New religion: How the emphasis on ‘clean eating’ has created a moral hierarchy for food.

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New religion: How the emphasis on ‘clean eating’ has created a moral hierarchy for food.

Part of a series showcasing the research at the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences conference from May 30-June 5 at the University of Ottawa.

When a vegan friend opened her fridge door, Gillian McCann could sense his disgust at the milk on the shelf.

“He never said it, but it definitely felt like it was polluting the … space,” she says.

McCann, a professor of religion and culture at Nipissing University in northern Ontario, says she is just as guilty of food snobbery. The vegetarian admits she would be grossed out to find a hunk of meat too close to her salad in the fridge.

But if their kitchen skirmish sounds like just more fodder for a Portlandia skit, it also points to a larger, more troubling, trend.

McCann is one of several academics presenting papers at next week’s Congress of the Humanities & Social Sciences in Ottawa looking at how the explosion of “clean eating” — whether raw food and juicing, the paelo diet, gluten-free regimens or fervent veganism — has created a moral hierarchy for food.

She argues that the rise in food movements has coincided with a decline of religion in society, with many people seeking familiar values such as purity, ethics, goodness. But these movements also tend to encourage behaviours that have steered a generation away from religion: Judgment, self-righteousness, an us-versus-them mentality. And, she adds, many seek a fulfilment that cannot be satisfied with food.

The relationship between food and virtue has deep roots. A bite from that apple in Eden, after all, was Eve’s fatal moral choice. Muslims and Jews avoid pork. Many Hindus and Rastafarians are vegetarian.

But while most of us have ditched traditional dietary restrictions, there is still a tendency in the broader culture to apply moral values to food choices, American philosophy and religion professor Alan Levinovitz argues in his new book, The Gluten Lie and Other Myths About What You Eat.

The way we categorize foods as virtuous or polluting is complex. For example, as Levinovitz explained in an interview with The Atlantic this month, “people thought sugar was bad in the late 1700s” almost as soon as it was introduced. This is because it was considered pleasurable and thus tantamount to sin, even as the sweetness of honey, considered more “natural,” was not.

As religion has declined, though, McCann argues that our obsession with the purity of what’s on our plate has grown. “It’s largely unconscious,” she says, but is motivated by a sort of “religious impulse” that goes unrecognized.

The fervour over what is considered “good” or “bad” food can have a Messianic tinge. Sorting out how we should eat seems to become ever more fraught: is it enough to eat food that is generally healthy? Does it also need to be environmentally sustainable? Is limited meat intake okay or do we need to abstain completely to be virtuous eaters?

Christiane Bailey, who is a PhD student of philosophy at the University of Montreal, believes eating meat, however sustainably farmed and humanely killed, is misguided. She is presenting another paper at next week’s meeting arguing veganism is the only way Canadians can be true ethical eaters. The researcher says it is “privileged and ignorant” to eat even an animal that has supposedly led a “happy” life on a farm, or even its byproducts.

But what she describes as a fight against “injustices” done to animals inadvertently pits her against other eaters, a dynamic McCann notes in her presentation.

“If you think you’re the pure, someone else is impure,” she says. The more self-righteous we are about what we eat — because it’s ethical or healthy or local — the more we also tend to judge others on what they eat. Or worse, who they are.

There’s a reason someone says ‘I am a vegetarian,’ rather than ‘I eat vegetarian.’

“It feels like virtue,” says McCann. “‘I am a virtuous person, I’m controlling my body, I’m disciplining my body [and] you’re not.’”

Part of the appeal of virtuous eating is it offers us a sense of control in an overwhelming world, says Helen Zoe Veit, a professor at Michigan State University and the author of Modern Food, Moral Food.

“In the last 30 or 40 years, there has been a strong sense that ethical eating is one of the most powerful things individuals can do to effect positive change,” she says in an email.

If someone religious came up and talked to you like that, you wouldn’t take it. But when it’s about food, you’re at a loss

But much of what we consider “good” eating is not about “ethics in any conventional sense, but instead (is) mainly about personal health and esthetics,” she notes, pointing to paleo and gluten-free diets.

“Feeling morally righteous about food choices makes sense when people are giving up desired foods in order to slow climate change or prevent the abuse of workers or animals. When people also feel morally righteous about dietary choices that are primarily about the body and the self, it hints that part of North Americans’ enduring interest in dietary trends is the idea that giving up desired foods is a virtuous act in its own right.”

Courtesy of Nipissing University

Not everyone has the luxury of food choice, or the individual agency to make that “moral” decision to live a healthy, active life.

Elisabeth Harrison, a PhD candidate at York University in Toronto who is also speaking at the meeting, argues for many people, eating behaviours are beyond personal control. Not everyone has the money to, say, buy organic. Pushing the health agenda without looking at larger social forces, she believes, is akin to “health fascism.”

For her part, McCann says she tries to keep self-righteousness about her vegetarianism in check — and not to eye-roll her friends when they cast silent judgment about the contents of her fridge.

“I think it’s so underground it’s hard to call it anymore,” she says of sermons about ethical food.

“If someone religious came up and talked to you like that, you wouldn’t take it. But when it’s about food, you’re kind of at a loss, you’re like ‘I can’t even engage on this,’ because, in a sense, they’re right.’”


Building a peace accord between computer scientists and social science.

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Building a peace accord between computer scientists and social science.

AS A COMPUTER science PhD student, I am a disciple of big data. I see no ground too sacred for statistics: I have used it to study everything from sex to Shakespeare, and earned angry retorts for these attempts to render the ineffable mathematical. At Stanford I was given, as a teenager, weapons both elegant and lethal—algorithms that could pick out the terrorists most worth targeting in a network, detect someone’s dissatisfaction with the government from their online writing.

Computer science is wondrous. The problem is that many people in Silicon Valley believe that it is all that matters. You see this when recruiters at career fairs make it clear they’re only interested in the computer scientists; in the salary gap between engineering and non-engineering students; in the quizzical looks humanities students get when they dare to reveal their majors. I’ve watched brilliant computer scientists display such woeful ignorance of the populations they were studying that I laughed in their faces. I’ve watched military scientists present their lethal innovations with childlike enthusiasm while making no mention of whom the weapons are being used on. There are few things scarier than a scientist who can give an academic talk on how to shoot a human being but can’t reason about whether you should be shooting them at all.

The fact that so many computer scientists are ignorant or disdainful of non-technical approaches is worrisome because in my work, I’m constantly confronting questions that can’t be answered with code. When I coded at Coursera, an online education company, I developed an algorithm that would recommend classes to people in part based on their gender. But the company decided not to use it when we discovered it would push women away from computer science classes.

It turns out that this effect—where algorithms entrench societal disparities—is one that occurs in domains from criminal justice to credit scoring. This is a difficult dilemma: In criminal justice, for example, you’re confronted with the fact that an algorithm that fulfills basic statistical desiderata is also a lot more likely to rate black defendants as high-risk even when they will not go on to commit another crime.

I don’t have a solution to this problem. I do know, however, that I won’t find it in my algorithms textbook; I’m far more likely to find relevant facts in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s work on systemic discrimination or Michelle Alexander’s on mass incarceration.

My personal coding projects have presented similarly thorny ethical questions. Should I write a computer program that will download the communications of thousands of teenagers suffering from eating disorders posted on an anorexia advice website? Write a program to post anonymous, suicidal messages on hundreds of college forums to see which colleges offer the most support? My answer to these questions, incidentally, was “no”. But I considered it. And the glory and peril of computers is that they magnify the impact of your whims: an impulse becomes a program that can hurt thousands of people.

Perhaps it’s more efficient to allow computer scientists to do what we’re best at—writing code—and have other people regulate our products? This is insufficient. Coders push products out at blinding speed, often cloaked in industry secrecy; by the time legislation catches up, millions of people could be harmed. Ethics training is required for professionals in other fields in part because it’s important for doctors and lawyers to be able to act ethically even when no one’s looking over their shoulders. Further, computer scientists need to help craft regulations because they have the necessary technical expertise; it’s hard to regulate algorithmic bias in word embeddings if you have no idea what a word embedding is.

Here are some steps forward. Universities should start with broader training for computer science students. I contacted eight of the top undergraduate programs in computer science, and found that most do not require students to take a course on ethical and social issues in computer science (although some offer optional courses). Such courses are hard to teach well. Computer scientists often don’t take them seriously, are uncomfortable with non-quantitative thinking, are overconfident because they’re mathematically brilliant, or are convinced that utilitarianism is the answer to everything. But universities need to try. Professors need to scare their students, to make them feel they’ve been given the skills not just to get rich but to wreck lives; they need to humble them, to make them realize that however good they might be at math, there’s still so much they don’t know.

A more socially focused curriculum would not only make coders less likely to cause harm; it might also make them more likely to do good. Top schools squander far too much of their technical talent on socially useless, high-paying pursuits like algorithmic trading. As Andrew Ng, a Stanford computer scientist, admonished a roomful of Stanford students he was trying to recruit to Coursera: “You have to ask yourself, why did I study computer science? And for a lot of students, the answer seems to be, so I can design the latest social media app…I believe we can build things that are more meaningful than that.”

There are many steps tech companies should take as well. Organizations should explore the social and ethical issues their products create: Google and Microsoft deserve credit for researching algorithmic discrimination, for example, and Facebook for investigating echo chambers. Make it easier for external researchers to evaluate the impacts of your products: be transparent about how your algorithms work and provide access to data under appropriate data use agreements. (Researchers also need to be allowed to audit algorithms without being prosecuted.) Ask social or ethical questions in hiring interviews, not just algorithmic ones; if hiring managers asked, students would learn how to answer them. (Microsoft’s CEO was once asked, in a technical interview, what he would do if he saw a baby lying in an intersection: the obvious answer to pick up the baby did not occur to him).

Companies should hire the people harmed or excluded by their products: whose faces their computer vision systems don’t recognize and smiles their emojis don’t capture, whose resumes they rank as less relevant and whose housing options they limit, who are mobbed by online trolls they helped organize and do little to control. Hire non-computer-scientists, and bring them in for lunchtime talks; have them challenge the worldviews of the workforce.

It’s possible that listening to non-computer scientists will slow the Silicon Valley machine: Diverse worldviews can produce argument. But slowing down in places where reasonable people can disagree is a good thing. In an era where even elections are won and lost on digital battlefields, tech companies need to move less fast and break fewer things.


Can a font save your life?

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Can a font save your life?

After decades of issuing forecasts in ALL CAPS, in the spring of 2016, the US National Weather Service said it would start using both uppercase and lowercase letters, allowing it to better emphasize important information like tornado warnings and hurricanes.

Lena Groeger is a designer and journalist who wrote How Typography Can Save Your Life for ProPublica in which she argues that the design of a typeface can actually be an issue of life and death.

Take highway signs, for example.

How easy they are to read at night, in bad weather, or just in general can make a minor difference: getting in the right lane for an exit.

Or it could make a major difference: like avoiding an accident.

Over the last several decades, the typefaces on US highway signs have been replaced with an easier-to-read font, as shown in the picture above.

Typeface choice and style is also important, Lena says, because it can help or hinder you from extracting important information from a block of text.

Consider the green picture below.

An example of how difficult it is to read all-caps text versus sentence case text. (Lena Groeger)

Most people find the sentence-case version of the text, on the bottom, easier to read, says Lena.

Which is the the reason why the US National Weather Service announced that it was changing its weather forecasts and bulletins from all caps to sentence case.

Environment Canada has also made this change.

Recognizing that in current usage, using all caps in a sentence is akin to shouting, the US service made this clever announcement in 2016:


Lena explains that the use of all caps dates back to a time when forecasts, as well as legal and other documents, were written with typewriters, which have a limited capacity to emphasize text — and using capital letters was the only easy way to do this.

How the US National Weather Service forecast looked before, and now. (NOAA)

“We’re well past the age of typewriters,” she says, and it’s taken a long time for many agencies to catch up, she adds.

Now, messages like tornado warnings — which will remain in all caps — will stand out much more, and allow people to discern important information from the forecast.

But the significance of typeface choice also applies to traffic, and the ability of a driver to read and process information.

In a recent study MIT’s AgeLab and the font maker Monotype examined how different typeface choices could effect driver reaction time when glancing at a dashboard.

The study found that, especially among men, a clearer, easier-to-read typeface meant on average they were spending half a second less getting information from the car’s dashboard. That may not sound like much, but at highway speeds, its significant.

Half a second equates to 50 feet of travel, Lena says. “That could mean the difference between life and death.”



Teach Your Kids Accurate Names for Body Parts Already.

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Teach Your Kids Accurate Names for Body Parts Already.

Generally speaking, girls have vaginas. Boys have penises. I did not think this was a groundbreaking thing to teach a 4-year-old (even at 2), but it is according to her teacher, who informed me my kid was telling other kids that babies come out of vaginas. First, I was so proud. Then I realized she was asking me to make her stop.

OK full disclosure: I’m a first-time parent, aka a rookie, an asshole, whatever you call it when someone does a thing everyone else has been doing for thousands of years and yet talks about it like the only person it ever happened to. If this is the worst ideological issue I’ve faced as a parent so far — and it probably is — then maybe I am lucky and you are free to mock me for my precious feelings directly in the comments (I know you were going to even if I didn’t ask — that’s our deal).

That said, HOLY SHIT WHY IS NOT OK TO SAY BABIES COME OUT OF VAGINAS? To be clear, I haven’t told her how the baby is made via a penis and vagina, or artificial insemination, or by reading The Secret. And to be extra clear, I could’ve also told her that babies also come out of stomachs sometimes, too, and via adoption, but we just haven’t gotten that complex about it. Apparently she simply said at school that babies come out of vaginas, and was told to only speak of this with mommy or daddy. And she got upset, because she now believed she was in trouble.

But to oblivious me, the question where do babies come from, which my daughter has been curious about for a while, seemed easy enough to answer, and important enough to answer accurately at this age: Babies are typically born from vaginas.

I try to discuss this like it is no big deal and how things work, because:

A.) It is no big deal and

B.) That is how things work

C.) She is a girl, subject to a ludicrous degree of shame about her specific parts. I want her to be comfortable with her body as often as she is curious, and as appropriate as is warranted based on her development. It should not ever be regarded as shocking or bad.

D.) This is not a new idea, or even a “me” idea, it’s a researched and thoroughly supported idea by experts.

For instance, a fairly standard piece of advice on how to tell kids where babies come from over at Ask Dr. Sears instructs that you make sure you know what they are really asking (as in, make sure they don’t really mean “Where was I born?”) and then give it to them straight, but age-appropriate. Sears explains:

Tell the truth

Using our book or another that you like, play show and tell. Tell your daughterthat her sibling-to-be is growing in your womb (not your “tummy”) and that when the time is right, the baby will squeeze through the birth canal, called the vagina. It’s extremely important to use accurate terms. Starting at this early age, you want your child to learn that she can depend on you to be a trustworthy and easily approachable source of information, especially on sensitive issues. You’re laying the groundwork for the more in-depth and challenging sexuality talks that will come when she’s a teen.

Use a conversational and matter-of-fact tone

If you’re feeling embarrassed, try not to show it, as even a 5-year-old can detect discomfort. You want your body language to be relaxed, therein conveying that sexuality is a healthy part of life and nothing to be ashamed of. Since your daughter trusts you enough to have asked her first question—”Where does the baby come out?”—she’s likely to want more information, such as how the baby was created. Be prepared to answer her in a matter-of-fact way. It’s best, however, not to go into more detail until she gives you clues that she wants it.

(Nowhere does it say to immediately forbid them from telling their peers.) Then, from a piece in the Atlantic by Catherine Buni, we learn about Kate Rohdenburg, a sexual violence prevention educator, who comes at it from another angle:

As part of the growing movement to implement abuse prevention in schools and other youth-serving organizations, Rohdenburg and other educators believe that teaching what linguists call “standard” dialect for body parts — rather than euphemisms and colloquialisms — is important. Teaching children anatomically correct terms, age-appropriately, says Laura Palumbo, a prevention specialist with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), promotes positive body image, self confidence, and parent-child communication; discourages perpetrators; and, in the event of abuse, helps children and adults navigate the disclosure and forensic interview process.

And 4 years old is a terrific age to do this, because kids under 12 are considered most vulnerable to sexual abuse at age 4.

And as Tara Culp-Ressler over at ThinkProgress points out, accurate naming could also be a huge positive step in diminishing rape culture:

Perhaps most importantly, teaching kids to use the accurate words for their body parts teaches them that they have ownership over their body, provides a positive boost to their self-image, and increases their confidence. That could have radical implications for our current society’s pervasive rape culture, which advances the false perception that sexual assault is merely a consequence of promiscuity rather than a serious crime. If youth grow up with a deeper understanding of bodily autonomy and consent, they will be more likely to speak up when they feel that consent has been violated — and perhaps less likely to violate someone else’s consent.

To me, this is win-win-win. This is a critical tool in helping prevent sexual abuse and an essential part of being well adjusted that discourages shame. You don’t call your elbow your bo-bo, and you don’t need to call your vagina your hoo-ha. If a vagina is a vagina, then babies coming out of a vagina is a natural next question, not a box you can put a lid on. And I would think most other people would agree, right? But no, writes Buni:

Two weeks after Rohdenburg gave her lesson in March, as required by a new state law, a biology teacher at a public high school in Idaho said “vagina” in one of his classes. Several parents filed complaints against the teacher, Tim McDaniel, and now he is under investigation. Last June, Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown was banned from Lansing’s state house floor after she said “vagina.” One sexual-abuse prevention trainer in New England tells the story of a mother who discovered her first-grader had learned the word “penis” in school. The mother pulled her daughter from class. “You’ve destroyed her innocence!” she shouted at the school’s counselor.

And obviously, this is what it’s really about. The teacher at my daughter’s school, who I think is terrific, was just doing what she had to do to avoid the ire of other parents and/or her employers. It makes sense. It is still disheartening as fuck.

Seriously: Vagina is the Santa Claus of kid intel? Once the vagina is out of the box, hearts will be broken and childhoods destroyed? I know parents who prefer to use cutesy euphemisms for private parts and they are squeamish about teaching their kids accurate words at a young age. It feels weird or wrong or too soon or too specific. But I could not disagree more. Later on when my daughter is older she can call her vagina Puff the Magic Dragon for all I care. But for now: Vagina. I’m not going to make my kid not say vagina, and it seems weirdly restrictive to then tell her to never mention it to others.

But in the spirit of broadmindedness, I looked for arguments against my own position.

I found only one:

Sure, I can tell my kid not to talk about it at school (or in elevators). But now I’m left with how to address that: Do I tell her that some people are weird about talking honestly about your body, and it’s sad, and a shame, especially when it’s at your school, a place that is supposed to want to teach you all the things and encourage you know, learning, because there is nothing weird about where babies come from, but we have to follow this silly rule? What if someone else at school says babies come from rainbows? Now she will feel that she’ll get in trouble if she says, no they don’t, they come from vaginas? Ludicrous and shameful.

Ironically, she can learn all day long at school already about Saturn and Venus and distant planets that for all intents and purposes will never be real to her — unless she studies astronomy or overcrowding leads to colonizing new planets and one day she does in fact deliver a baby out of her vagina on Saturn. We put a premium on teaching kids as soon as possible about self care with their bodies and teeth and what they eat, and how their hearts and lungs work, but not their private parts?

And for the record: WHAT is the imagined corruption that takes place by empowering your child with accurate words? Walk me through it, naysayer. Then what? Five year olds will have sex? Religion breaks down? The family unit is destroyed? Heroin? (And by the way, kids at this age still play with themselves without ever knowing the correct term for what they are exploring.)

I just don’t understand the fear. And I don’t understand the shame. And worse, by trying to equip her properly for the world, I did not equip her properly for the world at all — the one that is squeamish about kids learning how their bodies work. What bums me out the most is that i n this moment, in this microcosm, she has learned body shame in what was an otherwise trusted place — I cannot take back the sense that this type of discussion is something she’ll get in trouble for. And that is precisely what Rohdenburg notes in the Atlantic piece:

Here lies the heart of the matter, when it comes to sex-abuse prevention: Educators like Rohdenburg want children to understand that their “private parts” are just that—private and off limits to others. But they also want students to be comfortable talking about these body parts, and with the words that describe them. “We don’t want kids to think they’re going to get in trouble by asking questions about sexual matters and health,” Palumbo says. When officials pull a teacher into an investigation or escort a legislator from her state house floor for using the word “vagina,” or a parent removes a child from a class that uses the word “penis,” children are more likely to think their questions will get them in trouble, she says. This shuts down communication, reinforcing the culture of secrets and silence perpetrators rely on for cover.

But the only thing shameful here is keeping kids in the dark about their bodies because of our own weird hangups.


List of the Lies Abortion Doctors Are Forced to Tell Women in U.S

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A State-by-State List of the Lies Abortion Doctors Are Forced to Tell Women.

When she worked at an abortion clinic in South Dakota, Dr. Diane Horvath-Cosper was legally required to tell prospective patients that there was a chance that abortion would increase their risk of breast cancer and suicide.

Immediately afterwards, she’d tell them that neither of those statements had any actual basis in medical science. “What I would say was, ‘The state requires me to give you this information. We have excellent medical evidence to say that it’s actually not true, but I’m required to tell you this,'” she recalls.

Like 37 other states, South Dakota has an abortion-specific informed consent law in place that requires doctors to counsel patients before the procedure, using information chosen by legislators; in 28 states, women must then reflect for a certain amount of time—usually 24 hours, although some states mandate up to three days—before actually getting the abortion procedure. In 14 states, women must physically come to the abortion clinic for both the pre-abortion counseling session and the abortion procedure.

Twenty-eight states require abortion clinics to carry written informed consent brochures containing information about alternatives to abortion, the risks associated with abortion, and fetal development stages—all information selected, again, by legislators. In 11 states, the physician is legally obligated to give the brochure to her patients; in 17, she only needs to offer it to them.

Though lawmakers insist that such policies are meant to ensure that women are making informed and safe choices about their own bodies, the informed consent materials are often rife with medically inaccurate and misleading statements. Some states require doctors to mention a specious link between abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer, suicide, or future infertility. Some also contain blatantly ideological language, referring to embryos as “unborn children,” insisting that life begins at conception, and saying that abortion at any stage terminates the life of a separate, living being.

Critics of abortion-specific informed consent laws accuse politicians of intentionally manipulating the principle of informed consent—which is meant to promote patients’ safety and autonomy—in order to carry out their own ideological agendas. “The whole point of informed consent is to provide medically accurate information and then to work with the patient to come up with a treatment plan that’s agreeable to them,” says Dr. Horvath-Cosper, who now works as a reproductive health advocacy fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health. “If we’re having to give people incorrect information and then saying, ‘Well, you know, the state requires me to say this. It’s not actually true,’ it undermines the patients’ confidence in us as providers.

“I think that certainly the doctor–patient relationship is based on trust—and how does a patient trust us if we’re giving them false information because we have to?” she asks.

How does a patient trust us if we’re giving them false information because we have to?

Informed consent is a foundational principle of health care; in the general sense, it’s defined as a formal agreement that a medical patient signs in order to give permission for a procedure after being told about the associated risks and benefits. Every state in America currently has a law in place that requires some level of informed consent, and any doctor who fails to obtain it is liable for negligence or battery.

“Typically when you’re going for a medical procedure—say you were having heart surgery—your doctor would inform you about the potential risks and benefits of having that surgery,” explains Cynthia Daniels, a political science professor at Rutgers who has studied informed consent laws extensively. “But in the case of abortion, of course, there have been a lot of questions about the level of accuracy provided to abortion patients—not just about the procedure, but about information that’s not just medical but clearly focused on trying to discourage women from having abortions.”

Dr. Horvath-Cosper also worked in a clinic in Minnesota, a state with both an informed consent requirement and a mandatory 24-hour waiting period. “I had to call each patient and read her a script that included all the information that the state wanted us to include about the risks of abortion, about the other options that are available to people,” she says. This extra requirement for abortions is superfluous; discussing risks and benefits is standard for all medical procedures.

“Of course we talk about all of these things with the patient, because that’s part of medical informed consent!” Dr. Horvath-Cosper says. “We obviously talk about the risks; we obviously talk about the potential benefits.”

In a 2012 paper on abortion and informed consent published in the Michigan Journal of Gender and Law, Ian Vandewalker, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, argues that some of the potential abortion risks included in state-mandated informed consent materials are “exaggerated, misleading, or simply false.” These exaggerations and inaccurate statements, as he sees it, are intended to “discourage women from choosing to terminate their pregnancies.”

Broadly analyzed the written informed consent materials from 26 states. (Of the 28 states with laws requiring written informed consent materials, two have yet to produce them.) According to our findings, 13 states refer to the fetus as an “unborn child.” Eight states say that the fetus may be capable of feeling pain at or around 20 weeks. In two states, the informed consent materials say that life starts at conception, and three states say that getting an abortion is tantamount to ending a separate, unique life.

In seven states, the materials imply or reference a link between abortion and breast cancer; three imply a link between abortion and PTSD or “post-abortion” syndrome; four imply a link between abortion and possible infertility. Four mention suicidal thoughts or actions as a possible outcome of abortion.

The National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist have all disputed the link between abortion and breast cancer. “Post-abortion syndrome” has been debunked; it has also never been recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) or the American Psychiatric Association. In fact, the APA has found that “there is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women,” noting most studies that claim otherwise “suffered from serious methodological problems.” The purported link between abortion and infertility has similarly been found baseless. Finally, most scientific literature finds that fetuses aren’t capable of feeling pain until at least 24 weeks.

In addition to the section on the potential risks of abortion, each state’s informed consent materials contain a section that includes visual depictions and written descriptions of fetal development, typically broken into two-week intervals. According to a 2013 analysis conducted by a team of four political scientists, who recruited seven specialists in embryological and fetal anatomy to analyze the informed consent materials, about one-third of the statements about fetal development are medically inaccurate—and only 42 percent can be characterized as “completely accurate.” In the state with the most inaccuracies, North Carolina, nearly half of the statements about fetal development were medically inaccurate; in the state with the fewest, Alaska, roughly 15 percent were inaccurate.

According to the analysis, the majority of the inaccuracies were meant to exaggerate “the ‘baby-like’ capacities of the embryo/fetus,” which suggests that the state is “presenting misinformation… in the interest of persuading women to choose birth over abortion.” This is, perhaps, unsurprising: Four states explicitly state in their informed consent materials that the state prefers live birth over abortion.

Not all informed consent materials are created equal; Professor Daniels, who authored the 2013 study surveying fetal development statements, mentions Alaska as an example of a state with “a good brochure.” She also tells me that a number of states have contacted her for help in removing inaccurate information from their own materials, which is heartening. However, as she sees it, the legislation is fundamentally flawed, and the fact that every single state her team surveyed had some sort of misinformation in its materials highlights this fact.

“The state should not be in a position where it is mandating what doctors tell their patients,” she says. “It’s fundamentally flawed legislation, because you can never separate that out from the politics of abortion, which means that your perspective is always going to be driven by something other than scientific evidence.”

Here’s a comprehensive list of the misinformation and/or biased or ideologically motivated statements contained in each state’s informed consent materials:

States that require doctors to give the materials to women:


48-hour waiting period
“Did you know…”

  • Refers to the fetus as an “unborn child” throughout: “The unborn child is called an embryo during the first 10 weeks of a pregnancy.”
  • Lists “death” as a potential risk of abortion without specifying that dying from abortion-related consequences is extremely rare.
  • 18.18 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the analysis.


24-hour waiting period
“What You Should Know About Abortion” and “Fetal Development”

    • The very first text in the booklet states that the state of Idaho prefers live birth over abortion:
  • Recommends “talking with a member of the clergy” before having an abortion.
  • 20.36 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


18-hour waiting period
“Abortion Informed Consent Brochure”

    • States that life begins at conception: “Indiana statute states: Human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm.”
    • States that Indiana prefers childbirth over abortion: “Indiana statute states: Childbirth is preferred, encouraged, and supported over abortion.”
    • Implies that there’s a link between abortion and fertility issues:
  • Indiana wasn’t included in the 2013 analysis of fetal development statements.


24-hour waiting period
“If You Are Pregnant”

  • Refers to the fetus as an “unborn child” throughout: “At 4 weeks, the unborn child is less than 1/100th of an inch long.”
  • Explicitly states that “abortion terminates the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”
  • Implies that abortion can put women at an increased risk of breast cancer: “If you have carried a pregnancy to term as a young woman, you may be less likely to get breast cancer in the future. However, your risk is not reduced if your pregnancy is ended by an abortion. There are also studies that have found an increased risk of breast cancer after induced abortion, but other studies have found no risk.”
  • Lists several grave potential “psychological risks” of abortion, including depression and PTSD without noting that some women have a neutral or positive response to the procedure.
  • 43.40 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


24-hour waiting period 
“Women’s Right to Know”

  • Refers to the fetus as an “unborn child” several times: “By law, an ultrasound must be performed before any abortion to determine the gestational age of the unborn child.”
  • Implies that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks: “By twenty weeks gestation, the unborn child has the physical structures necessary to experience pain. There is evidence that by twenty-weeks gestation unborn children seek to evade certain stimuli in a manner in which an infant or adult would avoid stimuli.”
  • Says that women who carry a pregnancy to term are less likely to get breast cancer, so terminating a pregnancy would cause the patient to “lose the protective benefit” of giving birth.
  • Says women may suffer from suicidal thoughts and behavior after abortion: “Some women may feel guilty, sad or empty, while others may feel relief that the procedure is over. Some women have reported serious psychological effects after their abortion, including depression, grief, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, regret, suicidal thoughts and behavior, sexual dysfunction, avoidance of emotional attachment, flashbacks and substance abuse.”
  • 23.62 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


24-hour waiting period
Informed consent website

  • Lists several negative psychological risks associated with abortion without noting that some women have a neutral or positive response to the procedure: “While rare, some women may experience depression, feelings of guilt, anger, sleep disturbance, or loss of interest in work or sex, as a result of an abortion.”
  • Links to a list of crisis pregnancy centers in the fetal development section, calling them “clinics offering pre-natal ultrasounds.” In reality, such organizations “are run by people who are anti-abortion,” and they “have a history of giving women wrong, biased information to scare them into not having abortions,” according to Planned Parenthood.
  • 44.32 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


72-hour waiting period 
“Missouri’s Informed Consent Booklet”

         On the first page, it states that life begins at conception in bold font

  • Explicitly says that the state of Missouri encourages women to contact adoption agencies before considering abortion: “There are public and private agencies willing and able to help you carry your child to term, and to assist you and your child after your child is born, whether you choose to keep your child or place him or her for adoption. The state of Missouri encourages you to contact those agencies before making a final decision about abortion.”
  • Implies the fetus is capable of feeling pain at 20 weeks (22 weeks gestational age): “At least by 22 weeks of gestational age, the fetus possesses all the anatomical structures, including pain receptors, spinal cord, nerve tracts, thalamus, and cortex, which are necessary to feel pain. There is evidence that at 22 weeks of gestational age, fetuses seek to evade certain stimuli in a manner that in an infant or adult would be interpreted as pain.”
  • 25.66 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


24-hour waiting period
“Fetal Development & Family Planning”

  • 28.26 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis—and humanizing facts about the fetus are highlighted in the text.

South Dakota

72-hour waiting period
“Are You Pregnant? You Have Options”

  • Mentions “post-abortion syndrome” as a potential psychological complication of abortion“Some medical groups do not recognize post abortion syndrome as a clinical diagnosis, however, some studies suggest post abortion syndrome is a type of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
  • Says that the fetus may feel pain (in general—not even at 20 or 24 weeks): “Findings from some studies suggest that the unborn fetus may feel physical pain.”
  • 23.62 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


72-hour waiting period
“Information About the Developing Embryo and Fetus, About Abortion, and About Abortion Alternatives”

  • Refers to the fetus as an “unborn child” throughout: “Doctors call an unborn child either an ’embryo’ or a ‘fetus’ depending on the age.”
  • Implies a link between abortion and potential future fertility issues: “Most women who have one abortion by vacuum aspiration experience few, if any problems getting pregnant later. However, women who have repeat abortions, or who have pre-existing bacteria or viruses such as chlamydia, are more likely to have problems in future pregnancies.”
  • Lists “suicidal thoughts and behavior” and “a sense of loss and emptiness” as potential side effects of abortion, among a litany of other negative emotional responses—but says that one’s sense of relief might be fleeting: “Right after the abortion, some women report a sense of relief. This relief may be the short-term result of ending what was viewed as a problem. Possible negative emotional responses to having an abortion include: depression, grief, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, hostility toward self and others, regret, difficulty sleeping, suicidal thoughts and behavior, sexual dysfunction, relationship distruption [sic], flashbacks, and a sense of loss and emptiness.”
  • Says it’s possible that the fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks: “Although scientific studies are not clear when an unborn child’s nervous system is developed enough to feel pain, there is some evidence that pain may be felt at or after 20 weeks of gestation.”
  • Explicitly states that “the state of Utah prefers childbirth over abortion.”
  • 23.19 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


24-hour waiting period
“A Woman’s Right to Know…”

  • Lists several possible complications of abortion, including sepsis, perforated uterus, and cut or torn cervix without ever noting how rare such complications are.
  • States that fetuses can potentially feel pain at 20 weeks: “There is some evidence that by 20 weeks gestation the fetus avoids certain stimuli the same way in which an infant or adult would respond to pain.”
  • 16.92 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to a later analysis performed by the group behind the 2013 study.

States that require doctors to offer the materials to women:


No waiting period
Informed consent website

  • 14.71 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


24-hour waiting period
“A Woman’s Right to Know”

  • Refers to the fetus as an “unborn child” from the moment of fertilization: “At fertilization (when the male sperm enters the female egg), the unborn child has his or her own unique set of DNA material.”
  • Contains a section called “Future Childbearing and Infertility” which states that “some complications associated with an abortion, such as infection or a cut or torn cervix, may make it difficult or impossible to become pregnant in the future or to carry a pregnancy to term.”
  • 28 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


48-hour waiting period
“A Woman’s Right to Know”

    • The very first text in the booklet states that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks:
  • Refers to the fetus as an “unborn child” frequently: “Practicing doctors measure an unborn child’s age from the first day of your last menstrual period which usually occurs two weeks before fertilization (conception).”
  • 23.96 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


24-hour waiting period
“Abortion: A Woman’s Right to Know”

  • Refers to the fetus as an “unborn child” in the section about fetal pain.
  • States that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks: “By 20 weeks gestation, the unborn child has the physical structures necessary to experience pain. There is evidence that by 20 weeks gestation unborn children will try to avoid certain stimuli in a manner which in an infant or an adult would be interpreted to be a response to pain.”
  • 18.03 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


24-hour waiting period 
“Available Resources for Pregnant Women” and “Information About Fetal Development” (not online)

  • Crisis pregnancy centers are listed as a potential resource for pregnant women.
  • 18.03 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to a later analysis performed by the group behind the 2013 study.


24-hour waiting period
“If You Are Pregnant: Information on Fetal Development, Abortion, and Alternatives”

    • Refers to the fetus as an “unborn child” throughout: “The information provided in this booklet is designed to provide you with basic, medically accurate information on the fetal development of your unborn child in two-week intervals from implantation to birth.”
    • Mentions a suggested link between abortion and breast cancer, only to say that the link has since been disproved.
  • Suggests that a fetus may feel pain at 20 weeks: “Some experts have concluded the unborn child feels physical pain after 20 weeks gestation. Other experts have concluded pain is felt later in gestational development. This issue may need further study.”
  • 20.45 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


24-hour waiting period 
“Informed Consent Information and Resources” (not online)

  • Refers to the fetus as an “unborn child” throughout: “Physicians most often refer to an unborn child’s age from the first day of the last menstrual period.”
  • Implies potential link between abortion and breast cancer: “Medical professionals disagree about a possible connection between abortion and breast cancer risk. Some studies show that women who do not carry a pregnancy to term by choice or circumstance are more likely to develop breast cancer. Other studies have found no link between loss of pregnancy and breast cancer risk.”
  • 22.06 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to a later analysis performed by the group behind the 2013 study.


24-hour waiting period
“If You Are Pregnant…”

  • Lists negative psychological complications of abortion, including “sadness, grief, regret, anxiety and guilt” without specifying that some women have neutral or positive feelings after the procedure.
  • Says that having more than one abortion may increase the risk for future complications, “such as premature delivery.”
  • 23.76 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.

North Carolina

72-hour waiting period
“A Woman’s Right to Know”

  • 46.15 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis—the most of any state.

North Dakota

24-hour waiting period
“Information About Pregnancy and Abortion”

  • Refers to the fetus as an “unborn child” throughout: “Fertilization age refers to how long the unborn child has been developing since the egg was fertilized, and is calculated from the estimated day of ovulation.”
  • Explicitly states that North Dakota prefers live birth over abortion: “It is the policy of the state of North Dakota that childbirth is given preference, encouragement and support as it is in the best interests of the well-being and common good of North Dakota citizens.”
  • Explicitly states that abortion is tantamount to terminating a separate life: “North Dakota Century Code (Law)… requires that a woman is told the [induced] abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”
  • Urges women to contact adoption services before considering abortion: “The state of North Dakota strongly encourages you to contact one or more of these [adoption] agencies before making a final decision about abortion.”
  • Mentions a link between abortion and breast cancer, only to say that the link has since been disproved: “Findings from some studies suggest there is no increased risk of breast cancer among women who had an induced abortion, while other studies suggest there is an increased risk; hence, differing professional opinions exist. Two professional organizations, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the National Cancer Institute, have reviewed the various studies and have released statements concluding no relationship between induced abortion and an increase in breast cancer risk.”
  • 23.62 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


72-hour waiting period
“A Woman’s Right to Know”

  • Refers to the fetus as an “unborn child” throughout and explicitly defines “unborn child” as “the unborn offspring of human beings from the moment of conception, through pregnancy, and until live birth including the human conceptus, zygote, morula, blastocyst, embryo, and fetus.”
  • Explicitly states that abortion terminates a separate life: “In Oklahoma, the legal definition of an abortion is ‘the purposeful termination of a human pregnancy’ … ‘abortion shall terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.'”
  • Lists “death” as a “rare complication” of surgical abortion without specifying how rare abortion-related fatalities are.
  • Mentions a potential link between breast cancer and abortion: “Some studies indicate that there is no increased risk of breast cancer after a woman has had an abortion. Other studies indicate that there might be an increased risk.”
  • 32.82 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis—and humanizing facts about the fetus are highlighted in the text.


24-hour waiting period
“Abortion: Making a Decision”

  • Refers to the fetus as an “unborn baby” and “developing baby” throughout: “This booklet has pictures and explains the stages of pregnancy. It does this by showing pictures of the unborn baby every two weeks.”
  • Recommends that any woman who wants an abortion speak to a counselor through the state’s Alternative to Abortion Services Program; on the Department of Health Website, the page with this title simply links to Real Alternatives, which Rewire has described as ” Pennsylvania-based anti-choice crisis pregnancy center network.”
  • 23.96 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


24-hour waiting period
“A Woman’s Right to Know”

  • Refers to the fetus as an “unborn child” from the moment of fertilization: “During the first 8 weeks, the unborn child is known as an embryo. After that time the unborn child is known as a fetus.”
  • Lists PTSD and suicidal thoughts as potential psychological effects of an abortion: “Some women have reported serious psychological effects after their abortion, including depression, grief, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, regret, suicidal thoughts and behavior, sexual dysfunction, avoidance of emotional attachment, flashbacks, and substance abuse. These emotions may appear immediately after an abortion, or gradually over a longer period of time.”
  • Has an entire section called “Future Childbearing and Infertility” in which it’s implied that abortion may make it difficult or impossible to become pregnant in the future.
  • Strongly implies that there’s a link between abortion and breast cancer: “Your chances of getting breast cancer are affected by your pregnancy history. If you have carried a pregnancy to term as a young woman, you may be less likely to get breast cancer in the future. However, you do not get the same protective effect if your pregnancy is ended by an abortion. The risk may be higher if your first pregnancy is aborted. While there are studies that have found an increased risk of developing breast cancer after an induced abortion, some studies have found no overall risk. There is agreement that this issue needs further study.”
  • 34.45 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


24-hour waiting period
“Abortion: Making an Informed Decision”

  • 22.29 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.

West Virginia

24-hour waiting period
“Fetal Development, Abortion, and Adoption”

    • Lists several “possible detrimental psychological effects of abortion,” including “suicidal thoughts or acts” without ever stating that some women can feel neutrally or positively about the experience.
  • 17.59 percent of fetal development statements were inaccurate, according to the 2013 analysis.


Chechnya opens world’s first concentration camp for homosexuals since Hitler’s in the 1930s.

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Chechnya opens world’s first concentration camp for homosexuals since Hitler’s in the 1930s.

Chechyna has opened the first concentration camp for homosexuals since Hitler, where campaigners say gay men are being tortured with electric shocks and beaten to death.

It comes after it was claimed 100 gay men had been detained and three killed in Chechnya last week.

A report by Novoya Gazeta said authorities had set up several camps where homosexuals are killed or forced to promise to leave the republic.

One of the camps is reportedly at the former military headquarters in the town of Argun.

Svetlana Zakharova, from the Russian LGBT Network, told MailOnline: ‘Gay people have been detained and rounded up and we are working to evacuate people from the camps and some have now left the region.

‘Those who have escaped said they are detained in the same room and people are kept altogether, around 30 or 40. They are tortured with electric currents and heavily beaten, sometimes to death.’

One of those who escaped told Novoya Gazeta that prisoners were beaten to force them to reveal other members of the gay community.

Another prisoner who fled said that before being incarcerated in one of the camps, he had been forced to pay bribes to Chechen police of thousands of rubles every month in order to survive.

Now the regime had taken another step against gays by creating these camps, the survivor said.  

Alexander Artemyev, from Amnesty International in Russia, told MailOnline: ‘We can only call on the Russian authorities to investigate the allegations. Homosexuals in Chechyna are treated very harshly and prosecuted daily and they are afraid to talk about it.

‘They either have to hide or leave the republic. We are keeping in touch with the LGBT network that helps people in Russia to find shelter. The problem is people there cannot talk about it as it puts their lives and those they speak to, in danger. This is the main issue we are facing in Russia and the main challenge.’

Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, Russia project director for the International Crisis Group, told MailOnline: ‘The story is very much developing…victims are escaping.’

Tanya Lokshina, from Human Rights Watch in Moscow, said: ‘For several weeks now, a brutal campaign against LGBT people has been sweeping through Chechnya.

‘These days, very few people in Chechnya dare speak to human rights monitors or journalists even anonymously because the climate of fear is overwhelming and people have been largely intimidated into silence.

‘Filing an official complaint against local security officials is extremely dangerous, as retaliation by local authorities is practically inevitable.

‘It is difficult to overstate just how vulnerable LGBT people are in Chechnya, where homophobia is intense and rampant. LGBT people are in danger not only of persecution by the authorities but also of falling victim to “honour killings” by their own relatives for tarnishing family honour.’

Last week Novoya Gazeta said Chechen police had rounded up more than 100 men suspected of being gay and killed three.

It claimed that among those detained were well-known local television personalities and religious figures.

President Razman Kadyrov, who is a key ally of Vladimir Putin, allegedly ordered the clampdown, although officially his regime denied the arrests claiming ‘it is impossible to persecute those who are not in the republic’.

Kadyrov, who introduced Islamic rule in the Muslim-majority region, has been accused of earlier human rights violations.

He described the allegations as ‘absolute lies and disinformation’.

Kadyrov’s spokesman Alvi Karimov told the Interfax News Agency: ‘You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic.

‘If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.’

Chechen society is strictly conservative, meaning that unlike other cases where relatives or rights activists may put pressure on authorities when a homosexual relative disappears, those suspected are likely to be disowned by their own families.

According to the New York Times, gay men on the region have been deleting their social media profiles after it was reported authorities tried to lure gay men into dates and arrested them.

The reports from Russia claim those arrested range from just 15 to 50.


Photos of Hong Kong’s chaotic Kowloon Walled City, once the most crowded place on earth.

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Photos of Hong Kong’s chaotic Kowloon Walled City, once the most crowded place on earth.

Just outside Hong Kong there once stood one of the most densely populated places on earth.

From the 1950s until 1994, over 33,000 people lived and worked in Kowloon Walled City, a massive complex of 300 interconnected buildings that took up a city block.girard_kowloonB

Caught between China and the British-run Hong Kong government, the city was essentially lawless, equally known for its opium dens and organized crime as its dentists’ offices.

The city began as a low-rise squatter village during the early 20th century. After World War II, Hong Kong experienced a massive influx of Chinese immigrants. This led to a lack of housing in the city. In response, entrepreneurs and those with "squatter's rights" in Kowloon built high rise buildings on the space to capitalize on the housing demand.

Photographer Greg Girard spent years investigating and documenting the strange place before it was demolished. Girard collaborated with Iam Lambot, another photographer, on a book about Kowloon, titled “City of Darkness Revisited,” available here.

At its peak, more than 33,000 people lived in the 6.4-acre city. It was considered by many to be the most densely populated place on earth.










While located in Hong Kong territory, the Walled City was legally a Chinese military fort. This put the settlement in legal purgatory as both China and the British-run Hong Kong government ignored the buildings. Laws, regulations, and building codes were not enforced. "There was never any top-down guidance or planning about how the place should be. It grew as an organic response to people's needs," says Girard.

The only regulation enforced at Kowloon was the height of the building. Because the airport was so close, the building was not allowed to be taller than 13 or 14 stories.

"It was like a strange, urban garden. There was tons of household refuse. It was a bit of an eyesore, but compared to the area below, the air was light and breezy. It was nice to come up there after living and working on the lower floors," says Girard.

The lack of regulations was even more important for the many meat processors in Kowloon.

Girard has shared a number of photos from the project here, and you can check out the rest at the book’s website.


Beatings, cattle prods and mock executions: Kidnapped journalist reveals horror of 6 weeks captive in Sudan.

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Beatings, cattle prods and mock executions: Kidnapped journalist reveals horror of 6 weeks captive in Sudan.

A British journalist who was captured, chained up and tortured by the Sudanese authorities for more than six weeks was able to produce a film about his hellish ordeal by hiding a memory card in his anus.

Phil Cox crossed the border into Sudan along with his colleague Daoud Hari in December 2016 with the aim of reporting on the plight of people in the Darfur region – but was soon abducted by armed militiamen.

During their capture, the pair discovered the Sudanese authorities had tracked their movements and put a “capture or kill” bounty on their heads for more than £250,000.

As they neared the Jebel Marra mountains, the team were kidnapped by a militia in Darfur and held hostage by guards armed with AK47s. They were chained to a tree in the desert for a week and beaten.

It was at this point that Mr Cox was able to trick his captors into filming themselves on his camera. He then took the memory card and, in order to preserve the footage he had already obtained, wrapped it in a strip of black plastic and hid it inside himself.

The contents of that memory card are to feature in a two-part film by Channel 4 News, which commissioned Mr Cox and Mr Hari to report on the impact of illegal migration through Sudan and investigate allegations of Sudanese government attacks on civilians in Darfur using chemical weapons.

Their ordeal did not end in the desert, however. The militia transferred the pair to the Sudanese Government authorities, who detained them in the notorious Kobar Prison, Khartoum.

Writing in The Guardian on Wednesday, Mr Cox describes how on the flight from El Fasher to Khartoum, men threatened to throw him off the plane.

“The plane was taxiing, and I started to shout, to beg for my life,” he recounted. “My body swayed with the movement of the plane – then I heard the voice of the security chief from the offices in El Fasher. ‘Be a man,’ he said to me, and laughed.”

This was the start of weeks of mistreatment. During his 40-day detention, Mr Cox was beaten, given electric shocks with a cattle prod and once subjected to a mock execution.

After repeated overtures from the US and UK governments, Mr Hari – a Sudanese national granted asylum in the US – was released on 18 January, followed by Mr Cox on 1 February.

At the time, Sudanese officials told reporters that Mr Cox had been “pardoned” by President Omar al-Bashir. An official told the EFE news agency that Mr Cox had entered the country illegally, and that his intention to investigate Amnesty International claims of chemical weapons use – and thereby his “involvement in planned activities harmful to national security… has been proved”.

Channel 4 News editor Ben de Pear said: “We sent Daoud and Phil to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in Sudan, but we never thought that they themselves would fall victim to these horrific abuses.

“They were beaten, tortured and electrocuted, simply for being journalists. Their story from within the belly of the Sudanese security state is one of the most frightening we have ever broadcast on Channel 4 News.

Maddy Crowther from Waging Peace, a UK-based NGO campaigning for human rights in Sudan, told The Independent: “Phil Cox and Daoud Hari’s harrowing experiences should remind us of the Sudan government’s true face.

“This incident should call into question the UK’s decision to bring Sudan in from the cold, when its officials are capable of engaging in ‘strategic dialogue’ with UK officials on the one hand, and commissioning the detention, interrogation and torture of one of our citizens on the other.

“I’m grateful for Cox and Hari’s bravery in shining a light on the forgotten victims of government repression in Sudan. We need to keep shouting about the individuals still suffering similar abuse in Khartoum’s prisons and black sites.”

Mr Cox said: “Daoud and I experienced first-hand the lengths that the Sudanese government will go to stop any independent reporting on what is happening in Darfur.

“Our time in prison gave us a terrifying insight into the brutal tactics of the Sudanese security forces, and it also revealed the arbitrary and heavy-handed way any perceived opposition or anti-government criticism is dealt with.”



Scientists trace world’s languages back to single African mother tongue.

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Scientists trace world’s languages back to single African mother tongue.

Scientists say they have traced the world’s 6,000 modern languages — from English to Mandarin — back to a single “mother tongue,” an ancestral language spoken in Africa 50,000 to 70,000 years ago.

New research, published in the journal Science, suggests this single ancient language resulted in human civilization — a Diaspora — as well as advances in art and hunting tool technology, and laid the groundwork for all the world’s cultures.

The research, by Quentin Atkinson from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, also found that speech evolved far earlier than previously thought. And the findings implied, though did not prove, that modern language originated only once, an issue of controversy among linguists, according to the New York Times.

Before Atkinson came up with the evidence for a single African origin of language, some scientists had argued that language evolved independently in different parts of the world.

Atkinson found that the first populations migrating from Africa laid the groundwork for all theworld’s cultures by taking their single language with them. “It was the catalyst that spurred the human expansion that we all are a product of,” Atkinson said, the Wall Street Journal reported.Atkinson traced the number distinct sounds, or phonemes — consonants, vowels and tones — in 504 world languages, finding compelling evidence that they can be traced back to a long-forgotten dialect spoken by our Stone Age ancestors, according to the Daily Mail.

Atkinson also hypothesized that languages with the most sounds would be the oldest, while those spoken by smaller breakaway groups would utilize fewer sounds as variation and complexity diminished.

The study found that some of the click-using languages of Africa have more than 100 phonemes, or sounds, whereas Hawaiian, toward the far end of the human migration route out of Africa, has only 13, the Times reported. English has about 45 phonemes.

The phoneme pattern mirrors the pattern of human genetic diversity as humans spread across the globe from sub-Saharan Africa around 70,000 years ago.


Australia wants to ban unvaccinated children from preschool.

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Australia wants to ban unvaccinated children from preschool.

No jab, no play. So says the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who has announced a proposal to bar unvaccinated children from attending preschools and daycare centres.

Currently, 93 per cent of Australian children receive the standard childhood vaccinations, including those for measles, mumps and rubella, but the government wants to lift this to 95 per cent. This is the level required to stop the spread of infectious disease and to protect children who are too young to be immunised or cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

Federal childcare subsidies have been unavailable to the families of unvaccinated children since January 2016, and a version of the new “no jab, no play” policy is already in place in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Other states and territories only exclude unvaccinated children from preschools during infectious disease outbreaks.

The proposed policy is based on Victoria’s model, which is the strictest. It requires all children attending childcare to be fully immunised, unless they have a medical exemption, such as a vaccine allergy.

Kids miss out

Nesha Hutchinson from the Australian Childcare Alliance – an advocacy group for childhood education – says that a nationwide “no jab, no play” policy would be likely to raise immunisation rates.

However, she is concerned that children of parents who object to vaccination would miss out on quality early childhood education. The policy may also affect children from disadvantaged families, who are less likely to be immunised, and risk becoming further marginalised if they lose access to education.

Punitive measures may also galvanise the anti-vaccination movement, warns Julie Leask at the University of Sydney. “People without any previous interest in vaccination may defend anti-vaccination activists and join their cause because they are concerned about the threat to civil liberties,” she says.

Leask prefers the New South Wales model, which makes it procedurally complex but not impossible to send unvaccinated kids to childcare, and also ensures that children’s immunisation records are checked. This policy has increased child immunisation rates by the same amount as the harsher approach in Victoria, she says. Leask also believes that campaigns and reminders are good ways to improve vaccination rates without inciting opposition.


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