#99 How Our Minds Heal Our Bodies: Jo Marchant

Have you ever felt a surge of adrenaline after almost getting into an accident? Salivated at the sight of a sour lemon?  Felt turned on by your partner’s voice?  If so, says scientific journalist Jo Marchant, you’ve experienced how the workings of the mind can affect your body.

In this episode we look at the mind's potential to ease pain, reduce anxiety and even cut the risk of infection, heart disease and other serious medical ailments. Jo discusses how the latest findings in mind-body research: How hypnotherapy, mindfulness techniques, Virtual Reality and social connections can play important roles in healing and prevention.

More than one in three Americans have turned to alternative medicine.  But do homeopathy, acupuncture and other therapies actually work? What does science say about the use of placebos in medicine?

"I believe very strongly in an evidence- based approach that we have to investigate things in a scientific way," Jo tells us in this episode.  "On the other hand I also started to feel that science has a bit of blind spot when it comes to the role of the mind in health."

Jo Marchant discusses the findings of her New York Times best-selling book "Cure: A Journey Into The Science of Mind Over Body.

Check out the New York Times book review.

#94 A Vital Fix for the Media: David Bornstein

The news media is under fierce attack from President Trump; White House Strategist, Steve Bannon; and many other critics.While many claims against the press are overblown, now is a good time to look at arguments for constructive change. 
 

We decided to re-air our interview with New York Times journalist David Bornstein, co-founder of SolutionsJournalismNetwork.org

David says that solutions journalism focuses on what works now as potential solutions. Using the best available evidence, solutions journalism delves deep into the how-to’s of problem solving, often structuring stories as puzzles or mysteries that investigate problems. 

One recent example: Initiatives that show  success in reducing the dropout rate in public schools. Reporters looked at how these programs work. What are successful school systems doing differently that result in better outcomes?

#93 Emily Esfahani Smith: The Power of Meaning

Are you happy? If not, perhaps you’re asking yourself the wrong question.

Our culture is obsessed with happiness - a right that’s enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. But living a life of meaning, instead of the pursuit of happiness, may bring much deeper, longer-lasting satisfaction, says our guest, Emily Esfahani Smith, author of "The Power of Meaning Crafting a Life That Matters.

In 2013, comedian Louis C.K. struck a nerve when he spoke of the human condition on the Conan O’Brian show. “Underneath everything there’s that thing - that empty forever.”   The video clip from the “Conan” show went viral with more than 12 million views on You Tube.  

We look at solutions for that “empty forever life.”

“A meaningful life is connecting and contributing to something that is bigger than you," says Emily. Her book examines the wisdom of philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, neuroscientists and novelists and provides insight on how to lead a more meaningful life.

Emily argues that leading a meaningful life is more important than a happy life. "When we don't find meaning, we end up becoming more depressed, prone to suicide and more alienated."
 
Find out why cultivating connections with others, working towards a purpose, telling stories about our place in the world, and seeking out mystery can enrich our lives.

We also discuss belonging, alienation and politics. In a recent New York magazine article, Emily writes: "President Trump is like the neighbor, a man who unthinkingly builds new walls and fortifies old ones — walls to keep out immigrants and refugees, walls to divide the establishment from working-class Americans, walls to protect American manufacturers from American trade partners."

Additional reading: "The Road to Character" by David Brooks of the New York Times.
 

#91 Geoffrey Colon: Pay-to-Play: A Menace to Society?

Do you know where your information is coming from? Shadowy forces are at work to influence what we think, how we behave, and where we spend our money.

They're part of the explosion in pay-to-play. From bots and branded content to political-influence peddlers’, advertisers and even sports programs in public schools, pay-to-play is a growing influence in our lives.  

Critics of pay-to-play say that instead of "We the people,” the online world is controlled by "We the wealthiest people.” 


Geoffrey Colon, an expert on marketing, tech and how to get people's attention, is our guest. A communications designer at Microsoft, Geoffrey is the author of "Disruptive Marketing - What Growth Hackers, Data Punks and Other Hybrid Thinkers Can Teach Us About Navigating the New Normal." He's the co-host with Cheryl Metzger of the popular podcast, "Disruptive FM." We learn more about the threat from fake news and hate sites alt-right bots to our democracy. Geoffrey guides through some of the recent dizzying changes in the online landscape.

Solutions:

  • Education is first. Improvements to the school curriculum are urgently needed. They should fully take into account dramatic online changes. A recent Stanford University study found that most American students couldn’t tell the difference between carefully sourced news and flat-out lies. The authors described the results as "dismaying" and a "threat to democracy."
  • Tech companies should give non-profits the ability to use their platform free of cost; in fact, Google already does this. Google gives non-profits AdWords for free or through a Google “Ad Grant.”
  • A new look at public service announcements - PSA's. Until the 1980's and Reagan-era broadcasters were required to run PSAs in exchange for using the airwaves, which are a public resource. Policy makers and major information providers should consider a new system for the 21st century.
  • A code of conduct by major online information platforms, this would distinguish between advertising, opinion and news.

#85 Why We Are Fooled by Con Artists: Maria Konnikova

Have you ever been the victim of a con artist? Very often we fall for cons ourselves without being aware of it.

We speak with journalist and psychologist Maria Konnikova, a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine and best-selling author of “The Confidence Game:" Through storytelling and science, she explains the mind of the con artist and what makes the rest of us so susceptible. 

Con artists are everywhere. Since 2008 the number of reported cases of consumer fraud have shot up 60%. Online cases have doubled. Billions of dollars are lost each year in scams. 

"People are very willing to pay for things that will make them feel better about themselves," says Maria, especially when they're feeling lonely, are going through a divorce or have lost a job. "It can also happen during positive life transitions: you're about to have a baby or move to another city."

Con artists, she says, can swoop in when you're vulnerable and give you a sense of emotional purpose or stability.

Skilled scam artists are very good listeners and learn as much about their victims as they can. The internet and social media make their research so much easier.

Solutions: How to make yourself less vulnerable to con artists

  • Never accept a friend request on Facebook from someone you don't personally know, because your Facebook page has too much information that a con artist can use against you. 
  • Don’t post too much personal information online: locations, habits, and schedules. For instance, don’t check-in to locations, like stores or restaurants. Avoid geotags - giving information about your whereabouts. 
  • Don’t sign up for free trial offers, the most common scams involve fake weight loss schemes, prize promotions and buyers clubs. 
  • Be cautious when you use online payment sites and monitor your bills, because another popular scam is unauthorized Internet billing.
  • Don't click on links in an e-mail unless you've requested a password reset. For instance, if Google sends you an email saying that you need to change your password, go through Google. Don't use the email link.
  • Mindfulness. Go for a walk for one hour without a mobile electronic device. Get out of the immediacy of your everyday life and give your brain time to process the information that you have been given.  Be aware that a broader perspective - even a sense of objectivity about yourself - can make you less of a target. 
  • Businesses and institutions:Send a very clear message about ethics and accountability to employees and associates. A corporate culture that stresses the importance of the bottom line over everything else can lead to fraud.
  • In relationships and while investing beware of "sunken cost bias" the cost that has been incurred in an activity and is not recoverable; some victims have trouble admitting to being scammed because they have already lost money, time or pride. It’s never too late to walk away.

#83 Best Moments of 2016

 

Alan Dershowitz on Trump; what an Islamic fundamentalist learned in an Egyptian jail; plus a tenured professor explained why she quit her job—trigger warning ahead.

 

 

No doubt about it - the nomination and election of Donald Trump was the biggest, most surprising news story of 2016. At the start of this show we get two fascinating takes on the Trump story from a marketing man and a Harvard Professor.

For decades Alan Dershowitz has been on the front lines in the fight for civil liberties. He also has a refreshing take on the Trump phenomenon. "He was unpredictable: somebody who gave some people hope that maybe things won't be the same," says Dershowitz.

British marketing expert Mark Earls, made a second visit to our podcast, told us that emotion and identity play far greater roles in our voting decisions than many of us realize." We imagine that people consider in something as important as politics the pros and cons and the policy, but we don’t.

We spoke to Karen Firestone, the author of Even the Odds, about the time she met the famous advice columnist, Anne Landers, on a plane. The advice Landers gave Firestone changed her life. Find out why.

Do you like talking to strangers on planes, or talking to strangers? If the answer is no, then listen to Kio Stark (TED author and speaker), she may change your mind. We can all benefit from talking to strangers; find out why and how. 

Joan Blades tells us how she brings progressives and Tea Party supporters together for Living Room Conversations.

As a young Muslim man in Britain, Maajid Nawaz joined a global Islamist group. Jailed in Egypt in 2001, Maajid began an extraordinary personal journey. In this episode he describes his transformation towards liberal, democratic values as a secular Muslim. Today, Maajid is an active counter-extremist and founding Chairman of Quilliam - a global organization focusing on integration, religious freedom, citizenship and identity.  He is also the author of, "Radical: My Journey Out of Islamic Extremism."

Historian Alice Dreger, author of "Galileo's Middle Finger", reveals her personal fight for academic freedom and why it cost her a tenured job at a prestigious university.

#82 Lessons from the World's Best Schools: Lucy Crehan

What we can learn from the best education systems in the world? A lot.

We learn about PISA - The Program for International Student Assessment - and why this international test on math, science and reading has disturbing results for U.S. schools.

 

We interviewed British teacher Lucy Crehan, author of the breakthrough book, "Cleverlands", went on a remarkable journey to Finland, Asia and Canada, to study the world’s best schools. We find out why a simple question from a student in her science class, “Miss, why do we sneeze?" sent Lucy on a two-year quest to learn how to improve schools. 

Playful, enthusiastic, and full of common sense, "Cleverlands" is a personal story, an adventure, and a how-to book on how everyone can improve children’s education.
 
Lucy paints a picture of school life, making sense of the theories and data through the stories of teachers and children.

Solutions:

  • Get children ready for formal learning. Early education is important but don’t focus on academic skills. The most effective programs build motivation, character, and cognitive skills through playful learning.
  • Play is very important; children develop skills through play, such as self-regulation, planning and language development. One of the top performing school systems don't begin formal academic instruction until age 7.
  • Let children take breaks. 4 out of the 5 school systems Lucy studied had 10–15 minute breaks between every lesson.
  • Encourage children to take on challenges rather than making concessions: Delay dividing students into different classes based on ability until age until 15.
  • Emphasize the importance of effort rather than intelligence. It’s easier for children to tackle a challenge if they believe they can change the outcome through hard work. 
  • Combine school accountability with school support. Instead of punishing "bad" schools, provide more help and examples from successful educators and schools.
  • State and local boards of education should design a curriculum with a set of principals rather than detailed instructions for every week of the school year. This gives teachers greater job satisfaction, more autonomy and freedom to motivate students to do their best.