Previous: The Biggest Science Story of the Week
Next: It's About a YouTuber with Cancer



View count:249,331
Last sync:2023-09-13 20:00
In which sweet innocent baby John learns a thing or two about the overall notch level. YOU DO NOT DECIDE THE NOTCH. The poll is here:

Subscribe to our newsletter!
And join the community at
Help transcribe videos -
Learn more about our project to help Partners in Health radically reduce maternal mortality in Sierra Leone:
If you're able to donate $2,000 or more to this effort, please join our matching fund:
If you're in Canada, you can donate here:
John's twitter -
Hank's twitter -
Hank's tumblr -
Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday.

So when I was a tiny little newborn baby back in January of 2023, do you know what I said was my big goal for the year? Do you know? Do you-? Let's play the tape.

Past John: "Sometimes Hank, sometimes you need to take it down a notch. And that's my only goal for 2023, just take it down a notch."

Ah buddy, that's, uh, that's cute. Breaking news from the real world: You do not get to decide the notch situation. Welcome to 2023. Your brother is gonna get a little bit of cancer, so that's going to take it up a notch. Also, you're gonna be unexpectedly promoted to reluctant and temporary CEO of two companies with a total of 115 employees. Up a notch. Hank's gonna have to get chemo and radiation, taking it up yet a further notch. Also he's going to continue to come up with millions of business ideas. Up a notch. Also, you're gonna have a somewhat dramatic confrontation with one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies over the price of a tuberculosis drug, or possibly two of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies if the other one doesn't get their act together and stop price gouging the world's poorest countries. Things will not be taken down a notch. If anything, the notch is like a helium balloon that slips out of your fingers sometime in late February and you just watch as the notch situation rises and rises.

Now, of course, the notch situation will probably descend at some point, but it's not for you to know how or when or where because you little buddy are, as Robert Penn Warren memorably put it, "A bubble on the tide of empire." Now look, it can be a helpful delusion to imagine that we have more control over our fate than we actually do, right. Like, if I felt all the time the way I feel walking onto an airplane, I have absolutely no say in whether I survived this journey, I wouldn't be able to function. And also, I wouldn't be giving myself any agency when, of course, I do have a little bit, right. Like, I might be a bubble on the tide of empire, but I am nonetheless some small part of the tide and the choices I make do matter. But the great risk of imagining that I decide the notch situation is then extrapolating and imagining that other people decide their notch situation. And that can lead to all kinds of stigma and dehumanization, right. Like, Hank, we've both seen comments that are like, "Hank got a vaccination so he got cancer" or "Hank worked too hard so he got cancer" or "Hank has ulcerative colitis so he got cancer" et cetera. And all those comments are designed to make the person commenting feel better. Like, I'm not gonna get cancer because I don't have colitis or I'm not gonna get cancer because I didn't get vaccinated. It's not about Hank, it's about them. And furthermore, trying to find the cause when you're not, like, Hank's physicians is obviously not about Hank or his well-being. It's obviously about, y'know, wanting to feel better yourself, wanting to feel like you're never gonna have to take it up a notch.

Now I want to emphasize that for Hank, these comments have been super super rare and almost everyone has been extraordinarily supportive, but Hank's experience is just, to state the obvious, not typical. And I do think that whether you're living with HIV or cancer or tuberculosis or another highly-stigmatized disease, the social response to the illness is part of what makes the illness so difficult, which come to think of it was not the original point of this video. The point of the video was that you don't get to decide the notch situation, but if and when the opportunity to take it down a notch emerges, Hank, I want to take that opportunity, which brings me very belatedly to the question at the center of this video.

Since 2007, with a few notable exceptions, our videos have been required to be under four minutes in length. We started this rule to force us to be concise and to make appropriate and intentional use of people's attention, and I-I like the four minute rule. Like, I think it's helped me become a better writer. Without the four minute rule, I think The Fault in Our Stars would have been like a hundred pages longer and not nearly as good. But, it's often a lot of work to take a video idea and somehow get it under four minutes. Like, there really is something to that old line, "I would have written you a shorter letter if only I had more time."

Anyway, since Hank's diagnosis, we've suspended the four minute rule to be able to make videos with a little more flexibility and I kind of love it. Like, I think this video is going to be over four minutes and to get it under four minutes, I would have had to cut all that stuff about stigmatization and notches, which I like. On the other hand, I understand that it's an important and long-standing rule and one of the reasons we've been able to make stuff for so many people for so long. So I'm a little conflicted and basically I'm gonna trust y'all to decide whether we should continue doing the four minute rule via a poll in the doobly-doo. Let us know what you think. Listen, you do not decide the notch level, but I will tell you something from experience. Feeling accompanied and unalone as the notches go up helps. Does it help as much as the notches coming down? No, but it helps.

So thank you for being here with us, really. Now more than ever. Hank, I'll see you on Friday.