Dan Buettner: How to live to be 100+

Speaker

Dan Buettner is a National Geographic writer and explorer.

Summary

Only 10% of what it takes to live to 100 is genetic. He first looks at some longevity myths:

  • If you try hard, you can live to be 100. False. Humans are designed to die – evolution only allows us to be old enough to procreate.
  • There are treatments that can stop or reverse aging. False. As we get older, our cells fail to replicate, damage accumulates.

So there are body-imposed limits – roughly 90 years is achievable, but the average American lives to be 78. So we could get those 12 years back with minimal loss of life quality.

Dan worked with National Geographic to look at areas where people frequently live to be 100.

  • Sardinian highlands (off Italy) for example have 10 times the US rate of centenarians. There are a number of lifestyle and dietary differences, but also cultural. Dan focuses on the way they treat the elderly – they show great respect for their wisdom.
  • Okinawa archipelago (Japan) – the oldest female population, and the oldest disability-free life expectancy in the world. Lower rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease and average age of 85. They eat mostly vegetables and tofu, and have a few strategies to prevent overeating. They have smaller plates, serve food before they eat it (making it harder to go for seconds), and have an adage to stop eating before they are full. The elderly also stay active – they form tight and old friendship groups (staying together in groups for 90 yrs or more), and always keep a reason to get up in the morning rather than just retiring to do nothing.
  • In USA the oldest population were 7th Day Adventists in Loma Linda California. Average age of 11 years older than the average American. One key is the 7th day itself – a day off without stress, nature walks are common. They also are a tight knit community, and their gatherings reinforce their wholesome values. Dan shares stories of 3 centenarians, all still working or staying active.

So what can we learn from these groups:

  • Move Naturally – these people do not exercise in the usual sense, but keep walking and gardening, moving up and down stairs. Active movement is build into their lifestyles
  • Positive outlook – the 3 groups take time out – to pray or talk. They also have a sense of purpose in retirement.
  • Eat wisely – they have a plant based diet, though usually not purely vegetarian. They often have a drink in the evening, and keep from overeating (stop eating when 80% full).
  • Connect – these cultures are tribal and stick together. They tend to respect the elderly and have a sense of belonging. Their friends also have the same healthy values, so reinforcing a good lifestyle.

My Thoughts

Interesting talk. He says it all, not much to add.

Nicholas Stern: The state of the climate — and what we might do about it

Speaker

Lord Nicholas Stern studies the economics of climate change. He is a co-author of the position paper presented to the UN’s 2014 Climate Summit, called “The New Climate Economy.”, and author of “The Stern Review” on behalf of the British government.

Summary

25 years ago, Everyone in Beijing travelled by bicycle. It was a safe and easy way to get around. Nowadays the roads are clogged by vehicles and the air too polluted to breathe. Over that time Beijing’s population has doubled and China’s reliance on fossil fuels has increased dramatically. China now burns half of the world’s coal, and now recognises that its energy use is unsustainable.

In the next few decades, environmental pressure will increase more due to structural economic changes:  70% of people will live in cities by 2050, energy use will increase by 40% over the next 20 years, and pressure will increase on water, land and forest resources. If this change is managed poorly, there are immense risks to our quality of life and our climate. If greenhouse gases continue to increase at the rates projected, we will see temperatures over the next century which the earth hasn’t seen in tens of millions of years.

The economic changes will happen regardless, but people need to make a decision to deal with climate change. In the area of cities, we need to

  • build new cities in a compact way – to reduce travel time
  • for existing cities, we need to work out how to move people around efficiently.

As an example of improving a city – in 1952 London’s smog killed 4,000 people and reduced vehicle visibility. By regulating coal, smog decreased quickly. A recent congestion charge gave quick results – decreasing car usage in the CBD.

In energy – over the last 25 yrs, energy use has increased by 50% and 80% of the energy produced now comes from fossil fuels. Energy consumption is expected to increase by 40% again over the next 20 years, and we need to make sure it is used efficiently and produced cleanly. California is an example where this has been done well – renewables will contribute 33% of energy consumption within a few years, and greenhouse emissions will reduce back to 1990 levels (economic output has doubled over this time). Similarly, India is being proactive – aiming to install solar electricity to 400 million homes which currently have no electricity. Good decisions are giving quick results around the world.

Regarding forests: they hold valuable species, keep water in the soil and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But forests are being destroyed – over the past decade we’ve lost forested land the size of Portugal. However, in Brazil the rate of deforestation has reduced 70% by working with communities and enforcing the law more effectively. Ethiopia is also setting ambitious goals – it aims to be a middle economic power in 15 years and to be carbon neutral. Ethiopia is committed to doing this, and Nicholas believes it is a plausible goal.

Across the world, we do understand how to make change effectively. Technology is also moving quickly – better insulation, batteries, electric cars, smart houses. However the world as a whole is not moving quickly – we are not cutting emissions as we should, the depth of understanding in climate change and commitment to change is not there. If changes are managed effectively, the next 100 years will be the best humanity has experienced. If not, the coming century will be humanity’s worst.

My Thoughts

The talk was a call to action. Unfortunately, I’m not sure who the call is for – there wasn’t really a clear action we can take afterwards. It ended with an admonishment of the current political leadership, rather than a focus for the viewers.

Nonetheless, an interesting list of targets. I am particularly curious to see Ethiopia and India’s progress to advance economically and environmentally at the same time. It seems developing countries must tread this line carefully nowadays – and although it is possible it has not been achieved in the past by other countries (US, Western Europe, China all leapt forward economically before significant environmental goals).

Hans Rosling and Osa Rosling: How not to be ignorant about the world

Speaker

Hans Rosling is a Swedish medical doctor, statistician and global health expert. Ola Rosling is the director and co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation (http://www.gapminder.org).

Summary

Hans starts his presentation on ignorance by conducting a quick poll of the Ted audience. He asks a few multiple choice questions about trends across history.

  1. How have deaths from natural disasters changed over the last century?
  2. How long has the average 30 year old woman spend in school?
  3. How did the percent of people living in extreme poverty change over the last 20 years

The actual deaths from natural disasters, for example, dropped from 0.5 million (1900) to 0.1 million (2000). But only 30% of the Ted audience and 12% of Swedish public were correct on this question. To further prove his point about ignorance, Hans presents the results from a third survey group: chimpanzees at the zoo. Simply by choosing at random (33%) they choose the correct answer more often than everyone else.  The polling results from the other two questions followed a similar pattern: the trend in education and impoverished people changed for the better while people assumed a negative change.

Hans introduces the Ignorance Project, cofounded by him and his son to investigate what the public knows about basic global patterns.  In their pilot project, they used these very same questions, along with some others, that were picked up by CNN.

CNN asked their readers, what percent of 1 year old children are vaccinated against measles?

The correct percentage is 80%, but predictably, the majority thought it was significantly lower. Only 17% of US public and 8% Swedish public were correct. But more surprisingly, 80% of the US media and 92% of the EU Media were wrong as well. The problem, he says, isn’t that people don’t listen to the media, it’s that the media don’t know themselves.

Hans son, Ola, comes out on to the stage to speak on the second half of their topic: Why are we so ignorant and what can we do about it?

A combination of personal bias (from different life experiences), outdated facts (from school books), and news bias (which exaggerates the unusual) all give people a skewed view of information. And because we rely on our views to generalize about facts, our intuition works against us, giving us an illusion of confidence.

Because people don’t have time to memorize facts every night, the shortcut to managing our ignorance is to turn our intuition back into a strength. To do this, Ola suggests being aware of some misconceptions you might have about how the world works.

  1. Most things get worse

– If you’re sitting with a question in front of you and you’re unsure, guess “improve.

  1. There is a duality of rich and poor

– The world has shifted to a larger middle class

  1. First people need to be rich and then they can do social good

-The majority of countries in the “middle class” send girls to school

  1. Sharks are dangerous

– If it makes you scared/feel afraid, assume you are going to exaggerate the problem

As part of the Ignorance project, Hans and Ola have created a Global Knowledge Certificate. They asked from organizations like Amnesty International and UNICEF what facts they thought the public didn’t know. Then they took that list and cross-referenced it with the facts people polled worst in. They want this shortlist to be used as a certificate, to show to a school or an employer that you are globally knowledgeable.

Ola concludes by reitierating the importance of winning the fight against ignorance. “If you have a fact based worldview of today, you might be able to understand the future. “

William Black: How to rob a bank (from the inside, that is)

Speaker

William Kurt Black is an American lawyer, academic, author, and a former bank regulator. Black’s expertise is in white-collar crime, public finance, regulation, and other topics in law and economics.

Summary

The average bank robbery nets $7,500, but the really scary thing is when CEOs use dishonest accounting to claim record profits and defraud the economy as a whole. The last time this happened it cost $11 trillion and 10,000,000 jobs were lost. The common ‘recipe’ for this style of fraud is easy to see, and follows the same trends:

  1. Grow like crazy
  2. Buy or make crappy loans at a premium yield
  3. Employ extreme yield
  4. Keep only trivial loss reserves.

This will give amazing returns to the bank, and easily enough to trigger massive executive bonuses. However a few years down the line, the bank is doomed to take a large hit.

Appraisal fraud is when a bank will over-inflate the value of collateral against a loan. There were warnings of this before Enron collapsed, including a warning to the US government from some appraisers. These honest appraisers had been blacklisted by the banks for refusing to inflate the values of assets. The appraisal is a great defense against losses, so no honest bank should need to do it, but is a clear sign of accounting fraud.

Liars loans are the second issue – where a bank will not check income of a borrower before lending them money. If a borrower overstates their income, it allows the bank to sell them a higher mortgage. Again, no honest bank should do this – it is a recipe for disaster to loan too much to someone who can’t pay.

Between 2003 and 2006, liars loans increased by 500% – by 2006 40% of all loans were ‘liars loans’. This is despite the industry’s anti-fraud experts warning banks that they 90% of the stated incomes are fraudulent. Appraisal fraud was also increasing over the same time period – by 2007 90% of appraisers said they had experienced coersion from the banks to overstate values of assets. Banks were also giving up their federal deposit insurance, so were no longer under the gaze of the federal regulator. There was also the issue of the secondary market for these fraudulent loans- when banks will fraudulently sell the loans onto someone else. To do this it was necessary to hide the true value of the loan, or repackage the loans alongside better loans.

The response after the savings and loans debacle of 1990s included 30,000 criminal referrals from regulators – one of the largest responses to white collar criminals. In response to the current crisis (GFC of 2009?), there were no criminal prosecutions. The FBI alone doesn’t have the expertise to investigate complex accounting fraud on its own – it needs guidance from regulators. In 2007 an alliance was formed between the Mortgage Bankers Association (an industry body) and the FBI to investigate mortgage fraud, but their definition of fraud was one where the banks were always the victim, and industry incapable of committing fraud. This led to criminal prosecutions against small business owners to protect the banks from them.

William’s solution to banking regulation

  1. abandon the ‘too big to fail’ mantra. They need to be shrunk to the point where their failure will not trigger wider losses.
  2. we need to rework modern executive professional salaries. It is too big an incentive to defraud the system, and can create a situation where good ethics can be driven out of the system by bad ethics (unscrupulous appraisers).
  3. deal with deregulation, de-supervision, and defacto decriminalisation. Over time, it has become trendy not to regulate banks, even when the regulators can see what is happening.

By making these changes, we can decrease the frequency and impact of future banking crises. We need to learn what the bankers learned – the recipe to rob a bank.

My Thoughts

Could be good if you have an interest in accounting fraud. Personally I found the talk difficult to follow at times – it felt like it was working in circles. The ‘recipe’ itself was interesting, though I wasn’t clear how each of those steps were beneficial to the bank.

Mike Rowe: Learning from dirty jobs

Speaker

Mike Rowe was the host of Dirty Jobs, a program on the Discovery Channelin, where he is shown performing difficult, strange, disgusting, or messy occupational duties alongside the typical employees.

Summary

For one episode of Dirty Jobs, Mike went to work on a sheep ranch in the western US. He found out the day before filming that castration was going to be part of the work. So he thought some research might be in order and called the Humane Society and ASPCA to find out the “proper” way to castrate sheep. He learned that a  rubberband was put on the sheep’s tail and testicles to stop blood circulation and after about a week, they fell off. So with image in his mind, he went to the farm expecting Albert, the rancher, to do the same. But instead of pulling a rubberband from his pocket, Albert pulled a knife. And in a matter of seconds he snipped off the tail, tossed in to a bucket and then split open the scrotum. Then he reached forward with his mouth, and to Mike’s shock, bit off the testicles before throwing them in the bucket as well. Mike adds, that before this incident, he had never stopped filming or done a second take for Dirty Jobs. But he stepped in and had to say, “stop, this is crazy”. Mike said to Albert, “that’s not you’re supposed to do it”, and Albert replied, “well that’s how we do it”. Mike wanted to do it like the humane society, so Albert consented and got his bag of rubberbands. After putting the rubber bands on the second lamb, Albert put it back down, and let it walk away. It took about two steps before falling over, until it eventually huddled up in a corner, clearly in a lot of pain. The first lamb had now stopped bleeding and was frolicking as thought nothing happened. Mike realized how wrong was then, and the experience gave him a bigger realization about how wrong he was all the time.

After that episode, Mike started thinking and speaking about the show in different ways and about topics that were sacrosanct. He questioned whether “follow your passion” is actually good career advice. He says he’s met dozens of people who are happy but definitely did not end up where they were by following their passions. He gives one example of a dairy in farmer in Connecticut who started making millions when he realized the poop from his cows was worth more than the milk if he used it to make biodegradable flower pots. Instead of prioritizing safety first, what if we should be prioritizing it third? What if people who have “dirty jobs” live more balanced lives than white collar workers?

Mike developed a theory from his experience: we’ve declared a war on work. Policy in Washington, telelvison from Hollywood, and advertisements from NY are devaluing manual labor. Mike wants a P.R. campaign to teach people about the forgotten benefits of skilled work. To him, clean and dirty are not opposites, they are the two sides of the same coin.

My Thoughts

Mike Rowe has collected some amazing experiences from his work and his storytelling ability allows him to fulfill his responsibility of sharing them. At the end of the talk I had a hard time following his points, however, and wish his message was a little more clear. But this talk is certainly worth the watch and I recommend you check it out when you want to hear about sheep castration, manual labor, or the job market.

Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar

Speaker

Pamela Meyer is author of “Liespotting”, which pulls together research on deception from a number of sources.

Summary

Everyone is a liar, but the goal to spotting liars isn’t to trick them or play ‘gotcha’, but to understand the truth.

Truth #1 Lying is a cooperative act – it needs the hearer to believe.

Truth #2 We are against lying… and covertly for it

Lying can manifest as corporate fraud, which costs nearly a trillion dollars a year in the US, or it can betray national secrets. In many cases lying defines our social interations – to protect ourselves, to protect others, to portray ourselves differently to what we are, to lie to a partner, we lie to a stranger 3 times within 10 minutes of meeting them. The thought of this makes people recoil in horror. However, the more intelligent the species, the more they rely on deception. Children grow up with lies and by the time they are in the workforce they are living in a ‘post-truth society’.

Trained Lie spotters get to the truth 90% of the time, while untrained people get there 54% of the time. Pamela studies Bill Clinton’s denial of his affair with Monica Lewinsky “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” – later proven to be a lie. She looks at how his speech patterns and language betrays him.

  • He uses overly formal language
  • he distances himself from “that woman”
  • he uses qualifying language.

Clinton didn’t do this, but Pamela also stays on the lookout for too much or too little detail in the statements, and repeating the question to stall for time.

She also looks separately at body language symbols of liars:

  • They don’t always fidget, some completely freeze their upper bodies.
  • We think liars won’t look you in the eye, some look too much to compensate
  • They often smile to show sincerity, but it is a fake smile, and they are not smiling in the eyes
  • Body language cues can be giving the opposite of the words – eg shaking head while saying yes or shrugging shoulders while telling a confident, good story.

Giveaways in attitude, when conversing with a deceptive person:

  • An honest person will be enthusiastic and help brainstorm to discover the real suspect.
  • an honest person will be infuriated throughout the whole process if they suspect they are being accused – it won’t just be in flashes
  • an honest person will want a strict punishment for the person who committed the crimes.
  • In contrast a deceptive person will talk only in chronological order and get confused when asked to tell it differently (change the order)
  • A deceptive person will be withdrawn from the conversation
  • A deceptive person will add way too much irrelevant detail

A lot of small tells can also show deceptive behaviour – changing blink rate, or putting physical barriers between the asker and themselves, or changing their tone of voice. But these can happen naturally as well, it is only when they happen in clusters that you should be suspicious. When dealing with a suspected liar, be curious and friendly, treat them with dignity, and don’t be too aggressive.

The world is getting more interconnected, people are sharing a lot. By learning to spot lies, you are telling the world that you will not be part of the lie – that your world is a truthful one.

Naomi Oreskes: Why we should trust scientists

Speaker

Naomi Oreskes is an American historian of science.

Summary

We as a people have to answer questions that rely on the scientific method – about global warming, evolution, and the effectiveness of vaccines. But increasingly, public opinion polls show that Americans don’t believe the science on these issues. For most people, science is not fully understood, so it is reduced to a matter of ‘belief’, and this is true even for scientists operating outside of their own field (eg a chemist talking about evolutionary biology). So how do we trust scientists?

The inductive model is the textbook scientific method. This forces scientists to

  1. Develop a hypothesis
  2. Deduce it’s consequences
  3. Observe these consequences

In the ideal case, the idea is a law of nature. A law is true in the general case – in all times and places, and cannot be broken.

For example, the theory of general relativity said that space-time wasn’t an empty void and actually had a fabric that was bent in the presence of large objects. An observable conclusion was that light would bend around the sun. This took a few years to test, but was observable and therefore verified the theory of general relativity.

Naomi says this deductive model of science is wrong for 3 reasons

  1. False theories can make true predictions – just because a test shows something, doesn’t prove this hypothesis.
  2. Auxiliary Hypothesis – assumptions that scientists are making without realising they are making them. For example to test that the Earth rotated around the sun, scientists suggested that when they focussed on a particular star in June, the backdrop of other stars would be different in December (since it was being observed from a different ‘angle’). They did not see this, so disproved the (correct) model because the effect of ‘stellar parallax’ was small (Earth’s orbit relative to star distances was tiny), and their telescopes were not sensitive enough. The scientists made incorrect implicit assumptions about the size of the orbit and the sensitivity of their equipment, which undermined their conclusions.
  3. Inductive science – a lot of science is based on finding evidence and data first, then developing a model later. Darwin’s evolutionary work itself evolved after Darwin collected samples and data over a number of years.

Scientists often build models, to explain the root causes of something. A geologist who hypothesised continental drift to form mountains did so first by compressing clay with a clamp – this did show results similar to the folds in mountains and this added to the evidence of continental drift. Climate change is an area where modelling is used to explain the 1 degree celsius temperature increase over the past 50 years. Temperature measurements over 150yr period show that the increase is clear, but the models explain this by taking into account all effects (for example sulfates, volcanic eruptions, greenhouse gases, ozone, solar radiation). By modelling each of these effects, we can see which combination of them affects temperature. The modelling shows that each of these effects yield a temperature change, but the largest rise was driven by the impact of greenhouse gases. This lets us show that not only is climate change happening (from observations of temperature), but also that greenhouse gases are a major driver (from the models).

If scientists do not use a common methodology, how do we know if they are right or wrong? By organised skepticism – they convince each other from a position of mistrust, with the burden of proof on someone who wants to make a novel claim. It is difficult to shift scientific thought to a new radical idea – the model is conservative by design. Scientific knowledge is therefore a model of consensus by the experts.

Is this consensus any different from the ‘appeal to authority’ argument? It is similar to an appeal to authority, but it is not an appeal to an individual, but the authority of the entire collective scientific community. For example – modern automobiles are the product of not 1 person, but on the collective work of every person who has worked on the car for the past 100 years. The same is true for science – but it has been collected over thousands of years. We should trust science, but not blindly – it should be based on evidence. This means scientists need to be better at sharing their reasons for knowing something, but also that we as a community need to be better at listening.