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published in Science called When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality has been retracted.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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A pox on humanity…and just in time for the holidays too!

Earth Hour 2008

Image by labanex via Flickr

The Fate of the World rests in your chip-laden hands.

The holidays have arrived and you still don’t know what to get that dystopian gamer in the family, do you? You know the one: the moody, militant, and misanthropic neo-Malthusian who says that SimCity is for pussies. He’s sure that humanity is sucking down the earth’s resources faster than Gary Busey snorted cocaine, and we have overpopulated, overused, and under-appreciated all that the earth has done for us.

Well look no further, that gift will have to be the new game released today, Fate of the World. According to the game’s designers, gamers will be able to “Decide how the world will respond to rising temperatures, heaving populations, dwindling resources, crumbling ecosystems and brave opportunities.” You heard correct: Global warming and overpopulation. Not since Y2K‘s earth destroying threat (you remember, the world’s computers were going to reset to year zero on January 1, 2000, plunging everyone (except those still analog such as North Korea) into chaos as planes fell from the sky and…Don’t remember huh?) has an impendo-catastrophe gripped us the way global warming has. And, toss in three billion more people on the planet, who in the words of the game’s developers, “are demanding ever more food, power, and living space,” and well it just gives one chills, does it not?

On second thought, get him a DVD of Soylent Green. It’s more reality based.


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