research literature about these drugs, when in reality much of the research is hidden from them by drug companies. We like to imagine that doctors are impartially educated, when in reality much of their education is funded by the pharmaceutical industry. We like to imagine that regulators have some code of ethics and let only effective drugs onto the market, when in reality they approve useless drugs, with data on side effects casually withheld from doctors and patients.

All these problems have been shielded from public scrutiny because they are too complex to capture in a sound bite. Ben Goldacre shows that the true scale of this murderous disaster fully reveals itself only when the details are untangled. He believes we should all be able to understand precisely how data manipulation works and how research misconduct in the medical industry affects us on a global scale. With Goldacre’s characteristic flair and a forensic attention to detail, Bad Pharma reveals a shockingly broken system in need of regulation. This is the pharmaceutical industry as it has never been seen before. Read more…

What Money Can't Buy

Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we put a price on human life to decide how much pollution to allow? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars, outsourcing inmates to for-profit prisons, auctioning admission to elite universities, or selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay? In his New York Times bestseller What Money Can’t Buy, Michael J. Sandel takes up one of the biggest ethical questions of our time: Isn’t there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? If so, how can we prevent market values from reaching into spheres of life where they don’t belong? What are the moral limits of markets? Read more…

DownInTheChapel

Joshua Dubler is the author of Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison, which follows a group of prisoners serving life sentences at Graterford Prison. FSG published Down in the Chapel earlier this month.

The acquittal of George Zimmerman last month elicited little surprise at Pennsylvania’s Graterford prison. My friend Charles Coley, who is black and is serving life, characterized the collective sigh in a letter: “There was not much consternation here because people here did not expect any outcome other than what happened. People understand the times, and how so little has changed.” Read more…

During this Thanksgiving season, I cannot help but think about how our national feast day only reinforces a limited view of our nation’s origins and the relations between Native Americans and Europeans during the colonial period. As we gather around the table our thoughts turn instinctively — if only momentarily — to New England and the short period of comity between Indians and newcomers that has become so central to our national mythology… and when we think more broadly of our nation’s colonial past, we almost always think of another feel-good story: how in 1776 the thirteen English colonies struck as one to lay the foundation for our United States of America. Both stories are rooted in a thin strip of land along our Atlantic Coast, but in their drama and power, they tend to obliterate other valuable narratives about European-Indian relations in colonial America. The English, once they had borrowed all the food and provisions from Native Americans in New England, embarked on a slaughter that wiped most of the Indians from this earth. Read more…

“Harper’s columnist Thomas Frank, author of the book Pity the Billionaire, joined us for a live chat. Read the full transcript here. Plus, read Frank’s piece on how billionaires are putting capitalism and democracy in chains. Read more…

“How bad are the pharmaceutical companies, and how are they misleading doctors and harming patients? Read the transcript of our live chat as Dr. Ben Goldacre shows us the flaws in our drug-prescription system. Read more…

“What do the Supreme Court hearings of President Obama’s health-care act mean? Questions about the individual mandate?   MIT economist Jonathan Gruber joined us to discuss the true cost of health-care reform in this country. Read the transcript here.

To continue the conversation and learn about other author chats in this series (including with Jonathan Gruber, Michael Sandel, and others), visit theDiscourse in Progress community on Facebook, an interactive forum on timely issues.” 

 

 

Ishmael Beah, former child soldier and author of A Long Way Gone, joined us to discuss KONY 2012 and his own experiences. Read the transcript here. Read more…