I have decided to write a non-exhaustive list of things I think is wrong with the world. Hopefully the things I consider here aren’t too politically incorrect to tackle, and won’t get me into trouble. This post is based on generally informed opinion: I intentionally won’t attempt to provide much evidence on here – this is meant to be a list of things I believe in, and I will try to back up these points with some evidence and suggestions for improvement in separate articles – with the understanding that I am prepared to be wrong on these points, if the evidence happens to lead me elsewhere.
Science journals and peer review
Science itself is the best tool we have for interrogating Nature, and uncovering her secrets. The peer-review process through scientific journals is believed by most to represent the best process for doing science. Unfortunately, there are a number of problens with the current system. For example, negative results are not usually published. This can mean that millions of pounds of research money, and years of work can be wasted trying to replicate what others have already failed to replicate.
Another problem is the monetary exchange for access to scientific papers. These papers are written by authors who are usually paid by grants from funding bodies on behalf of the taxpayer. What the journals give to the community is some administrative work, where an editor selects reviewers based on their past work in a similar line of work. The reviewers themselves are funded by the tax payer for research, and are are not compensated for the peer-reviewing of papers. Back in the days, the journals were needed to take care of typesetting, printing and distributing volumes of papers. There have been experiments into “open access”, and the online archive arXiv serves as a pre-print repository for unpublished papers.
Access to food/education/healthcare
It is my understanding that we have enough resources to ensure every single human being on this planet gets access to food in adequate quantity and quality, to healthcare and to an education that allows them to reach their potential. Unfortunately, billions live in abject poverty, and millions die of malnutrition regularly.
With intensive monoculture agriculture, we are damaging the soil from which our food comes. Large scale use of fossil fuels is causing rapid global warming, and acidification of the oceans – the entire ecosystem on this planet is in danger. We live in a society built on the assumption of indefinite growth. This is not possible on a planet with limited resources, unless we consider expansion to space. Even then, I suspect a more likely scenario is that of the movie Elysium, without the bit where the poor people get the advanced healthcare.
I see automation of most jobs as inevitable. Once upon a time, Luddites predicted that civilisation would collapse because machines were taking over the jobs of most field labourers. They were wrong, because the agricultural mechanisation was followed by industrialisation which led to new jobs being created elsewhere. On the other hand, the wave of automation that we are seeing today is based on replacing the human intellect – menial, repetitive jobs that don’t require much creativity can be automated, and the areas of the job market where the human intellect is essential are shrinking. I believe this will lead to social unrest if universal basic income does not become established.
In Mauritius, and apparently in the UK, the pressure on students from primary, secondary and tertiary level is on passing exams and getting good grades. This often means “doing well enough” in one subject to concentrate on another where the student is weaker. Unfortunately, this also stops the student from pushing as hard as possible in the one they are good at. In teaching science, I fear a lot of emphasis is put on telling rather than showing. For example, it would be more instructive, and useful for students to perform experiments and re-discover the laws of nature for themselves rather than being told the answer beforehand. This would encourage the sort of curiosity and creativity we need the solvers of tomorrow’s problems to have.
In other cases, dogmatic faith in arbitrary beliefs are given more weight than actual science (a.k.a. reality). For example, there are schools in the UK where a child can ask “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys”, without the teacher being able to answer that question with the known scientific explanation. Instead, the child is then led to believe the “alternative” magical creation. This has consequences – the development of vaccines depends on the understanding that we have in the form of the theory of evolution by natural selection.
I have addressed the topic of LGBT rights elsewhere before: http://gayagendabook.com/. Suffice it to say, the only reason LGBT people face so much hardship around the world today is because of bigotry. I believe each person should be able to live their life as they wish as long as they are not hurting anyone else. In particular, gay children should not be condemned nor bullied.
Genital mutilation of children
Across the world, genital mutilation of children of both genders is rife. In the western world, female genital mutilation is generally banned, but male genital mutilation, while viewed as unnecessary in many western countries, is still viewed as harmless. In practise, in addition to removing a large amount of sensitive tissue, male genital mutilation also destroys the mechanics of male sexuality, drastically reducing the range of sexual experience available to the male.
Access to superstition-free relationship/sex education
There is a need for relationship and sex education in schools that is not crippled by historical superstitions.
I have addressed homophobia above and before – racism and xenophobia tend to stem from the same problem – some people grow up being brainwashed into believing their own particular tribe is somehow superior to others, based purely on lineage/cultural background.
These are only a few of the books/articles that have made me think on the issues above. Many others have been left out because I can’t currently remember their titles.