Big Think Edge


PURPOSE: Set Goals, with John Amaechi

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, NBA basketball player John Amaechi shares with you the plan he created as a child to help him accomplish his dreams.

INNOVATION: Engage Your Team Through Gaming, with Jane McGonigal

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, game designer Jane McGonigal walks you through the ways in which gaming can lead to positive outcomes in the workplace.

LEADERSHIP: Overcome Obstacles, with Edward Norton

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, Oscar-nominated actor Edward Norton offers a mental strategy for pushing past anxiety and fear when taking on a new venture.

TALENT: Master Your Craft, with Malcolm Gladwell

If your goal is to become masterful at what you do, the formula is simple: stay focused and do your time. In this lesson from Big Think Edge, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell teaches you how.

Understand and Address Unconscious Bias, with Jennifer Brown

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, management expert Jennifer Brown, a diversity training consultant who works with leading companies, explores pitfalls and strategies for dealing with unconscious bias.

RISK MITIGATION: Risk Management Fundamentals, with Timothy Geithner

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner teaches the fundamentals of risk management, based on lessons learned during the 2008 Financial Crisis.

MILLENNIALS: Embrace Millennials' Values, with Jon Iwata

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, Jon Iwata, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at IBM, explores key millennial values and what every company can do to embrace them.

MASTERCLASS: What Does A Leader Do?, with Robert Kaplan

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, Harvard professor and former Goldman Sachs executive Robert S. Kaplan explores three strategic key questions that leaders need to ask themselves.

Introducing Big Think Edge

Big Think's Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by thought leaders at the top of their game.

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  • Setting an intention doesn't have to be complicated, and it can make a great difference when you're hoping for a specific outcome.
  • When comedian Pete Holmes is preparing to record an episode of his podcast, "You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes," he takes 15 seconds to check in with himself. This way, he's primed with his own material and can help guests feel safe and comfortable to share theirs, as well.
  • Taking time to visualize your goal for whatever you've set out to do can help you, your colleagues, and your projects succeed.



  • American Psychological Association sees a dubious and weak link between mental illness and mass shootings.
  • Center for the study of Hate and Extremism has found preliminary evidence that political discourse is tied to hate crimes.
  • Access to guns and violent history is still the number one statistically significant figure that predicts gun violence.

Following these increasingly more frequent tragic mass shootings, the conversation has begun to evolve into a new direction. No longer will the public or the punditry accept the blanket blame on video games or mental illness as being the source for a mass shooter's impetus to kill.

Recently, Arthur Evans, the CEO of the American Psychological Association, put forth a statement that said there is a very weak link between mental illness and mass shootings.

Instead, he put forward the hypothesis that hate and bigotry combined with unfettered access to guns leads to these deadly affairs. While the act of mass murder by no means warrants a psychological equivalance to the meaning of "sane." It appears that the APA is suggesting that bigotry and hate are not forms of mental illness, but rather mental states of being.

This may sound like an equivocation, but it allows us to approach this in a more nuanced way. It may lead to better ways on how to combat the roots of this hate and bigotry, which is now suggested by some to be the cause of these shootings.

Statistically, mental illness doesn’t account for much

Evans pointed toward a number of statistics to show that serious mental illness only accounts for less than 1 percent of yearly gun-related homicides. He states:

"The biggest predictor of who is going to commit these crimes is violence, a history of past violence. That is the single-best predictor of who is going to act in a violent way and commit these kinds of violent acts. In addition, we know that there are other factors — stressors, alienation, disaffection, a history of domestic violence — all of those contribute to people's likelihood to act out in violent ways. Mental illness is in there, but not as strong as some of these other factors.

Correlating mental illness to mass shootings doesn't work out statistically, but some social researchers believe that they can chart fiery political discourse to a rise in percentage of hate crimes.

Are hate crimes and political discourse connected?

President Donald Trump is by no means a model statesman for traditional political discourse.

It's not news and will never be news to know that an overwhelming amount of people have lambasted Trump either for perfectly legitimate reasons, radical ideological differences or political reasons.

Some experts believe that they're starting to find some evidence that his kind of remarks have an influence on stirring hate.

An analysis of FBI data by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino found some preliminary evidence that there has been a rise in hate crimes tied to intense political debates.

For example, during August 2017, the clash between the hodgepodge of "Unite the Right" white nationalist protesters and counter protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia — when Trump was critiqued for saying there were "very fine people on both sides," the researchers found that hate crimes had risen to 663 incidents.

Additionally, the team found incidents rose during Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton and during the 2015 terrorist shooting by a Muslim couple in San Bernardino California, where they saw a spike of reported hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs nationwide.

The center's director, Brian Levin has stated, "We see a correlation around the time of statements of political leaders and fluctuations in hate crimes. Could there be other intervening causes? Yes. But it's certainly a significant correlation that can't be ignored."

However, as far as we know now political speech cannot be the only reason acts of violence are committed. The authors of the study note that federal hate crime data has long been criticized as incomplete. While this correlation is too obvious to pass up, there remains a number of questions still regarding the major factors that spur hate-filled mass shootings.

Trump eventually released a statement after the last mass shootings saying, "In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America."

Regardless of whether these statements are political placation or Trump's true feelings, it seems to be a step in the right direction. Trump's policy and rhetoric on the other hand still primarily blames mental illness.

"Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger," Trump said before adding, "not the gun."

If we can all at least agree that hate is to blame. The next question is — what do we do about it?

Fear and hate correlate

Harvard psychologist Susan David warns that the dangers of fear-mongering through the media and questionable journalism can weather down our resistance to fallacies and hate speech.

And it's a big problem because fear is the favorite dish served in politics. It sells and it gets people to vote.

Susan states:

"We have politicians who are effectively demagogues, who aim to inspire fear and cement our bond to them by hyperbolizing a threat to our mortality. So how can we repel deceptive messaging and see clearly?"

Referencing psychologist Daniel Kahneman's system of two kinds of thinking — one of those being intuitive and emotional visceral response, and the second being deliberate thoughtful examination — Susan encourages the latter.

". . . if we can step back from our fear and see it for what it is — manipulated panic rather than — we can protect ourselves from the demagoguery message and re-align with our true values."

Antidotes to hate and bigotry

In a video with Big Think, activist Maajid Nawaz sets forth a very ironclad logical statement.

No idea is above scrutiny and no people are beneath dignity.

At the root of this is the ability to have intellectually stimulating conversations about controversial and complex problems in our world without resorting to bigotry or heavy-handed demagoguery.

This logic framed for the debate on gun violence allows us to approach the manner in an even keeled objective state.

Until we can settle our minds free of fear and learn to communicate with one another, we can't expect anything to change.

The key to ending online hate? Treat it like a virus.

  • For weeks, fires have been burning in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, likely started by farmers and ranchers.
  • Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has blamed NGOs for starting the flames, offering no evidence to support the claim.
  • There are small steps you can take to help curb deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, which produces about 20 percent of the world's oxygen.


The Amazon rainforest has been burning for weeks, blanketing cities in smoke and stoking already heated political conflicts in Brazil.

On Wednesday, the skies above São Paulo – the Western hemisphere's largest city ‚ turned dark with smoke, making day look like night. Ominous photos of São Paulo spread across news outlets and social media, helping the hashtags #Prayfor Amazonas and #AmazonRainforest to trend on Twitter.

Experts say most of the fires were ignited by humans — likely by farmers and ranchers to clear land, which is an annual practice. However, the current number of fires in Brazil is unusually high, with more than 73,000 so far in 2019 –= an 80 percent increase from 2018. Half of those fires started in the past month.

But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro — he ran a presidential campaign that openly called for exploitation, not conservation, of the Amazon — suggested NGOs were responsible for the fires.

"On the question of burning in the Amazon, which in my opinion may have been initiated by NGOs because they lost money, what is the intention? To bring problems to Brazil," Bolsonaro said this week, without providing evidence.

But multiple prominent scientific and environmental groups — among them, Brazil's Observatório do Clima (Climate Observatory); the nonprofit Amazon Watch; and a Brazilian government agency called the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation — said Bolsonaro's policies and rhetoric have encouraged rampant deforestation.

Officials at Observatório do Clima wrote in a statement:

"Since taking over, Bolsonaro and [environmental minister Ricardo Salles] have been dedicated to dismantling environmental governance structures and oversight bodies. They have extinguished the agency responsible for deforestation control plans in the Amazon and in the Cerrado, but have not yet presented any alternative plan against destruction; cut a quarter of Ibama's resources; left 8 of 9 regional superintendencies of the agency in the Amazon as yet, which inhibits surveillance operations; and demobilized the Special Inspection Group, Ibama's elite unit, which did not go to the Amazon field later this year."

Amid international outcry, many on social media have questioned why there haven't been more donations to help combat deforestation in the Amazon, which produces about 20 percent of the world's oxygen and is often called "The Planet's Lungs."

What can you do to help?

It's going to take serious policy overhauls and supplementary conservation efforts to curb deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. But there are some steps you can take to help make a difference, such as:

  • Elephants help keep the central African forests they live in healthy.
  • Without elephants, the forests see a striking reduction in their carbon dioxide-storage capacity.
  • Study calls elephants "natural forest managers."

As long as there's profit in it — and as long as there are those who simply enjoy killing animals — we're likely to continue losing elephants, and it's a disturbing loss.

To see these endearing, intelligent creatures taken down by people — humans — is nothing short of heartbreaking. Today, new research, published in the July installement of Nature Geoscience, reveals their decimation isn't just a moral issue — the loss of forest elephants damages the carbon-storage capacity of the central African forests in which they live.

The researchers write: "Large herbivores such as elephants, can have important effects on ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles."

The study

Image source: Siegfried.modola/Shutterstock

Congo rainforest​

Led by ecologist Fabio Berzaghi of Climate and Environmental Sciences in France, researchers collected field measurements of forests in the Congo basin, comparing the tree densities and composition of areas in which elephants are still present, and areas in which they no longer live. It's estimated that the animals' overall population has been reduced 10 percent from historical levels.

What the analysis reveals is that forests in central Africa no longer home to elephants are characterized by a reduction in larger trees, and critically, fewer hard-wood trees. These trees have a more robust CO2 storage capacity than soft-wood trees.

The trick to working out the impact of losing elephants is that their influence on forest ecosystems plays out over a longer term — think 100 years — than the period for which data is available. To address this, the researchers developed computer simulations that exposed changes in the way different types of trees compete for nutrient, water, and light with and without elephants.

The researchers concluded that without the creatures, some three billion tons of carbon would no longer be captured by the forests — that amount is roughly equal to France's total carbon emissions for 27 years. That's about a 7 percent reduction in the forests' ability to absorb the greenhouse gas.

Co-author Chris Doughty sums it up this way: "Our simulations suggest that if elephant loss continues unabated, central African forests may release the equivalent of multiple years of fossil fuel CO2 emissions from most countries, thus potentially accelerating climate change. Therefore, their loss could have a drastic impact both locally and on global climate."

How elephants change forests

Image source: David JC / Shutterstock

Experts already suspect this link, but the new study for the first time comprehensively quantifies it. Previous guesses about how elephants have such a striking effect on their habitats' biomass have focussed on seed dispersal via defecation, generally moving things around, and stepping on and crushing small trees. All of these things seem to be true. Berzaghi says, "Forest elephants are natural forest-managers that thin forests by 'pruning' or removing small trees which increases the growth of large trees and the production of wood."

A obvious solution

Image source: GUDKOV ANDREY / Shutterstock

Stop killing elephants.

"Our study shows that even at high population densities, forest elephants continue to improve the carbon storage potential of central African forests, so there is no ecological concern for their comeback," says Berzaghi. Increasing their population size in these forests carries with it no discernible risk.

Their resurgence would also confer benefits beyond better carbon storage. Study co-author Stephen Blake notes that "Forest elephants are the gardeners and guardians of biodiversity in the Congo Basin." Their seed dispersal alone, according to the study authors, contributes to the germination of over 100 tree species that provide habitats for birds, primates, and insects.

  • Andrew Yang is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who's made technology and automation central to his campaign.
  • Yang says the U.S. needs a plan for how to manage the upcoming loss of millions of American trucking jobs to self-driving vehicles.
  • Yang wants to tax profits from self-driving trucks to give these laid-off truckers a "severance package."


At the core of Andrew Yang's 2020 presidential campaign is an existentially unsettling message: Automation is coming for our jobs and it's going to restructure the economy. In fact, it already is, according to the candidate.

"Technology is now automating away millions of American jobs," he said during a Democratic primary debate in June. "It's why Donald Trump is our president today — that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and we're about to do the same thing to millions of retail jobs, call center jobs, fast food jobs, truck driving jobs and on and on through the economy."

The success of Yang's campaign — which, to be sure, is relatively minor, considering he's polling at about 3 percent as of August 22 — can be attributed in part to the fact that he's offering a potential way out of this mess: give every American adult a universal basic income of $1,000 per month. That plan, as the Democratic hopeful recently described on his website, needs to give special consideration to the millions of Americans whose jobs will likely be automated sooner than others: truckers.

A statement on Yang's campaign website reads:

"Over 3 million Americans work as truck drivers, and over 7 million are employed related to trucking activity. Self-driving truck technology is rapidly becoming sophisticated enough to replace these drivers, and the economy is not prepared to absorb the loss of so many jobs. Truck drivers are 94% male, average age 49, average education high school or one year of college – there are not necessarily other opportunities for them that will pay a comparable salary. Additionally, hundreds of communities are built around the trucking industry and those communities are also at risk from the coming automation."

How can the U.S. "ease the transition" to self-driving vehicles, as Yang's website describes? Tax profits earned from self-driving trucks to provide a severance package for out-of-work truckers.

"The estimated cost-savings and efficiency gains of automated freight are $168 billion per year which is enough to pay the truckers significant sums and still save tens of billions per year," Yang's website states.

Automated trucks: Blue-collar disaster or economic win?

Of course, what's unclear is how accurate those estimates are, and how exactly Yang would go about taxing the self-driving trucking industry (though we do know who would get the ball rolling – the so-called "Trucking Czar" Yang would appoint if elected president). What's more, Yang – the only candidate who's made tech and automation central to his campaign — could be wrong about how imminent of a threat automation is to the economy. But recent developments in the industry seem to suggest it is, in fact, a looming problem.

American companies are already experimenting with self-driving trucks. In 2019, the United States Postal Service, UPS and Amazon worked with the self-driving trucking company TuSimple to run pilot programs that involved shipping cargo on self-driving trucks. In these test runs, the self-driving trucks operated at "Level 4" autonomy, as measured by the Society of Automotive Engineers' "Levels of Driving Automation" — this means that the trucks drove automatically but there were, in this case, two people inside the cabin at all times, ready to take the wheel in the event of an emergency.

Before self-driving trucks can hit the roads in large numbers, they'll need to pass a set of regulatory hurdles, and it's unclear how long that would take. But on the technology side, the trucks could reach full autonomy by the end of 2020, according to TuSimple President Xiaodi Hou.