It’s been a week of oops and consequence.
On Monday, the makers of the most widely-used security software on the web announced a bug—Heartbleed—that exposed millions of people’s data and passwords, perhaps the worst breach in the relatively young life of the internet as we know it. On Wednesday, Toyota joined GM in recalling millions of its cars. At this pace, more cars will be returned to automakers by Americans this year than ever before.
And have we mentioned bananas are dying out?
The global economy seems to lend itself to these situations. How did your passwords get exposed? A volunteer working to maintain open-source cryptography software made a simple error. For two years, no one noticed, but millions of companies were relying on it (because it was free) to protect customers’ financial transactions and Facebook pictures. Why so many faulty cars? In part, because cheap mass production demands the same parts be used in as many cars as possible: In GM’s case, millions of ignition switches just 1.6 millimeters too short. Why are we losing our bananas? Industrial farmers and poor countries alike have largely relied on just a single species of banana, the Cavendish, that is easy to grow and transport—but quickly succumbing to epidemic disease.
It won’t be the first banana species to have gone virtually extinct, let alone the first monoculture crop to prove vulnerable. But the Heartbleed bug and mass car recalls stem from a similar over-reliance on one variety to maximize efficiency. In the case of cars and bananas, the cost of fixing the problem at first seems too high, but then becomes both enormous and unavoidable; GM’s decision to delay addressing its ignition problem because it cost too much brings to mind Ford’s dallying over the Pinto recalls of the 1970s. With Heartbleed, the cost is still unclear. What is clear is that in a globalized, standardized, monoculture world, one unexpected error can quickly become everyone’s problem.—Tim Fernholz
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
How Angela Merkel is rewriting Germany’s relationship with Russia. The chancellor has quietly shed her predecessors’ chummy closeness with Russian leaders, writes Jason Karaian, and changed a doctrine of “business as usual under almost any circumstances” for a tougher insistence on European unity and international law.
Debunking Narendra Modi’s economic record. The front-runner for prime minister of India worries many with his rightwing politics but is praised for his economic record as chief minister of Gujarat. Heather Timmons and Arshiya Khullar dig into a long list of indicators and find that on most counts Gujarat remains undistinguished, and on some has slipped.
Fitness trackers could bring back the oldest form of birth control. New technology, meet ancient tradition. By allowing women to track when they’re most fertile, apps and electronic bracelets could help them avoid pregnancy by the rhythm method, writes Rachel Feltman—though they and their partners will still need good old-fashioned self-discipline.
Americans’ love of their dogs is getting a little weird. Judging by demographic and pet ownership data, young people are starting to substitute small dogs for babies, Roberto Ferdman finds. And judging by sales of high-end pet food, they think their dogs deserve to eat better than they do.
What life was like in the world of Mad Men. The final season of the hit TV show starts on April 13, and we put together this series of charts comparing the America of 1970 with the country of today. (People drank more booze, more milk, more coffee, but less soda.)
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
Why futurology is a booming business despite being largely wrong. Bryan Appleyard at the New Statesman looks at some of the most prominent practitioners of techno-utopianism and concludes that their belief systems are “structurally identical” to doomsday preachers, who as it happens also operate at the intersection of money and faith.
What it’s like living with obsessive-compulsive disorder. David Adam is a science writer, but his OCD made him paranoid beyond all rationality about picking up diseases or passing them on himself. In a book extract published in the Guardian, he explains how he came to confront the real problem, and, at least partly, to solve it.
Our biases have extraordinary power to make us stupid. Ezra Klein in Vox on new research showing that not only do people misinterpret data to suit their political views, they’re even more likely to do it if they’re better at math. Worth reading in conjunction with Chris Mooney’s 2011 piece in Mother Jones on why climate-change skeptics aren’t convinced by the evidence. And perhaps Christie Nicholson in Smartplanet about how bad we are even at assessing ourselves accurately.
The hidden destruction that killing in war wreaks on a mind. Some 22 US veterans commit suicide a day. Kevin Sites in Aeon recounts how psychologists discovered that “moral injury,” the guilt born of taking another person’s life, can do more damage than post-traumatic stress order, which it can be masked by or mistaken for.
Samsung’s long war over cancer. Dozens of Koreans have developed acute forms of leukemia after exposure to carcinogens in Samsung’s factories. In Businessweek, Cam Simpson has a fascinating, sad, and important investigation into the long fight between the company and its workers.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Mad Men statistics, and futurology predictions to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.