Does Your City Toke or Do Blow?

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In the quest to discover your neighbors’ vices, the only data more valuable than Google search records might be the records you leave in your toilet. In cities around the world, scientists have begun to measure concentrations of illegal drugs at sewage treatment plants, hoping to get a sense of what people are sending down the pipes. Results so far indicate that Vegas-goers do more meth than some of their midwestern counterparts, Angelenos outdo the Old World in cocaine use, Londoners fancy heroin more than Italians, and everybody smokes a whole lotta pot.

Clearly, the most obvious place for this information is an online quiz site: “If your city were an illegal drug, which one would it be?” Beyond that, the real-life applications aren’t yet clear. Environmentalists are interested in the potential consequences of so many chemicals in the pipes—who wants to find out that, in addition to being filled with prescription drugs, their drinking water is also laced with coke? And no city wants to broadcast that its citizenry is, uh, high (San Diego has already refused researchers access to its sewage). The scientists who conducted the European study (.pdf) think it will be most useful as a real-time data collection tool, not to mention a vast improvement over just asking people how many drugs they do—the study notes that the concentration of cocaine in Milan’s sewage suggests that actual use is more than double the reported rate.

Such information could certainly help law enforcement and public health officials improve their approach to combating drug use, but it’s easy to see how things could get out of hand. What happens when the DEA shows up at your door with a warrant and a urine sample you didn’t know you were giving? You laugh, but the scientist who pioneered this idea believes it would be possible to analyze sewge at the level of “a community, a street, even a house.” In that way, studying poop is like studying Google searches— you’ll probably find out more about your neighbors than you wanted, or needed, to know.

Photo from Flickr user PabloBM.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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