This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Plague is Still Upon Us

Mention of the plague usually brings up mental images of the Black Death (the bubonic plague) in the Middle Ages, the high mortality of which brought important demographic changes to a lot of villages in Europe and elsewhere. But the disease is still walking amongst us, as a story by Reuters today points out.
A probable case of plague in the Seychelles, imported from Madagascar, is believed to have sparked the Indian Ocean country’s first outbreak of the disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
Plague, which is mainly spread by flea-carrying rats, is endemic in Madagascar. A large outbreak has killed 57 people since late August, according to the U.N. agency, the first time the disease has appeared in non-endemic urban areas, including in the capital Antananarivo.
Seychelles health authorities reported a probable case of pneumonic plague on Oct 10 in a 34-year-old man returning from a visit to Madagascar, the WHO said. “The patient continues to be hospitalized in isolation until completion of the antibiotic treatment. He is currently asymptomatic and in stable condition,” the WHO said.
Nearly 70 percent of cases in Madagascar have been pneumonic plague, a form spread human-to-human that is more dangerous than bubonic plague and can trigger epidemics. The pneumonic form invades the lungs, and is treatable with antibiotics. If not treated, it is always fatal and can kill a person within 24 hours.
Most of us have never been either to Madagascar or the Seychelles, but that doesn't mean we are immune to the risk of the plague. The US Centers for Disease Control reports that an average of 7 cases per year are reported each year in this country. Note also that while the bubonic plague is usually transmitted by fleas feeding on infected rats, pneumonic plague can be directly passed from one human to another--no fleas or rats required.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Dan Brown--Novelist and Demographist

I have admitted before that I am a fan of Dan Brown and I always look forward to the release of his books--the latest of which is Origin. When his novel Inferno came out in 2013, I blogged about it because the theme of the book was about the threat of global overpopulation (as I note on page 8 of the 12th Edition). He refers to Malthus as a "demographist" and I had never heard that term until Dan Brown used it. A Google search suggests that it is a synonym for demographer, but I think I am going to be a little more nuanced. A demographer is someone who has an academic background in the field of demography and teaches and/or does research on demographic issues. By contrast, I am going to label as a demographist those who use demographic ideas and information without necessarily having a lot of background in the field of demography. That is not a bad thing; it is just a different thing. 

So, by that definition, Dan Brown is a demographist, along with being a brilliant novelist (and of course it doesn't hurt that his protagonist is a college professor!). His novels take place in real places that he has obviously carefully researched, and with real substantive themes, typically related in some way to religion. I thought about that, in fact, when on page 29 of Origins, Brown describes atheists as "one of the planet's fastest-growing demographics." Based on reports from Pew Research, I'm guessing that this is not an easy statement to fact-check, but the data do seem to suggest that the proportion of people in the U.S. who say they are atheists is growing. The number is larger if you more generally refer to people with "no religion" (which doesn't necessarily mean they don't believe in God). 

Interestingly enough, the "culture clash" between atheists and followers of traditional religions that forms the theme of Origins is taking place in Spain, and much of the action occurs in Barcelona--in Catalonia--a current hotbed of culture clashes, as I recently discussed.

Overall, then, reading Dan Brown novels is another example of how demography underlies everything in the world, whether we realize it or not.