Sunday, December 25, 2016

Believe it or not, 2016 was one of the best years ever

This year, it seems like all the end-of-year roundup stories are particularly negative. It turns out that rock stars are not immortal, and most of the people in my internet circles were not thrilled with the outcome of the presidential election. But at the end of each year there's always a small fringe counter-movement of articles explaining that the world is actually getting better, and 2016 is no exception. If you're among those who think 2016 in America was bleak (and I certainly am disappointed by a lot of events as well), remember that the rest of the world still marches forward. Here are some of these positive summaries from this year.

This article from Our World in Data has been making the rounds quite a bit. It uses several charts that are near-identical to the ones from my book. Updated to 2015, it's nice to see that these trends from my book are all continuing as predicted. The article provides a convenient infographic that's easy to share. It's clever to cage it in a frame of "if the world was 100 people", which makes it easier to understand the scope of the progress.

The article also focuses on why we don't know this. Why isn't there a front-page headline today that reads "The number of people in extreme poverty fell by 130,000 since yesterday"? It's because the media is obsessed with single dramatic events and with negative news. (That headline could have been repeated every single day since 1990!)

Here's also an interview with Steven Pinker, who can always be counted on to spread the optimist message. Although he clarifies, as I do in my book as well, that it's not really "optimist" as much as "realist", big-picture instead of in-the-moment, statistical instead of anecdotal.

I also stumbled upon this great answer by Jeremy Fridy on Quora to the snarky question, "Liberals, why don't you want America to be great again?" He points out several facts about the state of the US today: that violent crime is at a 50-year low, abortion is at a 40-year low, the economy has grown and budget deficit shrunk in the past 7 years, and that Obama is leaving office with a higher approval rating than even Reagan.

Finally, here's a monster of a rebuttal to 2016-pessimism, 99 Reasons 2016 was a Good Year, on Medium. There are endless (well, 100) successes in conservation, global health, economics, fighting climate change, decreasing violence, generosity, and more. Did you hear that global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels did not grow at all in 2016? It’s the third year in a row emissions have flatlined. Probably not.

Fingers crossed for a 2017 that reports more diligently on the trends that matter most.

Monday, December 12, 2016

More surprising health inventions

A few months ago I reported on new glasses that let color-blind folks see in full color. Now, there are two more inventions just this month that have the potential to help many people.

The first is a "stem-cell gun" (I didn't make that up) that uses your own cells to create new skin on your body. This could drastically change the way we treat the victims of serious burns. Because brand new skin is growing, there aren't even any scars. You can learn more here.

The other invention is a pen that counterbalances the shaking effects of Parkinson's disease, allowing patients to write again. You can watch the example of a graphic designer who had lost the ability to draw or even write her own name. Learn more here.