After images of immigrant children being held in chain-link cages at a facility in Texas began circulating online, followed by leaked audio of a group of kids crying in desperation for their parents, President Trump gave into political pressure on Wednesday and signed an executive order ending his administration’s policy of separating families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Though the news was a welcome relief to many — as 500 of the more than 2,300 children separated are said to have been reunited with their families — doctors, psychologists, and child welfare experts say lasting damage has likely already been done.
In an interview with CNN, Colleen Kraft, head of the American Academy of Pediatrics, asserted that taking children who have already fled traumatic events in their home countries from their parents amounts to child abuse. “It produces a condition called toxic stress, which is an elevation of your fight or flight hormones,” Kraft told CNN. “It disrupts their brain architecture and keeps them from developing language and social-emotional bonds, and gross motor skills.”
When Kraft visited a facility run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement in Texas, she said she was told workers were not allowed to pick up or touch the children in any way. “The really basic, foundational needs of having trust in adults as a young child was not being met,” she told The Washington Post. “That contradicts everything we know that the kids need to build their health.”
In addition to issues with development, public health experts say childhood trauma, if left untreated, is associated with alcoholism, substance use disorders, depression, and suicide, among other problems.
In a statement published on Wednesday, following Trump’s roll back of the separation policy, the American Psychological Association said children need to be reunited with their families as soon as possible to minimize any long-term damage.
Also in the news:
• On Wednesday, the pro-animal research advocacy group Speaking of Research published an open letter in USA Today urging institutions across the United States to “develop new and innovative ways to communicate their vital research with the American public.” The letter was signed by nearly 600 scientists, students, and lab animal workers, including four Nobel Prize–winning biologists. While there are policies in place in most countries, including the U.S., to ease or prevent pain in lab animals whenever possible, doing so is not an easy task, and, as advocates who oppose animal research will point out, animal trial results don’t always translate to humans. (Science)
• Canada became the second nation in the world to legalize marijuana on Thursday, after the Senate passed a bill known as the “Cannabis Act” in a 52-29 vote. When the act goes into effect on October 17, recreational marijuana use will be sanctioned in all provinces and territories. (In the U.S., in contrast, recreational use is legalized in only nine states and the District of Columbia.) The October implementation date represents an extension of several months beyond the government’s original timeframe, to allow local governments more time to establish retail and online shops. It also allows more time for the provinces and territories to set regulations; for instance, raising the minimum legal age for recreational use by an additional year. (CTV News)
• Nathan Myhrvold, the former Microsoft chief technologist, is known for many things: his passion for paleontology, his award-winning modernist cooking, his status as a “patent troll” who buys up cheap patents to exact payments from companies he accuses of infringing them. Lately he’s turned his attention to outer space, and in 2016 he accused NASA of relying on flawed science in its assessments of thousands of asteroids with the potential of striking Earth. The space agency dismissed his concerns, but now Myhrvold has earned a measure of revenge: Icarus, a leading planetary science journal, published his peer-reviewed paper arguing that NASA’s estimate of the sizes of many near-Earth asteroids might be off by more than 100 percent — an important error, if proved, because the larger the asteroid, the more damage it could do in a collision. (It was an asteroid, of course, that wiped out Myhrvold’s beloved dinosaurs.) NASA did not offer a direct rebuttal, and at least one agency scientist acknowledged that “for the most part, I think Myhrvold is correct.” (New York Times)
• Methane — a potent contributor to atmospheric climate change — is leaking from American oil and gas wells, pipelines, and storage sites at a rate some 60 percent higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency originally estimated, a new study concludes. Published in the journal Science, the report estimates methane leaks from energy infrastructure average more than 28 billion pounds a year and calls into question the methods used by the EPA to calculate oil and industry effects on environment. The study was done by a consortium of researchers from universities, federal agencies, and environmental groups. Ramón Alvarez, a lead author from the Environmental Defense Fund, says the leaked gas “essentially doubles the climate impact of natural gas use over a 20-year period.” (Buzzfeed)
• It’s an old story by now: Electronic and appliance waste migrates from rich countries to poor countries, where enterprising laborers with few better options dismantle or burn gnarled mountains of old electronics in search of salable parts — mostly metals like copper. Along the way, noxious fumes and chemicals are released into the local environment with few controls and very real impacts on the health of the local communities where such ad hoc industries flourish. But while most Westerners associate the e-waste problem with struggling areas of Africa and Asia, parts of the Palestinian Territories, too, are awash in discarded computers, printers, and other byproducts of the digital age — much of it from Israel, and very often to demonstrably ill effect. A grassroots movement, spearheaded by Palestinian mothers and guided by researchers on both sides of the political divide, are now fighting for change — one burning pile of e-waste at a time. “We started burning as much as we could get our hands on,” one recycler told our reporter. “Then nobody thought, or cared, about the dangers.” (Undark)
• And finally: The famed western lowland gorilla Koko, said to have been fluent in American Sign Language and to understand some 2,000 words of spoken English, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 46. Born at San Francisco Zoo on July 4, 1971, Koko began learning sign language the following year from psychologist Francine “Penny” Patterson. Over the years, she was able to use more than 1,000 different signs and became an ambassador for her species, appearing in documentaries and twice on the cover of National Geographic. Beyond her language abilities, which have been questioned by some scientists, Koko stunned the world when she learned to play the recorder in 2012, demonstrating a control of breath thought only to be possible in humans. (NPR)