Gun Control: When Passions Collide

Gun control has been one of the most contentious issues in American life for the past forty years, and the debate raging shows no sign of abating. Polls consistently show a majority of Americans support stricter gun laws, yet gun control advocates are no match for the powerful pro-Second Amendment lobbies led by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Over time the NRA has evolved from its role representing sportsmen and hobbyists to an uncompromising stance opposing all firearms legislation and safeguarding the interests of gun manufacturers.

This evolution and the concerted moves to weaken existing restraints didn’t arise from a vacuum. In his Jefferson Memorial Lecture at UC Berkeley Manchester University’s Gary Younge explores America’s relationship to the gun, one that is unique among developed nations. Since the nation’s founding, firearms have played an outsized role in American history and mythology. Our heritage includes lawmen, bad men, and gunslingers of all description who shared at least one trait: uncommon skill with pistols and rifles. Our contemporary cultural mythos embraces icons such as Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry and Keanu Reeves’ John Wick, and the violent anti-hero is still very much with us. Younge argues that in order to understand this phenomenon one must recognize its roots in colonial rebellion and the settling of the West, not to mention the Civil War – which saw an explosive growth in private gun ownership – and the Indian Wars among others. The gun control movement, though well meaning, have routinely discounted or dismissed the powerful attractions of these historical precedents, and by doing so they’ve ceded control of the national conversation to Second Amendment absolutists. Gun control supporters have also failed to match the resources wielded by highly organized gun lobbies.

The gun control debate is largely a clash of passions. Gun enthusiasts have successfully linked gun ownership to concepts of “freedom” and “American values,” and indeed this does reflect America’s stance in the wider world. Gary Younge notes that unless and until gun control supporters can fashion an equally strong narrative supporting their views, change will be agonizingly slow, if it’s possible at all.

Watch Weaponizing Narratives: Why America Wants Gun Control But Doesn’t Have It.


Sugar is Hiding Everywhere

There is an extremely high rates of added sugar overconsumption in the American public. It causes obesity which is at the root of silent epidemics such as type 2 diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Laura Schmidt, PhD, Professor of Health Policy at UCSF, argues that this is not an individual problem but rather it is caused by what is going on in our environment, particularly hyper-processed foods that seem to be everywhere.

Tackling the obesity epidemic requires a prevention approach that de-saturates the food environment. Ways to do that come from studying our experience with tobacco: reducing the availability of harmful substances reduces consumption, thereby reducing harms to health.

Americans consume an average of 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day, more than double the recommendation, and the main source is sodas, sports drinks and energy drinks. Schmidt talks about the Healthy Beverage Initiative launched at UCSF in 2015 which makes it easy to purchase healthy beverages while opting out of promoting sugar-sweetened ones. She describes it as a win-win for employee health and employer spending.

Laura A. Schmidt, PhD, is a Professor of Health Policy in the School of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. She holds a joint appointment in the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies and the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine. Schmidt is also Co-Director of the Community Engagement and Health Policy Program for UCSF’s Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. She received her PhD training in sociology at UC Berkeley and while there, completed doctoral coursework in public health, and also holds a masters degree in clinical social work.

Watch Sugar: The Unsweetened Truth and What We Can Do About It.


Shark Advocate

Leading lives of mystery throughout the shadowy depths of all the world’s oceans, sharks have long fascinated the public, in large part because of how little is known about their lives and behavior. Popular media has often promoted images of large, aggressive predators, but as we learn more we find most sharks are not dangerous to people and moreover are a vital part of many healthy ocean ecosystems.

One person who is striving to understand sharks close to home is Scripps Institution’s Dovi Kacev, who takes you on an illuminating journey into the Southern California Bight to learn about the sharks that make our offshore region their home.

Kacev grew up traveling between San Diego and South Africa, where animals and the ocean quickly became his passion. He holds a PhD in ecology from a joint program offered by San Diego State University and UC Davis and a BS in marine biology and economics from UCLA.

Watch Shark Geek: A Window into Shark Ecology in the Southern California Bight.


Defending Earth

Our planet has been continually bombarded by asteroids since its formation, 4.5 billion years ago. While the frequency of large impacts has decreased, many potential Near-Earth Object threats remain undiscovered, so if or when they will impact Earth remains unknown. The good news is that an asteroid impact is the only large-scale natural disaster that is, in theory, preventable. Fortunately, if an Earth-threatening asteroid is discovered in time, there are ways to mitigate or even prevent a disaster.

If an asteroid is found to be on a collision course with Earth, it can be diverted by a few different methods. For long warning times and asteroids that are not too big, a heavy “kinetic impactor” spacecraft can be used to impact the asteroid at high speeds, giving it a slight nudge so that it safely misses Earth. When warning times are short or the asteroid is large, kinetic impactors cannot provide enough momentum for the asteroid to miss Earth. In these cases, a nuclear device can be sent into space to deflect the asteroid. Very short warning time scenarios, where deflection is impossible, can be handled by using a similar device to fragment the asteroid into many small, well-dispersed pieces.

Scientists at LLNL provide computer simulations in preparation these scenarios so if the time comes where an asteroid is headed our way, we will be prepared.

Watch Planetary Defense: Avoiding a Cosmic Catastrophe.


The Origins of Today’s Humans

Where did we humans come from? When did we become the dominant species on the planet?

Evidence indicates that we all descended from a small population that arose in Africa about 200,000 years ago. Since then, that small population spread throughout the globe, interbreeding with other human-like species, picking up some of their DNA and eventually replacing all close evolutionary cousins – leaving only one human species.

In the last half-decade there has been a flood of new information from ancient DNA, fossils, archaeology and population studies.

Hear about how this has updated our knowledge from world renowned experts on The Origins of Today’s Humans.