Should We Add Lithium to Drinking Water? Big Think Devotes August to "Dangerous Ideas"
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Big Think, the YouTube for intellectuals, is devoting the next 30 days to highlighting the most dangerous among ideas. Here's how the editors describe the theme:
Throughout the month of August, Big Think will introduce a different "dangerous idea" each day. Brace yourself: these ideas may at first seem shocking or counter-intuitive--but they are worth our attention, even if we end up rejecting them. Every idea in the series will be supported by contributions from leading experts, from the world's top theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, to prolific legal scholar Judge Richard Posner, to Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker, to linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky.
Today's dangerous idea is posed by bioethicist Jacob Appel who suggests that the government should supplement our drinking water with lithium, which some studies suggest might lower suicide rates. You can watch Appel pitch his dangerous idea below and read more about his proposal--along with the arguments against-- at Big Think's Dangerous Ideas blog.
What do readers think? My own feeling is that in a world of Glenn Beck conspiracy theories and widespread government distrust, that at least in the short term, the political dangers of the idea outweigh the possible public health benefits.
UPDATE: Big Think sent along this news release detailing upcoming Dangerous Ideas.
BigThink.com Declares August "The Month of Thinking Dangerously"
New York, NY, August 2, 2010 - Had Copernicus been too terrified to
publish his theory of heliocentrism, how long would it have taken
people to realize that Earth, in fact, revolves around the Sun? Had
U.S. Secretary of State William Seward folded to public scrutiny and
not purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for two cents an acre,
America would face a worse oil crisis today -- and may have faced a
nuclear threat on North American soil during the Cold War. In the
spirit of those who are brave enough to advance seemingly radical
ideas, Big Think presents "The Month of Thinking Dangerously."
Throughout the month of August, Big Think will introduce a different
"dangerous idea" each day. Brace yourself: these ideas may at first
seem shocking or counter-intuitive -- but they are worth our
attention, even if we end up rejecting them. Every idea in the series
will be supported by contributions from leading experts, from the
world's top theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, to prolific legal
scholar Judge Richard Posner, to Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary
Becker, to linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky. Kicking off the
first week of the series, Big Think announces its first five dangerous
1. Drug Our Drinking Water (August 2)
When the government added fluoride to our drinking water in the 1940s,
it was hailed as a great public health success. Why shouldn't the
government add a trace amount of lithium--which has been shown to
limit suicide -- to our water as well? It may save 12,000 lives a
2. Sell Your Kidneys (August 3)
As an adult you're capable of making your own economic decisions about
your livelihood -- why shouldn't you have the right to sell one of you
3. Erase Traumatic Memories and Achieve Your Own "Eternal Sunshine" (August 4)
Scientists have already been able to eliminate certain memories in
mice and are expected to be able to the same in humans. Shouldn't each
of us have the right to wipe traumatic events from our mind to ensure
a happier life?
4. Blot Out the Sun -- Or Face Extinction (August 5)
Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen argues that adding "about 3
million tons per year of sulfur" to the atmosphere would lower average
temperature at the Earth's surface by about 4 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Abandon Earth -- Or Face Extinction (August 6)
"It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the
next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human
race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet,"
says Stephen Hawking. It's time to abandon Earth.
These are just five of the 30 dangerous ideas in Big Think's latest series.
Big Think is a global knowledge network that showcases the
cutting-edge ideas of leading experts in a variety of fields. Big
Think has interviewed more than 1,500 thought leaders, including
economists Paul Krugman and Muhammad Yunas, futurist Ray Kurzweil,
biologists Rickard Dawkins, E. O. Wilson, Paul Nurse and Anthony
Fauci, filmmaker Ken Burns, novelists John Irving and Paul Auster,
business leaders Meg Whitman and Richard Branson, investors Peter
Thiel and George Soros, journalists Arianna Huffington and David
Remnick, US Poet Laureates Billy Collins and Rita Dove, US senators
John McCain and the late Teddy Kennedy, particle physicists Freeman
Dyson and Michio Kaku, and artists Chuck Close and Jules Feiffer. For
more information about Big Think or its "Month of Thinking
Dangerously" please feel free to contact Andrew Dermont at (212)
242-0617 or email@example.com.
The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think
The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.
Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.
- Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
- As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
- If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
- Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
- By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
The climate change we're witnessing is more dramatic than we might think.
A lazy buzz phrase – 'Is this the new normal?' – has been doing the rounds as extreme climate events have been piling up over the past year. To which the riposte should be: it's worse than that – we're on the road to even more frequent, more extreme events than we saw this year.
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