New Words in the OED, New Ruling with the First Amendment, and More—This Week in the News


In a fast-moving, ever-shifting world, news is continuously breaking. The Great Courses is here to help you understand the full story behind the soundbites. Here are a handful of stories for the week of March 18, 2019, and their accompanying lectures on The Great Courses Plus.

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Court Rules Gesture Is Protected by Constitution
In a 3-0 decision, the federal court ruled a woman’s constitutional rights were violated after she was punished with an increased ticket for “giving the finger” to a police officer during a traffic stop. This ruling means that gestures are protected under the First Amendment as free speech. The American free speech tradition is the principle that speech can only be suppressed when it poses an imminent threat of provoking serious lawless action. Learn about this key principle which wasn’t embraced by the Supreme Court until the 20th century.

Experts Are Calling for a Ban on Gene Editing of Human Embryos
In 2018, Chinese biophysicist Jiankui He announced the use of a controversial gene-editing technology (CRISPR) to genetically alter the genes in embryos and give them immunity to HIV. Since then, there has been an intense debate in the scientific community about the implications that come with this advancement, culminating in a number of experts calling for a ban on it. See how far we’ve come with CRISPR and evaluate the promise and perils of this technology, which lets us take evolution into our own hands.

New Words Added to the Oxford English Dictionary May Surprise You
The March 2019 update to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) includes 650 new words, phrases, and senses. Our favorite new word is a term that was first used in 1971 and means: “a large, hairy (and apparently smelly), manlike creature supposedly inhabiting the swamps of Florida.” Look at the lifespan of words from birth to death and consider the “semantics”—the study of how words mean what they mean.

Certain Cities Scale Back Recycling Due to Skyrocketing Costs
Hundreds of U.S. towns and cities canceled or scaled back recycling programs due to increased costs. The upswing in cost stems from a reduction in international buyers of imported scrap. Many localities are facing the decision between raising taxes, cutting other municipal programs, or abandoning the environmental efforts that have been in effect since the 1970s. Understand three main methods of dealing with the 700,000 tons of solid waste generated every day in the United States—landfill, incineration, and recycling—and explore the distinction between recycling and down-cycling.

Presidential Hopefuls Call for End of Electoral Vote
In South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg proposed abolishing the Electoral College on the first day of his exploratory presidential campaign. A number of candidates in the running have embraced this idea. Buttigieg said it’s a simple argument: “We ought to actually be [in a] place where the person who gets the most votes for president gets to win the election.” Delve into paradoxical outcomes of elections at national, state, and even club levels as you assess the U.S. Electoral College system, which is especially prone to counterintuitive results.

Can Changes in the Earth-Strength Magnetic Fields Affect Your Brain?
Scientists have developed a robust experiment that shows many humans are able to unconsciously detect changes in Earth-strength magnetic fields. Honeybees, salmon, turtles, birds, whales, and bats use the geomagnetic field to help them navigate, and it has long been theorized that humans may share a similar ability. Discover how we can experience the magnetic fields visually through the shimmering colors of auroras, which result when particles from the solar wind are accelerated in Earth’s magnetic field.

Daily Low-Dose Aspirin No Longer Recommended by Doctors
New guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association suggest low-dose aspirin should not be recommended to prevent heart attacks in healthy older adults or to any adult who has an increased risk of bleeding. The idea that low-dose aspirin can help prevent heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular disease has been common practice for decades but appears to be a placebo effect. The risk of internal bleeding often outweighs the benefit. Understand how placebos are defined and what their different effects can be; so you can better grasp whether they really make for an effective form of medicine.

Dick Dale, Father of Surf Pop, Passes
Dick Dale, known for pioneering the genre of surf-rock, taking reverb to new levels, and collaborating on guitars and amplifiers with Leo Fender died March 16 at the age of 81. Get to know the man behind Dick Dale and His Del-Tones, who started playing at the Rinky Dink Ice Cream Parlor in Newport Beach, California. Then, follow the evolution of Dale’s signature sound: instrumental, rocket-fueled guitar that sounds like surfing feels.

Horrifying Case Shows Need for Caution When Ear Cleaning
A recently published case report outlines how an otherwise healthy 31-year-old man collapsed, experienced seizures, and was confused, drowsy, and occupying an altered state of consciousness due to Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a dangerous disease-causing pathogen. The medical belief is this bacterium came from the fragment of a cotton bud (commonly called a Q-Tip®), which was stuck inside his head. The patient had reportedly been feeling “intermittent left-ear pain and hearing loss” for the past five years. While it may seem like a simple problem, it turns out there are a lot of ways ear infections present themselves—and a lot of ways doctors treat them.

We will be diligently monitoring current events and sharing updates on a regular basis, linking the latest headlines to our courses, so you can get the context, history, background, deeper meaning, and—especially—the facts. Our goal is to help our lifelong learners apply the knowledge they gain from our courses to the real world and become better-informed citizen about the present-day issues that concern us all.