Radical Idea: Libraries


If the idea of a library was purposed today it simply would be laughed out of existence because a library embodies an idea that is often ignored: that people, no matter their status, should be given a chance at no cost. In fact, libraries are free for all and generate no profit. What’s more they let people use the same shared resource over and over again – anathema in a post-Napster internet. Take a moment and marvel in the fact that despite the commodification and finalization of all aspects of our life that the simple library still stands.

The majesty of library buildings is matched only by the nobility of their purpose. The public library does not make anyone money; it does not understand its patrons as mere consumers, or as a revenue base. Instead, it aspires to encounter people as minds. The public library exists to grant access to information, to facilitate curiosity, education, and inquiry for their own sake. It is a place where the people can go to pursue their aspirations and their whims, to uncover histories or investigate new scientific discoveries.

And it is available, crucially, to everyone. It costs nothing to enter, nothing to borrow – in New York, and in many other cities, the public library system has even eliminated late fees. All the knowledge and artistry of its collection is available to the public at will, and it is a privilege made available, without prejudice, to rich and poor alike.

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Climate Crisis Course Required in Spain

tree with climate knowledge

Students at the University of Barcelona will now be required to take a class on the climate crisis regardless of their field of study. Adding the course to all students makes sense since the climate crisis impacts all aspects of knowledge from urban planning to our understanding of history.

The way the course got added to the curriculum is further proof protesting works.

“The trigger was the student occupation but it shows a general cultural change. Ten or 15 years ago the university would have sent in the police. But now you can’t kick them out because you know they’re right and society supports them.”

“It’s not just another course on sustainable development,” said Lucía Muñoz Sueiro, an End Fossil activist and PhD student at the university. “It combines the social and ecological aspects of the crisis, which are interrelated.”

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Make People Feel Ignorant So They Listen To Experts

Argument analysis flowchart
Figure 1 from Cook, Ellerton, and Kinkead 2018. CC BY 3.0

The rise of disinformation by organizations big and small means the role of experts is even more important. We have seen how people have been manipulated around elections to vote against their interests and even to deny a well-documented global pandemic. The notion that people deny reality isn’t new, we’ve seen it with climate change. So how do we address this knowledge problem?
Making people realize that they don’t know everything is the solution. People are more receptive to the knowledge of experts when they themselves realize they don’t know everything – and opinions aren’t knowledge.

While they usually should, people do not revise their beliefs more to expert (economist) opinion than to lay opinion. The present research sought to better understand the factors that make it more likely for an individual to change their mind when faced with the opinions of expert economists versus the general public. Across five studies we examined the role that overestimation of knowledge plays in this behavior. We replicated the finding that people fail to privilege the opinion of experts over the public across two different (Study 1) and five different (Study 5) economic issues. We further find that undermining an illusion of both topic-relevant (Studies 2–4) and -irrelevant knowledge (Studies 3 and 4) leads to greater normative belief revision in response to expert rather than lay opinion. We suggest one reason that people fail to revise their beliefs more in response to experts is because people think they know more than they really do.

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American Charities May Legally Have to Divest from Fossil Fuels


Student groups have long called for their educational institutions to divest from the destructive fossil fuel industry (and ideally reinvest in renewables). This passionate demand from students has seen success at various schools around the world, and their fight in the USA may have gotten easier thanks to a change in law by the Biden administration. Large schools in the states tend to have a charitable arm to give out scholarships and collect donations from wealthy benefactors (who donate to dodge taxes, but that’s a separate issue). Charities in the states are obligated to serve the public interest, and investing in the destruction of the planet is not in the public interest according to the Biden administration. Let’s hope the divestment movement continues to grow!

Like other public charitable institutions, Harvard is legally bound to serve the public interest in exchange for privileges such as tax exemption. Harvard is also required to manage its endowment prudently, in order to further its mission of educating young people and creating a more just world.

Fossil fuel investments are incompatible with those obligations. Fossil fuels are not only the primary contributor to climate change; their extraction and refinement also emit toxic pollutants—often in Indigenous and low-income communities, where environmental racism is most acutely felt. For decades, fossil fuel companies have obscured the scientific reality of climate change and thwarted climate policy; in recent years they have also attacked climate scienceand funded research—including at Harvard—that tacitly furthers their agenda. Sea level rise caused by climate change even threatens Harvard’s campus.

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Learn Faster by Knowing Less

tape and tool

People learn when they can experiment with whatever they are working with, be it something physical like carpentry or something mental like philosophy. Teachers can even encourage faster learning by letting students essentially play with what they have and stepping back. Providing too much instruction means students don’t need to create a process for themselves so they learn to cope, instead they learn to follow the instructions. A recent study showed demonstrated that how make choices as learners impacts how quickly we learn.

This observation means the brain is primed to learn with a bias that is pegged to our freely chosen actions. Choice tips the balance of learning: for the same action and outcome, the brain learns differently and more quickly from free choices than forced ones. This skew may seem like a cognitive flaw, but in computer models, Palminteri’s team found that choice-confirmation bias offered an advantage: it produced stabler learning over a wide range of simulated conditions than unbiased learning did. So even if this tendency occasionally results in bad decisions or beliefs, in the long run, choice-confirmation bias may sensitize the brain to learn from the outcomes of chosen actions—which likely represent what is most important to a given person.

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