Figuring, by Maria Popova, publisher of Brain Pickings, explores the complexities of love and the human search for truth and meaning through the interconnected lives of several historical figures across four centuries – beginning with the astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion, and ending with the marine biologist and author Rachel Carson, who catalysed the environmental movement. Stretching between these figures is a cast of artists, writers, and scientists – mostly women, mostly queer – whose public contribution has risen out of their unclassifiable and often heartbreaking private relationships to change the way we understand, experience and appreciate the universe. Among them are the astronomer Maria Mitchell, who paved the way for women in science; the sculptor Harriet Hosmer, who did the same in art; the journalist and literary critic Margaret Fuller, who sparked the feminist movement; and the poet Emily Dickinson. Emanating from these lives are larger questions about the measure of a good life and what it means to leave a lasting mark of betterment on an imperfect world: Are achievement and acclaim enough for happiness? Is genius? Is love? Weaving through the narrative is a set of peripheral figures – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Darwin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walt Whitman – and a tapestry of themes spanning music, feminism, the history of science, the rise and decline of religion, and how the intersection of astronomy, poetry and Transcendentalist philosophy fomented the environmental movement.
From tobacco to food and fuels, industries use denial, deceit and doubt to corrupt. By Felicity Lawrence. The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception David Michaels Oxford Univ. Press (2020) In 2017, US presidential strategist Kellyanne Conway coined the phrase “alternative facts” to defend false claims about the size of the crowd at Donald Trump’s inauguration. Numerous commentators lamented that we were entering a new era of Orwellian doublethink. These are indeed upside-down times, as epidemiologist and former safety regulator David Michaels demonstrates in his excoriating account of the corporate denial industry, The Triumph of Doubt. Unwelcome news is automatically rebranded fake news. Inconvenient evidence from independent sources — say, about climate breakdown and fossil fuels, or air pollution and diesel emissions — is labelled junk science and countered with rigged studies claiming to be sound. But it would be wrong to see truth decay solely as the preserve of today’s populist politicians. Normalizing the production of alternative facts is a project long in the making. Consultancy firms that specialize in defending products from tobacco to industrial chemicals that harm the public and the environment have made a profession of undermining truth for decades. They hire mercenary scientists to fulfil a crucial role as accessories to their misrepresentations. Denial machine Michaels was among the first scientists to identify this denial machine, in his 2008 book Doubt is Their Product. His latest work combines an authoritative synthesis of research on the denial machine published since then with his own new insights gleaned from battles to control the toxic effects of a range of substances. He takes on per- and polyfluoroalkyls, widely used in non-stick coatings, textiles and firefighting foams; the harmful effects of alcohol and sugar; the disputed role of the ubiquitous glyphosate-based pesticides in cancer; and the deadly epidemic of […]
By Bee Wilson If you want to make a roomful of people argue with each other, one of the fastest ways is to express any kind of opinion about “cheap food”. To some, it is perfectly obvious that cheap food is an evil that results in underpaid farmers, degraded land and tortured animals. To others, it is equally obvious that cheap food is the great safeguard that stands between poor people and hunger. To this second group, the attacks on cheap food look suspiciously like “And-where-do-you-shop?” snobbery from those who have never known the anxiety of feeding a family on benefits. But to the first group, most of the so-called cheap food in the world is not as cheap as it seems – the concept ignores the high external costs of industrial agriculture. As so often in heated debates, the two sides are arguing about different things. “Cheap food” has many faces, depending on whether you are a producer or a consumer and also whether you happen to have a shopping list in your hand. Food retailers know that it is an unusual customer who does not look favourably on low prices – or “everyday value” as the supermarket Tesco has it. The same was true in Victorian London, where anyone who wanted to buy a pound of strawberries or some onions or a nice fresh herring for the lowest price would get it from a street seller called a costermonger. The word costermonger derives from a kind of large round apple called a “custard” (not to be confused with the Asian fruit the custard apple), but by 1850, these humble pedlars were selling not just apples but almost any edible item that a Victorian could want, from oysters to gooseberries, and from bloaters (a kind of smoked herring) to […]
by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Ronnlund Factfulness:The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts. When asked simple questions about global trends – why the world’s population is increasing; how many young women go to school; how many of us live in poverty – we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess journalists, Nobel laureates, and investment bankers. In Factfulness, Professor of International Health and a man who can make data sing, Hans Rosling, together with his two long-time collaborators Anna and Ola, offers a radical new explanation of why this happens, and reveals the ten instincts that distort our perspective. It turns out that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think. But when we worry about everything all the time instead of embracing a worldview based on facts, we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most. Inspiring and revelatory, filled with lively anecdotes and moving stories, Factfulness is an urgent and essential book that will change the way you see the world.
By Zafer Achi and Jennifer Garvey Berger In an unpredictable world, executives should stretch beyond managing the probable. It is only natural to seek certainty, especially in the face of the unknown.Long ago, shamans performed intricate dances to summon rain. It did not matter that any success they enjoyed was random, as long as the tribe felt that its water supply was in capable hands. Nowadays, late nights of number crunching, feasts of modelling, and the familiar rituals of presentations have replaced the rain dances of old. But often, the odds of generating reliable insights are not much better. Perhaps that is because our approach to the hardest problems—and the anxiety those problems create—is fundamentally misdirected. When most of us face a challenge, we typically fall back on our standard operating procedures. Call this “managing the probable.” In much of our education, and in many of our formative experiences, we have learned that some simple problems have one right answer. For more complicated problems, accepted algorithms can help us work out the best answer from among available options. We respond to uncertainty with analysis or leave that analysis to the experienced hands of others. We look for leaders who know the way forward and offer some assurance of predictability. This way of approaching situations involves a whole suite of routines grounded in a mind-set of clarity if not outright certainty. To that end, they are characterized by sharp-edged questions intended to narrow our focus:What is the expected return on this investment? What is the three-year plan for this venture? At what cost are they willing to settle? But asking these kinds of questions, very often legitimate in business-as-usual settings, may constrain management teams in atypical, complex situations, such as responding to a quickly changing market or revitalizing a privatised utility’s culture. […]
Giselle Bastin, Associate Professor of English, Flinders University The recent outcry from royal biographers about the accuracy and fairness of series 4 of The Crown taps into narratives that have surrounded the field of royal life writing since it emerged in the early 20th century. There has been much hand-wringing by (royal) trainspotters, biographers, journalists and even Britain’s Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and the actor who plays Princess Margaret, Helena Bonham Carter, about the accuracy of the Netflix series written and produced by Peter Morgan. Criticisms of series 4 have ranged from historical inaccuracy (the Queen being wrongly dressed for the Trooping the Colour; Princess Anne’s horsemanship) to a propensity to flesh out the narrative with half-truths and downright falsities. (For example, the suggestion that Charles and Camilla remained an item all the way through his marriage to Diana, and the idea that Prince Philip gave Diana a veiled threat about what could await her if she didn’t play by the script.) One royal biographer, Hugo Vickers, has been so incensed by The Crown’s playing hard and fast with the facts he’s sprung to action and released his own book devoted to fact-checking it. In addition to criticising the biopic’s misrepresentation of royal lives, the show’s detractors express concerns long aired about popular history — that an admiring and gullible viewing public will assume the program is factual and treat it as real history. The public, it is implied, need protection from fake news turning into fake history. Critics of The Crown profess to have the royals’ best interests at heart because the royal family is not prone — at least it wasn’t before Harry and Meghan — to going to the courts or on the public record to defend itself. The Windsors, they imply, are being subject to unethical treatment and are also in need […]
I’ve long been a strong advocate of globalisation but, in 2020, even my own convictions have been momentarily challenged. A virus that knows no borders has “pecked away” at the foundations of the way we live and the way we trade. How long will governments keep borders sealed? Will these physical borders evolve into trade borders and will more governments try to keep the outputs of trade within their own borders? Shortages in vital provisions – such as personal protective equipment and ventilators – have precipitated calls for change. We’ve heard voices demanding a return to domestic manufacturing and the renationalisation of critical industries. We have heard it all. The idea that firms and their products should be treated equally regardless of where they come from is in peril. If these and other thoughts proliferate, trade will cease to flow freely. Countries will become less connected and the cornerstones of the commercial world we’ve become accustomed to will begin to creak and crack. Is this the end of globalization as we know it? Opportunities in disguise I, for one, am not convinced. This pandemic has shown us that global connectedness is in fact not the problem, but the solution. It is simply amazing how quickly the world has adapted to a new way of being. To a large extent, societies have managed to maintain normal life because goods have been delivered to our doorstep. We’ve kept in touch with friends, family and work through digital connections. Thanks to global collaboration, we’re getting closer to finding effective treatments and vaccines for this virus. Adaptable supply chains and access to the global market are helping us soften the economic impact. The benefits of a connected world are visible everywhere. We’ve witnessed huge growth in cross-border e-commerce. Many companies with a global reach […]
As we identify the paths necessary to come out of this compounded COVID-19 crisis and prepare the conditions for a much-needed Great Reset, we must also keep the focus on long-standing challenges that will affect this recovery – most notably the fight against corruption and the search for greater trust and integrity in institutions across social, economic and political systems. We have a unique window of opportunity to get recovery right and create a sustainable society if we put good governance, transparency and accountability at the heart of all efforts and realize “stakeholder capitalism” – an economy that serves the interests of all. Technology has emerged as one of the greatest allies of transparency and a critical tool against corruption.—Børge Brende and Pedro Gabriel Gomez Pensado. Having an uneven playing field impedes economic growth, contributes to social inequality and obstructs innovation, among many other negative effects. It is estimated that the annual costs of corruption at a global level amount to $3.6 trillion. About $1 trillion of that is paid in bribes every year. These amounts can dilute the impact of the approximately $10 trillion that has been pledged and is starting to be deployed as part of the recovery and stimulus packages. But this is not only a story of money. In many cases, the loss of lives can be traced to corruption. Some estimates indicate that about $500 billion of healthcare expenditure is lost to corruption every year. This has an impact on the production and procurement of medicines and medical equipment, jeopardizing their timely delivery where they are most needed. As everyone around the world places their trust and hopes in the production and distribution of a vaccine to defeat the pandemic, we need an effective approach to make sure corruption does not get in the way of an equitable distribution of vaccines. […]
Fake news about COVID, its origins, treatment and prevention, has gone viral. UN has launched counter-attack, wants you to help. Storyful founder says algorithms and human editors can help turn the tide. Subscribe to the World Vs Virus podcast. What is spreading across the globe, can be passed on unwittingly from one person to countless others, is potentially deadly, yet can be stopped if everyone takes the right steps? Heard of the miracle cure for COVID that the mainstream media doesn’t want you to know about? Or that the pandemic is in fact a ‘plandemic’ – deliberately created to make someone a fortune or to subjugate the masses? Then you’ve come up against the virus of misinformation that has spread around the world as fast as the coronavirus itself. In a world where social media is increasingly where most of us get so much of our information, and where we value freedom of speech as a cornerstone of democracy, what can be done to combat dangerous misinformation? Have you read? “When COVID-19 emerged, it was clear from the outset this was not just a public health emergency, but a communications crisis as well,” says Melissa Fleming, who leads global communications for the United Nations. With a huge public demand for information about the pandemic and the rapid spread of false information, the ‘infodemic’ is putting lives at risk, so Fleming is heading a campaign to help true information surface out of the deluge of rumours and lies. She has launched ‘Verified‘ – where people can sign up for daily emails on the latest COVID news that comes from reliable sources: “science-based information” that might otherwise be buried on “page 125 of a PDF” presented “in formats that are optimised for sharing on social media.” “It is front-and-centre in your social media feeds. So […]