Weekend edition—The one-child policy, sexism in robots, melting Greenland

Good morning, Quartz readers!

As of this week, China’s infamous one-child policy is gone. But its paternalistic family-planning policies remain, in the form of a “two-child policy.”

This makes no sense. There are no signs of the resource-straining baby boom that family planning officials have long prophesied. In the many areas where the one-child policy was already lifted, far fewer couples than expected are planning on having a second child. What tiny fraction would be entertaining a third?

Plus, China needs those extra babies. It’s getting older way faster than it’s getting richer, making the country likely to languish in the dreaded middle-income trap. On top of that, China desperately needs more girl children to begin closing its yawning gender gap.

Received wisdom holds the one-child policy responsible for these problems. It isn’t (though it did exacerbate them). The fertility rate began dropping in the 1970s, years before the one-child policy. A preference for sons—due to cultural traditions, labor practices, and old-age security—likely caused the gender gap, as Elizabeth Remick and Charis Loh argue (paywall).

Since the one-child policy didn’t create these problems, scrapping it won’t fix them. Instead, bulking up social welfare would help wean China’s poor rural residents off their reliance on sons for support in old age (which may explain why the government just announced plans for a universal pension). Better leave policies and education reform would encourage couples to have more children. So too, of course, would letting them have as many as they want.

So why institute a two-child policy when it could have ditched the policy altogether? For 35 years, the state has loomed over the lives of its people, controlling uteruses and re-rigging family trees. Letting them plan their families would imply new personal freedoms—and those clearly still don’t jibe with the Communist Party’s vision.—Gwynn Guilford

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

A complete guide to Chinese data-doctoring. Gwynn Guilford draws on her long experience of interpreting Chinese economic data to offer a rundown on all the ways the government fudges the figures, including ditching datasets, mixing up the methodology, faking numbers they think no-one’s watching, and just stopping publishing inconvenient stats. You’ll never look at a PMI the same way again.

Has ExxonMobil helped Putin face down the West? The American oil giant persuaded the US and EU to postpone the onset of sanctions just long enough to—by remarkable luck!—discover a massive new oil and gas field in Russian waters. Steve LeVine analyzes the new leverage that this may—by sheer coincidence!—have given Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

What we get if men build all our robots. If we’re terrified of what artificial-intelligence machines might do, it’s partly because of who’s making them, writes Sarah Todd. She speaks to a range of female scientists about how the lack of gender and ethnic diversity in AI and robotics is influencing the kinds of inventions being created and the uses to which they’re being put.

Southeast Asia’s environmental nemesis: palm oil. The plumes of smoke wafting across New Guinea can be seen from space. Millions of hectares of rainforest are going up in flames to clear the way for palm-oil plantations, and it’s not only adding to global warming but spreading toxic haze and respiratory problems across the region, Steve Mollman reports.

Dubai’s strangely self-destructive foreign policy. The UAE has set itself up as a beacon of economic stability and opportunity in the Middle East. So why, asks Haroon Moghul, is it actively meddling in conflicts, backing dictators, and generally doing everything possible to incite radical Islamists to attack it?

A podcast we like, and think you’ll like too

This week Actuality, the Quartz/Marketplace podcast, goes orbital and finds it’s quite a mess. Satellites and space stations are dodging orbital trash, and there’s business opportunity in cleaning up—but no “sexy space garbage trucks” yet. Plus, a mysterious piece of space trash is coming back to earth.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

Watch Greenland melt away. The New York Times interactive team pulls off another visual treat with a zoom-down-from-space and fly-across-the-ice feature that gives you both a good sense of the life of a scientist investigating the effects of climate change in polar regions, and a clearer understanding of how it’s happening.

Are you a chimera? Buzzfeed’s Dan Vergano on the curious case of how a failed paternity test revealed that millions of people born as single children could be chimeras, carrying a vanished twin’s DNA in some of their cells. That would call into question a whole raft of the genetic tests that criminal cases and paternity lawsuits rely on.

Our sports bras, our selves. Many women find sports bras ineffective, uncomfortable, or just plain ugly. At Racked, Rose Eveleth’smarathon-like exploration of the history, physics, and stigma surrounding the sports bra finds that—astonishingly—”researchers are still a long way from understanding exactly how breasts move during exercise”—and concludes the garment suffers the same challenge as many women: How to do everything well and still look good.

An archaeology of Lockerbie. Ken Dorenstein explores the relationship he had with his older brother Dave through the otherwise banal objects he inherited—from notebooks and audio tapes to cigarettes and pocket change—in an equally heart-warming and heart-breaking interactive journey for PBS Frontline, which begins well before Dave died on the bombed Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, and continues well after.

The best of Grantland. Far more than an American sports journalism site, ESPN’s Grantland—which was shut down this week—did some outstanding longform reporting on topics from the race protests in Ferguson, Missouri to the relationship between sumo and seppuku. Our friends at FiveThirtyEight have compiled a list of personal favorites.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, chimeric DNA, and sports-bra designs tohi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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