My round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, discussions of optimism/pessimism gap, and debunkings of optimism/pessimism, as noticed in the media.
* “Natural gas begins flowing from first British shale well”. It’s still early days with shale in the UK, but the test rigs are successfully fracking into the Bowland Shale under the north of England.
* “Ambitious Mid Wales re-wilding project”, for… “one continuous, nature-rich area, stretching from the highest area in Mid Wales down through wooded valleys to the Dyfi estuary and out into [the waters of] Cardigan Bay.”
* In Africa, “Mountain Gorillas Thrive as Conservation Efforts Pay Off”… “According to Wednesday’s statement from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Red List of Threatened Species, the Mountain Gorilla has moved from “Critically Endangered” threat level to “Endangered” thanks to collaborative conservation efforts.”
* The Journal of Controversial Ideas will allow the use of pseudonyms to protect free speech. The fully peer-reviewed journal will launch early next year, edited from the University of Oxford.
* Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal today, asking “Why Is It So Cool to Be Gloomy?”. It’s a good succinct survey of the reasons people might prefer bad news, including the preference among elites for pushing what Ridley calls… “”turning-point-itis.” This is the tendency to think that things may have improved in the past but will no longer do so in the future, because we stand at a turning point in history.” (But, sadly, even Ridley uncritically accepts the recent study by… “Harvard psychologists David Levari and Daniel Gilbert [on] “prevalence-induced concept change”” — seemingly without considering the paper’s methodology supplement and discovering its laughably restricted pool of sample participants and small sample size).
* “Optimism as a Function of Time”… “I’m a short-term pessimist, but a long-term optimist. Consider, say, retrosynthesis [toxicology] software. There are some very interesting things going on in the field, but not all of these are commercial just yet. […] But… at the same time, I really don’t see much reason why such programs can’t work, or indeed why they shouldn’t. They’re getting more capable all the time, both in terms of the knowledge of the literature that they have available, their ability to apply that to a given problem, and even in the rate of improvement in both of those functions (second-order improvement!)”.
* “Why do Israelis live longer?”. The brave little nation leads the world, but… “Israel spends just 7.4 percent percent of its GDP on healthcare yet delivers one of the most inclusive and efficient systems worldwide.”
* On the rural backroads of America, Iowa State professors research small town population growth and shrinkage… “Although declining population may sound like a bad thing, the team says that if they are shrinking in a smart way, there’s really no reason to fix it. ‘Smart shrinkage’ does not affect the quality of life of the residents of these small towns, but rather defines it. If the quality of life is still acceptable, then there is no reason to interfere.” I’d also suggest that managed shrinkage may actually increase quality of life, if it persuades the loud annoying folks to move away because the town’s become so ‘dull’ and ‘quiet’.
* The Brookings Institute is also surveying the American heartlands, and finds “Positive changes in heartland study”, with Minnesota and North Dakota doing especially well on the back of a sustained oil and gas boom. But with towns possibly becoming rather more ‘lively’ than before, perhaps to the detriment of quality of life for long-standing residents.
* One wonders if the American heartlands, either booming or shrinking, could use less-negative media? Local news is often overwhelmingly and relentlessly negative, packed with sordid court cases, whining, crime and grime. There may be a few vapid ‘cat rescued’ and ‘mayor opens new centre’ reports thrown in, to the sweeten the bitter pill. Local radio is sometimes a little better that the newspapers, though not by much. But in Cape Town there’s a local radio station that tries to let the good news predominate… “They deliberately focus on the positive, beginning each bulletin with a ‘good news’ story with a recap at the end. Everything from the presentation, imaging and music offers a positive feel, and to be honest, stands out across a busy [radio] dial.”
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