The feature articles, columns, and essays in The Atlantic's annual Ideas issue include:
How Junk Food Can End Obesity
Is Michael Pollan wrong? Could the famous food writer, along with other influential advocates of unprocessed, local, farm-fresh foods be delusional in thinking that this "wholesome" way of eating can really solve the America's obesity crisis? In his cover story, David H. Freedman finds that much of the wholesome-food movement is fantasy, and demonizing processed food may actually be dooming the masses to a lifetime of obesity and disease. Freedman makes the case that embracing the evolving science of processed foods--even fast food--might make us all healthier in the end.
Digital exclusive: Freedman and Atlantic senior editor Corby Kummer discuss the wacky, futuristic, and delicious science
of junk food.
How Long Can You Wait to Have
Deep anxiety about the ability to have children later in life plagues many women. But the decline in fertility over the course of a woman's 30s has been oversold, Jean M. Twenge reports. The widely cited statistic that one in three women ages 35 to 39 will not be pregnant after a year of trying, for instance, is from a 2004 medical journal. Rarely mentioned is the source of that data: French birth records from 1670 to 1830. The chance of remaining childless--30 percent--was also calculated based on historical populations. In other words, millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment. Contemporary data suggest that there's no real risk to waiting until age 40.
Can Government Play
Based on Peter Orszag and John Bridgeland's calculations, less than $1 out of every $100 the government spends is backed by even the most basic evidence that the money is being used wisely. These two former administration officials--Orszag served as the director of both the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office under Barack Obama; Bridgeland was the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under George W. Bush--were flabbergasted by how blindly the federal government spends. In almost every sector, from business to, famously, professional baseball, sophisticated analyses typically drive spending choices. But in government? Financial decisions are largely based on good intentions, inertia, hunches, partisan politics, and personal relationships. Here, the authors propose how the lessons of "moneyball" could make our government better.
Ideas of the Year
The Atlantic presents its annual guide to the intellectual trends that, for better or worse, are shaping our lives today, plus other insights, provocations, and modest proposals for making the world a better place. Check out 17 big ideas--from requiring citizenship tests for all Americans to crediting the "do-nothing Congress" with actually doing something.
- The Gutless Press: In an R-rated world, why is American news so PG? According to Conor Friedersdorf, whether the subject is war or abortion, the case for publishing graphic images of killing has less to do with the merits of a particular policy view than with photography's power to keep us from evading a subject entirely. (Read more)
- Papa, Don't Text: In this month's Wordplay, Deborah Fallows asks: When parents are glued to their smart phones and are too distracted for baby talk, how do children learn language? (Read more)
- America's Emigration Problem: The conversation about immigration reform typically centers on all the people who want to come to the U.S. But as we see more and more retirees decamping to cheaper countries, Don Peck thinks it's time to broaden the discussion to encompass who's leaving. (Read more)
- NPR's Great Black Hope: The radio network's stereotypical listener is a 50-something white guy. Mark Oppenheimer wonders: Can Glynn Washington, the fastest-rising public-radio star in memory, change that? (Read more)
- How to Build a Digital Brain: In our Tech Column, Alexis Madrigal talks with the Palm founder and self-taught neuroscientist Jeff Hawkins about brains, big data, and the future of artificial intelligence. (Read more)
- Stop Spoiling the Shareholders: Is a misplaced focus on pleasing shareholders sinking American business? Justin Fox makes that case. (Read more)
- The Worst Time to Have Surgery: In our Study of Studies, James Hamblin pours over the data to determine the best--and worst--times to go under the knife. (Read more)
The Culture File:
- 'Til Meth Do Us Part: When AMC's masterful Breaking Bad winds to a close this summer, it's a safe bet that there will be no happy ending for Walter and Jesse. James Parker prepares himself for the final eight episodes of this dark, wondrous series. (Read more)
- Is Franz Kafka Overrated? Critical consensus holds that Franz Kafka is a modernist master on par with Joyce, Proust, and Picasso. Joseph Epstein on why that consensus is wrong. (Read more)
- Tasmanian Idyll: History and beauty--along with wallabies, devils, prisons, cricket matches, museums, and brewpubs--make for an unforgettable setting. James Fallows files this dispatch from Tasmania, 150 miles off the southeastern tip of Australia. (Read more)