The national debate over IVF, unfolding after an Alabama court decision prompted multiple clinics in the state to halt operations, prompts a question: What might be next? Could other fertility treatments and even birth control be under threat given that Roe v. Wade is no longer the law? If the idea that birth control could be at risk in America strikes you as hard to believe, I understand. There’s no proposed legislation on the table to ban it, and it does seem unbelievable that contraception — which an overwhelming majority of US women, including religious and Republican women, have used and support — could one day disappear. But attacks on reproductive rights have never really been about public opinion, as the overturn of Roe showed and the current national debate over IVF has further proved. While it’s not an immediate threat, anti-abortion leaders have been laying the groundwork to curtail contraception access for many decades, despite birth control being one of the most reliable ways to reduce the incidence of abortion. Their fundamental opposition is rooted in a belief that penetrative sex is sacred and should only occur within a heterosexual marriage and in the service of having children. In their eyes, birth control has encouraged sex outside of marriage — a development they charge with weakening families, absolving men of responsibility, and steering women away from domestic duties. These are fringe conservative views, but ones endorsed by religious institutions and groups that have long provided funding and power to the anti-abortion movement. “I think contraception is disgusting, people using each other for pleasure,” said Joseph Scheidler, the late founder of the Pro-Life Action League, an activist group that pioneered confrontational tactics like sit-ins at abortion clinics and picketing outside doctors’ homes. The New York Times described Scheidler as the “godfather” of the movement. Randall Terry, who founded the group Operation Rescue — known for blockading and protesting abortion clinics and patients — once laid out the logic against birth control plainly: “Any drug or device that prevents us from having children�
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If you’ve followed the news in the last year or two, you’ve no doubt heard a ton about artificial intelligence. And depending on the source, it usually goes one of two ways: AI is either the beginning of the end of human civilization, or a shortcut to utopia. Who knows which of those two scenarios is nearer the truth, but the polarized nature of the AI discourse is itself interesting. We’re in a period of rapid technological growth and political disruption and there are many reasons to worry about the course we’re on — that’s something almost everyone can agree with. But how much worry is warranted? And at what point should worry deepen into panic? To get some answers, I invited Tyler Austin Harper onto The Gray Area. Harper is a professor of environmental studies at Bates College and the author of a fascinating recent essay in the New York Times. The piece draws some helpful parallels between the existential anxieties today and some of the anxieties of the past, most n
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The Supreme Court has ordered the most important of former President Donald Trump’s four criminal trials to be put on hold indefinitely. It’s an extraordinary victory for Trump and a devastating blow to special counsel Jack Smith. The Court’s decision also raises serious doubts about whether these justices will allow a trial to take place before the November election. Many Court observers, including myself, were shocked by Wednesday’s order because it appeared to rest on the flimsiest of pretexts. The ostensible reason why the Court ordered Trump’s trial paused is so the justices could spend the next few months considering Trump’s argument that he is immune from prosecution for any “official acts” he engaged in while he was still president. This is an exceptionally weak legal argument, with monstrous implications. Trump’s lawyers told one of the judges who ruled against this immunity claim that a former president could not be prosecuted, even if he ordered “SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival,” unless the president was first successfully impeached and convicted (by lawmakers that, under Trump’s argument, the president could order killed if they attempted to impeach him). There are, of course, historical examples of the Supreme Court behaving less deferentially toward presidents who thumb their nose at the law. The most well-known is United States v. Nixon (1974), the Court’s decision ordering President Richard Nixon to turn over tape recordings that implicated him in a crime, eventually leading to Nixon’s resignation. The decision to halt Trump’s trial, however, fits within a different judicial tradition, which is no less robust and no less prominent in the Supreme Court’s history. The judiciary is a weak institution, staffed by political officials who are often reluctant to stand against popular authoritarian policies or movements. Indeed, the justices themselves often belong to those movements. This is the tradition of Korematsu v. United States (1944), where the Court stood side by side with a popular, wartime president who ordered tens of thousands of Americans sent to internment camps for the sin of having the wrong ancestors. And of Debs v. United States (1919), where the Court condemned a prominent union leader and political candidate to 10 years in prison for giving a speech opposing the draft. And it is the tradition of the Civil Rights Cases (1883), where the Court, at the very moment that white supremacists were consolidating an authoritarian regime that would rule the South for generations, declared that Congress had done too much to protect Black people and that they should no longer treat freedmen as “the special favorite of the laws.” A written Constitution and the courts that are supposed to enforce it are weak guarantors of a liberal democratic society. The Supreme Court of the United States does not always align itself with authoritarian policies and movements, but it does so often enough that it cannot be counted on as an ally in a conflict between constitutional democracy and something more sinister. And the Court is particularly ineffective in standing up against figures like Trump, who enjoy broad (if not necessarily majoritarian) political support. Constitutional rights and other legal safeguards are worthless in the face of a sufficiently powerful political movement For 49 years, the right to an abortion was a constitutional right, affirmed over and over and over again by the Supreme Court. And then, one early summer morning, the right disappeared. The American people woke up on June 24, 2022, with their right to an abortion intact. Before noon, it was gone. This did not happen because of any substantive change to the Constitution. The Constitution in 2022, when Roe v. Wade was overruled, was identical to the Constitution in 1973, when Roe was first handed down (save for a minor, irrelevant amendment concerning congressional pay). Rather, Roe fell because the minority of Americans who oppose abortion organized. They took over one of America’s two major political parties. And then they installed their operatives on the Supreme Court of the United States. In fairness, one plausible explanation for Roe’s fall is that it rested on a debatable interpretation of the Constitution’s text. The Constitution protects both enumerated (meaning that they are laid out explicitly in the document’s text) and unenumerated rights, and the Ninth Amendment explicitly forbids courts from construing the Constitution to deny the existence of unenumerated rights. But the fact that the Constitution does not specifically mention abortion has always given Roe’s opponents a powerful rhetorical argument against it. Do not think, however, that a right is secure because it is explicitly protected by the Constitution. Certainly, nothing in African American history supports this Pollyanna-ish assumption. And the Supreme Court’s history is riddled with cases giving the back of the hand to rights specifically enumerated in the Constitution. The 15th Amendment, for example, was ratified in 1870, five years after Union forces defeated a separatist rebellion dedicated to the cause of slavery. It provides that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But this amendment ceased to function the minute popular support for Reconstruction faded. Black people’s right to vote, at least in states that were determined to deny them that right, lay dormant until 1965, when Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. And in the long century between these two legal reforms, the Supreme Court often made itself complicit in white supremacy by giving its blessing to Jim Crow voter suppression. Indeed, the Court aligned itself with Southern racists even before Reconstruction collapsed as part of a corrupt deal to install President Rutherford B. Hayes in the White House in 1877. Two years earlier, in United States v. Cruikshank (1875), the justices tossed out the criminal convictions of several members of a white supremacist mob that used guns and a cannon to kill a rival Black militia defending the right of freedmen to elect their own leaders. Black people, the Court said in a decision that should send shivers down the spine of anyone familiar with the history of the US South, “must look to the States” to protect constitutional rights such as the right to vote or the right to peacefully assemble. Nor is the Supreme Court’s haphazard approach to constitutional rights limited to the rights of Black people. The Constitution says quite explicitly that no one may be denied “the equal protection of the laws,” and it forbids “unreasonable searches and seizures.” That didn’t stop Korematsu from holding that American citizens could be incarcerated solely for having Japanese ancestry. Or witness nearly the entire history of the First Amendment, which was often powerless, not just against federal suppression of wartime speech, but against something as mundane as people who don’t like nude art. For much of the late 19th and early 20th century, art and literature depicting human sexuality was a frequent subject of criminal prosecution under the federal Comstock Act — a law, it is worth noting, that is still on the books — or under similar state laws. In one case, an art gallery owner was successfully prosecuted for selling reproductions of Alexandre Cabanel’s masterpiece The Birth of Venus. Alexandre Cabanel’s The Birth of Venus, one of many works of art censored during the Comstock era. Public domain via Wikipedia So the idea that Donald Trump, and the MAGA movement he leads, would crumble simply because there’s a law saying that his actions are forbidden was always naïve. When powerful political movements conflict, the Court honors the law maybe some of the time. And it is just as likely to align itself with an authoritarian fa
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Andy Lowe was not naturally blessed with the gift of gab. But even he, a self-described shy, introverted person, understands its functions. Lowe works at a technology public relations firm where chitchat with clients and journalists is just another part of the job. As a previous user of dating apps (Lowe is happily partnered now), he realized banter reigned supreme. He also plays bass in bands in Seattle; meeting other collaborators involves some amount of introductory small talk. So he decided to get better. To improve his small talk, Lowe says he paid closer attention to his conversation partners to discover “what makes them tick, what drives them,” he explains. He’ll ask what books people are reading or movies or television they enjoy. “Then just making sure that when you go into those situations,” Lowe says, “you are more interested in the person that you’re talking to than talking about yourself.” Small talk gets a bad rap for being too surface-level, too rote, a throwaway filler conversation. But casual chat can be the on-ramp to deeper connection. After all, most of us wouldn’t introduce ourselves to a stranger with a question about their biggest fears. Small talk is an opportunity to build trust and to learn about others, and to become a more curious person, says Georgie Nightingall, a conversation specialist and human connectivity researcher. “Being genuinely curious, that always helps,” she says. “You can actually realize that you do want to know more rather than having that sense of like, I’m just asking for the sake of asking.” Even if you find your small talk game lacking, with some practice you can improve. To ensure you’re leading with curiosity, experts and small talk enthusiasts offer their best advice to strike up a conversation with strangers and familiar faces alike, without relying on stereotypical openers. View small talk as an opportunity, not an annoyance Many people bemoan small talk because they “get stuck” in it, Nightingall says, without moving on to deeper conversation. “One of the key elements of small talk,” she says, “is having the mindset that actually this is not where we’re going t
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Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its Covid-19 guidance in a big way: People infected with the virus, or with other respiratory viruses, no longer need to isolate for five days before going back to work or school, the agency said. Instead, the agency advises that people can leave home if they’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours (without fever-reducing medicine like ibuprofen or acetaminophen) and have improving symptoms. The new guidance does encourage people to take extra steps to prevent spreading their infections to others once they’ve resumed
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Welcome to the Vox crossword. Puzzles come out Monday through Saturday. Make sure to bookmark this page (or add to your phone’s home screen) to find new ones each day. You can also get a weekly email reminder by signing up for our crossword newsletter. Puzzles are constructed by these great people and edited by Elizabeth Crane. If you want to get in touch, email us at [email protected]. And if you solve our crosswords often, consider chipping in to help keep them free for everybody. Looking for even more crosswords? Our first-ever crosswords books are now available for purchase wherever
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Princess Kate, formerly Kate Middleton, one day to become Catherine, Queen Consort of the United Kingdom, is missing. Sort of. Kate, Princess of Wales and wife to Prince William, has not been seen in public since Christmas Day, when she was photographed in jaunty royal blue at church with her family. Since then, one of the world’s most photographed women, a figure who has lived her life genteelly in public since she was Prince William’s college girlfriend, has vanished from public view. On January 17, Kensington Palace announced that Kate had entered the hospital the day before for planned abdominal surgery. “The Princess of Wales appreciates the interest this statement will generate,” the announcement read. “She hopes that the public will understand her desire to maintain as much normality for her children as possible; and her wish that her personal medical information remains private.” It added that she was “unlikely” to resume her public duties until Easter, which falls this year on March 31. So far, Kate has stuck to the previously announced schedule. Kensington Palace announced on January 29 that she had returned home, on track with her planned 10 to 14 days of hospital recovery. Currently, it is not yet Easter, and she is not yet out in public. Yet the long pause in Kate’s public appearances and the lack of concrete information about her health has created a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theories. When Prince William canceled a planned appearance of his own on February 27, citing a “personal matter,” rumors began to fly. Something, some people theorized, had gone terribly wrong with Kate’s health. Perhaps she was in real danger of dying. Perhaps she was in an induced coma. Perhaps her marriage to William was on the rocks, and she was in hiding. Perhaps she’d been killed and would be replaced by a body double. As the story took off, the joke theories began to take up more space: Kate was waiting for bad bangs to grow out, or to recover from plastic surgery; she’d become the villain in the viral Willy Wonka experience. The Palace, meanwhile, has responded to the flagrant rumor-mongering by telling People magazine that Kate “continues to be doing well.” Most of the conspiracy theories are silly, but they’re all reacting to a real issue. Kate has long been a reliable pillar of the British family, showing up an
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Last summer, I covered the saga of Harvard Business School’s Francesca Gino, who was credibly accused of flagrantly fabricating data in at least four of her published studies. She was caught when some data sleuths on the internet — investigating research misconduct in their free time — found discrepancies in the data for her papers and investigated further. They eventually raised their concerns with Harvard, which investigated and ultimately requested retractions of the papers in question. (Gino filed a lawsuit against Harvard and the bloggers, accusing them of colluding to defame her.) I kept thinking about Gino’s case as I read the uncannily similar story of a scandal at the Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a leading cancer research hospital in Boston. Dana-Farber was rocked this January by a blog post by Sholto David, a molecular biologist and internet data sleuth, in which he presented evidence of widespread data manipulation in cancer research published by leading researchers including the institute’s CEO and COO. David reportedly contacted the institute with concerns about 57 papers, 38 of which were ones for which the institute had “primary responsibility for the potential data errors.” The institute has requested retractions for 6 of them and initiated corrections for 31. These data manipulations, to be clear, were not subtle. (David’s fairly bombastic blog post announcing the evidence calls it “pathetically amateurish and excessive.”) Many of the cases he identifies involved reusing the same images over and over in different figures, with different labels, and with the figures having been clumsily rotated or stretched in Photoshop or a similar image editor. Plots of data collection on different days are mysteriously perfectly identical. Test results are visibly copied and pasted. It raises the question: Assuming that there was some misconduct behind the copied-and-pasted images, how were people so emboldened to commit such blatant fraud, so publicly, for such a long time? How much grant money was secured on the basis of fabricated data, and how much was the crucial fight against cancer set back by inaccuracies promulgated in these papers? And perhaps most importantly, is this only the tip of the iceberg? Anatomy of a cancer data scandal For years, biomedical researchers have been aware that the field has a problem with faked images in papers. In one 2016 paper, Dutch microbiologist Elisabeth Bik scanned more than 20,000 biomedical papers for evidence of such manipulation and found that 3.8 percent of papers had signs of it, “with at least half exhibiting features suggestive of deliberate manipulation.” Worse, the problem appears to be on the rise. “The prevalence of papers with problematic images has risen markedly during the past decade,” Bik found. Her scale for describing manipulation examines three kinds of faked images — cases where the same image is used twice, with different labels (which could be an innocent error), cases where the same image is used twice but in one case deliberately cropped (which seems less likely to be an innocent error), and cases where an image has
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The biggest movie released so far this year is admittedly a little confusing. Or maybe not confusing, but it sure has a lot of lore. I’m talking, of course, about Dune: Part Two. Denis Villeneuve’s second installment adapting Frank Herbert’s 1960s sci-fi series of books enters theaters this week. Given it’s been over two years since the first film, and given the complexity of what’s happening in the Dune universe, I figured some of you might have a few questions. Like, what’s up with Timothée Chalamet’s psychic boy king? Who are those dour-looking nuns? And what the hell is going on with the giant worms everywhere? I love sci-fi — catch me any day with a copy of Gideon the Ninth or The Dispossessed — but I’ve never read Dune, so I can’t help you. Patrick Reis, Vox’s senior politics editor and longtime Dune fan, can. Patrick and Alex Abad-Santos, a Vox senior correspondent and self-described Dune newbie, went deep on the new movie here. Below is a slice of their conversation, with additional questions from me, for today’s edition of the newsletter. — Caroline Houck, senior news editor Light spoilers ahead about the series’ overall narrative arc. So who’s this Paul Atreides guy that Timothée Chalamet is playing? I’m supposed to like him, right? At the start of Villeneuve’s previous movie, Paul is the only child of House Atreides, son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), a Bene Gesserit (more on them soon). Paul’s family has been coerced into leaving their home planet to move to Arrakis (also known as Dune), where they’re charged with overseeing the production of spice, the universe’s most precious resource. At the end of the first film, Paul has hidden away with the Arrakis-native Fremen and allied with them against House Harkonnen — the despots who once again rule Arrakis after murdering Paul’s father and almost everyone he loved. (He also meets Chani (Zendaya), a Fremen who becomes his lover.) Over the course of Dune: Part Two, he makes his way up the Fremen ranks to become a messianic figure. This leads to a fairly complicated moral arc over the rest of the series. Right, see, here’s my question: Is he a good messianic figure … or actually evil? I’m suspicious of this hero worship. And there’s also some weird white savior vibes here, right? Is he “evil”? No in the short term; sort of yes in the medium term; and then mostly no in the extremely, extremely long term — events occurring decades, centuries, and even millennia later with the help of Paul’s descendants. Dune Two is set in that short-term “no” part of the saga, where he’s helping the Fremen free themselves from the cruelty of House Harkonnen. But to the other part of your question — yeah. Dune is fundamentally a white savior story in which the bulk of the agency is exercised by outsiders coming to a nomadic culture. It’s also a pretty clear allegory to the Middle East: Spice is a rare substance that sustains modern life and facilitates empire-wide commerce and travel, so that’s pretty clearly oil. And so much about the Fremen seems to be designed to evoke des
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Vox editor-in-chief Swati Sharma and managing editor Natalie Jennings announced today that Julia Longoria is joining the site to develop and host a new seasonal podcast in collaboration with Future Perfect, its section which examines the big, complicated problems facing the world and the most effective ways to solve them. Longoria begins her role today, with the show expected to launch later this year. “Julia is an incredible journalist who has hosted and produced some of our favorite podcasts tackling everything from the spread of misinformation online to how the Supreme Court makes decisions and shapes American lives,” says Sharma. “At Vox, we’re committed to empowering our aud
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