Stop calling them “accidents”

“In the new book There Are No Accidents, author Jessie Singer argues that basically everything we consider to be an “accident” — be it car accidents or fatal fires or workplace injuries — are in fact not accidents at all. Humans, Singer writes, make mistakes all the time, but it’s the dangerous conditions in our built environments that result in fatal consequences. Larger systemic forces, shaped by corporations and governments, intersect to create vulnerabilities that we don’t all share equally. Anticipating and reducing those opportunities for human error is the key to preventing needless death.”

“When we talk about accidental death, what we’re talking about is unintended, injury-related death, not violence and not disease. There is a huge swath of ways that people die, from choking, to falls, to drowning, to traffic crashes, to fires, to poisoning, to drug overdoses. It is a massive category that includes much more obscure and unlikely ways to die, like freezing to death or starving to death, which of course still do happen.
These are all considered accidents. But there are racialized and economic differences in some accidental deaths — they’re not universal. Indigenous people are more than twice as likely as white people to be killed by a car crossing the street, and Black people are more than twice as likely to die in an accidental house fire than white people. There’s quite a bit of conditional exposure in whether or not a house fire is deadly, whether or not a traffic crash is deadly. It has to do with different layers of exposure, and that layered causality is really important.

If you’re driving an old car, you’re more likely to die in a traffic crash. If someone is driving a much bigger car than you or if you live in a low-income neighborhood where they’re not repairing the roads, you’re also more likely to die. And if you’re in a scenario where all three of those factors are interacting and maybe there are other factors too, like your local hospital recently closed, which means you’re farther away from emergency medical services — all of these layers contribute to whether or not we survive our mistakes. Certain people have less opportunities to survive their mistakes.”

“We should also be advocating on the federal level to rebuild the social safety net so people don’t have to make bad decisions. Pay people money to protect themselves, to drive a safer car, to not take the most dangerous job or live in the least-safe place. There’s also so much you can do locally. There are a million ways to prevent accidental death. In your neighborhood, you can advocate for traffic calming and public transit expansions, because if you don’t have to drive a car, you are much safer. If you’re able to take a bus or a train, that makes you more likely to survive your trip from point A to point B.

You can advocate for safe injection sites, and the free distribution of Naloxone and syringes. Simply making them accessible without stigma will not only prevent accidental overdose, but will prevent the accidental transmission of diseases. You can fight for in-your-home and in-your-office ADA accessibility, like ramps and grab bars, so an accidental fall is less likely to end in death.

This even extends to much less-common causes of accidental death, like fighting for fire safety requirements like sprinklers and self-closing doors in apartment buildings in the city you live in. It means that when someone makes the mistake of lighting something on fire, it’s less likely to kill people. As long as we can stop focusing on the last person who made a mistake, as long as we can accept that mistakes are inevitable but premature death is not, we can do so much to protect each other.”

MIT Reinstates Standardized Testing Requirements for Admissions

“the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced that it would reinstate its SAT/ACT test requirement for applicants. In a departure from the trends set by other elite universities, MIT rolled back its admissions policy, implemented in the 2020–2021 admissions cycle, which made standardized test scores optional. Administrators cited key issues with “holistic” admissions standards, an increasingly popular method of equitably distributing open spots to students regardless of how well they perform on standardized tests.

In a statement explaining the decision, MIT Dean of Admissions and Student Financial Services Stu Schmill noted that MIT’s “research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants, and also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT.”

Without an objective measure like a standardized test, low-income students—who may not have equal access to other pieces of the holistic pie, such as a plethora of Advanced Placement (A.P.) classes or numerous extracurriculars—have a harder time proving that they are academically prepared for an MIT education. A move that was intended to increase diversity and help low-income students, as it turns out, mostly helps low-scoring wealthy students—and makes it harder to identify talented yet underprivileged applicants.

MIT now distinguishes itself from other elite universities, a spate of which have removed their SAT and ACT requirements in recent years, primarily citing COVID-19 and diversity-related justifications for the policy change.

The original logic of such policies is based on the idea that SAT and ACT scores correlate strongly with income, which suggests that students from poorer households are denied admission to competitive schools solely because they can’t afford to ace the SATs.

However, omitting standardized test scores makes all applicants reliant on application materials that correlate even more highly with income, such as admissions essays. A 2021 Stanford study found that essays are actually more strongly correlated with household income than SAT scores. Thus, by omitting one income-correlated metric, one that is even more closely related to income takes prominence.

While wealthy parents can pay for test prep, they can’t take a standardized test for their children (well, almost never). However, with essay coaches and college counselors at their disposal, many wealthy students’ college essays can be manicured to fit exactly what schools are looking for.”

What we talk about when we talk about gentrification

“Racial and income segregation locks low-income people in a trap of concentrated poverty. The best schools are relegated to the highest-income neighborhoods, good jobs often exist in either exclusive or gentrifying neighborhoods, and businesses are less willing to take root in an area of concentrated poverty because there are fewer customers. All of this is a vicious cycle that traps low-income Americans. It also hinders their ability to foster growth on their own because financial insecurity makes people transient and lacking in time and energy to build community.

Meanwhile, homeowners in well-off neighborhoods have cemented systems of local control through rules like exclusionary zoning to keep their neighborhoods prohibitively expensive for lower-income Americans, including many Black and brown Americans.

Zoning laws are the rules and regulations that decide what types of homes can be built where. While this can sound innocuous, exclusionary zoning is anything but. These rules have a dark history in the United States as a tool of racial and economic segregation, used explicitly to keep certain races, religions, and nationalities out of certain neighborhoods. And while the explicit racism has been wiped from the legal text, the effect of many of these rules remains the same: keeping affordable housing and the people who need it away from the wealthiest Americans.

City by city, the message is clear: Segregation and concentrated poverty are the true blights of urban life, despite our fascination with gentrification.”

Covid-19 isn’t the reason that US life expectancy is stagnating

“The stagnation in life expectancy isn’t due to some natural limit of human lifespans. In 2019, life expectancy was 84.4 in Japan, 83 in France, and 81 in the United Kingdom and Germany. The US, with its life expectancy of 78.8 years, was already lagging before the pandemic.”

“The relatively poor health of the US is rooted in “fundamental causes,” according to epidemiologists Bruce Link and Jo Phelan. These are the social conditions like economic inequality and racial segregation that worsen some illnesses and reduce access to health care. In the US, solutions could also include policies that replace jobs in towns and cities that have been hollowed out by globalization and deindustrialization. The dignity of meaningful work can improve health.
Of course, we should not ignore the gains that can be made within medicine. I don’t mean high-profile technological advances that will make headlines or boost the bottom line of new biotech startups. I mean routine and preventive care that can detect disease early, help get patients into treatment, and provide a trusted source of medical advice.

Rather than wringing our hands about the Covid-19 life-expectancy dip, the US should be passing laws and expanding programs that draw medical workers into primary and preventive care, not least by paying them more. This is especially true in rural areas with aging populations and a shortage of doctors. Training more Black doctors, especially in obstetrics and gynecology, may lead to dramatic improvements in the shamefully bad maternal health outcomes among Black women in the US.

By focusing on one historical measure of years lost to the pandemic, we run the risk of dwelling on what we can’t change and ignoring what we can improve. If you want the next generation to live longer and healthier lives, one of the best things you can do is push for economic and health care policies that reduce economic and racial inequality, and help ensure that every person has access to the kind of world-class, routine health care that saves lives. Let’s give the demographers of 2110 something to celebrate.”