🔮 Down the Rabbit Hole – #129

How to deal with a world in distress.

Good morning,

So, about two weeks ago, I talked about Better Odds and the different types of insights we monitor at a small event. I touched upon topics like climate change, geopolitics, privacy, disinformation, conspiracy theories, etc.

During the Q&A, someone asked me how I stay sane when my work focuses on such serious topics.

“I have a therapist”, I jokingly answered. “And I’d rather know what is happening in the world than get unpleasantly surprised one day.”

But the question has stayed with me ever since.

My first reflection is that I’m not sure if I would qualify as sane. When you work with risk, you learn how to accept the worst-case scenario pretty quickly. You control what you can and try to accept the rest.

Like many others, I have far from perfect mental health. And while it is very annoying in many ways, I realise it might help me do this type of work. I don’t get additionally worried about the state of the world because my primal brain is occupied worrying about other things.

Also, I think the fact that I’m used to less-than-perfect mental health has provided me with both some tools to make things better and a lot of acceptance that some days are just going to be bad.

Fortunately, I also have people who care about me. My closest friends are all quite used to my ups and downs, and they have found ways to support me that are natural to them. I also don’t think I could be friends with someone who doesn’t understand and accept that I sometimes deal with heavy stuff.

Some of my friends have had similar jobs and know what it can be like.

When I started regularly working on these topics a couple of years ago, I had a weekly meeting that felt pretty apocalyptic. And every time, one of my superiors was available if I needed to debrief some of the darkness afterwards—a small gesture showing that I wasn’t alone.

So, whenever I feel beaten down by the state of the world or work on something that feels particularly difficult, I have people to call. People who can relate, are used to weighing the ethical implications of tough calls, and know how to help find some light in the dark.

And as I’ve concluded so many times in this newsletter, that is what builds resilience: the people we surround ourselves with.

Still, I realise that the question might stay with me partly because I don’t know the answer. I have no idea how much this work impacts me or how to handle it best. I just know there is nothing else I’d like to do, so I’ll have to find a way.

Anna

PS. Next week, the newsletter will take an Easter break. I look forward to seeing you again in April.

Listen — With Russia again at the centre of the news cycle, I can recommend the podcast Putin by BBC Radio 4.

Book — The book I reference most often in conversations at work is (by far) The Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner. It’s a short, simple read that will change how you see the world.

ArticleWhy Do We Undervalue Competent Management? A study of 12,000 firms found that large, persistent gaps in basic managerial practices were associated with large, persistent differences in firm performance.

FindGoodbooks gathers reading recommendations from “successful people.” Yes, it's cheesy, but it’s a convenient way to find new books.

Do — Pick up something you used to enjoy. I started playing tennis again after a 15+ year break. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Russian TV aired deepfake disinformation following Moscow terrorist attack

Geopolitics, Disinformation

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Moscow on Friday, Russian TV has shared a deepfake video falsely implicating Ukraine as being behind the attack.

What happened: The Russian NTV TV channel, known for its pro-Kremlin stance, released a deepfake video featuring Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, allegedly admitting Ukraine's involvement in the March 22 terrorist attack.

Debunking the story: The Ukrainian Center for Countering Disinformation (@CforCD) revealed that the deepfake was engineered by blending two recent interviews—one with Danilov and another with Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine's military intelligence chief. AI-generated audio mimicking Danilov's voice was then dubbed over the new video, aligning the visual and auditory elements to construct a believable yet entirely artificial scenario.

The two original videos that were used

Quality considerations: Despite the intentions behind its creation, the deepfake's low quality and the clear mismatch between Danilov's supposed actions and speech patterns make its artificial nature obvious to anyone who looks close. Still, despite its low quality, it could easily pass as believable content in a fast-paced information landscape for those who already subscribe to the narrative.

Between the lines: This incident underscores the dual-edged sword of digital innovation, where advanced technologies connect, inform, manipulate, and deceive. Quickly identifying and debunking such falsehoods is crucial to mitigating their potential harm.

The big picture: The rise of deepfakes represents a significant challenge to society, reminding the public and policymakers alike of the importance of critical thinking and verified sources.

Abortion pill case in the US Supreme Court highlights challenges with “junk science”

Health, Legislation

The United States Supreme Court is set to hear a landmark case this week, FDA v Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine (AHM), centring on the abortion medication mifepristone, with potentially far-reaching implications for abortion access across the nation, including in states with protective laws.

Controversial evidence: At the heart of the case is a dispute over the safety of medication abortion. Chris Adkins, a US pharmacy professor, raised significant concerns about a study from an anti-abortion research institute, which claimed that medication abortion is less safe than widely accepted by over 100 peer-reviewed studies. The global publisher Sage retracted three related papers after an investigation.

Research under scrutiny: The anti-abortion movement's strategic investment in producing and disseminating research to support legal and legislative restrictions on abortion has led to the judicial adoption of disputed evidence. This includes work by the Charlotte Lozier Institute and other groups aiming to strengthen anti-abortion arguments through academic publications.

Legal implications: The lawsuit brought by anti-abortion doctors challenges the FDA's relaxed prescribing restrictions for mifepristone. The Biden administration and the drug's manufacturer argue the plaintiffs lack standing, setting the stage for a legal showdown that could redefine the FDA’s regulatory authority and impact the availability of not only abortion medication but potentially other controversial drugs.

Wider consequences: Legal and medical experts express concern over the misuse of so-called "junk science" in pivotal court cases. The Supreme Court's decision could not only shape the landscape of abortion rights but also challenge the FDA's oversight capabilities, stirring debates over scientific integrity and regulatory standards.

The ongoing battle over evidence: Despite retractions and criticism from the scientific community, the contested quality of anti-abortion research underscores the challenges of maintaining rigorous scientific standards within highly politicised legal battles. The outcome of this case may hinge on the Court's interpretation of contested evidence, highlighting the intersection of law, science, and reproductive rights in America.

Dell tightens remote work policy, limits promotions and role changes

Work

Big change: Dell Technologies has rolled out a stringent return-to-office mandate that bars fully remote employees from receiving promotions or switching roles, signalling a major pivot in its workplace flexibility.

Details: Under the new policy, employees must choose between a "hybrid" model with mandatory presence in an approved office for roughly three days a week or remaining fully remote with no pathway to promotion. This decision starkly contrasts with Dell's previous stance on remote work flexibility.

Impact: The shift has sparked internal backlash, particularly as it affects women disproportionately. Dell had previously been praised for its inclusivity and flexible working arrangements, which supported employees through significant life changes.

Transparency: Many experts have said workers who spend less or no time in the office are at risk of being passed over for promotions in traditional office-centric workplaces. However, Dell is the first large company to declare that remote workers are not eligible for promotions or role changes.

Background: For over a decade, Dell embraced a hybrid working culture, with its CEO, Michael Dell, vocally supporting remote work even post-pandemic. However, the new mandate marks a departure from this approach amidst criticisms of reducing workforce autonomy and potentially aiming for indirect staff reductions through "quiet firing."

Global context: The move comes at a time when many companies are reevaluating remote work policies introduced during the pandemic. Dell's decision contributes to the broader debate on the future of work and the balance between flexibility and in-office collaboration.

China's current export surge risk reigniting global trade tensions

Geopolitics, Economics

A surge in Chinese manufacturing output — spanning cars, appliances, and high-tech items — will likely reignite trade tensions, particularly with the United States and Europe. Economists warn this could impact global markets and domestic job landscapes.

By the numbers: In February, goods imported from China were 3.1% cheaper than a year ago, aiding the United States Federal Reserve's inflation fight but potentially undercutting American manufacturers. China's early 2024 factory output jumped 7% from the previous year, signalling an ongoing production ramp-up.

Global dominance: Since 2019, China's manufacturing sector has expanded by about 25%, while US production has remained stagnant. China's current account surplus is nearing record highs, exacerbating global trade imbalances.

Auto industry at risk: Chinese automakers, capable of producing 40 million cars annually, are flooding markets well beyond their domestic needs, with exports last year quintupling from 2020's totals. This competitive edge, particularly in electric vehicles, alarms US and European manufacturers.

Trade friction: Recent moves have sparked concern, including a US Steelworkers Union petition for a trade investigation into China’s shipbuilding practices. European officials are also eyeing tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles, citing unfair subsidies.

Subsidy scrutiny: China’s hefty state support for its industries — more than double that of other countries, including the US — has drawn criticism for distorting market competition and fostering excessive capacity.

Economic strategy: Amid a domestic property market slump, China aims to export its way out of economic slowdowns. While potentially easing global inflation, this strategy threatens industries key to Western economies' manufacturing revival ambitions.

The bigger picture: With China constituting 31% of global manufacturing value-added, its export boom challenges international relations and trade policies, pushing major economies toward a delicate balance of self-reliance and interconnected commerce.

World Happiness Report 2024 Reveals Global Trends

Health, Development

The latest World Happiness Report was released this week, offering the most comprehensive analysis of happiness levels across ages and generations. The report is a joint effort by Gallup, the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and the WHR Editorial Board.

Finland leads: For the seventh year running, Finland has been named the happiest country worldwide. However, significant changes are noted elsewhere in the rankings, highlighting shifts in global well-being.

Notable shifts: Serbia and Bulgaria have seen the largest happiness increase since 2013, climbing 69 and 63 places in the rankings, respectively. Meanwhile, the United States has dropped out of the top 20, mainly due to declining well-being among Americans under 30.

Bottom rank: Afghanistan remains the world’s unhappiest country, according to the report’s findings.

Generational insights: For the first time, the report provides happiness rankings by age group, with Lithuania leading for those under 30 and Denmark for those aged 60 and older. Data suggest individuals born before 1965 are generally happier than those born since 1980, with noticeable differences in life satisfaction trends between Millennials and Boomers.

Methodology: Happiness rankings are based on a three-year average of self-reported life evaluations, incorporating factors like GDP, life expectancy, social support, freedom, generosity, and perceptions of corruption.

Global observations: Young people aged 15 to 24 report higher life satisfaction than older adults, but this gap is narrowing in Europe and has recently reversed in North America. Findings also suggest that the well-being of 15- to 24-year-olds has fallen in North America, Western Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia since 2019—while rising in the rest of the world.

Additional findings: Research included in the report also explores the connection between well-being and dementia, suggesting that higher happiness levels may lower the risk of developing the disease.

Global Sentiment Shifts on Gender Equality

Equality, Development

A significant shift in global attitudes towards gender equality has emerged, with recent research revealing that over half of the population in 31 countries now believes efforts for female equality have gone too far.

Research findings: According to the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London and the Ipsos polling group, there's been an 11% increase since 2019 in the number of people who feel gender equality efforts are sufficient, jumping from 42% to 53%.

Enough Equality: Progress towards gender equality is slow; across a 31-country average, over half of people (54%) believe that giving women equal rights has “gone far enough in their country.” By gender, men are more likely than women to agree with this statement (60% vs. 49%).

Perception of discrimination: Across a 31-country average, people are divided on whether we have gone so far in promoting women’s equality that we are “discriminating against men” (46% agree vs. 47% disagree). Over half of men (53%) agreed with this statement, compared to two in five women (39%).

Generational divide: There is a 20-percentage point difference between men and women in Gen Z when it comes to thinking women’s equality discriminates against men. Six in ten (60%) Gen Z men say this is the case, while four in ten Gen Z women (40%) feel this is the case.

Contrasting with reality: Despite these perceptions, women globally continue to earn less than men and spend significantly more time on unpaid care work, highlighting the ongoing struggle for true gender parity.

A long journey ahead: Estimates suggest over a century is needed to achieve political equality for women. Given the persistent economic and social disparities, the data points to a complex, multifaceted challenge in advancing gender equality worldwide.

Thank you for reading. I hope you learned something new. ✨

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