In our Five Studies column, “Hazards Ahead,” Richard McNally, a psychology professor and the director of clinical training at Harvard’s Department of Psychology, points out that trigger warnings—the alerts you see online and that are spreading to college syllabi—might actually be counterproductive for trauma victims. “Trigger warnings themselves are a gestural Band-Aid,” he says. “If someone is expressing intense distress when they encounter topics in a classroom, that itself should be a signal to the person to seek the type of help that will help them master that distress, so that things taught in a class don’t provoke this type of suffering.”
Amanda Wilson was born and raised not far from the town of Kannapolis, North Carolina, the subject of our economics essay, “Sequenced in the U.S.A.” When Wilson was growing up, the textile industry was the lifeblood of the region. Then everything changed. “Most of the mills closed while I was away at school,” she says. Kannapolis was dealt a particularly catastrophic blow, losing 4,300 jobs in a single day. The town’s unlikely transformation into a biomedical research hub—and an ensuing research effort to collect blood, urine, and health data from a third of the adults in the area—became a subject of fascination for Wilson, who was living in Europe at the time. “This story was, at least on some level, part of what was pulling me home.”
"She calls it militant anthropology. She’s been extremely influential in her field, but I really wonder if what she does can be taught. Her style of research is so much an expression of her personality and sensibilities; it’s not replicable."
About his profile subject, University of California-Berkeley anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes (“The Organ Detective”), Ethan Watters says, “She calls it militant anthropology. She’s been extremely influential in her field, but I really wonder if what she does can be taught. Her style of research is so much an expression of her personality and sensibilities; it’s not replicable. While I wouldn’t advise a grad student to follow in her footsteps, I couldn’t help but be impressed by her force of will.” Watters is a contributing editor to this magazine, and has written for the New York Times Magazine, Wired, Mother Jones, and other publications. He’s also the author of Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner had been living in Los Angeles for nine years when she first took the plunge and tried Botox to alleviate her depression. (“Botox Nation.”) “It wasn’t even an aging thing,” says Brodesser-Akner, who has written for the New York Times Magazine, Playboy, and GQ. “I was the only person I knew doing it who thought it was a big deal.” She found a long history behind the idea that facial expressions can influence emotional state. Still, Brodesser-Akner had reservations: “When you start visibly aging is just when you have earned a place in the world where your opinions are valuable. Instead of expressing all that, you mute it. Why?”
In a field known for its abrasive personalities, Wen Shen, a surgeon at the University of California-San Francisco, says he is “way more on the sunshiny part of the spectrum.” But in his story, “Bloody Nice,” he worries that the increasing emphasis on gentleness in his profession will compromise the icy confidence that has traditionally fortified the best surgeons. “I see a lot of positive changes, but I also see that we’re not quite sure what we want to be,” says Shen, who is working on a book about the history and evolution of the surgical personality. “In an ideal world, all surgeons would be kind and skilled. But it can be hard to have both in the same package.”
This post originally appeared in the July/August 2014 print issue ofPacific Standardas “Contributors.” Subscribe to our bimonthly magazine for more coverage of the science of society.