PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

He Predicted the Dark Side of the Internet 30 Years Ago. Why Did No One Listen? (Maria)

The author writes, “In 1994 — before most Americans had an email address or internet access or even a personal computer — Philip Agre foresaw that computers would one day facilitate the mass collection of data on everything in society. That process would change and simplify human behavior, wrote the then UCLA humanities professor. … He foresaw the authoritarian misuse of facial recognition technology, he predicted our inability to resist well-crafted disinformation and he foretold that artificial intelligence would be put to dark uses if not subjected to moral and philosophical inquiry. Then, in 2009, he simply dropped off the face of the Earth.”

California Is Doing Much Better With the Delta Variant Than Florida, Texas (Reader Steve)

The author writes, “Despite a significant surge in both coronavirus cases and hospitalizations this summer, California so far has managed to avoid the sky-high infection rates and increasingly overcrowded hospitals some other states are now experiencing. California’s coronavirus case rate remains below the national average and significantly less than that of Florida and Texas: two common points of comparison given their population size and distinctly different pandemic responses. Experts say California’s better-than-average vaccination rates and newly implemented mandatory mask policies in parts of the state have helped prevent a more grim situation.”

Deep Dive Into Stupid: Meet the Growing Group That Rejects Germ Theory (Mili)

From Ars Technica: “Listen up, sheeple: COVID-19 doesn’t exist. Viruses don’t cause disease, and they aren’t contagious. Those doctors and health experts who say otherwise don’t know what they’re talking about; the real experts are on Facebook. And they’re saying it loud and clear: the pandemic is caused by your own deplorable life choices, like eating meat or pasta. Any ‘COVID’ symptoms you might experience are actually the result of toxic lifestyle exposures — and you have only yourself to blame. As idiotic and abhorrent as all of the above is, it’s not an exaggeration of the messages being spread by a growing group of Darwin Award finalists on the Internet — that is, germ theory denialists. Yes, you read that correctly: germ theory denialists — also known as people who don’t believe that pathogenic viruses and bacteria can cause disease.”

Andrew Cuomo Resigned Because the Democrats Aren’t a Cult (Dana)

From The Bulwark: “New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has resigned, thereby demonstrating once again the benefits a political party accrues from not being a cult. Let’s stipulate to a few things: Cuomo probably did at least some of what he was accused of — and he seems to be admitting as such by saying that he’d ‘made mistakes.’ Also, the Democratic-controlled New York Assembly, which was already part-way through an impeachment process against him, probably made it clear that, unless he resigned, he would be removed.”

Suburbs of Surveillance (Dan)

The authors write, “Law enforcement officials are encouraging private homeowners’ associations to install license plate reader cameras from startup Flock Safety. But are they really keeping neighborhoods safer?”

One of the Coldest Places on Earth Is on Fire (Russ)

From The Wall Street Journal: “The smoke from the fires in Russia’s northeast is so thick it has blotted out the sun, plunging swaths of the region into darkness during the brief summer. A state of emergency has been declared in the city of Yakutsk, where freezing winter temperatures have given it the reputation of being the coldest constantly inhabited city on the planet. Residents have been told to stay indoors while volunteers and firefighters brave temperatures surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Mathematician Hannah Fry: ‘I’m Sure There’s Lots of Tutting — But Not to My Face’ (Sean)

The author writes, “In a blur of flame-red hair, fizzy enthusiasm and effusive apologies, Hannah Fry arrives a little late at Little Social, a modish restaurant just off London’s Regent Street. We had hit on the bistro to meet because it was close to the Liberty department store, where Fry was due to have her ears pierced. I ask her whether this has indeed happened. It has, but on an earlier visit. Then, she drops some shocking news. ‘The actual truth of it is that I was really sick earlier this year, I had cancer,’ she says. A routine smear test had flagged cervical cancer necessitating radical surgery and several weeks of recuperation. ‘It was very close to being very bad but I got really lucky. I got away with it,’ she says.”

Macaques at Japan Reserve Get First Alpha Female in 70-Year History (Dana)

The author writes, “In a rarely seen phenomenon in the simian world, a nine-year-old female known as Yakei has become the boss of a 677-strong troop of Japanese macaque monkeys at a nature reserve on the island of Kyushu in Japan. Yakei’s path to the top began in April when she beat up her own mother to become the alpha female of the troop at the Takasakiyama natural zoological garden in Oita city. While that would have been the pinnacle for most female monkeys, Yakei decided to throw her 10kg weight around among the males. In late June, she challenged and roughed up Sanchu, the 31-year-old alpha male who had been leader of ‘troop B’ at the reserve for five years.”

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