2013: The Best Year in Human History

Five Reasons to Celebrate Progress

Between the brutal civil war in Syria, the government shutdown and all of the deadly dysfunction it represents, the NSA spying revelations, and massive inequality, it’d be easy to for you to enter 2014 thinking the last year has been an awful one.

But you’d be wrong. We have every reason to believe that 2013 was, in fact, the best year on the planet for humankind.

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Measuring Obesity

Part 2: The Limitations of Body Mass Index

The problem of obesity is so complex from a scientific standpoint and so highly-charged in the public discussion that it’s hardly surprising that there are divergent opinions. My previous article prompted several responses arguing that “obesity” should be considered a “disease.” But let’s leave this question aside for the moment.

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Obesity Is Not a Disease

Part 1: The Illness Label Precludes Societal Factors

The American Medical Association’s decision last month to label obesity as a disease has provoked a good deal of commentary, much of it critical. In fact, the AMA’s action went against the conclusions of its own Council on Science and Public Health, which had considered the issue over the past year.

While no analogy is perfect, in terms of the magnitude of a societal problem, the example of smoking offers a number of points relevant to the discussion of obesity.

 

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Don’t Blame the Internet for Political Polarization

New Media a Force for Democratization, Not Subjugation

Leading intellectuals blame the Internet as cause of our increasingly isolated, polarized, and fragmented society. Evgeny Morozov (above right), author of Net Dellusion and To Save Everything, Click Here argues that the web distracts youth from political engagement. The critique isn’t new: thinkers and writers from Socrates to Theodor Adorno (above left), have feared that new media, whether books, newspapers, radio, or TV, would undermine democratic rule. With the benefit of hindsight, these concerns seem grossly misplaced. Each new form of mass media started as a tool of elites but over time has a massively democratizing effect. Furthermore, political polarization was driven by forces that long predate the Internet, including the rise of libertarian conservatism, the disappearance of Southern Democrats and Northeastern Republicans, and democratization itself. In the end, the “filter bubble” that most increases polarization and threatens democracy is the ideological one in your head.

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Electricity for All

What Universal Energy Access Will Take

This article was coauthored with Morgan Bazilian, and originally appeared in Issues in Science and Technology (Summer 2013) under the title "Making Energy Access Meaningful."

In a somewhat inconsequential meeting at the United Nations (UN) in 2009, Kandeh Yumkella, the then Di­rector-General of the UN Industrial Development Or­ganization, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s informally assigned “energy guy”, noted something obvious and profound, namely that, “the provision of one light to poor people does nothing more than shine a light on poverty”. Yet much of an emerging discussion on the crit­ical importance of global energy access as a pathway out of poverty continues to focus on what are, in effect, “one light” solutions. In this essay, we seek to help clarify the challenge of energy access, expose assumptions that are informing pol­icy design in the development and diplomatic communities, and offer a framework for future discussions rooted in the as­pirations of people around the world to achieve energy access compatible with a decent standard of living.

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Don’t Blame the Robots

Technophobia Distracts Us from What Most Imperils Working Poor

Technophobia is an affliction we have yet to cure even after decades of evidence-based ameliorative efforts. We might not have expected much resistance to the disease in earlier times, before evidence accumulated that the fears it inspired were irrational. Back in 1930, a mind as brilliant as John Maynard Keynes was susceptible to the condition. Keynes sensed sickness in the air but misdiagnosed it as a feature of the capitalist economy: “We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come—namely, technological unemployment.”

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Mega-Philanthropists Won’t End Poverty

Rapid Economic Development Will

Philanthropy has become the ‘it’ vehicle for investment managers, corporate leaders, and nonprofits to come together and abet a curious form of ‘noble’ colonialism that accelerates inequality by reinforcing political and societal norms. The argument isn’t a new one, but that didn’t stop Warren Buffett’s son Peter from taking to the opinion pages of the New York Times with a proposal for a “new code” of philanthropy that will truly enable systematic change.

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