401- The Natural Experiment


This is ninety nine percent invisible. I'm Roman Mars is normally cruise ship season in southeast Alaska. Every year around this time these floating behemoths filled with tourists. Sail up the inside passage stopping at little coastal port towns like Sitka and Ketchikan One of the popular destination along the route is glacier bay. It's this spectacular bay full glaciers and the name and icebergs and sea otters and lots and lots of Humpback Whales turn the National Park Service regulates how many cruise ships can come in and out of the bay and how close they can get to the whales but still the humpbacks. They're there in the summer. Have to live alongside roaring boat engines. A new what we know is that animals change their behavior when the ocean gets noisy Michelle Forte is an acoustic ecologist at Cornell. Every summer she travels to Glacier Bay. To drop a hydrophone in the water was an in on what the whales are saying and study being affected by ship noise this year. Michelle was preparing for her annual trip to go. When the CO bid nineteen shutdowns were announced so Friday. The thirteenth was the last day that we were allowed to be in the lab at work before we had to start sheltering in place and with that also met from my perspective was that my summer field season was cancelled that the trip to Alaska I was meant to take to go and do work with these animals wasn't going to happen. The Lab Cornell would also need to close and so all the scientists gathered together for a final in-person meeting to try to plan out how everyone was going to keep their research going from home. Michelle mentioned that the summer crew season would probably not even happen this year in Alaska at which point another person at the meeting broke in with a question and one of my colleagues and friends looked at me and she asked me you know. Are you listening in other words? Even if she couldn't go to see the wheels person was she's still planning on listening to them. And I realized I wasn't and and all of a sudden my my personal sentimental brain turned off in my biologist brain. Turn back on and an immediate flurry to get hydrophones. In the water ensued. In that Moment Michelle realized that although her research trip had been cancelled the grown virus shutdown had created an incredible opportunity for the first time in decades. The ocean would be quiet for an entire summer. And so what that means for somebody like me. As researcher is that we have the opportunity to listen to undisturbed behavior for the first time. Usually Michelle relies on quiet periods in an individual day to try to understand how ship noise changes will behavior. I get excited. We have six or seven hours of silence in the ocean. I built an entire dissertation around the fact that Glacier Bay is one of the few areas in the world where you can predictably have moment's silence and now what we have is months of silence so act. This is unheard up right after that final meeting the lab. Michelle started calling people in Alaska. Who can help her out? I had to call my best friend because all of make your lives in her garage and could she blowups buoy for me and Tyson. Line for me. If I could put a hydrophone which she'd be willing to attach it to a shack will passed off to someone else to put it on Anchor. Who would then get it onto a boat and drop it in the ocean. Eventually with the help of lots of people in Alaska. They got hydrophones into the water. Michelle is now set to record. An entire summer of whale sounds in strangely quiet seas. This is the first time in human history That we've been able to listen to truly quiet behavior which is something that the researchers could have never engineered on their own missiles. Hypothesis is that the complexity of interactions between Wales. We'll go up so if you think about having a conversation a really loud room. Let's say you're at a bar and you're trying to talk to someone you're GonNa Talk Louder and you're GonNa talk higher in. You'RE GONNA use pretty simple words to make sure that your understood but if you're sitting at home having a cup of tea on your couch and there's no music playing and it's quiet and you're talking to someone who's beloved to you. The nature of the conversation can get really nuanced. So that's one of the things that we'd like to find out with these humpbacks is when they're not struggling to be heard does the complexity of what they say increase Are they willing and able to have more nuanced? Acoustic interactions that. Perhaps they can't have. It's noisy but whatever happens. Mozelle assist excited to dig into the data. We will finally get a baseline for what the ocean sounds like. In the absence of human activity. In general the corona virus shutdowns have been terrible for academic research trips have been cancelled. Labs have shut down and long running. Experiments have been interrupted but there are some researchers like Michelle for whom the shutdowns have provided a unique opportunity. A whole new data set a chance together. New Information or information in a new way in science. The term natural experiment refers to an experiment. That happens outside of the lab and outside of the control of the experimenter with a pandemic the world outside the lab has changed dramatically and it has affected all kinds of systems that can be measured for the first time in the modern so this week our producers have brought us stories from very different fields about researchers who are using this tragic and bizarre moment to learn something new about the world. First up is producer. Emma Fitzgerald Jolanta is a city in northern India in the state of Punjab and like all Indian cities want heart has been in lockdown with everybody inside their homes but a couple of weeks ago. There was this bright sunny day and the residents of the city went out onto their roofs. And what they saw was this amazing view of the snow. Capped Himalayas which are about one hundred miles away in the city was celebrated like all over Indian social media. They're tons of pictures of these mountains on instagram and tick tock videos of people zooming in on the horizon. So why was this such a big deal because many people were seeing these mountains for the very first time people who lived in lender all their lives had suddenly woken up to this vista of snowcapped mountains across the horizon view that they said that they had never seen before this is raw goo Karnad and he wrote about this phenomenon the New Yorker and he says that because of air pollution the mountains have been completely obscured locals. Think the last time these mountains had been visible was about thirty years ago but because of the shutdown and the lack of pollution from cars and industry the skies were clear in a way that had seemed impossible before that was the kind of scope of John Summation it had made the unimaginable real and so was this phenomenon unique to Joan Dr. Yeah I mean I. It's a particularly dramatic and poetic example really in cities all across India. The Sky is blue and you can see the stars at night. The air feels cleaner in a way that it just hasn't in a really long time and you know air. Pollution is a huge problem in India of the of the twenty cities in the world with the worst air pollution. Fourteen of them are Indian cities. You really can't exaggerate it. India is the global hotspot for for air pollution. And that's that's happened. We've sort of taken that place from China over the last twenty years and one of the cities with the worst air quality is the capital city. Delhi Karnad has lived there for a lot of his adult life and he told me that you know a part of his morning routine would be to check a website that maps the air quality index throughout the city You know just for context when you is over three hundred. It's considered hazardous to your health but Koran said that he would sometimes see readings at nine hundred and ninety nine and the reason it was that figure nine hundred ninety nine was not because that was the correct reading. It's because that's where the Monitor's maxed out even. If you're a writer it feels like language is failing you you kind of describe it yourself visit like Oh God. This is a nightmare sci-fi movie this this is like the apocalypse and none of that helps helps you comprehend the fact that there's smog visible inside your home. That's incredible I mean. Not Seen a mountain is one thing but this is just a gigantic public health tragedy. Totally I mean. I think air pollution is one of the most under appreciated public health problems that we have the W. H. O. Says that four point six million people Die Each year from causes related to to air pollution and and and that's happening all over the world but but it really is most dire in India. The World Health Organization had an estimate from two thousand sixteen. That one hundred thousand Indian children below the age of five had died that year from exposure to kind of particulates in EPA Lucien and the figures make it quite abundantly clear that Indians at dying and being made sick in really vast numbers numbers it it almost too large to process and you know for years. It's felt so law like such a large problem that it's almost unsolvable and that's what makes this moment so extraordinary which is that. We've reached this solution. We fixed this problem without intending to. That is incredible. I mean it really does like create this strain silver lining to an international tragedy. Yeah and you know. I think people are reluctant to use language like that because it's obviously such a terrible situation but there's one group of people for whom the shutdown really has been a gift and that's air pollution? Researchers researchers like Sarath. Guti Quinta. I'm said good condemn. The director and founder of urban emissions are emissions is a independently says crew and We do research on pollution and the scientists at urban emissions are always looking to understand the baseline air quality. Like what would it clean? Air Scenario even look like and usually they use holidays when people are stuck inside or or rainy days to do this but those don't last very long many dreams game for one day and then the navy the next day the wind up starts happening but robot saying here is sustained a sustained period of time. We are seeing numbers so good Says that the shutdown feels like the entire country is basically running giant experiment for him. The phase that I've been using his fullest exponent. A forced experiment that shows you. What happens if you turn many of the major sources of pollution down basically two zero? And when you do that turns out. The air is pretty clean which might seem obvious but the air pollution problem has been so intractable in India and here is this concrete example showing that it's possible to clean up the air so we have an example of sustained reiterated where saying we can maintain this level of emissions. And this is the end of Equality Regan expedience and you know. Having this extended period of clean air is also allowing them to do more. Fine tuned research experiments. Some some of those are really chemistry looking at particular pollutants like ozone for example tracking it. But they're also trying to do a forensic accounting of where all air pollution is coming from. Because there's actually a lot of confusion about this in India. A big question people have is is the pollution generated inside the city by things like cars and trash burning dirty cook stoves or is it floating in from outside sources from things like power plants and heavy industry outside the city or farmers in the countryside burn their fields before they replant All all those sources are contributing to the problem but the uncertainty about about who to blame has allowed cities to basically throw up their hands and say this isn't a problem that we can solve right so the uncertainty allows the people in power just do essentially just passed the buck and not deal with at all. Yeah exactly so. That's been one of the goals of Gucci Kundus Research because certain sources of pollution have been completely turned off while others have carried on Guti. Kunda is able to isolate the different sources of emissions and calculate how much of the pollution that a city is experiencing is generated inside of the city itself and it turns out. It's a lot. We can easily see large chunk of the local sources. City like Delhi League. We find that easily. Seventy percent of the pollution is actually locally generated. So so just so I understand like normally a city like Delhi would would sort of blame the pollution on outside forces saying you know this is coming from power plants outside the city or this is coming from agricultural burning and the reality is like Delhi is responsible for a lot of Delhi's pollution problem Absolutely now a lot of this research has just confirming what the scientists that urban emissions had really been seeing in their models before. But Ragu Karnad says that you know because that analysis was based on on more hypothetical. Modeling policymakers were finding it much easier to reject and ignore. No they have data that conforms. Exactly what their models have been demonstrating which is that. Cities can do much more to fix their own problems and to clean up their own house and you know the biggest thing that a city like Delhi could do to clean up. It's own house is really to take on traffic. Which can be pretty hard problem solving unless you're willing to take you know pretty drastic measures and change the nature of a city. Yeah and you know Deli has tried to do something about cars in the past. For example they have tried one of those odds and evens policies. Where people with an odd last digit on their license plate can drive on some days and then even last digits can drive on the others but it hasn't always been easy to convince people that policies like that are worth it. So that's why the specificity and the credibility of this data is so important. Know you really need to be able to back up your policy. Plans and policy plans needs to be very comprehensive and they need to be very convincing because a lot of people may be put out of work or are severely inconvenienced by the kind of changes that we to. We need to see. But you know. Cities have cleaned up there before. It's possible Beijing. For example used to have the worst air quality in the world But then that became something of an embarrassment when they were chosen to host the Olympics in two thousand eight where you can have that athletes like huffing and puffing the most toxic the world look for days and days on end. Yeah right right and so they put in you know all these really intense restrictions to clean up the air in time for the Games. The Olympics took place and when they were done all those restrictions were lifted and very quickly. The air went back to being as bad as it has had been before but but now people were unhappy about what it seemed impossible to ask for had proven to be possible to deliver deliver which was blue skies and clean air and to not live in the most polluted city in the world which was what. Beijing. What's so so now. There was a public outcry and the city responded to that public outcry staging tighten emission standards on trucks subsidized electric cars. They regulated traffic and congested areas and built a giant bike share program. They closed coal fire. Power plants and encouraged residents stop burning coal inside their homes twelve years later. Beijing is nowhere on the list of the worst polluted cities in the world. I don't even believe that it's in the top one hundred so the example of the Beijing Olympics doesn't just demonstrate that it is possible to improve the air but also demonstrates that people once they've experienced that it's doable will want that and can be moved to a month. That do you have hope that that something similar could happen India as with a lot of things right now. The hope is is non-negotiable but it's never felt more possible. That Indian cities could be liveable sane and healthy and so we. We've just got to hope that everyone can be brought around to realizing the necessity of this collective action just the way everyone has been brought around to realizing that with corona virus. I mean do you think it's interesting that you know we've seen people make the decision that you know Cova. Nineteen is a threat to public health so severe that we need to take these extremely severe actions. Like what is it about that? That's different than air pollution. You know like if the numbers show that air pollution is is also a public health crisis. Like what about what about a virus is easier to sort of? Wrap your head around as a public health problem than air pollution. I think I think that's a fascinating question and I think that It's something well worth investigating what it was that made us capable off of this really inspiring robust collective sacrifice that made us of this determination to to transform lives and escape this crisis just with the corona virus When in fact cities have been in a state of crisis? For a long time they've been practically unlivable and frankly unbearable for a long time and it never moved us to anything like this kind of collective effort. I mean as a society we just. We just process different types of risks so differently if I mean if we were just looking at the raw numbers of deaths you know we would never get an Ho car again right and you know just to be clear. The point I don't think is that we're overreacting to Kobe. Under reacting to all these other public health threats in part I would say I would argue because many of them have disproportionate impacts on poor people and people of color especially air pollution. You know if you have money and you live in a city like Delhi. You can take an uber from your air conditioned apartment here air conditioned office job But there are millions of people who can't afford to do that boot rather bike or walk around shop open air markets that those people are just breathing breathing. The air all the time so it's also just like an environmental justice issue. Yeah Yeah it's a huge environmental justice issue and and for my mind just like the best example of a underappreciated public health threat although I think that probably climate change is also another pretty good example of that too totally totally. I've been thinking about climate change a lot lately. I mean I'm always thinking about climate change but for now In Barbie because you know like corona virus it's a problem that demands collective global action and Rago Carnot's that he's been thinking about climate change a lot to these days. Yeah absolutely and you know. I don't make India San Special but when it comes to climate change we are in the front line because they're really parts of the country in you know in the interior where the increased heat is making fun liveable. If there's any country that should be confronting climate change as an emergency that we take on on a war footing as an emergency that makes anything possible in any measures acceptable Then this is that country and just like the other crises as as you mentioned. It's just never seemed justified. It's never it's never seemed justified to do something like this. Not even for climate change so remarkable. Yeah I guess like with climate change and with air pollution with all this. I think the story in India really raises for me. Just kind of this question of like. What are we going back to when we when we come out of all this like are we are we? We don't WanNa talk about silver linings when so much bad is happening but is are there things we can learn from the ways in which the world has been has been changed by this moment even in the weird ways in which it's been changed for the better totally? I don't think it diminishes the moment to treat the moment as having lessons for us in the future. I think that it would be a double tragedy if we went through this and learned nothing. So let's just take advantage of what we've learned about pandemics about air pollution about everything and trying to make the world better. Yeah it's all we can do you so we're now moving onto the next natural experiment which is presented by our producer. Joe Rosenberg Age. Oh so It's debut report. What kind of scientific study is on the precipice of advancement as a unexpected result of nineteen? I'm so glad you asked. Because for the past few days I have been delving into the very latest research being done at the very cutting edge of an exciting highly specialized scientific field. Orden's studies boredom studies. I mean I guess I guess everything's a thing but I didn't know that was the thing is a thing. Although even the boredom study experts themselves seemed to be surprised that it is a thing and that based on you know I think a little kid ever says like you know what I really want to do what I grow up. I WANNA study boredom so it it certainly. It was totally unplanned. This is Aaron West Gate. She's an assistant. Professor of social psychology at the University of Florida. And one of her. Specialties is Boorda. An Aaron says one good reason to study. Boredom is that for starters. Most people don't have the first clue about how boredom works including apparently they're on one of the fun things at helping aboard and researchers. Like when I meet someone that conversation usually goes like this. I Am Eric. What do you study? I study boredom and they go. Oh I never get bored and I always takes me back because I guess you do so funny is I was thinking the exact same thing. I never get bored. I'll you never get bored yet. You see this is. Aaron would preview wrong because this is her speciality she she gets this kind of evil genius thrill out of bringing unsuspecting people into the lab and figuring out ways to bore them to death. People hate my studies there. So bad like it's like they come. We do these debriefings at the end with wasn't and they just look at me and they're like that was the most boring thing I've ever done in inside I'm like Yes yes I'm so glad. So what is the most boring thing? Jasim do paradise pretty interested in How boring chicken make someone's life? Yeah no and that's the thing I think you know you say you don't get bored but the truth is like you have been presented like with boring tasks in life that you have no choice but to concentrate on So like maybe a video of a sidewalk like literally went for the ball. The sidewalk pointed down. And because you don't know it's a boredom study you expect something to happen but nothing happens or it will be something like you're you're gonNA play this air traffic control game where you get to direct traffic enough. Make sure all the planes land safely in the South Work and people are like Ok game but then like they make it really easy like they make it look like stoltifying Lee easy and in fact Aaron is so good at inducing boredom that her whole career started when she accidentally born some people while studying something slightly different. So what was that study? And how did it later to focus on boredom so a little more than five years ago? Aaron was running this study where they were trying to find out how much people enjoy being left alone with their own thoughts and so what they did is they gathered a bunch of participants in a lab and burst exposed them to a quick electric shock. It's nasty little electricity. Put around here ankle's kind of I was kind of feels like a cat like biting your With a cat dives out and attacks you and not. Surprisingly most participants said they did not like being shocked but then she says they told the same participants to just sit in this room. No magazines no phone and just enjoy being alone with their thoughts for a little while. Oh and by the way that little button that electrode are still hooked up if you if you want on the white one but if you want you can press the button and it will still deliver an electric shock. And then we simply left them in the room by themselves for it was actually fifteen minutes and waited to see what they would do and apparently one quarter of the women and I'm sad to report. Two thirds of the men chose to shock themselves and most people shot themselves multiple times. That is incredible. There is a one man. It was a man who shocked himself. I forget now as well over a hundred times. Can I just say that? That guy then back guy. He was definitely not board. Oh no he was having the time of his life he was like this is exactly what I always needed. But apparently a lot of the participants who shot themselves were not like that guy when asked why they did it they were just like I got bored and it was better than nothing. It's like you're in a waiting room. And there's a ten-year-old magazine actually reading it for the newly that we'd never read otherwise in a in a really boring setting you just go for it right and then like you can like a can devolve from there really done with the magazine now. You have is like the candy wrapper attritional information and then below. That is the electrode strapped to your ankle biting mud as well which I find kind of sad but Aaron Evil Genius that she is. She just thought like fascinating. It was magnificent wonderful puzzle and I got totally hooked and I sort of switched. Gears in early started investigating. What boredom is why we experienced. And what happens when we do so? Let's start with that first question. That's what is boredom because One of the things that makes this hard for me to picture what boredom studies are about is. What is the scientific basis of boredom like is there actually a distinct emotion that you can pin down and measure or is it just a word that actually means a variety of things? Well this is actually where things get really interesting because that is something. We're still trying to figure out. In some ways. Urine tests that in the last two decades there has been a growing consensus. That boredom is in fact a real emotion And just like other motions. It's not intrinsically good or bad much like pain it's a signal telling you something is amiss with your situation that needs to be changed somehow but when it comes to the question of what exactly is. Amiss in other words when it comes to errands second question. Why do we get bored? That's where the scientific consensus ends when you get down to the nitty gritty of what exactly is causing boredom. You're going to start finding a lot of disagreements so there folks for instance who preferred define boredom as just about attention. This is the attentional model. The idea being that get bored and when you're stuck doing something that requires only a little attention so the rest of your attentional capacities desperately looking for something else to do. In which case you just check out and the Task News on meeting. There's other folks that are like no no no no. You have it completely backwards. It's all about meaning if you have trouble paying attention to something in your board. It's because that wasn't meaningful and this is the meaning based mom and the meaning based model for an experienced to not be boring. It just needs to seem somehow worthwhile so you could do a challenging puzzle that requires the right amount of attention. But if you don't find it genuinely interesting It's still born or conversely something repetitive and simple but if you think it saving lives you won't get bored really interesting. I mean I think I kind of see how both models work I mean. It makes me wonder if entirely separate emotions or or I don't know it just seems like it's really hard to tell how you would know which one is true. Yeah exactly and Aaron works with a model that tries to incorporate both but this is where your original question is boredom just word actually comes back into play so for instance in French. The word fight. Boredom really alludes more to. It's like what we would think about this meaning components in German. The word for boredom emphasizes the since that time is slowing down which is a classic symptom of attentional boredom and in Japanese. There are in fact. Two different words for boredom loosely. Map onto these two different meetings and so is one of those cases where the sort of the word actually affects the meaning. They become sort of self fulfilling prophecies. Where IF YOU'RE FRENCH. You only get bored In in a meaningful way. If you're German you get bored and attentional way. We don't know yet and Aaron points out that even within English. There's this issue that the word boredom didn't even really exist before sixteen hundred and it's not clear to me. How much boredom is something? That is a problem of modality. I think there is very very limited data right now that speaks to this point at all so it strikes me that figuring this out is just a intellectual exercise because you know our understanding of boredom must have some kind of public health implications. Especially when you imagine you know like how we respond to beam board like as a culture like do we have a problem with boredom that make people you do bad things. That's a good question Because we know there is a correlation at least between people reporting being bored and things like depression anxiety substance abuse self harm but also should've education and social connections and exercise So this is one reason why errands third and final. Big Question is what do we do once? We're board And it turns out. It's also the question which Cova Nineteen and the quarantine might actually help us answer I can. I can see where this is heading. And there's a lot of people were born at home right now but but but laid out for me like what is he going to look at okay? So there's this big mystery right. How is boredom affecting US including one? We're bored do most of US start doing something healthy or something unhealthy and unfortunately for Aaron and other researchers the data on this is just all over the place for instance. There's some work that finds that experimentally inducing. Boorda increases pro social behavior. There's other work that finds that experimentally inducing Boorda increases antisocial behaviour. So which is it an an says that the thing getting way of good data and clear answer on this is which activities people turn to when board can be really hard to study in a lab setting for the simple reason that when you can find people to a lab. You can't actually give them that many options of things to do. So you're in the boring group. You're not you can shop yourself or not. You're in the born group. You're not you can eat a snack or not. And I don't know how useful that's going to be to us and understanding the effects of boredom in the real world where we often have many multiple options available to us and that question always kind of it hangs over you like does this. Does it matter who cares if you find an effect the lab if no one actually doesn't it in the real world so obviously there's this incentive to do studies outside of the lab in the real world but there was a problem with reality and it's the opposite of the problem with the lab which is people? Don't get bored enough. You know for better or worse. People are not that board all the time in everyday life I think the best estimates suggest people are born around five percent of the time Which isn't really that bad. If you calculate it it's about thirty minutes a day but thirty minutes. A day of boredom is probably not on one chunk. It separated out across time and this is because most people don't stay board for very long thanks to the structure of their daily life. They go back to work or school. Almost always very quickly. Something happens without them even having to think about it and they stopped being bored right. So the upshot is that you can either get people really bored in the lab but not see how they'd actually realistically behave or you could see how people realistically behaved boredom but out in the real world. They're actually rarely board for very long. So it's hard to catch them in the act so big exactly and this is where the coronavirus outbreak comes in because thanks to the quarantine people outside the lab in the real world are at long last more board more often than they've ever been before and for better we're certainly for worse for the people experiencing it better for me and my graduate student and my other fellow boredom researchers around the world yet go ahead be happy about halfway. We're thrilled I have not been people's born and has made sure that I have not been more these past few weeks hours and hours of glorious boredom to study. No Yeah. It's beautiful and so one of Aaron's doctoral students named Eugene. Lynn proposed. Doing this study to clear. This does not actually fit the formal definition of a natural experiment. So it's the boredom level isn't the only variable that's changed like like some of the House activities that people might turn to when they're bored or like off the table. Yeah but on. The plus sided is potentially getting people board in this kind of sustained way where they have to make up their own minds about what to do if they hope to be on board and so ends teams really curious to see what activities people choose and one way. They're doing that is they're having participants fill out this kind of daily survey of how they've been feeling what they've been up to in which they can choose from this checklist of possible activities and other researchers keep asking. Oh can you add this to the checklist? Can you add that to the checklist like Because there's so many questions that are people doing our people baking sour dough bread out of boredom or people buying games out of boredom are people as a whole set of quitter people hooking up becoming lovers with their roommates out aboard might what what's going on litter people doing and so they're looking into all sorts of things they're looking into whether there is a discrepancy between how people think they react boredom versus how they actually react boredom and also you know is born followed by maladaptive behaviors including breaking the quarantine but also they can record something. That by definition is almost impossible to record in the lab which is novelty seeking People trying things. They've never tried for men so I just recently I like I i. I asked her to send me a list of Sony's novel activities of people are try and it's in some ways it's very sweet so like spray painted a string of lights outside tried to new hair-color tried making my own music went under my house to look for a dead rat. Used my cats to help search for the rat But also watched a church sermon with my family something. We don't do very often helped my little brother set up a kite to find the front yard. Talk to a new person on fund ones I'm about to smoke weed. Eight eight slim. Jims for breakfast for the grim. Yeah some of these are you. Could you? Could you could classify as maladaptive behaviors so form and actually. I think it's you know we can joke about this. Like Oh were you know a were baking Brad? Oh we're doing this little thing and it may seem even kind of banal to us but to Aaron And her fellow researchers these are like these precious stones. You know these these precisely. These are the activities that they weren't able to study or a record recorded lab and now they're getting so we might not have the experimental control out in the world but we have something that's just as valuable which is reality. So they they have all the board of the lab but all the novelty possibilities of the real world. That's a really kind of amazing experiment to have Land at your feet. Yeah and for an gets back to these core questions. What is boredom? And what should we do with it? I think I always try to touch on is at boardrooms not good or bad except that we make it so that boredom is an important signal. It's healthy. It's adaptive. We would not get very far without it. Boorda make sure that we stay engaged in the world and it doesn't feel good but that's okay It just depends on how react to it in that way. Boredom is like all things. Yeah it's like everything else but we did some unique mysteries which in this weird unexpected accidental way. We just might learn a little bit more about super interesting. Well thanks so much to thank you room. Thank you so much to professor Arun West Gate in her doctoral student. Eugene Lynn at the University of Florida for helping us investigate the great mystery. Daddy learn more about their research. You can visit errands website at Aaron West Gate Dot Com where you can also volunteer to participate in one of her ongoing Kobe. Nineteen studies whether you're bored or not Erin wants to know now talking with Delaney Hall or senior editor and who is currently trapped in your home in Santa Fe with two children to children. I hope you cannot hear them screaming in the background. I actually sent everyone outside because working from your home. There's no sound isolation totally. There's there's no amount of foam padding that will protect you from from little short. It's just the way it is so so. How are you coping there with the children Well I've actually been spending a lot of time in a couple of different parenting related facebook groups where parents are commiserating with each other and sharing tips about how to get through this crazy time and I recently came across a post in one of those groups that got me thinking about this idea of the natural experiment the post was about vaccination which honestly is a subject that does not come up that often in this group. Yeah I mean there's always a hot button topic and even if you have strong scientific based feeling about the subject you just don't WanNa fight with strangers on the Internet about it. Yeah exactly but this post just went there you know head on and to paraphrase basically said we're all terrified of this disease that's going around and were living in lockdown and you know this is what life looks like without vaccines. This is how life used to be and the post really struck me like I. I've been thinking a lot about it. What aspect have you've been thinking about? Well the sentiments of the post represents my feelings like I cannot wait for a vaccine but it also made me wonder about people who are anti vaccination like how are they experiencing this moment as the pandemic unfolds. Our people's minds changing and so. I started looking around for a researcher who studies those issues. And who would have some insight into how a pandemic might influence people's attitudes about vaccines is a generation defining experience? My Dad's ninety five. He doesn't remember anything ever like this in his lifetime. This is Dr Bernice Houseman. And she leads the Department of Humanities within the Penn State College of Medicine. So it's almost like two big inexperience when you're in it to figure out how you're going to the study so what Dr Houseman. Studies is the history and meaning of anti vaccination sentiment. She looks at what vaccine dissenters actually believe. And why and more broadly. She's interested in medical controversies that spill over into the public realm and become social controversies interface between science and society. Right you have to work with people which means you're working with culture and tradition and ritual and history not just science if it were just science than there wouldn't be a controversy right. I mean this is a situation where the the scientific evidence shows that vaccines are really important like essential for public health but that hasn't changed the fact that there are people skeptical about right and if you understand the history of where that skepticism comes from and why it's so durable and how it connects to these very big ideas about individual freedom and state power. All of that helps you understand why the phenomenon continues today. Even in the middle of a global pandemic Roman. Do you want to hear some really disgusting early vaccination history absolutely okay? So the earliest method of immunization which dates back to the tents century was something called relation and it was used protect people against smallpox. And the way it worked is that you would scrape a little pus out of a smallpox blister and then scratch your arm and put the pus into the wounds or alternately. You could also take a scab from smallpox blister and then crush it up and suck it up your own nose with either method. The idea was that hopefully a mild and protective infection would result that idea that if they had a mild course of disease they would not be scarred and they would survive it had a pretty significant talapity rape but not as high as smallpox itsel and so after a while variation a spread from China and India where it originated into the West and eventually the practice gave way to vaccination in the late seventeen hundreds and English physician named Edward. Jenner made a vaccine for smallpox. That was based on. Cowpox are related animal infection and amazingly. That's actually where the word vaccination comes from. It's based on the Latin word VACA FOR COW. Okay so a lot of people welcomed the many new vaccines the began to develop from that point forward but there were also objections right from the start. Some of them based on the notion that you should not mess around with nature. It's always dangerous to mess around with nature and people who do so are punished. There was sort of anti scientific based on the notion of That naturally becoming ill is was preferable to being vaccinated there were perceptions of the dangers of vaccination so all of the same concerns that we see today a contemporary vaccination to set. You can see them. Historically and a big sticking point for a lot of people were vaccine mandates people hated the idea of the state requiring them to vaccinate which started happening pretty quickly Great Britain implemented compulsory vaccination in the mid eighteen hundreds and people actually rioted. I don't know I mean I think people when it comes to civil liberties they really think about the bodies the ultimate dividing line. You know that that. That's only there's but you can see why they would be required because you know you mandated vaccine because it only works a critical mass of people do it like you have to get that herd immunity going. Yeah Yeah exactly. And so it kind of presents. This catch twenty two. If didn't have the mandate you probably wouldn't have the movement. Because the mandate is what forces people who don't want to vaccinate toback sonate their children so our mandates the way to go. That is a really interesting question because it feels like mandates are both very American and very un-american in the sense that you know really have a tradition of individual personal liberty in this country and the notion that the state cannot make you do certain things and so i. I don't think the mandates are going away but I do think that we see the friction that they caused the political level so here in the US vaccine dissenters organized to challenge those mandates and then eventually in nineteen o five. There was a famous Supreme Court case. Which you actually covered on trump con couple of weeks ago. I know this this Jacobson versus Massachusetts which upheld the rights of states to enforce vaccination laws and it basically said that sometimes public welfare is more important than individual freedom. Right and even though the decision did allow for some exemptions. It was one of the things that really mobilized the anti vaccination movement in the US provided fuel and as time went on. Dr Hausman said that two broad groups of vaccine centers began to emerge. The one group is a sort of more ideologically anti vaccination group right there. So this is the group is against the Science of accession. They may use their own scientific evidence. There largely middle class educated people who believe that vaccination is dangerous or wrong in some way and then there's another group of people often working class people who object to the government's intrusion on the family. So these are people who believe the government should not be telling people what to do with their bodies. Kind of like you were talking about earlier that that that is the realm of the individual that is the realm of the family. And it's worth pointing out that. Sometimes this was for good reason you know working class. People in general had a harder time getting out of vaccination people with more money could just pay a fine and skip it so working class. People were often forced to do this thing that they objected to what you tend to see in United States at least is a mingling of arguments about freedom and about individual rights with the notion of bodily danger and this idea of bodily danger is really compelling to people Dr Housman Point. That was really interesting. She said that public support for vaccination is actually very fragile. Meaning that even if the benefits of vaccination for outweigh the risks all it takes for some people to abandon. It is just a small number of bad outcomes and so what are some examples of that so something that you can see? Historically is the power of media that highlights a few vivid worst case scenarios so Dr Houseman Traces. The modern anti vaccination movement the nineteen seventies and that was when parents started to express concerns about the original pertussis vaccine which caused high fevers and Febrile seizures in some children in the nineteen seventies. There was an increasing belief that it could cause some neurological damage. There was a paper that was published in Britain claiming that it actually did so. There is controversy about whether or not that paper is valid and in the early nineteen eighties. There was an influential. Tv news story called. Vaccine Roulette that highlighted some of these concerns it aired on a local NBC affiliate in Washington DC. It's a fact of life of all. Children must get four shots to go to school shots. We are told we'll keep our children healthy shots we are told. We'll protect every child from dread disease. Tusla's it's hooping cough but the DP tee shot can also damage to a devastating degree. The report caused a lot of controversy. In general it emphasized the risks of the vaccine while minimizing the dangers of the actual disease. And some of. It's more serious. Claims have since been debunked by research. The story gave a big platform for this group called dissatisfied parents together which would go on to become the National Vaccine Information Center and that's one of the biggest quote Unquote Vaccines Safety Organizations. In the country many people would call them. Antibac- sers another example. I'm thinking of in terms of like a single article that had outsized influence was the Andrew Wakefield does completely fraudulent paper that linked the two partisan which had no basis in anything but became the starting point. Yeah that one came out in nineteen ninety eight and it's been very damaging as you said. There's no link between autism but that association continues and it still motivates some vaccine refusal so those are a couple of the big moments that get us to where we are today so so now that we're in this moment where an infectious disease affects our daily lives like the corona virus pandemic. What is Dr Husband seen in these different movements? So right now she's just observing and formulating some questions. That might be interesting to investigate and to start with. She says that this is a really interesting. Time to be studying vaccination descent because what we're experiencing is really unprecedented. This is the first big worldwide pandemic of the vaccine era. We haven't had one since we've had all these vaccines that's really the case right. The last big pandemic like this was in nineteen eighteen. So what Dr House is doing is she's checking on. These online hubs like the National Vaccine Information Centre to see how their messaging around the issue of the Corona virus and among hardcore ideological anti vaccine. There is a lot of fear. People are seeing the government enact. These stay at home. Orders requiring businesses to close they see the heavy hand of government coming down and they are concerned about what might happen with respect to vaccines and is this going to embolden states to use these same powers to compel vaccine us. There's a whole set of concerns around that feeling like I've actually seen some of these manifesting in the protests against the state home orders and they're pretty small but they've been happening last couple of weeks and if you watch the footage you will see you know antitax sign age along with signs that talk about you know tyranny and needing haircuts and stuff like that you know. It seems to be part of that same worldview. Yeah it's in the mix at those protests and it just clear that the government orders have people quite worried. I came across this video. That a pastor who is also anti vaccination posted on twitter. Recently they will be sipping frosties in the lake of fire before the government ever gets greasy grimy hands on me and my family and forces us to take stupid implant or vaccination that. We don't believe I have a First Amendment right that allows me to reject it and say no I have a second amendment right that protects my first one and I have a God given right to tell you you have gone buck wild. The government is out of control in Christian Judy to wake up the sort of the mingling of fear about state power and anti vaccination seems to be kind of a natural mix. What's happening right now? Yeah I mean it is. It is not the case that the pandemic is causing really hard core anti vaccination people to rethink their views as perhaps naively thought. It would In fact it seems to be creating this environment where some people are really doubling down. I mean so I can imagine that the anti VACs pastor whose whole identity is wrapped up in this not budging but is there may be some people on the edges that might be a little wary of vaccines that when presented with a world in which a vaccine would greatly improve the quality of life. All around the world. I mean are. Are they moving at all? Dr Housman does think this experience will probably affect the views of people who are vaccine hesitant so so. They don't have super strong beliefs about vaccine. They're not connected to these communities and movements of vaccine dissenters but they are people who picked up a sense of unease about vaccination. She thinks that those people the hesitant people might in fact come around the idea that vaccination is a really good thing and in fact. There's this technology that she's keeping an eye on and this is more about the design of one of the potential corona virus. Vaccines so as you know. There are teams of researchers. All around the world looking for a vaccine and one of them is being developed at the University of Pittsburgh and one of the interesting things about their vaccine is. It's not given through a shot. It's given us a patch. It's this little patch that looks like a translucent square. So how does that work? I can't even imagine it. Yeah so you place it on your skin kind of like a band aid and then over the course of a few days. It delivers the vaccine to your body through these tiny little needles. So there's a number of reasons why this is really interesting technology. First of all a lot of people don't like shots second of all. There's some arguments that the skin is actually a better tissue for a vaccine. Absorption than intramuscular injection. But then there's this other reason which is more about the psychology of vaccines link about what it would mean. If you went to the doctor's office and the instead of giving your child shots they gave you like four patches and said okay over the next two weeks do him in this sequence and then you can see if there's an adverse reaction to one of them you're more in control as a parent and even if it's the same delivery of the same vaccines that totally changes your relationship to the entire process really interesting. I remember when my kids were born. There was a movement of among people who were like you know they were in favor of vaccination but felt maybe the memoir was too much vaccination at once and it would. Wouldn't it be great if they gave them one at a time for example and so this seems to like this ability to give you control and to sort of test and watch your child because your child is not like every other child? It's just your child and so they have a specific reaction to everything you can watch for. I can see why that would psychologically help people out who were having a problem. Yeah and you know as a parent I can understand the appeal to and I think Dr Housman is hoping that this might be the vaccine that actually gets developed in licensed because she wants to study that reaction. She wants to study. How the mechanism of delivery might change people's attitudes about the vaccine and what's interesting is ultimately what she's seen in. This moment displays a lot of the same dynamics. We've seen over and over again in history which is even when there is overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccines are good for public health. And we're getting a very real illustration of that right now doesn't necessarily mean that everyone just gets on board and so like I guess in order to have effective public health measures whether or not you agree or disagree. You just have to grapple with that have to figure out how to reach people. Yeah she said this super interesting thing towards the end of our conversation with science paste. Medicine is a tremendous advantage that we have in the modern world the fact that they could sequenced the genome of the corona virus. So quickly the fact that they're talking about a vaccine with an eighteen months to two years is is phenomenal right. All of that is based on advancements in medicine but the experience of the pandemic the social disruption that it has caused the difficulties of discrimination and Unequal Treatment. That the pandemic has uncovered. We already knew it but now we know it even more all of that is the realm the social world and all of that is much more difficult in some ways to handle another word. Science is the easy part you know and people are hard coming up experimenting with our city streets. Now that vehicular traffic is down and pedestrians are everywhere after this. We've all been looking at a lot of screens. And maybe as you scroll through your phone. Your tablet this has occurred to you like hey I could do that. I can make that. I could sell that. I could share my stuff to we. Don't have to just think about it. Let squarespace help you. Do it was base. You can take your ideas your content art products and you can turn them into a beautiful website with just a few clicks. This is because they're easy to use ten points created by world designers. And they give you the ability to customize your look and feel and settings to serve your own needs even on mobile eased up date to take my sight. Roman Mars Dot Com. I've a page that talks about booking me for speaking events in back when the world had things like speaking events and gatherings of people and I realized I hadn't updated the Info that I've been the host of both the AA in the national conferences. So I logged on added that little detail hit save and boom. It was done. Try It for yourself good squarespace dot com slash invisible for a free trial in new radio. Launch us the offer invisible to save ten percents off your first purchase of a website or domain ninety nine percent invisible is supported by our friends at rocket mortgage by quicken loans. Home today is so much more than it was yesterday but at rocket mortgage home is still all about you during these challenging times. We're all experiencing the top priority. Rocket Mortgage is the health and safety of the communities they serve and while things are changing quickly every day. One thing that will never change is their teams commitment to giving you the best mortgage experience possible. That's why if you need mortgage support. Their team of experts is answer questions and offer solutions. They understand that hardships happen. And they're here to help with that. Means saving money on your mortgage or finding a new way to navigate payments. They know how important your home is to you because you are important to them. If you need mortgage assistance the homeowner experts at rocket mortgage or available to help twenty four seven from their home to yours. The team at rocket mortgage is with you visit rocket mortgage dot com slash nine nine. That's the number nine nine rocketmortgage dot com slash nine nine to learn more call for cost information and conditions equal housing lender licensed in all fifty states and M L S Consumer Access Dot Org number thirty thirty so our city of Oakland made its way into the national news recently for a policy initiative that I think are EST. Fans will probably appreciate that they banned cars. That's right I mean they ban guards on a lot of streets. I mean that's that's it was really remarkable. Yeah I mean it wasn't all cars and it an all streets but the measure came in response to crowding concerns that they were seeing at local parks. And around Lake Merritt downtown. You know. We're all cooped up in her houses in the streets. The one where we can go for a walk or a run but with everyone doing that. It's creating problems he over sorta encountering each other on the sidewalk and making a decision ahead. Having this little dance. Who's GONNA walk out onto the street? Who's going to cross over the street? This is Ryan Rousseau Director of the Oakland Department of Transportation. Someone going Iran Zang okay. They don't want me to go down to the lake where normally run run in the neighborhood. But I don't WanNA breathe heavy on people on the sidewalks. Do that in the street to I don't know about you but I've I've been going on a lot of runs these days wearing a mask and I've just decided that the safest way is just to go right down the middle of the road. Most sidewalks are less than six feet across. So there's just not enough room to safely share one with another pedestrian and the city of Oakland decided with that in mind just to to close a whole bunch of streets to car is to give people more room right and it's like dozens of miles of streets right. Yes the city already. Has This network of of what they call. Bike boulevards And that's about seventy four miles. Total intend to already be low traffic volume but connect you to things in the neighborhoods. They actually get you places. It's not just a cul de sac in what we are doing is selecting from now seventy four miles well which ones should get soft closure your treatments soft closures. Meaning that they're basically throwing up a temporary roadblock And a five mile per hour sign. The streets are still open to people who live there delivery trucks and emergency vehicles but otherwise the street is for pedestrians and bicyclists and little kids on scooters and dad's doing jump rope. I mean I mean what's what's interesting about. This is that In a lot of our have wanted this for a long time pandemic are no pandemic and th they wanted to see the streets you know used for purposes other than driving right right. I mean we've we've talked about this a lot on the show And so I I asked Ryan Russillo whether this policy was was part of a larger transportation vision that he had for the city. What we're doing now is focused on helping. Oakland Agnes moment and that is number one. That said we're learning. We can't help but learn from observing how that's going and while we're taking quick action. We're not doing something. That's particularly expensive or permanent. So if it's not working it's quite easy to pick up the barricades with Zayn strapped to them and and adjust what we're doing. Yeah there any way that any chance that you know when this is all over. Some of these streets might stay slow streets. I think that with the work. We're doing on Oakland slow streets. We're focused on keeping people safe now. I do think it's a great experiment. And as we hear from our communities like hey that was working or that wasn't we're GONNA WE'RE GONNA have our ear the ground for that and will responds accordingly. That sounds like a definite. Maybe yeah I think it's I think we got maybe But I wanted to talk with an urban about this and so our area. She's the editorial director for the transportation. Think tanks spur And she said she's really encouraged by what's happening in Oakland. Shown is one you can do these really fast. Just set up a bunch of linear likely instead of having a hundred committee meetings over how horrible this is. GonNa pay and no one's GONNA use the all the other arguments that people make just doing and it will come to light that like this street. Didn't make the most sense but this one's really working and I'm the only way to do it. Try and to just be able to like throw something ground Is Great and she says that you know throughout history moments of crisis have also been moments of experimentation inside cities chances for cities to try things out try to make themselves better more livable. Right I mean like I. It took Chicago burning to the ground. Two totally remake the grid of Chicago and and even like Sort of like more into what's happening now. I mean Central Park in New York Came about partially reaction to the cholera epidemics of the nineteenth century. We need more space for people to be exist. Yeah Yeah and even more recently. Just look at the last recession which is obviously terrible for cities but it also gave rise to all these tactical urbanism projects in cities like San Francisco. That's why we have all these park leads. That's why we have. The proxy Shipping Container Project used a lot that like no one can afford to develop and turned it into the public space and that stuff has stayed around and some cities around the world are already planning to use this crisis as a chance to remake themselves. Milan just announced that they would use this summer to transform miles of streets into spaces for pedestrians. Bicyclists and Allison is hope that in Oakland and elsewhere in this country be some of these experiments in traffic reduction might stick. I think people are still figuring out but ultimately I think this is a huge indicator of how much more space we could give to To the public and. I'm not going to say like Oh. There will be no cars in our post future but hopefully people will understand how it actually feels quite liberating to walk down the street. Ninety nine percent invisible was produced this week by Emmett. Fitz Gerald Delaney. Home in Joe Rosenberg. Mix and tech production by Shreve with music by Sean Real Katie. Mingled is the senior producer. Kirk Kolstad is the digital director. Is Chris Ruben? Sophia Class Ker. Vivian and me Roman Mars special this week to Ragu Karnad who's piece in the New Yorker inspired our segment on air pollution in India. We are a project of ninety one point seven. Klw In San Francisco and produced on radio row. Which is distributed in multiple locations around the East Bay but in our heart will always be in beautiful downtown Oakland California. We are proud member of radio. Pierre from Pierre. Fiercely independent collective of the most innovative listener supported podcasts in the world from the mall and Radio Topi Dot. Fm You can find the show join discussions about the show on facebook. You can tweet me at Roman Mars and the show at ninety nine Peoria on instagram and read it to you can learn more about all the research we talked about today at nine P. I dot Org

Coming up next