Ebola panic hit the US this week, and the WHO declared the current outbreak—the deadliest in Ebola’s 40-year history—an “international public health emergency.” Prominent US right-wingers fanned the flames of fear.
And yes, this outbreak should frighten us. But not the outbreak per se. Ebola is not that easy to catch—it isn’t an airborne infection, regardless of what some irresponsible pundits have said—and any country with half-decent health infrastructure can easily isolate patients and stop the disease from spreading.
The reason it has traveled so easily in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea is that their health infrastructure is simply horrendous. And that is why we should be worried. Because what if it weren’t Ebola?
Imagine a virus as deadly and untreatable as Ebola, but one that is spread by coughing and sneezing. Its transmission would be exponential—so swift that countries like the US would struggle to contain it. Worse, the more a virus spreads the more it replicates. That means more chances for it to mutate into an even more virulent strain.
We’ve had a small taste of this already. The 2002-03 SARS outbreak jangled nerves worldwide—but it happened in Hong Kong, a first-world city, and it was (just about) contained. A similar epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, or plenty of other places, could be catastrophic. By the time it reached the developed world, it might be beyond control.
So while the current hysteria about Ebola is misplaced, the basic sentiment isn’t unjustified. The health of the developed and the developing world are inextricably linked. And that’s the lesson rich countries should take from this Ebola outbreak: Third-world poverty isn’t just the third world’s problem.—Gwynn Guilford
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
What makes ISIL the worst. “Simply put, ISIL is an unholy combination of al-Qaeda, the Khmer Rouge, and the Nazis,” writes Bobby Ghosh, and the minorities in its sights in Kurdistan are at risk of genuine, old-fashioned genocide.
The ethics of driverless cars. What if the only way to avoid killing a child who steps into the street is to crash the car and risk killing the driver? Would you trust your self-driving vehicle to decide? Jason Millar poses a perhaps extreme hypothetical to highlight the moral dilemmas of designing autonomous robots.
The US’s top engineering schools are like Hogwarts. Someone jokingly compared Stanford, MIT, Caltech, and Harvard’s computer-science departments to the houses of Harry Potter’s school. Max Nisen took a look at where their graduates get jobs and found some truth to the characterizations.
New Yorkers should really quit complaining. A recent survey found New York to be the US’s unhappiest city: The rent is too high, the apartments too small, the summers too hot, the competition too fierce… Annalisa Merelli digs up some comparison that give the lie to the complaints (not that that will dissuade New Yorkers from their favorite pastime).
What a warmer world of wine will look like. Some French vintners call climate change “le bon problème“—it helps their grapes ripen and makes their vineyards more fruitful. But, explains Gwynn Guilford, the shifting temperatures will also cause all kinds of upsets, and leave wine-lovers both drunker and poorer.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
What is it with architects and chairs? “Buildings are all very well, but it seems you haven’t truly made it as an architect until you’ve given us something to sit on,” writes Ruth Metzstein in Intelligent Life. The chair often represents an architect’s grand vision, and pretenses, distilled down to a human scale. But they ”have a reputation for being better to look at than sit on.”
How the internet destroyed the last real movie star. You may not care about Tom Cruise, or celebrities in general, but Amy Nicholson’s tale in LA Weekly about how the actor’s rise to fame coincided with the rise of independent gossip bloggers and viral videos—thus derailing what could have been a legendary career—is also a broader parable for the technology of our time.
Who paid off the mourners in Yemen? Last year a US drone strike killed 12 people at a wedding party near Radaa. In a remarkable piece of reporting for Buzzfeed, Gregory Johnsen tells the story of the local sheikh who took on the job of defusing tensions and channeling compensation to the families. But one mystery remains: Who provided the $800,000 in blood money?
A fascinating profile about a boring startup. Stewart Butterfield co-founded Flickr, the photo-sharing site. His new baby, Slack, is a messaging service that’s taken many companies (including us at Quartz) by storm. Remarkably, both Flickr and Slack were the byproducts of failed ventures. But as Mat Honan explains in Wired, they weren’t accidents at all.
The dark side of Abu Dhabi’s temples to high culture. Branches of Guggenheim, the Louvre, and New York University are all rising on Saadiyat Island, built by immigrant workers under often appalling conditions. Molly Crabapple reports for Vice on their plight, and reflects on how often the pinnacles of human art and intellect reside in buildings constructed on the sweat and (literal) blood of the poor.
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