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Published on 1/8/2020 additional information available

"The system is making young people ill"

# internment
# Uighur Muslims
# infection
# treating Islam

Hey, Future Perfect readers!


If your head is spinning from the impeachment hearings and the Democratic debate, and you need a few minutes of blessedly Trump-free reading, you’ve come to the right place. Here are four other things that caught my attention this week:


1) I can’t stop thinking about the Xinjiang Papers published in the New York Times: 400 pages of leaked documents that shed light on China’s internment camps for Uighur Muslims. One of the things that jumped out at me was the pathologizing language used to describe Islam — a “virus,” an “infection,” an addictive “drug.”


We already knew that China had been treating Islam like a mental illness, as I reported last year. What we did not know was that this language was coming from the very top — President Xi Jinping himself — and that the leader used these terms as far back as 2014.


Since the Xinjiang Papers came out, a bunch of people have asked me what we can do about this human rights crisis. I’m in the process of compiling some concrete action items with the help of my Uighur sources, but in the meantime, you can check out my initial suggestions here.


2) I’m Canadian, and I’m a woman of color, and I write about AI. For all these reasons, I was disturbed to read that Canada has — for the second year in a row — denied visas to numerous African researchers planning to attend NeurIPS, a major AI conference in Vancouver. Their attendance is crucial. To solve problems like algorithmic bias, the AI research community really needs as much diversity as possible.


So why is Canada doing this? Apparently, the country is “not satisfied that [they] will leave Canada at the end of [their] stay as a temporary resident,” to quote the visa denial letter that one researcher in Nigeria tweeted. As I reported last year, Canada has been making it harder for people from certain countries (Nigeria is a known example) to get visas lest they never leave. 


3) “The truth is that the system is making young people ill,” says a new Nature editorial about the mental health of PhD researchers. The piece contains survey data showing that students increasingly feel their wellbeing is suffering because of their grad programs. In 2017, 12 percent of doctoral student respondents worldwide said they’d sought help for anxiety or depression caused by their PhD study. In a new survey of 6,300 students, that proportion rose to 36 percent.


The problem is especially glaring in the UK, where a whopping 86 percent reported significant levels of anxiety. I’m not exactly surprised, because I’ve read and heard many horror stories from my friends doing PhDs. But these stats are so striking that they highlight the urgency of the problem.


4) I’ve written before in this newsletter about sleep loss, which is so common and so bad for our health that the CDC has labeled it an epidemic. Researchers have found that low-income people and racial minorities get less sleep than others for a number of reasons (they may work several jobs in shifts, have more financial stress, etc). 


A study published today suggests that lack of sleep is one reason why poor people are more likely to suffer from heart disease. This was the first big population-based study of its kind, with data from 111,205 participants in four European countries. It found that insufficient sleep explained 13.4 percent of the link between occupation and coronary heart disease in men (the effect was less pronounced for women).


“Structural reforms are needed at every level of society,” said one of the authors, “to enable people to get more sleep.”


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