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170 MIN READ TIME

The State of Tumortown

BY L. KIRK HAGEN

IN MAY 2016, JOHN HORGAN OF SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN wrote a blog in which he chastises “Capital-S” Skeptics for obsessing over “soft targets” like homeopathy and Bigfoot while neglecting “hard targets” like warfare and our dysfunctional cancer culture. Horgan thinks Skeptics should be more skeptical of science. His objective is admirable. His aim is hit-and-miss. The biggest miss is his claim that war is a cultural “innovation” that emerged about 12,000 years ago. One problem: The human diaspora had gone nearly global by 10,000 BCE. Humans arrived in the Americas 6,000 years before Horgan’s war-invention date. They made it to Australia much earlier, and there is overwhelming evidence of prehistoric warfare in both of those places. If war is an invention, it has obviously been invented many times. Horgan has merely kicked the can down the road, and now owes us an explanation of why humans seem to invent warfare nearly every chance they get.1

Illustration by Simone Rein

On the other hand, Horgan merits a partial hit for his comments about the war on cancer. He doesn’t get full credit because he cherry-picks his data. Horgan first laments that America ranks 34th worldwide in longevity. We’re actually 31st, but more important, the distribution of longevity is skewed. Japan leads with a life expectancy rounded off to 84 years. Seven countries tie for second place at 83, ten are at 82, and eleven are at 81. Just 4.4 years separate the USA from the top spot. At 31st from the bottom, on the other hand, are Papua New Guinea and South Africa, at 63 years. That’s 16 years behind the USA, and 13 years ahead of last-place Sierra Leone.2

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