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Vox Sentences: Affirmative re-action

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The Justice Department signals it's about to go after affirmative action; scientists reveal a significant advancement in gene editing; Pakistan gets a new prime minister amid a massive corruption scandal.

The Justice Department targets diversity programs

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
  • The US Justice Department wants to crack down on affirmative action policies at colleges and universities, according to a new memo that was leaked last night. [NYT / Charlie Savage]
  • Memos obtained by the New York Times indicate the department plans to investigate and sue colleges and universities for “intentional race-based discrimination.” [NYT / Charlie Savage]
  • The DOJ’s argument is that schools are discriminating against white students by rejecting them in favor of students of color, even if both demonstrate similar academic achievement. [Washington Post / Emma Brown and Sarah Larimer]
  • It could also refer to Asian-American students — who are increasingly seen as the "victims" of affirmative action among groups that oppose these policies. [Vox / Libby Nelson]
  • This move should come as no surprise, given that affirmative action is a huge conservative issue and has been for decades. [The Washington Post / Philip Bump]
  • The issue came up most recently in 2016, when the Supreme Court upheld an affirmative action program at the University of Texas that was challenged by a prospective white student who was not accepted there. [CNN / Ariane de Vogue]
  • Affirmative action proponents, on the other hand, argue that the policy evens the playing field for minority students. In the University of Texas case, the university argued that giving more minority students access to higher education would lead to more diverse leaders in government and business. [The Atlantic / Alia Wong and Isabel Fattal]
  • Some education experts say that rather than such an intense focus on race in colleges and universities, the federal government should be turning its attention to inequality in K-12 education instead. [Inside Higher Ed / Scott Jaschik]

How to edit a human

John Green/Bay Area News Group/TNS via Getty Images
  • Scientists in the United States, China, and South Korea announced a major breakthrough today: They were successfully able to use a gene-editing tool called CRISPR to correct a gene mutation in human embryos. [Nature Magazine / Hong Ma et al.]
  • This advancement is huge — it means scientists can potentially edit human genes to protect babies from certain genetic diseases. [Vox / Eliza Barclay]
  • But the success also opens up a hugely controversial debate in science: How far should we go to engineer our own genetics? [Radiolab / Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich]
  • The technology has the potential to save lives, but there are also a lot of fears about future generations of genetically modified people, and about humans literally being able to choose the genes we want and the ones we don’t. [Wired / Amy Maxmen]
  • So far, the researchers who published the study are saying it would be very difficult to engineer “designer babies” using their methods, because they were unable to insert artificial genes made in the labs; the gene repair only worked when it was a hereditary gene from a parent. [Stat / Sharon Begley]
  • That means, on some level, scientists can only edit disease in a person’s individual family, rather than on a mass scale. [Stat / Sharon Begley]
  • With this advancement, it’s still unclear how much more of this research will continue in the United States, where gene editing is controversial enough that the government does not fund research on it. [MIT Technology Review / Emily Mullin]

Pakistan has a new (temporary) prime minister

Pakistani Press Information Department / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Following a massive corruption scandal, Pakistan has a new prime minister, but he may not be in power for long. [CNN / Euan McKirdy and Sophia Saifi]
  • Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was elected by Pakistan’s parliament earlier this week, after his predecessor Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the country’s supreme court on corruption charges for failing to declare assets that were hidden offshore (a scandal revealed by the Panama Papers investigation). [NYT / Salman Masood]
  • Abbasi was sworn in as a temporary prime minister earlier this week, but the clock is already ticking for the former petroleum minister. Already, the politically powerful Sharif has selected his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif to take office after Abbasi’s temporary term ends in 45 days. [CNN / Euan McKirdy and Sophia Saifi]
  • Nawaz Sharif is the country’s longest-serving civilian politician, and his family is hugely connected in Pakistani government. [The Telegraph / Memphis Barker]
  • Abbasi is a supporter of the Sharif family, and isn’t likely to fight to remain in power after his term is up. But the corruption scandal has already ensnared other members of the Sharif family; if Shehbaz Sharif is implicated, it could mean Abbasi stays in power for longer. [NYT / Mehreen Zahra-Malik]
  • Though the supreme court's ouster was a rare moment of keeping politicians honest in Pakistan, the question remains whether it will be able to continue. Political corruption has long been rampant in the country. [The Atlantic / Omar Waraich]


  • In parts of Peru and the Philippines, big spiders are hard at work constructing structures that look like even bigger spiders (but are actually decoys made from dead bugs). [Wired / Nadia Drake]
  • Toxic runoff from manure and fertilizer is creating a huge dead zone completely devoid of oxygen in the Gulf of Mexico, killing off marine life. The culprit is a mass appetite for meat in America. [The Guardian / Oliver Milman]
  • Teachers who are trying to teach better writing to students are focusing less on the fundamentals of grammar and more on inspiring students to free-write and develop their own literary voices. [NYT / Dana Goldstein]
  • Podcasts are really popular, but investors still aren’t sure whether they’re truly a moneymaking proposition. [Recode / Peter Kafka]
  • Six years after the death of dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Libya is impoverished, deserted, and on edge. [Washington Post / Sudarsan Raghavan]


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