The Six-Point Inspection: Should We Try to Stop Hate Speech Online?

Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman

Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Each month in “The Six-Point Inspection,” Future Tense and Zócalo Public Square take a quick look at new science and technology books that are changing the way we see our world.

Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet by Abraham H. Foxman and Christopher Wolf

The nutshell: Foxman and Wolf—both of the Anti-Defamation League—argue that Internet hate speech is a dangerous virtual epidemic that threatens us all in real life. But they don’t want to fight it in the courtroom. They prefer the court of public opinion—by having people and Internet companies self-regulate, by educating children in and outside school, and by generating positive counter-speech.

Literary lovechild of: Jeremy Waldron’s The Harm in Hate Speech and Stanley Fish’s There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech: And It’s a Good Thing, Too.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You’re still mad at that forum poster who called you a “dumbass.”

Cocktail party fodder: One of the top results for a Google search for the word “Jew” is an anti-Semitic page called Jew Watch. Google has countered this result with a high-ranking page of its own that warns readers of the page’s contents and explains how its search rankings work.

For optimal benefit: Read before perusing the comments of pretty much any newspaper’s website.

Snap judgment: Foxman and Wolf are pragmatic and balanced—impressively so for leaders of an advocacy organization—although their solutions may be overly optimistic.

The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present, and Future of Rising Sea Levels by Brian Fagan

The nutshell: Anthropologist and writer Fagan chronicles how changing sea levels and catastrophic events like tsunamis and hurricanes have affected civilizations—from Ancient Rome to modern-day Indonesia.

Literary lovechild of: Steven Mithen’s After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 B.C. and Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You enjoyed the show When Animals Attack! but wanted a spinoff focused on inanimate objects.

Cocktail party fodder: Roughly 200 million people around the world live along coastlines less than five meters above today’s sea level.

For optimal benefit: Send this book to your rich beachside-dwelling friend in Malibu. Who’s sitting pretty now?

Snap judgment: Fagan manages to humanize catastrophes both ancient and modern with vivid descriptions of oceans attacking cities and civilizations throughout history. We may not have needed another warning about the dangers of climate change, but this is certainly a dramatic one.

Me Medicine vs. We Medicine: Claiming Biotechnology for the Common Good by Donna Dickenson

The nutshell: The personalized medicine revolution has been oversold and has underperformed, argues University of London medical ethicist Dickenson—to the detriment of greater investment in public health.

Literary lovechild of: Philip Mirowski’s Science-Mart: Privatizing American Science and Paula Stephan’s How Economics Shapes Science.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You had your genome scanned to see if you had the potential to become an Olympian. The results were disappointing.

Cocktail party fodder: After the completion of the Human Genome Project was announced, productivity in drug development and new license applications to the Food and Drug Administration actually declined.

For optimal benefit: Give a copy to anyone you know who is busy working on a clone of himself.

Snap judgment: Most of us don’t need to read the book-length treatment, but Dickenson sure does make a strong case.

Previous Six-Point Inspections:
May 2013: Spam, The Anatomy of Violence, and Arming Mother Nature.
April 2013: The Art of Failure, Lost Cat, and Fatal Flaws.
March 2013: Robot Futures, Math on Trial, and Can’t Buy Me Like.
February 2013: Pukka’s Promise, Entering the Shift Age, and Data: A Love Story.
January 2013: Contagion, Mankind Beyond Earth, and Raw Data Is an Oxymoron.
December 2012: Saving Babies, Near-Earth Objects, and Learning To Change the World.
November 2012: Netflixed, Discord, and Million Death Quake.
October 2012: The Launch Paid, Regenesis, and The Digital Rights Movement.
September: 2012 Unfit for the Future, Automate This, and This Machine Kills Secrets.
August 2012: Resilience, Interop, and Green Illusions.