What made you change your mind?

I’ve been pondering this lately, what makes you change your mind? Is it data? A well told story? Did you research and test hypotheses or something else? What eventually got you to accept that a view you held was not right?

A paper published in Science called When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality has been retracted. The idea was just talking to an actual gay person would significantly change a person’s opposition to gay marriage. Certainly dealing with a person in the flesh has some influence, but changing someone’s mind for “3-week, 6-week, and 9-month” time periods probably takes more than someone screaming epithets (wait that’s Twitter and Facebook).

For me, it took two well-researched well-written books: The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World by Bjørn Lomborg (2001) and The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley (2010). Until then, I had listened to my tribe and followed their leads (with difficulty and cognitive dissonance), after these books I relaxed much more about the issues my tribe worried about.

I think the main point of [The Skeptical Environmentalist] was to challenge our notion that everything is going down the drain, and I don’t see any reason to revise that…I’m trying to recapture much of what the left stood for–when we believed in progress, when we believed that scientific understanding could lead us ahead and not just rely on tradition. … Unfortunately, I find that a fair amount of the left has turned towards a romanticized view of the world. –Bjørn Lomborg

So I left my tribe which had started down the romantic path. I started to concentrate on the issues that will make the world better. These are items that will help the most people with the limited resource of money (courtesy of the Copenhagen Consensus):

  • Micronutrient supplements for children (vitamin A and zinc) (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  • The DOHA development agenda (Challenge: Trade)
  • Micronutrient fortification (iron and salt iodization) (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  • Expanded immunization coverage for children (Challenge: Diseases)
  • Biofortification (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  • Deworming and other nutrition programs at school (Challenge: Malnutrition & Education)
  • Lowering the price of schooling (Challenge: Education)
  • Increase and improve girls’ schooling (Challenge: Women)
  • Community-based nutrition promotion (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  • Provide support for women’s reproductive role (Challenge: Women)

Have you changed your mind about what is important for humanity to tackle?

 

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The Hunger Games

The day after Thanksgiving when we think to ourselves, “Wow, I really ate too much,” seems apropos for considering how the rest of the world eats. This infographic shows the highest 20 and lowest 20 countries by calories consumed per person. Roll your cursor over a country’s number to see the calories per person and the percent of income paid for those calories. A good example to start with might be Israel (3540 calories per head and 17.9% of income) and the Palestinian Territories (2130 calories per head and 66.0% of income). The United States weighs in at 3770 calories per head and an average food cost 6.9% of income.

Visualizing The World’s Calorie Consumption

A visualization of the 20 highest and lowest calorie consuming countries compared with those same countries’ percent of income spent on food. Built by Food Service Warehouse.
Source: Food Service Warehouse

Food Service Warehouse says “The calories consumed by country (per capita) data comes from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN). The percent income spent on food comes from various household expenditure surveys (conducted independently by country by various research bodies) which are the most useful and reliable measure of this type of countrywide statistic.”

The infograhic is a snapshot; we have progressed over the last 200 and especially the last 35-50 years. “The daily food intake in developing countries has increased,” wrote Bjorn Lomborg in the Guardian (2001), “from 1,932 calories in 1961 – barely enough for survival – to 2,650 calories in 1998, and is expected to rise to 3,020 by 2030. Likewise, the proportion of people going hungry in these countries has dropped from 45% in 1949 to 18% today, and is expected to fall even further, to 12% in 2010 and 6% in 2030. Food, in other words, is becoming not scarcer but ever more abundant.”

The the United States Department of Agriculture assessed the state of world food security in 2007. Their report echos Lomborg’s words:

The rise in global per capita food consumption during the last few decades has been largely driven by rising consumption in developing countries. At the global level, per capita calorie consumption (all food available for consumption) increased by 17 percent from 1970 to 2005. Daily per capita calorie consumption in developed countries increased nearly 9 percent since 1970 to 3,418 in 2005. While consumption in developing countries was much lower than that in developed countries, 2,722 calories in 2005, it rose at a much faster rate during that 35-year period, more than 27 percent. (Food Security Assessment, 2007  GFA-19, Economic Research Service/USDA)

Since 1970, food availability has increased more rapidly in developing countries

The world is not perfect, and 925 million people face malnutrition every day. Yet, we have made progress. Instead of more and hungrier people we (through the green revolution and other advancements) have forced the trend down. Let us give thanks.

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