Medical Examiner

What Happened at Slate This Week?

Alison Griswold describes her experience reporting on the Germanwings tragedy.

Alison Griswold.

Illustration by Charlie Powell

The news broke on Tuesday: a plane crash in the French Alps, 150 feared dead. In the days since, investigators have unearthed startling details about what happened on Germanwings Flight 4U 9525. Andreas Lubitz, the flight’s co-pilot, was alone in the cockpit during the crash. He may have initiated the plane’s descent and locked the pilot out. As of today, prosecutors are saying that Lubitz may have hid an illness from his employer and colleagues. Local papers are reporting that Lubitz was being treated for depression. In short, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Germanwings tragedy was carried out deliberately by Lubitz and was linked to his own psychological distress. If that turns out to be the case, was Germanwings preventable?

This is a question I spent the better part of Thursday researching and discussing with experts on aviation, pilot screenings, and psychology. There’s no easy answer—but you can read about why it probably wasn’t. Psychometric tests are costly and time-consuming. They’re also not perfect. Many psychological screenings are based on interviews or self-reported answers to questionnaires; it’s hard to be sure the subject has told the truth. (When I asked one psychiatrist what’s to be done about this, he informed me that my questions were “kind of simplistic” and he didn’t “have time for this.” He did not end up in the piece.) At any rate, the story will doubtless continue to unfold, and I encourage you to follow all of Slate’s excellent coverage here.

Germanwings wasn’t the only heart-rending topic in the magazine this week. Jessica Grose’s article on the emotional and financial pain of a miscarriage is illuminating and devastating. Equally weighty was Leon Neyfakh’s exploration of a provocative new plan to reduce America’s prison population, which some fear could result in a dehumanizing surveillance scheme. And while it pales in comparison to the previous two topics, we should all be at least a little concerned about Facebook’s plan to take over the media by hosting publications’ original content on the social network.

Over in the Slate Moneybox, which I’m a writer for, we had some lighter topics. My colleague Jordan Weissmann boldly antagonized an entire city with his declaration that “Atlanta Might Be Getting Dumber.” (He’s out of town for a conference this week, currently drinking a Hurricane on a patio in New Orleans, which is probably for the best.) Always one to bring the hard-hitting news, I alerted you on Monday to the new and amazing ad from Taco Bell that parodies the Hunger Games and all but calls McDonald’s a breakfast dictator. Sadly there were no burritos in the Moneybox this week, but you can’t win every time.

In the other half of what we affectionately call the “biztech pod,” my colleague Lily Hay Newman revealed her iPhone’s folder of undeletable “Apple Crap” and David Auerbach parsed how the Federal Trade Commission and Google learned to get along. Meanwhile, what’s a week without Uber? New York City now has more Ubers than taxis; here’s why that doesn’t really matter.

Finally, if you haven’t read it already, you should absolutely check out Harriet Brown’s story on why dieting might not be worth it. James Krupa’s essay on what it’s like to teach human evolution to students who don’t want to learn about it is fascinating and eye-opening. And for a really smart and delightful take on why Ted Cruz has no shot at becoming president, read Jamelle Bouie, if nothing else for the phrase “Cruzapalooza begins now.”