Lessons learnt from the sugar conspiracy – The 200 words project

(continued from parts 1, 2, 3).  I took away a few lessons from the sugar conspiracy –

1. A calorie is not a calorie – thanks Dr Lustig.

2. Avoiding confirmation bias is critical to getting to the truth. A habit of seeking out disconfirming evidence is among the best habits we can develop.

3. A large data set is useless if experiment design and analysis is flawed.

4. If you build it, make sure you do a good job selling it. To bring about change, ideas need to be adopted.

5. Be mindful of the politics surrounding important decisions. As this story demonstrates, strong personalities who refuse to listen to reason can cause decades worth of collateral damage.

6. When you are presented with research based results on topics like nutrition, take the time to understand the principles and run a gut check.

As I write this, I’d like to salute John Yudkin and Robert Adkins for being well ahead of their time. While they didn’t get the recognition they deserved, they serve as role models for us to strip issues down to basic principles and reason our way to understanding how things work.

And, thanks to Ian Leslie for a fantastic article.

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. – Max Planck

Source and thanks to: The Sugar Conspiracy by Ian Leslie in the Guardian

Thanks to Fenny’s world for the image

Two looming questions

Every time I think about the problems we will have to spend our time solving in the next few decades, I go back to two looming questions –

1. How will we deal with the displacement of 70%+ of our workforce when machines take over most of our jobs?

2. How will we prevent human extinction by figuring out sustainable solutions to co-exist with the environment on this planet?

The onus on the first question lies more with policy makers and governments. The second, on the other hand, is in the hands of researchers and entrepreneurs. As with all complex questions, these two looming questions throw out plenty of symptoms that threaten to occupy our attention. But, attacking symptoms will not help us solve these problems. In fact, they probably get in the way.

For example, the root of political unrest and the hateful sentiments against fellow humans in most “developed” economies right now is due to the displacement. The blue collar factory worker’s job has gone away and will never come back. It is hard to come to terms with that reality. And, the politics around it don’t help. “Vote for me and I’ll get your jobs back” is a simple, if untrue, message. These simple messages win the day in the short term. True progress, unfortunately, is built on tough discussions. And, these tough discussions will not occur until we accept that this is the reality we face.

So, perhaps, the first step should not be to discuss our solutions to the problems we face. Our solutions will be very different depending on our biases.

Maybe the first step is simply to agree on the questions…

Daniel Barenboim

The Economist Espresso had a lovely piece of news last weekend about Daniel Barenboim.

Harmonious: Daniel Barenboim
The Israeli-Argentinian maestro leads his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra this evening in an open-air concert in Berlin. He founded it in 1999 with the late Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said, as an experiment in co-existence. An orchestra alone cannot bring peace, as Mr Barenboim and the more than 100 musicians from Israel and Arab countries concede. But it can further mutual understanding and exemplify the necessary co-operation, patience and courage; the United Nations made Mr Barenboim “messenger of peace”. Tonight’s performance should be especially moving. It takes place in the Waldbühne amphitheatre, near Berlin’s Olympic stadium. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels had it built in the 1930s, the better to project their propaganda during the Olympic Games that Nazi Germany hosted exactly 80 years ago. What better way to evoke the triumph of humanity over hatred than Liszt and Wagner wafting into the night sky, from this ensemble, in this place?

This is an example of a daily act of bravery that can have massive ripple effects. Daniel Barenboim didn’t set out to fix world piece. Instead, he started with an experiment in co-existence in a domain that he had influence in. His influence to make a different expanded with time. He discovered what he probably expected to discover – there is a lot more that is similar about us as humans than different. What is different tends to almost entirely be in our heads – our beliefs and our pre-existing notions about other human beings.

When we hear about stories of international conflict and terrorism, they can cause us to ask – “But, what can I do?”

It turns out there is plenty. A starting point may just be to reach out and make friends with a few people who are very different from you – different religion, ethnicity, nationality, location. The more we understand and experience the joys of shared understanding across people who are, at first glance, different from us, the more humane we’ll become. And, the more humane we’ll become, the better the chance of building a more humane world together.

Thank you, Daniel Barenboim, for showing us how to do so.

Daniel Barenboim

Thank you so much

I met a much wiser friend for coffee a few weeks ago and noticed something small that has stuck with me. Every time we received something from the staff at the coffee shop, he would stop, turn to them and say – “Thank you *so* much.”

I wondered why that moment stuck with me for a few weeks until I finally realized the difference. While I made it a point to say thank you, I would often be looking elsewhere or just interrupting my conversation for a brief moment. He, on the other hand, made sure he said “thank you so much” (with that all important emphasis on “so”) by giving the person he was thanking his full attention.

People always talk about charisma being an “X” factor – one they’re unable to define or teach. I think of charisma as the ability to make others feel special – even if you meet them for small amounts of time. And, giving them your full attention is the best way to do that.

Attention is a magical thing – it can transform simple messages into warm, inspiring and heartfelt ones. I am going to work on my thank you’s…

Exponential creation of knowledge

The advancement of science has led to the exponential creation of knowledge. We know more now than ever before and this increase will continue.

Exponential creation, knowledge, science, ignorance

As knowledge is created exponentially, the number of questions we have grows exponentially as well. We’ve always asked questions – we used to ask the people around us, the yellow pages and other such analog tools. With the digital age, we’ve begun asking those questions to search engines and digital assistants. It is estimated that we do 3 trillion searches every year across our various search engines alone. With the advent of smart personal assistants, this number of questions will go up.

The gap between knowledge and questions is ignorance and this gap grows exponentially as well. So, as science and technology advances, the more questions we’ll have and the more ignorant we’ll be.

This means we will likely never have the likes of a Ben Franklin or a Leonardo da Vinci again – all this knowledge makes it very hard to become an inventor across domains.

It also means that answers will have an increasingly (perhaps exponentially?) less important place in society. Robot personal assistants will be able to search massive troves of information to give us answers. However, great questions will be scarce. It is great questions that lead to the advancement of science and our human race. Great questions won’t mean answers. They’ll mean more knowledge, some understanding and a lot more comprehension of our immense ignorance.

Science, life, knowledge, progress – they’re all about the journey.

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. – Isaac Newton

HT: The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly

Marching well

Marching isn’t as relevant to war as it used to be in the ancient era. However, marching well as a beginner soldier is probably key to getting promoted.

Doing well in a training game is far less important than doing well in the real game. However, a young soccer player will be lucky if he/she was picked for the real game having trained badly.

Whatever you decide to do, you will always have to do the equivalent of marching well. It doesn’t matter if you are an executive with the greatest reputation, a master analyst or a basketball player of repute. In a new role or environment, you’ll have to do the simple things right – get a deep understanding of the numbers, do the pre-work and train very well.

There’s a saying that a large part of success is showing up. It is more likely that by “showing up,” they meant showing up with a great attitude no matter the situation or task. A big part of being professional is being prepared to do the small things right. These may not be the most enjoyable parts of the job and probably were not the reasons you decided to do the work.

The greatest generals may not have enjoyed marching. But, they marched well all the same. Excellence, as Aristotle said, is not an act, but a habit.

Where energy and inspiration come from

Anton Chekhov once said – “Any idiot can face a crisis. It is day-to-day living that wears you out.” And, day-to-day living can play havoc with our ability to sustain positive, optimistic energy. That is especially the case if we don’t understand where energy and inspiration come from.

Where energy and inspiration come from, energy, optimism

Energy and inspiration come from a clarity of purpose – a clear understanding of why we’re doing what you’re doing. Absent this clarity, the day quickly becomes a grind. It is this clarity that enables us to be energetic and, then, inspirational. Our energy translates to inspiration when we’re able to communicate that clarity of purpose and transmit that energy onto others.

When we run out of energy, we’re often taught to look outside – “find some motivation.” So, we spend time surfing the internet looking for ways to inspire ourselves during a difficult workday with a nice article, video or song. But, motivation is extrinsic. It is a short term boost that may work for a few minutes, perhaps even a few hours. If we have to find a longer term solution, we will have to look within and answer that difficult question – “Does what I do matter? Why?”

There are no shortcuts to harnessing that internal energy. We need to take the time to lay out a hypothesis for why we think we exist and then be able to explain why what we spend time doing fits into that hypothesis. And, we have to remind ourselves about this why every day.

That’s how great things are built and great obstacles are overcome – one energetic, inspired, optimistic day at a time.

The sugar conspiracy – The 200 words project

(continued from parts 1, 2 – this is part of a 4 part series based on a wonderful piece of scientific reporting on “The Guardian” about a war among nutritionists that has affected our generation in more ways than we know).

Knowing that John Yudkin posed a hypothesis about sugar that challenged his own hypothesis about fat being the enemy, Ancel Keys went on a political offensive. Yudkin was a mild-mannered man, unskilled in the art of political combat. Over time, Keys’ campaign to discredit Yudkin worked – his book “Pure, White and Deadly” was rubbished as science fiction and he died in 1995 – a disappointed and forgotten man. Robert Adkins, a Cardiologist, who recommended a high-fat, low carb diet also became a hate figure thanks to the Ancel Keys movement.

In the last decade, a collection of scientists led by Robert Lustig have re-invigorated research on the effect of sugars and awareness has been on the rise. However, even in 2015, the US dietary guidelines didn’t incorporate the new research. Steven Nissen, chairman of Cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, called the new guidelines “an evidence-free zone.”

Yudkin once said that if only a small fraction of what we know about the effects of sugar were to be revealed in relation to any other material used as a food additive, that material would promptly be banned.

It is only now that that message is reaching the collective consciousness.

The final edition with lessons learnt coming up next week.

When I asked Lustig why he was the first researcher in years to focus on the dangers of sugar, he answered: “John Yudkin. They took him down so severely – so severely – that nobody wanted to attempt it on their own. – Ian Leslie

The sugar conspiracyThanks to Pete Gamlen for the image

Source and thanks to: The Sugar Conspiracy by Ian Leslie in the Guardian, more about Robert Lustig here

Earth Overshoot Day

Earth Overshoot Day is the day in the year when we use more of the planet’s resources than it can regenerate. The first such day was December 24, 1971. This year, it was on August 8.

There is a witty and smart George Carlin piece on “Saving the planet” –

“The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles … hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages … And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!”

The environment has largely served as a thorny issue in the past generation’s narrative. There is still a massive contingent of people who think it is all a conspiracy. The problem with pointing to everything as a conspiracy is the same as the boy crying wolf – when the wolves actually do come, you are doomed.

It is certain to be the dominant issue in the next generation, however. Maybe it’ll help if we renamed the issue from “Save the environment” to “Save humans?”

Earth Overshoot Day, environment, humansThanks to Etsy for the image

PS: If you are wondering what you can do – pick 5 out of this list to reduce your carbon footprint and be more conscious of energy consumption in your home and the office. This isn’t about the environment. This is about us…

HT: Elijah Wolfson from the Quartz Newsletter for writing about this

Today’s sacrifice

When a close friend and I started playing tennis a few week’s back, the quality of our game was woeful. We had both learned a bit of tennis a few years back but were very out of touch. Since we both were competitive, we chose to play with points. However, our rallies were short and full of unforced errors. A few week’s later, our games are much better. Playing once a week goes a long way in bringing about a certain rhythm and activating our muscle memory. But, a factor that I’ve realized helps my improvement is one I call “today’s sacrifice.”

Right from our first game, I picked one aspect of my game to sacrifice. For example, on day one, my serve didn’t work. But, instead of going for a tame serve that gets the ball in, I focused on making it better and lost plenty of points in the process. This didn’t work in the first game and through most of the second as well. But, come the third game, my serve began working a fair bit. Now that I’d climbed the steepest part of the serve hill, it was time to work on the next shot.

It sounds incredibly simple – as you jump into play, set a learning goal (Anders Ericsson would call it “purposeful practice”) and sacrifice a bit of today’s productivity for tomorrow’s growth. But, its applications can be mind blowing if applied to everything we do.

This is the goose and golden eggs fable all over again – easy to understand but nowhere as easy to apply. We know that today’s investments will lead to more growth and productivity. But, caught in the throes of the day-to-day, it is so easy to push today’s learning away and just focus on maximizing current production. Perhaps the way to do it is simply to implement this idea in every aspect of our lives – in a way we think nothing of it when we do it. Perhaps we do this by scheduling 30 minutes every day to do one of the following – learn something that might be useful or, if you haven’t done so, getting a bit of sleep, getting some healthy food, going to the gym, or picking a book that will help us grow. Over time, maybe we’d expand the sacrifice time to an hour, maybe even two.

After all, today’s sacrifice is tomorrow’s reward.

Thanks to Kidsworldfun for the image