Do I agree with Steven Pinker’s optimistic world view that humans are living longer and better? Well, yes and no.

When the FT’s Henry Mance, in a recent interview with Pinker (behind the FT’s paywall), remarks that news headlines suggest the opposite, Pinker argues that

journalism is a non-random sample of the worst things that are happening on earth at any given time. When you look at the world through the lens of data, rather than events, it’s much more positive.

Well, up to a point!

Later in the interview, Pinker suggests that US politics needs more scientists. Mance points out that some of the least trustworthy politicians are doctors, to which Pinker replies,

Doctors are not scientists! Doctors are professional descendants of mediaeval barber surgeons. There’s a surprising number of doctors who don’t think scientifically.

Hmmm. I know at least one doctor who would disagree (but then Pinker in making his argument ignores the historical distinction between physician and surgeon).

. . . and although I’m not at all sure UK politics needs more scientists – Thérèse Coffey was once a scientist – UK politicians should perhaps listen more to the scientists (read Kate Bingham’s The Long Shot).

Holding on to optimism

A very good public lecture at the University of Exeter yesterday evening on Building the Energy Future, given by James Smith, Chairman of Shell UK.

Very upbeat (“we need to hold on to our optimism, but realise that optimism alone is not enough”) and honest. And this morning Stefan Stern in the FT on why Managing the mood is crucial,

Leaders have to be resilient. At the moment the bad news is coming not single spies, but in battalions. Tough trading conditions like these test character as much as business acumen. Your physical and emotional response to these challenges is just as important as the decisions you actually take.

If James Smith’s performance last night is typical of the man (and I am sure it is) then Shell UK must be a great place to work.

P.S. Note to Steve Smith (University of Exeter VC) ~ these lectures are too good to miss: there should be a podcast.