A new generation of leaders for new global challenges
In collaboration with the Clinton Global Initiative University
What’s your commitment? How to become an effective change-maker.
As an activist, public health professor, mom, author, and Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, Chelsea Clinton sure is pretty busy. Here, she explains to us that there is a divide between wanting to make the world a better place and actually having a direction and a unique goal to make it happen. In order to help others both see and meet their goals, the Clinton Foundation launched Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) to give mentorship to those looking to make positive change. This video, part one in a series, is a great introduction to CGI U and to Chelsea's overall worldview. You can find out more about CGI U right here.
Learning is more than retaining information—how mentors make the difference
Is America's achievement gap crisis caused by long summer vacations? "In lower income neighborhoods, kids forget anywhere from two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half months of what they learned during the school year over the summer, while their middle-class peers break even or even make gains," says Karim Abouelnaga, CEO of Practice Makes Perfect. This startling statistic is why he started a different kind of summer school, one based on a chain of near-peer mentors, where kids are connected with college students and college students are connected with teaching professionals. "This model, where everyone is sort of a participant but also a beneficiary, creates this win-win-win situation for everyone, making summer school a lot more fun and exciting." Why do some eighth grader students only have a fourth grade reading level? Theoretically speaking, they’ve only been in school for half the time, says Abouelnaga. To find out more, visit practicemakesperfect.org.
How financial innovation is giving cities jobs, wealth and health
Ever since President Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House in 1979, innovators and green-minded politicians have been trying to unlock the enormous benefits of energy efficiency across America. But those benefits have remained illusive for two reasons, says BlocPower founder Donnel Baird: financial constraints and engineering complexities. Aged infrastructure like power plants cost us a lot, financially and environmentally. Our best shot at efficiency is by "greening" existing buildings so they can create power locally, rather than burning fossil fuels at a plant and transmitting electricity over long distances, wasting much of it along the way. The problem is that greening isn't cheap: it needs building analysis, and lots of capital to make the initial changes, which not all building owners have. Baird's startup BlocPower has developed technology to lower the cost of building analysis by a huge 95 percent, and matches investors with building owners—it turns out greening buildings is a very profitable investment. Here, Baird explains the details of how updating infrastructure can bring health and wealth to a city: "We know that energy efficiency is going to reduce energy costs for building owners. It’s going to create local jobs. It’s going to reduce our dependence and reliance on foreign oil. And it’s just going to be awesome all around for the environment."
How one Ugandan is fighting human trafficking in Africa—and the U.S.
After fleeing the Lord's Resistance Army in her native Uganda, Igoye came the University of Minnesota. There she began finding resources to combat the scourge of human trafficking. Igoye was so determined to make a difference that she stopped buying food—choosing to eat at university events instead—which allowed her to save money. With her first $1,000 of savings, she supplied her native Ugandans with 23,000 books, knowing that education is an essential part of improving communities and stopping human trafficking. Through the Clinton Global Initiative University, Igoye is committed to building care centers for survivors of human trafficking and training law enforcement to better recognize and combat the illegal activity.
How 'Violence Against Women Centers' are reforming Pakistan’s deadly cultural norm
Approximately 5,000 women die at the hands of domestic violence in Pakistan each year, and thousands more are maimed or disabled. In the socially conservative country, justice is heavily compromised as the reporting of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence carries a social stigma, the prosecution process is biased and fragmented, and the conviction rate is just 1-2.5%. In 2014, global conflict advisor Hafsah Lak asked herself: what can we do to provide survivors a real and effective justice delivery system? While working at the Punjab Chief Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit (formerly, known as Special Monitoring Unit - Law and Order) in Punjab, Pakistan, she co-drafted the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act of 2016 and Punjab Women Protection Authority Act 2017. When the former Act was passed into law, it was hit with heavy conservative backlash. Recognizing that reform cannot be carried out by people who do not share the vision, Lak worked as a project lead at the Strategic Reforms Unit to create Pakistan's first-ever Violence Against Women Center (VAWC), which opened on March 25, 2017 and has successfully resolved over 900 cases of violent crimes against women thus far. The VAWC has streamlined the case file process all under one roof (removing all roadblocks to reporting crimes) and is staffed by at least 60 all-female staff including 30 female police officers, 5 female medical officers, plus dedicated prosecutors and psychologists who were hired for their commitment to protecting women, and to providing a real deterrent for perpetrators of gender-based violent crimes. For more information, go to vawcpunjab.com.
How the foster care system fails so many kids—and how we can do better
When it comes to life after foster care, there is typically not a lot of hope on the horizon, says Sixto Cancel, who has been in and out of the foster care system since he was 11 months old. He was lucky enough to take part in programs that set him up for an independent life when he turned 18—how to manage finances, find a job, apply for an apartment, buy a car—but his story is the exception, not the rule. The stats are not good: 20 percent of young people in foster care will experience homelessness within the first two years of leaving the system. 50 percent are underemployed. Only 3 percent earn a bachelor's degree. These negative outcomes are the reason Cancel founded Think of Us, a non-profit platform that gives vulnerable youths tools and resources to plan their life, and empowers them to build a network of adult mentors they trust. For more information about Think of Us, visit www.thinkof-us.org
- An Italian architecture firm has proposed a sustainable city for Mexico.
- The plans call for a 100 percent self-sufficient metropolis, with renewable energy, Venetian canals, and endless green space.
- This design is one of many "smart city" proposals as of late that point to a new form of urbanism.
Imagine a city that manages to combine nature and technology harmoniously, a self-sustaining metropolis where green space is punctuated by modern buildings and the bustle of city life.
Such a city is currently in works, as Milan-based architecture firm Stefano Boeri Architetti has just announced plans for a smart "forest city" near Cancun, Mexico that will be able to provide all of its food and energy.
An aerial view of the proposed city. Notice the surrounding green space and extensive canal system.
Image source: Stefano Boeri Architetti
According to the firm's press release, the city will cover 557 hectares, 400 of which will be green spaces containing 7,500,000 plants. Designed for 130,000 people to live and work there, it will feature a wide variety of housing types to accommodate the needs of its residents.
The economy of the city will be circular, with all of its food, water, and energy needs being self-generated. The designs also include a grand research center so that the city can host university departments, conferences, and curious scholars of all ages.
The city even has plans to improve the way we interact with our data. The architects told Dezeen that "Big data management is used to improve the governance of the city, hence, the life of its citizens. Sensors are distributed within the building fabric: they collect and share relevant information, which is then centrally analyzed and turned into suggestions in support of everyday life. For example, by mapping on an app the expected outdoor comfort experience within certain areas of the city."
This data will be handled with "full respect of the privacy of the citizens."If all goes according to plan, the city will be built on an area currently used as a sand quarry for hotels that is tentatively scheduled to become a shopping center.
Can it really be self-sustaining?
Artist's impression of the fresh water canals.
Image source: Stefano Boeri Architetti
The city is designed to fully sustain itself through an ingenious system of energy production and water desalination. A ring of solar panels will surround the city, generating enough power for all of the inhabitants. Water will be pulled from the Caribbean and desalinized using a solar tower. This water would be used to irrigate crops through a system of navigable canals.
Transportation will be handled by an entirely electric public "Mobility in Chain" transit system. Cars will all be left outside of the city.
What carbon emissions there are will be captured by the endless plants. The firm notes, with evident pride, that "thanks to the new public parks and private gardens, thanks to the green roofs and to the green facades, the areas actually occupied will be given back by nature through a perfect balance between the amount of green areas and building footprint. The Smart Forest City will absorb 116.000 tons of carbon dioxide with 5.800 tons of CO2 stocked per year."
While it currently only exists on paper, the visionaries who have dreamed this plan into existence hope the city can be an example for the world and a testing place for ideas on sustainable urbanism. It will join the ranks of several other smart cities that have been proposed as ways to improve our existence, make the world more sustainable, and move beyond the limitations of our current urban planning paradigms.
- Universities are places where there academic freedom thrives. Such open exchange of ideas creates an environments conducive to civil discourse — dialog with one another with the goal of reaching the truth.
- Philanthropists should, ideally, provide resources to institutions that promote scholarly work. The reason for this is because such work benefits society at large.
- When you engage with people who don't agree with you, you learn how to understand viewpoints from different angles. The learning that takes place at these moments is often transformative, mind-expanding.
- Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew that's been used by Amazonian tribes for centuries.
- Recent research suggests that ayahuasca might help reduce depression. The new study examined whether those effects might extend to suicidality.
- The results were mixed, but it seems ayahuasca shows some potential as a suicide intervention.
The psychedelic brew ayahuasca might show promise in the treatment of suicidality, the results of a new study suggest.
Ayahuasca — commonly made from the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub and stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine — has been used for centuries by Amazonian tribes as a spiritual medicine. It can cause intense, hours-long psychedelic experiences that have been described in countless ways, from life-changing to psychologically-distressing. In recent years, "ayahuasca retreats" in countries such as Peru and Brazil have become popular among Westerners seeking spiritual healing.
More recently, scientists have begun exploring the potential therapeutic benefits of ayahuasca in the clinical setting, a development that comes as governments are relaxing regulations on experiments involving psychedelic drugs, like ketamine and psilocybin.
In 2018, for instance, a team of psychologists conducted the first randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial of ayahuasca. The results, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, indicated that ayahuasca could, in fact, be effective in alleviating hard-to-treat depression.
In the new study, published in Frontiers in Pharmacology on November 19, the researchers wanted to test whether the drug had similar effects on reducing suicidality — one's tendency to think about, show risk of, or plan suicide.
"Suicide is one of the leading causes of death, accounting for nearly 1,000,000 deaths each year," study author Richard Zeifman, a Ph.D. student in Clinical Psychology at Ryerson University, told PsyPost. Zeifman added:
"Current interventions for suicidality have important limitations, which means there is a need for developing and identifying novel interventions for suicidality. Given this need, as well as research indicating that ayahuasca shows promise as an intervention for various mental health concerns (e.g., depression), we were interested in exploring whether the positive therapeutic effects of ayahuasca extended to suicidality."
The team recruited 29 participants — all of whom had major depressive disorder (MDD) and had never tried psychedelic drugs — to ingest either ayahuasca or a placebo in a dimly lit room as they listened to a predetermined playlist of music. Then, suicidality among the participants was measured by a psychiatrist for a week after the ayahuasca session.
The results were mixed. Compared to the placebo group, the participants who took ayahuasca showed less suicidality at all points during the week after the session. However, the differences weren't quite strong enough to be statistically significant. One explanation for the ambiguous results, besides the possibility that ayahuasca might not reduce suicidality, is that the team's statistical analysis wasn't able to detect significant effects — possibly because the sample size was too small.
In any case, the researchers said the findings suggest that ayahuasca shows "promise as a fast-acting and innovative intervention for suicidality."
"Furthermore, within the ayahuasca group, we found large effect sizes for decreases in suicidality at all time points," the researchers wrote. "These findings are in line with past research on the impact of psilocybin on suicidality and longitudinal research indicating that lifetime use of psychedelics is associated with reduced levels of suicidality and decreased risk of becoming suicidal."
The authors stressed that their results are preliminary, and that further research is needed before ayahuasca can be considered as a standardized suicide intervention.
It's worth noting the potential dangers of ayahuasca: Although anecdotal evidence suggests that ayahuasca might help people such as veterans reduce depression and symptoms of PTSD, there have also been cases of people committing suicide or experiencing mental health problems after taking ayahuasca.
A 'thirst for wholeness'
But it's possible these problems stem from people using the drug irresponsibly, as Rev. Dr. Jessica Rochester, founder of Céu do Montreal, a Canadian church that uses ayahuasca in spiritual ceremonies, told the Montreal Gazette.
"What has been happening is something called ayahuasca tourism. Unfortunately, with the world of the internet and people posting things saying, 'I went here once and healed my whole life,' (ayahuasca) has been sensationalized."
"On the other side, there have been tragic accidents where people either met death or caused harm. Our condolences go out to the individuals, families and friends for their losses, which would have been preventable if people would have taken simple precautions."
Rochester said ayahuasca improved her life.
"A lot of my experiences contributed to my understanding of myself, and of reality," she said. "I was simply following what my heart called me into. I can't say I was looking for anything in particular, but I like what Carl Jung wrote to Bill Wilson about a 'thirst for wholeness.'
"It's what's driving Western civilization, and is the cornerstone of a lot of my early academic work and my work as a health and wellness counsellor, which I have been for years."
- In "Cautionary Tales," economist Tim Harford explores why humans are so susceptible to con artists.
- In the podcast's first episode, Harford uses a famed oil tanker spill to highlight how important it is to admit mistakes.
- Future episodes compare the Oracle at Delphi with computer algorithms and a famous awards show messing up the envelopes.
Humans are susceptible to cons. We're even more likely to fall for larger-than-life personalities. This isn't me writing about the vague "other humans" out there, the ones that you and I (wink, wink) know exist but would never fall victim to. As economist and journalist, Tim Harford — the author of the bestselling book, The Undercover Economist — recently told me, the con is "baked into" human nature.
Yet, as he explores in his excellent new podcast, "Cautionary Tales," we can learn from past mistakes. Take a few deep breaths, count to 10, make better decisions — decisions, he points out on his podcast, that can save lives. We can better educate ourselves to learn about things we think we know about but actually do not.
Part of Pushkin Industries, the company co-founded by Malcolm Gladwell and Jacob Weisberg, Harford joins Gladwell and Michael Lewis for a series that explores the meaning behind both historical and modern-day events. In the debut episode, Harford discusses the tragic Torrey Canyon reef crash in 1967, which dumped 120,000 short tons of crude oil into the waters near Cornwall. The captain's inability to change course is, in itself, a lesson about the value of admitting mistakes and putting our new-found knowledge into action.
In episode two, we hear the story of Wilhelm Voigt, a Berlin native that isn't a captain but played one in society, an incredible story that shows us the depths of our beliefs in powerful con men. Harford discusses the political consequences of such cons during our interview. I'm sure you can guess where that conversation ends up.
As with Revisionist History and Against the Rules, "Cautionary Tales" is a welcome addition to podcasting. Humans might fall for cons and be unwilling to own up to mistakes, but we're also animals with a deep love for storytelling. Harford excels at that medium, both in writing and narration. The podcast is a pleasure to listen to and, bonus, you might just learn something along the way.
A powerful way to unleash your natural creativity | Tim Harford
Derek: Your new podcast is on Pushkin, which has this vibe of radio from a century ago. It's not just people talking; there's music, sound effects, and acting involved. Why did you go that route with "Cautionary Tales"?
Tim: One of the things that quickly became clear as I was looking at the stories that I wanted to tell is that very often these are stories where we don't have tape. We don't have a lot of archival footage. Very often there was nobody there when it happened. The journalist showed up afterwards; in some cases—there's one story that's two and a half thousand years old—we don't have tapes.
What do you do? Well, you can do the usual thing, which is to put an expert in an arm chair and ask him or her to explain what happened. We wanted to do something different. These little historical reenactments are like fresh herbs and spices throughout the podcast. These little scenes include a very different way to access a story that you wouldn't have another way to tell.
Derek: Your show is billed as "the science behind what happens." There has long been a replication problem in science. I know you mostly deal with the social sciences, but what was your training in science and why did you choose what you chose when approaching a topic?
Tim: It's a very good point because of the replication crisis—I think crisis is the right word. One of the issues is people looking for the perfectly counter-intuitive results, the thing that's just weird enough to be surprising and yet not so weird that you completely dismiss it. There's a lot of psychology published that has been filtered through that medium. I'm coming at it from a slightly different angle.
Rather than the coolest new study that might surprise you, I'm saying, "This thing happened, this oil tanker hit the rocks or this economist was the most famous economist in the world and he went bankrupt or they gave the Oscar to the wrong movie." Start with that story and then say, "What is it that social scientists can tell us about that story? What are the explanations?" Very often you find there's more than one explanation. There's usually no single cause. Then the question is: What explains it? What do the people who have thought hard about this sort of thing make of these accidents?
I talk about Milgram's experiments, but I try to remind people that a lot of the experiments that he did were not reported. These are very famous electric shock and obedience experiments. I'm trying to pick that apart and think about what modern psychologists now make of those experiments of what they think those experiments really tell us—to not to be uncritical in the way that I think about these studies.
Derek: I've read that study in many different contexts. The way you frame it about being an example not of obedience, but of a willingness to admit our mistakes, is really important. Why are we so unwilling to admit when we're wrong?
Tim: That's a big question. In some cases it's a social thing. In politics, for example, you don't want to admit that you're wrong because you're conceding ground to the other side and you don't want to lose faith socially. You don't want to lose political advantage. In other cases, you personally have committed so much to a particular viewpoint that it becomes extraordinarily painful to face up to the error.
This is the old idea of cognitive dissonance, which I explore in an episode about John Maynard Keynes and Irving Fisher, two great economists and their forecasting. Long story short, both are geniuses; both get really into stock market investing. One goes bankrupt; one dies a millionaire. What explains the differences?
One of them is willing to admit he made a mistake and one is not. Irving Fisher is more exposed. He's more publicly committed. He's going to lose face socially. But he's also too deep in debt to admit "I'm getting this wrong, I need to change direction." It's more painful to the sense of who he is, which the guy who doesn't make mistakes.
There's a third problem, which is something I emphasized in Adapt: We didn't know we made a mistake. No one ever tells you that you made a mistake; no one ever gives you the feedback. That's a very common problem.
Derek: Your podcast is supposed to help us learn from our mistakes. How do you help people actually learn what is in their best interest? Is that even possible?
Tim: This is something I explore in the final episode, which is about what happens when we just hand over our process to an authority figure or to a computer algorithm. What happens when we just let our GPS tell us where to go? One of the really interesting groups of studies that I talk about in that episode is what happens when you are forced to stop and think. These studies explore something called the illusion of explanatory depth.
In the initial study, they say, "How well do you reckon that you know how a flush laboratory works on a scale of zero to seven?" People will say, "Oh yeah, maybe six." Then the researchers say, "That's really interesting. Here's a pen and paper. Just explain to us in detail how it works." People get really stuck because they realize they don't know how it works. It was all a bit vague. They weren't lying to the researchers; they were lying to themselves. They felt that they understood this everyday object and they didn't.
The next study asked the same questions but about politics. It's by a different group of researchers. They said, "Tell us how a cap and trade system works. Tell us how the US will apply unilateral sanctions on Iran. How does that actually work?" People often feel they know pretty well what these policies are. Then again, when you ask them to explain, not to advocate, don't tell me whether it's a good idea, just tell me what it is. Again, people go, "Ah hmm. Uh hmm. I thought I knew but I don't know."
What's fascinating is that people's views about politics become more moderate. They think, quite reasonably, "Maybe my previous view that I was willing to die in a ditch to defend cap and trade or to prevent cap and trade, maybe that view that I thought was super important, maybe I shouldn't hold that view so strongly anymore given that I didn't really understand what it is that I'm talking about."
Not in every Cautionary Tale, but it comes up again and again, is that if you can calm down and slow down, whatever terrible thing happened wouldn't have happened if somebody had been able to count to 10 and think about what was going on.
Derek: When I was listening to episode two, I was reminded of a story growing up. There was a sporting goods chain called Herman's. Two men walked in, went to the back of the store, and grabbed a canoe. They put it over their heads and walked out of the store. It took 20 minutes for anyone to realize that they stole it.
Tim: Because they just walked right out as if they had bought it.
Derek: You say the judge, at the end of "The Captain of Köpenick," goes down and shakes Voigt's hand even though he admitted his crime and was a con man. What do we learn from that?
Tim: We're tremendously subjected to appearances. I wish I had a silver bullet for that one, some pill you could take that would cure us of that. I talk about the fact that just being tall is tremendously advantageous if you're running for political office.
Tim Harford: What Prison Camps Can Teach You About the Economy
Derek: I'm six-three, so I appreciated that.
Tim: Yeah, me too. As far as presidents go, that's not that tall. When you look at it, it's like they're picking a basketball team. It's a myth that the taller candidate always wins, but it definitely seems to be an advantage. The example of appearances matching the eye that I just can't get my head around is the adverts where the guy says, "I'm not a doctor, I just play one on TV," as though it's the most natural thing in the world. And it clearly works! That that advert ran for a long time is absolutely astonishing.
Even this particular con man, Wilhelm Voigt, would not have said, "I'm not actually a military captain. I'm just wearing the uniform." Of course, I can't help but think of a certain president who's most famous for playing a successful business man on TV. He's famous for acting as a businessman. It makes a huge difference to how we perceive the world.
Derek: Do we ever get over that? Is that something we can teach out of ourselves?
Tim: I have never seen a piece of research that says there is a cure for that. That is why, for example, blind recruitment processes and blind audition processes are so powerful. Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse studied what happens when the great American orchestras switched to blind auditions. They thought they were doing it to prevent discrimination against particular students who have powerful teachers; they didn't only want the "in crowd" to be recruited. They put up screens so you wouldn't know who was playing. Surprise, surprise, suddenly a load of women who previously wouldn't thought to be good enough were being recruited.
It's not enough to just tell people, "You shouldn't discriminate against women. Hey, don't be too impressed by uniforms. Treat people who don't look attractive the same way as you treat attractive people." You can tell people that, but I'm not sure it makes a great deal of difference. We can, again, slow down, have a think, and ask ourselves, "Am I overweighting this person's appearance? Am I favoring this person for president because they they look presidential rather than this other person who doesn't seem to look like what I imagined the president to look like?"
I don't think there is an easy cure for that. That's heavily baked in human nature. It's simpler with con artists. If you can slow them down and slow yourself down enough, you can usually spot the con. With a more subtle influence, like who we want to run our companies and who we want to run our country, appearances are always going to matter.
- A NASA study reveals new dangers to the human body in space.
- The absence of gravity caused changes in people's blood flows.
- Some had blood going in reverse while others developed clots.
Humanity's expansion into space is both a hopeful and risky endeavor. A new study from NASA identified a new danger – low gravity can make blood flow stop and actually go in reverse in some astronauts.
The condition particularly applied to people's upper bodies. What its implications are for long-term health is still being studied but it appears to join the other space afflictions that we already know about, which include loss of mass and increased brittleness of bones.
The study arrived at this conclusion by looking at data from 11 astronauts (nine men, two women) who spent an average of six months each on the International Space Station.
Ultrasound assessments revealed that by around the 50th day into the mission, seven members of the crew had blood in their internal jugular vein stop flowing or even start going in reverse. This vein is a major blood vessel going down the side of the neck. Its function is to collect blood from the brain, neck and face.
One of the astronauts also developed a clot in the vein while still in flight, while another was found to have a partial clot upon coming back to Earth.
Having your blood flow in reverse definitely doesn't sound appealing and the discovery raises additional alarms about the dangers of long-term space travel.
Michael Stenger, the study's senior author, also a manager of the Cardiovascular and Vision Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, called the finding "unexpected".
"We did not expect to see stasis and reverse flow," told Stenger to NBC News. "That is very abnormal. On Earth, you would immediately suspect a massive blockage or a tumor or something like that."
Stenger attributes the issue to the absence of gravity, pointing to years worth of observations of physiological changes in astronauts.
"This is why some astronauts get puffy faces, because there's no gravity to pull down those fluids circulating in the upper body," explained Stenger. "You'll sometimes also see veins popping out in the neck, or in the head — which you can see with bald astronauts, in particular."
He pointed to stopped blood flow as probably the most worrisome aspect of the discovery, saying that this results in dangerous blood clots.
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While the research is concerning, it can be seen more as an opportunity to anticipate the risks and develop new treatments, say the scientists.
Check out the study "Assessment of Jugular Venous Blood Flow Stasis and Thrombosis During Spaceflight" In the medical journal Jama Network Open (from the American Medical Association).