Links and Comments: Thinking about the Future; Doctors and Fake News; Polls about Atheists

Slate: Our Puny Human Brains Are Terrible at Thinking About the Future, to follow up on the Elizabeth Kolbert post a few days ago.

Some people regularly connect with their future selves, but a majority does not. And this matters, beyond the links between future thinking and greater self-control and pro-social behavior. Thinking about the five-, 10-, and 30-year future is essential to being an engaged citizen and creative problem-solver. Curiosity about what might happen in the future, the ability to imagine how things could be different, and empathy for our future selves are all necessary if we want to create change in our own lives or the world around us.


Vox: Doctors have decades of experience fighting “fake news.” Here’s how they win. Subtitle: “Some lessons from the health community’s long battle with misinformation.”


  1. Take time to explain why you believe something — not just what you believe and why your opponent is wrong
  2. Make sure your information is reliable and easy to access
  3. Teach them while they’re young
  4. Evidence is necessary but not sufficient
  5. Don’t be afraid to hold misinformation peddlers to account

Lesson #3 is exploited by religions, of course; and Lesson #4 is the the big lesson of recent years about how evidence by itself cannot overcome childhood beliefs and motivated reasoning.


Vox: How many American atheists are there really?; “why most polls on religious belief are probably wrong.”

The article discusses why people are reluctant to admit they might not be believers — to counter the common trend — and in consequence a clever experiment to ask about belief in the context of a long list of questions, in which each participant answers only the number of questions they agree with or not.

My own thought about this, as I’ve mentioned before, is that I suspect there are many people who are smart enough to understand that the supernatural claims of religions have no basis in reality, yet understand that religious tradition and performance have some kind of social good, and so go along with the flow and never express their true thoughts.

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