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published in Science called When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality has been retracted.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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