Here’s How to Get Out of the Trap Humans Have Put Themselves In

How to build the skills we will need to flourish in this century

The Problem

In 1991, I wrote my first book on three topics: 1) the human “population bomb” was dangerous and scary, 2) global warming as a result of CO2 emissions was going to have very bad effects on the planet, and 3) it’s healthier to eat a vegan diet.

I was wrong on all three claims. Dead wrong. I am constantly researching and revisiting my beliefs, because I too often jump to conclusions based on too little information. What I thought was right is actually wrong. I had been looking at the world through my own distorted lens.

This is true of all of us. The most Popular beliefs are often wrong …

No matter how popular an idea is, it can still be wrong …

Whenever you are on the horns of a dilemma, the best way out is to dissolve the horns and reframe the problem so it goes away. In this essay, I will describe two worlds: the world we know, and a different world that embraces the scientific method, cost-benefit analysis, and the pursuit of happiness.

World #1: Reality

In this world …

That’s the world we live in. It is full of shared delusions that keep humans and nature from co-thriving. A good example is the supposed link between CO2 and climate. Did you know that …

If you don’t believe those claims, I invite you to investigate them for yourself and read relevant scientific literature. Young people believe these stories — they are in the school text books! An entire generation now believes in a catastrophic future of heat, drought, storms, catastrophic sea level rise, refugees, and more predictions that are not supported by any evidence.

I have several YouTube playlists dedicated to climate:

Now I’m going to describe exactly the same world, but with one difference: I have the budget to change it.

World #2: The World with the Giordano Bruno Institute

The goal of the Giordano Bruno Institute is to give young people the tools they need to fix the world. We want to teach people to use the scientific method to build a view of the world that is based on evidence and fact, rather than politics, media, and “what everyone else thinks.”

If I had the money, I would create …

A Think Tank

I would hire many of the world’s best scientists, behavioral psychologists, teachers, and communications specialists. Together, we would build an evidence-based platform for knowledge and reach out to young people to get them involved. We will teach young people to become critical thinkers. We will do experiments. We will publish. We will learn how institutions change and how to escape from inadequate equilibria.

One of the big drivers of improvement is long-run economic growth. We will educate people about this so they begin to demand better performance from their governments. An important focus is monetary policy. One of the most critical things we can do for the world is change monetary policy to support, rather than hurt, poor people. This one act could lift the last billion people out of poverty. Africa is an example where strong, coordinated monetary policy could make a huge difference.

Another driver is atheism. While it isn’t popular, we would like to join with the Richard Dawkins Foundation to help give young people an alternative to the myths and belief systems of organized religion.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.
- Richard Feynman

Here’s the important thing: we want to understand the world and teach others to understand it also. When the evidence goes against our view, we change our view. When we discover we are wrong, we admit it and promote the less-wrong alternative. With enough money, we will pay bounties to whistleblowers and researchers who can help us correct our mistakes and try to build the best knowledge-base in the world with as few biases as possible.

For example, you may have heard about recent years being “the hottest years on record.” Is that true? It’s only true if you “adjust” past temperatures so they are cooler than they actually were. Here is Tony Heller pointing out how temperatures are manipulated and fed to the media:

Here is an introduction to ice and glacial retreat:

Media

We want to create online resources that give young people tools, education, projects, community, jobs, and more.

An Education Platform

Since education is broken, we want to re-invent it. Each person should have customizable resources available all the time, so as we work we can continue learning. The basic curriculum will consist of courses in critical thinking: statistics, scientific method, economics, cost-benefit analysis, Bayesian reasoning, risk, uncertainty, complex/adaptive systems, portfolio theory, etc. Most of it is broken into small chunks that are easy to consume and continue to help students incorporate these tools in their everyday lives. In time, many groups will add to this platform, which grows to become your personal career and education platform.

Events

We will sponsor events on campuses and in cities where young people can come learn. We hope young people will start meetups in many cities.

Blogs, Podcasts, Videos

We will hire young people to help create content that speaks to other young people. We will focus on many of the biggest issues and investigate them using the scientific method. Here is one of the very few skeptic videos featuring a young person:

Prizes and Awards

We will offer money to whistleblowers who will come forward to show how various institutions have been distorted by money. We want to offer prizes for people who can help find solutions. We want to use these incentives to get noticed, so people understand that if they can show we are wrong we will pay them and we can all improve our understanding of the world. We will publish a series of “Big Open Questions” with prizes that will continually increase.

Legal Defense

More than a few people have been fired for speaking up and asking hard questions about climate, both in academia and in government jobs. Some have had gag orders, some have had their careers ruined based on false accusations. These people don’t have the money to defend their rights in court. We will help them defend their rights.

The Environmental Protection Agency is able to enforce CO2 emissions under various laws and court rulings. In 2007, the Supreme Court held that CO2 is a pollutant that endangers human health. We must advocate for better laws and challenge these rulings. They are not based on scientific evidence, they are based on flawed projections of catastrophic warming.

There are other areas where science and reason are challenged in the courts and in legislation. We want to work with others to protect religious groups and other fanatics from influencing mainstream rules and regulations.

We would like to challenge mainstream publications, especially scientific publications, for their biased approach to science. We want to remove the incentives for scientific journals to publish fantastic claims that later need to be retracted. We want to advocate for open publishing of scientific papers.

Walk-In Centers

Imagine walking into a contemporary 50,000 square-foot retail space. There is a cafe, an auditorium, and many small exhibits. It has the feel of an Apple store or a fun museum. It’s free. There are areas for all these issues that people might be concerned about:

  • Education
  • War
  • Gun control
  • The economy
  • The National Debt
  • Welfare
  • Drinking water
  • Health care
  • Diet
  • Medicine
  • Agriculture
  • Plastic
  • CO2 and temperatures past
  • CO2 and future models of temperature
  • All about coral reefs
  • All about polar bears
  • Conventional energy
  • Nuclear energy
  • Solar energy
  • Wind energy
  • Energy policy
  • Etc.

The place is alive with conversation. Each area has two people: a data-scientist and a presenter. These two people work together to educate, listen, and respond to people coming by. For example, if someone wants to ask about a data set or has a question about a recent headline, we can dive right in. If they want to bring additional data, we will want to add it to our pipeline to review and integrate. We want to listen to people. We want to know what they are concerned about and what it would take to relieve their fears.

We want to agree on the facts. Each person can decide what to do and what to advocate, but we want to agree on the basic facts about all these things. We want people to add to our knowledge.

We will have to have special programs for schools. Teachers will be afraid that we are spreading propaganda, that we are a conservative organization, and that we want to stop them from educating kids about the dangers of carbon dioxide (which, by the way, is coming out of your nose right now). We will listen and learn from them how to have a rational discussion about data and evidence.

It’s all about conversations — two-way conversations where people feel heard. If they are logged into our app, then as they go through the space they can collect notes, references to media, and come away with a list of things to investigate on their own time. They can also add their voices to all the various issues.

There is an auditorium where people are listening to someone give an overview of the week’s news and important topics. Again, there is a facilitator working with the audience and a data person driving the display. The conversation takes place in real-time, with the presenter showing counter facts and arguments for or against the various news items, people asking questions, and the data person looking for answers. The general format is a ten-minute presentation, followed by about 20 minutes of discussion and online research.

The auditorium has events all day long and bigger events at night. There are classes on all the topics we present online. Anyone can reserve the room to speak and bring an audience (it costs a bit to pay for the staff), as long as they agree to the format. They must be willing to work with our data people to uncover all the data for a given topic — they aren’t allowed to cherrypick or skew data. The topics of data quality and uncertainty are part of every discussion. We are continuously learning.

We’ll start with smaller pop-up venues in a few cities and use these to learn and make corrections before going bigger.

Listening

The key difference for us is listening. We want to change minds, and we want other minds to change us. Think tanks that are conservative, liberal, religious, green have their own agendas. We have one single agenda: find the truth, communicate it, and put it into practice. We know the world is complex and that the mainstream “common sense” is often wrong. We want to listen to quiet voices, hard questions, and look for data that will help us reshape and refine our view of the world.

Working with Journalists

We know many journalists have already dedicated themselves to the cause of climate alarm. The New York Times has declared that it’s their job to exaggerate the truth to move people to take action. But some journalists will want to understand the science, and we will work with them to do so. We will produce specific materials aimed at journalists. We will run a help desk to assist and provide research for any journalist working on these topics.

Policy

We would like to play a role in changing policy. Depending on our budget, we would like to have events and work with politicians to help bring a more rational debate to energy policy, education, and more. As long as there’s an incentive to ignore the evidence, politicians will go for the incentives. We hope to find ways to influence and change policy as we mature.

An App

There will be an app that aggregates our best knowledge, so people can have it at their fingertips. The goal is to provide the data and the framework, and let people draw their own conclusions. It will have online discussions with a point system that rewards good contributions and penalizes spam and flaming. It may have a “world,” where you can navigate to various information spaces and explore. The app emphasizes uncertainty and puts error bars around our best estimates. It shows how we got to the conclusions and makes the data available. The app also lets people contribute ideas and topics and vote on various issues, so we always have a map of what we need to work on next.

How Much Will it Cost?

The cost will be significant, but the amount will pale in comparison to the cost of getting this mission wrong. Too much is at stake.

The think tank will cost about $1m per month.

The media/events team will cost about $500k per month.

A legal group will cost about $500k per month.

The physical centers will be around $800k per month each.

We may be able to develop some revenues, but we expect to mostly lose money.

So I’m looking to spend about $50m per year and more as we grow. If I can raise $30m, it will give us a great start. We will show what we can do, then we will raise more and scale up.

The more money we have, the more we can hire the world’s best scientists, train young people, offer prizes, create media, and open new walk-in centers. Eventually, we hope people will gift us large sums of money, so we can create an endowment equal to that of a medium-size university.

We will be very transparent, publishing all our financials online for everyone to see.

Anonymous Donations

We want all our money to come in anonymously, so we don’t know who is funding us. We will partner with charities around the world to help insulate us from the knowledge of who is supporting us and make it easy for donors to give. We want donors to know that we will pursue the truth with no pre-conceived agenda or favors.

Here’s why: we understand that many people and organizations are under pressure to “toe the line” when it comes to controversial issues like climate. Their web sites must support the common narrative. If they didn’t, their customers or funders might become suspicious.

For example, a smart guy like Elon Musk profits from the doom and gloom message and wants to be part of the “green energy solution for the future.” He can’t go in front of a camera and say “You know, I’ve been studying climate science and I’m starting to get the feeling that CO2 has nothing to do with temperature.” But he can donate to the GBI anonymously, knowing he won’t be linked as a supporter.

Two more examples would be Laurene Jobs and MacKenzie Bezos. These two women control huge resources and can have a major impact on society. They are both dedicated to children and education. Yet they may well want to support us. They can’t do that publicly. These two brave women have no choice but to tell the world that they are also supporters of climate-appropriate behavior. But they will understand that if we win, we will create an alternate narrative they can switch over to in time — a rational, cost-benefit approach to energy and education that will help them change the world with the rest of their money and influence.

Airline companies want more customers. They want more business. Economies function better when travel is less restricted. But they can’t say anything like that on their web sites. They have to say “We’re working to reduce CO2 emissions …” and other feel-good messages. But, behind the scenes, they can donate to us. We’ll be working around the clock to change the conversation that forced them into that corner. Energy and transportation companies should be seen as heroes, not villains. We depend on them every day for the quality of our lives.

Team

I don’t have a team together yet. I have relationships with many of the world’s top scientists and data scientists. I can hire world-class people, but I don’t want to name them here. Those names could be picked up by online attackers. It’s a very adversarial environment. Even Google and YouTube search results are skewed toward a warming-world narrative. People risk their careers to speak out. This is not how it should be.

We need young people to speak to young people. We will look for young scientists and communicators and invite them to attend a rationality boot camp where they are encouraged to speak out, challenge us, show us alternative evidence, and help us improve. Some of them may want to join us.

I am a lifelong entrepreneur. I’ve started 20 companies and have been at the forefront of innovation my entire life. I’ve learned to let the evidence, not the common beliefs, guide me. I invite you to see my LinkedIn profile and contact me to learn more about the team.

Summary

I believe we can influence trillions of dollars of wasted spending. We need a rational energy policy, rational transportation, rational agriculture, better functioning markets, and a better decision-making framework to help take care of the world we live in.

By setting up a think tank, media teams, and retail locations in cities around the world, I hope to change the conversations around science and public policy. I hope I can make conversations more rational and make it okay to challenge the status quo. I think in 20 years we can make a huge difference with a new platform, driven by the scientific method, that helps bring us into a new world of agile careers, agile learning, agile governance, and prosperity.

If your goals are aligned with ours, please contact me to discuss how we can get the Giordano Bruno Institute started.

David Siegel is a serial entrepreneur in Washington, DC. He is the founder of the Pillar Project and 2030. He is the author of The Token Handbook, Open Stanford, The Culture Deck, Global Warming for Dummies, Climate Curious, and The Nine Act Structure. He gives speeches to audiences around the world — see his speaker page if you would like him to speak at your next event. His full body of work is at dsiegel.com.

Written by

Provocateur, professional heretic, slayer of myths, speaker of truthiness to powerfulness, and defender of the Oxford comma.

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