Silicon Valley

Ed Norton’s Charity Company Doesn’t Sound So Charitable

Mat Hayward—Getty Images

How do you become a $23 million darling in Silicon Valley? By building a for-profit business that serves nonprofits, apparently

What’s one of the rare blessings of living in an era characterized by tremendous asset inequality and a chastened, hamstrung welfare state? Charitable giving has by some accounts reached an all-time high, both among the general public and among the American wealthy. What a time to be alive.

As has been the case with many a popular activity in our time, techies have now come along to philanthropy to offer the piggy-back ride they like to call disruption, claiming to fix something that may not have needed fixing while skimming a fee for doing business. The crowded crowdfunding field offers any number of sites that handle charitable donations, from Indiegogo to GoFundMe to Causes to JustGiving. All tend to follow the same basic formula, allowing users to register their own charitable causes and to donate to established ones. It’s hard for any one site to make a name for itself.

But on Monday one of the pack stepped forward from the others with big news: CrowdRise, a charity-specific crowdfunding venture, had landed $23 million in venture capital funding from a group including Twitter/Tumblr investors Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures, and Jeff Bezos’s personal investment fund, Bezos Expeditions. (This funding round followed an earlier seed round that included investment from Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.)

Those big names join the biggest one that had previously been attached to the site: Edward Norton, the actor and director. Norton and a band of cofounders launched the site in November 2009 after they raised a surprising $1.2 million for a wildlife preservation concern in eastern Africa. They figured, If we can raise good money like this, why shouldn’t we let everyone else do the same? That was a giving notion, and it’s of a piece with CrowdRise’s passionate and playful message. The site’s motto says its users will “have the most fun in the world” while fundraising, and little jokes pepper its official literature. To wit: “CrowdRise is way more fun than anything else aside from being all nervous about trying to kiss a girl for the first time and her not saying something like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’” Fun!

But what does altruistic fun have to do with a $23 million round of funding? That cash would do some good in the pockets of the charities CrowdRise users support. The site’s literature explains its business plan this way: “When a donation is made through Crowdrise, we deduct a transaction fee so we don’t go out of business (GOB).” No, ExxonMobil’s corporate communications team would never write such a plain thing. But perhaps what they would write would not fudge things, either. Those transaction fees not only kept CrowdRise from going under but made the business promising enough to land all that venture money. As TechCrunch put it: “[CrowdRise is] profitable and … viewed the Kickstarter goal of $1 billion raised on CrowdRise as very doable.” (CrowdRise had not responded to questions from TIME as of late Tuesday afternoon.)

Capitalist techniques have gained an increasingly stable foothold in the world of nonprofits. Universities, hospitals and big foundations are lousy with MBAs and executives who command (citing market logic) salaries close to what their for-profit counterparts make. CrowdRise’s big-bucks waltz into this moral vacuum might be a little brazen—but at least it’s clever. The opposite of clever is the spirit that accompanies any event like this. A perusal of the comments on TechCrunch’s post, and the Twitter response to the same, indicates an unflinchingly positive reaction to the news. “Great to see.” “Psyched.” “Congratulations.” That’s a whole lot of accolades for a common middleman who just got a whole lot richer.

Opinion

Americans Flunk Science—Again

The Pine Island Glacier, twice the size of Atlanta, is calving away from Antarctica.
The Pine Island Glacier, twice the size of Atlanta, is calving away from Antarctica. NASA

Misinformation about climate change, vaccines and the Big Bang is everywhere. We can't stop people from peddling nonsense, but we can surely stop buying it.

Shhh! Listen! Hear that steady thumping? That’s the sound of scientists—particularly climate scientists—across the country pounding their heads against their desks. And at this point, that’s perfectly understandable, given a new poll released by Gallup concerning Americans’ beliefs about climate change.

The United States breaks down into three camps on the question of whether the Earth is warming and human activities are playing a significant role, according to Gallup: 39% are “concerned believers,” 36% are part of the “mixed middle,” and 25% are “cool skeptics.” And the contrarian camp is growing: The 39% concerned believer figure is the same as it was in 2001; the mixed middle group has tumbled from 49% to 36%; and that 13% difference was completely gobbled up by the naysayers, who went from 12% to 25%.

Worse, the “cool” part of the cool-skeptics rubric misstates the unanimity and intensity of their beliefs. When the respondents were asked more granular questions—exactly how much they worry about climate change; if they believe that the dangers are understated, overstated or are being fairly described; if they believe climate change poses a threat to their lives—the believers and the mixed group generally had a range of opinions, but the skeptics move in lockstep. Is climate change exaggerated? 100% say yes. Does it pose a serious threat? 100% say no. That’s the stuff of a Crimean referendum.

Look, for the 12 millionth time, nobody pretends that climate science has been completely figured out—there are plenty of holes in the models and unanswered questions. But what’s settled is that the Earth is warming, the climate is becoming dangerously volatile and human activity is a meaningful part of the cause. The mere fact that the deniers are flat wrong on this score doesn’t mean that the concerned believers are entirely correct. Fully 58% of them believe that the dangers of climate change have actually been understated—a hard case to make given some of the apocalyptic visions that come out of the louder factions of the green movement. But they’re a whole lot righter than the faction that wants to put its fingers in its ears, make a cheap and easy Al Gore joke and move on.

That, frankly, is as far as we need to go down the false equivalency road—the obligatory hedge that both sides play the misinformation game. The fact is, it’s conservatives (65% of the cool skeptic group), Republicans (80%) and men (66%) who are on the wrong side of the science, and there’s no mystery as to how we’ve gotten here. Global warming denial has become one of the core beliefs of conservative and Republican ideology, along with a handful of other positions including opposition to gun control legislation and tax increases and a near-fetishistic obsession with overturning the Affordable Care Act. If you want to play in the GOP poker game, those are the table stakes.

Tuesday’s Gallup poll comes just a day after an AP/GfK poll showing even higher rates of global warming skepticism—a dispiriting 40%. Another 51% of respondents question the Big Bang, and 15% doubt the safety and efficacy of vaccines. That last is a deadly figure—literally—because vaccination rates of up 95% are required to create the so-called herd immunity that protects entire communities. It doesn’t take much math to see the harm a 15% opt-out will do.

It ought to be a poor time to have such counterfactual beliefs. Just last month, a landmark study out of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics provided some of the strongest evidence yet for the Big Bang. Just this season, New York City and Columbus, Ohio are suffering from outbreaks of measles and mumps as increasing numbers of parents refuse vaccines for their kids. And just on Tuesday—Earth Day—an iceberg twice as big as Atlanta was calving away from Antarctica, one more dramatic step in the slow thaw of the planet’s ice cover.

There’s a lot of blame to go around for our stubbornly misinformed beliefs. All it takes is a know-nothing with a megaphone like Jenny McCarthy or oil-rich sugar daddies like the Koch brothers to spread nonsense about vaccines or global warming. But it’s facile to point the finger at them entirely. Yes, they’re peddling junk, but too many of us are still buying. Until we stop, they’ll never go away.

medicine

‘Are Your Children Vaccinated?’ Is the New ‘Do You Have a Gun in the House?’

baby arm vaccines
Summer Yukata—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Most of your parenting choices don't affect me. Having a loaded weapon in your house does. The same is true when you don't immunize your children.

I try not to judge other parents. If you want your whole family to sleep together in one giant bed, it is none of my concern. If you feel like breastfeeding your kid until he’s in junior high school, go for it. If you don’t want to or can’t breastfeed, hey, formula is good too. To binky or not to binky? Maybe that is the question in your house, but I am positive you will make the right decision. Either way, I could really care less. Most of your parenting choices don’t affect me or my children. Having a loaded weapon in your house does. It has the potential to do serious harm to, and possibly kill, my child. The same is true when you decide not to immunize your children against preventable infectious diseases.

My kids are five and two. They have gone through most of their early childhood vaccinations. With all the coverage in the news lately about the return of the measles and the mumps (seriously, mumps is a thing again?), I called the pediatrician to confirm that their immunizations were up to date. I found out that I had somehow missed my two year old’s second MMR vaccination. Just in case you don’t know, those two “Ms” stand for measles and mumps! Crud… I was an accidental anti-vaxxer! It was an oversight that I quickly remedied. That was a close one! What if my little dude had come in contact with one of the unvaccinated!? Chances are, nothing. But maybe, something. And if it was something, that thing could have been catastrophic.

I’ve been wondering lately if I have any friends who are anti-vaxxers. Some of the dads in my playdate group are kind of out there: musicians, actors, and such. One is a big conspiracy theory guy. Another is active in the Occupy movement. Who knows what kind of wacky stuff they’re up to? Maybe they hopped aboard the trendy not-getting-your-kids-immunized train. I brought it up with a couple of them. Luckily, no true nut jobs. (Well, about this issue anyway. They’re an odd bunch, but in the best ways.)

There is one dad who is not fully on board with vaccines, deeming some of them unnecessary. He felt that the reason a lot of vaccines are required by schools is because the state has a financial interest in…I don’t know…their sale and distribution or something. It was the conspiracy guy, and I had kind of a hard time following his logic. He also does not agree with the recommended vaccination schedule, asserting that getting too many at a time weakens a child’s immune system. (A reasonable-sounding concern some might think, though there is absolutely no evidence supporting it.) But, even if somewhat grudgingly, he vaccinates his daughter. Whew! We can still hang out; our children can still be friends.

I’m sort of joking…but the truth is, I’m not sure what I would do if I found out that one of my playgroup buddies was an anti-vaxxer. I really like those dudes! And most of the kids have known each other so long, they view each other as second cousins.

At this point — especially since I rectified my earlier negligence — my children are out of the danger zone. Not all vaccines are 100% effective, but I feel relatively safe. Yet, I remain rankled by the anti-vaxxers. There is still a chance that my children could be a part of the unlucky few who are vaccine resistant. Though the risk to my children is small, there are other children who are too young for certain vaccines. Anti-vaxxers are unnecessarily putting those kids in harm’s way (not to mention the potential danger to their own offspring). They are, in fact, banking on others getting vaccinated to protect their own children from the spread of disease. It just seems so selfish. Of course, they believe that they are doing what is best for their kids and are likely discounting the exposure of other children.

I understand that injecting something into your child that you do not fully comprehend is scary. Most parents are not scientists or doctors. I’m certainly not. I also understand that nothing I say is going to convince anti-vaxxers that vaccinations are safe; their minds are already made up. Other people, who are much smarter than I am, have made a pretty compelling case for the efficacy of immunizations. Yet the anti-vaxxer movement seems to be on the rise. If you are on the fence, I ask only that you don’t just do your “research” on anti-vaxxer websites. That is not really research; it’s confirmation.

Not vaccinating your children is that odd family decision that has potential real life consequences outside your home. It should come with a certain set of responsibilities. If you have a gun in your house, you are expected to safely secure it. If you have decided not to immunize your children, it is incumbent on you to make sure other children are not exposed to an unnecessary threat of infectious disease. It may seem harsh to equate an innocent child with a loaded weapon, but if that child comes into contact with a virus he is not immunized against, the metaphor is apt. Most of the time, because of herd immunization, unvaccinated children are not exposed to these diseases. They are, therefore, harmless: unloaded and secured. As we have seen with recent outbreaks, however, the safety of the herd does not hold up when too many people opt out.

If you are worried about anti-vaxxers in your playgroup, you need to find out for yourself and not wait for other parents to bring it up. It is not a topic you should debate (trust me, you will not persuade your anti-vaxxer friend to immunize her child), but it is important to have the information. If there are unimmunized children in the group, consult your pediatrician about what increased risks there may be to your child. Then, you can make an informed decision about what is best for you and your family.

Lesser blogs at Amateur Idiot/Professional Dad. You can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter (@amateuridiot).

Opinion

Want to Heal the Planet? Make Environmental Degrees Free

A climate-themed version of the 1944 G.I. bill would send kids to college and train a generation of environmental thinkers

Charlotte Alter / TIME

Young people are facing two enormous problems: income inequality fueled by the rising cost of college, and the fact that they’re entering adulthood and will be raising their families on a planet with a climate that is growing less stable and more dangerous all the time. There’s a way to begin addressing both of these problems at once. It’s not cheap, but it’s not as expensive as rebuilding New York City, and it’s much better for the economy.

Think of it as the G.I. Bill, but for a different kind of war. Students who study environmental science, engineering, or design in college and then spend five post-grad years fighting climate change could have their tuition paid by the U.S. Government. The plan could even share the name of the 1944 bill that educated millions of post-war Americans: G.I., for Green Innovation.

Environmental science suffers from a chronic brain drought, and the reasons aren’t hard to understand: green careers don’t have a big payoff like business or engineering and they don’t set students on as secure a professional path as do, say, law and medicine. In 2012, over ten times as many students in the U.S. graduated with business degrees (almost 367,000) as with degrees that involved agriculture or natural resources (under 31,000.) Degrees in health and psychology (over 272,000) were nine times as common as green majors. Overall, environmental science is the 60th most popular college major in today’s working population, behind anthropology (#55) and music (#37,) according to a Georgetown University study of college majors and the workforce. Environmental Engineering fared even worse, finishing at #144, behind zoology (#119) and cosmetology (#115.)

Jeffrey Koseff, one of the Faculty Directors of Stanford’s prestigious Woods Institute for the Environment, said most of the students who study environmental issues are motivated by “altruism,” and a “long-term sense of social responsibility.” Those are qualities that don’t exactly translate into a big following on campus.

And no wonder, considering the amount of debt students are juggling. According to numbers recently released by the Federal Reserve of New York, student loan debt rose 300% between 2003 and 2013, to a nationwide total of $1.2 trillion, and rose 10% last year alone. People under 30 were in $322 billion dollars of student debt as of 2012. Graduating with bills like that doesn’t exactly motivate you to prioritize the welfare of the world over making money. But something’s got to give. Terrifying reports released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this year warned that unless we take swift and decisive action, rising sea levels, melting ice, and greenhouse gas emissions will raise the planet’s temperature to a point that threatens to destroy the world’s food supply and flood coastal communities like New York, Los Angeles, and Miami.

MORE: Student Loans Are Ruining Your Life. Now They’re Ruining the Economy, Too.

“To take climate change seriously, it means we need to mobilize at a scale we cannot imagine,” said David Orr, who once taught environmental science at Oberlin College and is now in charge of its Oberlin Project, which aims to build an example of a sustainable economy in the Rust Belt. “We need a World War II-level mobilization to equip a generation with the intellectual and practical skills to fight the biggest civilizational crisis ever.”

Of course, a deluge of environmental scientists isn’t necessarily going to solve climate change. “Science by itself isn’t going to dig us out of the problem we’re in,” said Darron Collins, President of the College of the Atlantic, a small college in Maine that focuses on Human Ecology. “We pretty much know what the issues are, and we know a lot of what it takes to reverse it, but when you get down to it, it’s also going to take a very serious amount of behavior change on our own part.”

Collins is right, but if education shapes behavior, then mass education shapes civilization, and a civilization shift is what we need right now. A generation steeped in environmental science would be more likely to recycle, more likely to buy sustainable products, and more likely to elect lawmakers to pass climate change legislation. Even environmental graduates who don’t go into into the green sector would become better stewards of the planet. Imagine if the CEO of General Motors or the R&D director of General Electric had environmental science degrees. “No matter what they wind up doing, a degree in human ecology is a step towards a more ecologically sustainable planet,” Collins said.

Certainly there’s the question of whether there would be enough environmental science jobs even for the share of graduates who do want to go into the field. “Jobs in the government and nonprofit sectors are not increasing as quickly as one would like,” said Buzz Thompson, a co-director of the Stanford program with Koseff. A green G.I. Bill would thus have to coordinate its efforts with government-backed groups like the Peace Corps and NGOs like the Gates Foundation so that graduates could travel around the world, taking on such challenges as providing clean water to rural villages and low-emission or no-emission vehicles to congested cities.

But it stands to reason too that investing in young problem-solvers would likely yield creative, sustainable solutions in the private sector—generating both jobs and economic stimulus. “Whether it be green technology companies or consulting firms, there’s a real opportunity for students to be truly pioneering entrepreneurs and come up with these new, efficient, sensible solutions to environmental issues,” Thompson said. “But it’s hard to start a business if you’re loaded with debt.”

Yes, this kind of initiative is a heavy lift, perhaps even politically impossible, especially with the current Congress. But part of the reason there is so much inertia around climate change is that the problem seems too big to solve. But sooner or later the planet will make the decision for us, whether we want it to or not. Allocating some extra money to environmental education today is a whole lot easier than relocating Florida tomorrow. The problems aren’t going away. Doesn’t it make sense to motivate our best minds to solve them?

psychology

This Is the No. 1 Thing That Holds Most People Back From Success

This Is The Number One Thing That Holds Most People Back From Success
Gary S Chapma—Getty Images

What’s the number one thing that holds most people back from success?

It’s not intelligence or hard work.

It’s your attitude.

Sound like the drivel your parents told you when you were 16 that inspired eye-rolling? That’s what I thought, too.

But then I kept seeing the same thing over and over from experts and research…

The War For Talent Is a Myth

Marketing genius Seth Godin says it’s actually a war for attitude:

…it’s not really a search for talent. It’s a search for attitude. There are a few jobs where straight up skills are all we ask for. Perhaps in the first violinist in a string quartet. But in fact, even there, what actually separates winners from losers isn’t talent, it’s attitude.

What does Harvard tell its MBA students is the number one thing when negotiating salary?

First, they need to like you. That’s the first component. The things you do that make them like you less make it less likely that you are going to get what you want…

Now I’m not saying attitude is everything. There’s experience, education and other factors, of course, but…

…you’d be surprised how little even some of those matter.

Hard working? Meh. Overrated.

Stanford MBA school professor Jeffrey Pfeffer explains the research shows performance is only loosely tied to who gets ahead.

Via Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t:

The data shows that performance doesn’t matter that much for what happens to most people in most organizations. That includes the effect of your accomplishments on those ubiquitous performance evaluations and even on your job tenure and promotion prospects.

Studies show being liked affects performance reviews a lot more than actual performance.

Via Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t:

In an experimental study of the performance appraisals people received, those who were able to create a favorable impression received higher ratings than did people who actually performed better but did not do as good a job in managing the impressions they made on others.

It’s a Popularity Contest—And Often for a Good Reason

If you catch yourself saying, “But I’m right and they’re wrong!” — congratulations, you now have a confirmed attitude problem.

Yes, it is a popularity contest — and not necessarily unfairly.

People with more friends at the office perform better at the office.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

…when MIT researchers spent an entire year following 2,600 employees, observing their social ties, even using mathematical formulas to analyze the size and scope of their address books and buddy lists, they found that the more socially connected the IBM employees were, the better they performed. They could even quantify the difference: On average, every e-mail contact was worth an added $948 in revenue.

The best predictor of team success is not smarts or effort — it’s how team members feel about one another.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

The better we feel about these workplace relationships, the more effective we will be. For example, a study of over 350 employees in 60 business units at a financial services company found that the greatest predictor of a team’s achievement was how the members felt about one another.

It’s Not About “Fair,” It’s About “Trust”

Don’t scream “That’s not fair!” Life is not a strict meritocracy like grade school.

School can warp our heads. In the working world there’s rarely one exam where you’re an individual contributor who gets an all-defining grade.

In the education system, collaboration is called “cheating.” In business it’s the main way things get done.

And wherever there is collaboration, there’s the issue of trust.

Does the company trust you’re on its side? Do the company’s leaders trust you’re aligned with their mission and goals?

Hard work might not always be rewarded but research shows true believers get ahead:

A recently published BYU business study finds that employees who are “true believers” in the mission of their organization are more likely to increase in status and influence than non-believers

The study found those who exhibit a strong belief in a brand’s mission or cause become more influential in important company circles, while those simply focused on punching the clock become more peripheral players – regardless of formal company position or overall performance.

Cynthia Shapiro, a former HR professional, lays things out pretty clearly.

Via Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know—and What to Do About Them:

The closer you bring yourself into the appearance of alignment through your daily actions and choices, the more favorable the company’s opinions of you will be, and the more secure your job will be. How will you know? Those who are seen as being openly in alignment are the ones who gain recognition, favor, and promotions— even if they don’t have the best skills. Maybe I’d better hit you with that one again: those are the ones who get ahead regardless of their skills or performance.

Highly skilled employees, with seemingly great value to their organizations, are let go every day because they are perceived to be a potential risk and cannot be trusted. Conversely, employees are being promoted who don’t have the best skills and may even have to be taught how to do the job, at great expense and time, because they appear to be in alignment and the company feels they can be trusted over others.

What To Do Next

Keep in mind the lesson of Don Quixote:

If you want to be a knight, act like a knight.

How’s this apply to the office? Here’s my workplace equivalent:

Be the person you were in your interview.

That’s what they hired. That’s what they hoped they were getting for their money.

You were positive, enthusiastic, well-prepared and aimed to please.

What more could a company ask for?

For more workplace insights from my extended interview with Stanford MBA school professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, sign up for the free weekly email update here.

Related posts:

Checklist: Are you doing these five things to be more effective at work?

What 5 insights can you learn from the best book on management ever?

How To Go from “Good Manager” To “Great Leader”

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Religion

What Americans Don’t Know About The Central African Republic

Most Americans know nothing about the Central African Republic. They guess that it must be in the middle of Africa, but that’s about it. When told where it is and the societal chaos and slaughter in CAR, they always ask why it’s not more in the news.

Although I’ve traveled to much of the world including Africa, I had never been there until this month. The U.S. State Department invited a trio of American religious leaders to travel to the capital city of Bangui to see for ourselves and to talk peace. The three included Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Muslim Imam Mohamed Magid (President of the Islamic Society of North America) and me. Why us? According to TIME Magazine, the religious composition of CAR is 52 percent evangelicals, 29 percent Catholics and 15 percent Muslims.

We met with our counterparts in CAR, Catherine Samba-Panza (the transitional president of CAR), members of her administration, and representatives of the conflicting military groups. Our meetings were at a closed mosque, the Cathedral, the president’s residence and the home of the U.S. ambassador (although there is no current ambassador since our embassy has been suspended).

It’s not easy to explain what’s been happening. And, not everyone agrees to any explanation. The best chronology begins with a corrupt and failed central government that has been accused of injustice and incompetence. A rebel group called Seleka swept across the country with brutality and established a new government with a new president. The new president didn’t last long. An anti-balaka militia organized for protection and retaliation against the Seleka and have been accused of further brutality. A transitional government has been established, but it is poor, weak and often overwhelmed.

We heard stories that break your heart. Thousands killed, often with machetes. Widespread rape. Destruction of homes, shops and villages. There were 36 mosques in Bangui; now there are seven. One man told us that 13 of his brothers were burned to death the same day. Another told about a hand grenade thrown into a group of people while they prayed.

The National Highway was closed by all the unrest, so trucks and supplies can’t access the country. Villagers have fled into the bush out of fear; their villages are empty, and no crops are being planted. One million people have fled the country or are internally displaced. There is a refugee camp at the little airport that swelled to 100,000.

Seeds for planting are not available; some will be imported from Cameroon, but they are also in short supply and giving priority to their own farmers saying that any surplus will be sold to CAR. There is threat of wide-scale famine. Before all this CAR was one of the poorest nations in the world with people living on less that $2 per day. Current shortages are inflating food prices. In Bangui, the capital of CAR, chickens are selling for $12 each. (To make a comparison: If you earn $50,000 a year in the United States, it would cost you over $800 to buy one chicken for your family.)

We were in Africa on the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda. There were repeated testimonies of foreign nations apologizing for not going to Rwanda and stopping the horrors before they turned into genocide. We need to take our own apologies and advice to do more in the Central African Republic.

Some say that this is a religious battle between Christians and Muslims. It is a common assertion in our western press. I can see why they say this, since there are similar lines politically, demographically and religiously. However, the leaders we talked to in CAR insist this is not a religious war. To the contrary, the religious leaders are the loudest most courageous voices against the violence and the strongest promoters of peace.

The word needs to get out. The whole world knows about the missing Malaysian airplane with 239 passengers and crew. Forty four million dollars have already been spent on the search. But, there are thousands missing in CAR, and it barely makes the news. International troops under United Nations leadership need to establish order and rebuild infrastructure. And relief and development assistance should be immediately deployed.

As we sat in the ambassador’s residence, one of the militia representatives said that the people of CAR have not made God the priority. He said that most important in the Central African Republic is for the people of the nation to turn their hearts and actions to God. His prayer was that human tragedy would turn into spiritual renewal.

Leith Anderson is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals

commentary

The Big Bang Did NOT Occur 50 Years Ago

The Big Bang: Just to be clear, this did not happen in 1964
The Big Bang: Just to be clear, this did not happen in 1964 LAGUNA DESIGN; Getty Images/Brand X

Human beings are a very small part of a very big universe. Figuring some of that universe out is to our credit—but let's not overstate the things we've accomplished.

If you’re over 50, you probably remember the Big Bang—indeed, it would be hard to forget it. One moment you’re part of an infinitely tiny, infinitely dense point that contains the entirety of the universe, and the next moment you’re accelerating outward faster than the speed of light, expanding along with space-time itself. That’s a remember-when day if ever there was one.

You might argue that the Big Bang occurred a bit earlier than 50 years ago—13.8 billion years earlier, in fact—and most people might agree with you. What actually happened 50 years ago was that Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of Bell Labs made measurements of the cosmic background radiation that provided the first solid evidence of the Big Bang’s existence. Still, that didn’t stop Bell Labs itself from noting the event with a recent e-mail blast inviting recipients to “Celebrate the 50th Anniv. of the Big Bang.” In light of a just-released AP poll showing that a stunning 51% of Americans say they are “not at all confident” or “not too confident” that the Big Bang even occurred, the last thing we need is more confusion on the point.

OK, it’s not entirely fair to pick on Bell Labs. The mere fact that whoever composed the message felt a need to abbreviate the word “anniversary” reflects how hard it is to get anyone to open an e-mail message today unless the subject line is short and semaphores excitement. Still the e-mail does, even indirectly, speak to a certain anthropocentrism in the way we think about science and the entire enterprise of discovery. It’s not the event or the phenomenon itself that counts, it’s the fact that we—a clever if sublimely narcissistic species—at last stumbled onto it.

Geneticists have been guilty of this for a while now, talking about having “discovered” the genes for this or that trait, even though the genes were there all the time and the only things that changed was that we finally looked for them. Some researchers are self-correcting—preferring to talk about “pinpointing” or “identifying” genes—but others still opt for the Christopher Columbus phrasing, if only because it makes their work sound more dramatic.

Columbus himself came in for similar revisionist thinking since, like the genes, the New World was there all along. And of course, if anyone did any discovering, it was the indigenous people who had lived there for thousands of years before the Europeans even hoisted anchor and ventured out.

Explorers have always gotten the hyperbole treatment. Ever since the mid-20th century we’ve been talking about the “conquest of space,” despite the fact that with the exception of nine trips to our nearby Moon, we’ve never gotten out of low Earth orbit. Calling that the conquest of space is a little like paddling around in Boston Harbor and saying you’ve conquered the oceans.

We do something similar with heroic accounts of “taming the continent,” something of an overstatement given that multiple centuries worth of droughts, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, dust bowls, forest fires and more have shown that the continent has retained its feral ability to bite back. We even overstate our talent for causing wholesale destruction—something you’d think we wouldn’t want to boast about. Environmentalists themselves have long warned that there’s a misplaced egotism in feel-good slogans about “saving the Earth.” The Earth will be perfectly fine, thank you very much. It’s survived multiple glaciations, asteroid hits and more in its long life and it will surely survive us, even if we temporarily toxify the place so much that the very species that created the mess—us—can’t live here anymore.

In the case of the Big Bang, it’s understandable to play up, even inadvertently, a graspable time frame like 50 years ago as opposed to a far less fathomable 13.8 billion. My colleague Michael Lemonick once playfully considered opening a story in TIME with the line, “Twelve million years ago last week a supernova exploded.” The then-science editor prudently nixed the idea—too great a risk of real misinformation leaking into the popular conversation. But the idea did speak to the way we all wrestle with the tininess of the time scales on which we live our lives compared to the vastness of the cosmic clock.

Human beings are undeniably an ingenious species. The things we’ve built, created and sussed out are genuinely remarkable. But they’re pinholes in the curtain compared to all there is to know. There’s no harm in being proud that we’re allowing some light in—just not too proud.

health

Have Your Own Year of No Sugar

Sugar cubes with one standing out in the middle
Getty Images

Read the directions, ask in restaurants—and, above all, drink water

Dr. Robert Lustig is an unassuming-looking fellow with a medium build, gray hair and a laser-like focus. He’s good with Power Point and is comfortable throwing about phrases like “multivariate linear regression analysis.” As his YouTube video “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” opens, he stands at a lectern in an anonymous looking hall, looking every bit like that professor whose chemistry lectures put you to sleep every time. You’d never suspect that a 90-minute educational lecture from this man could generate some three and a half million hits, but that’s just what happened.

In the first 17 minutes, Lustig calmly drops facts like precision bombs:

  • as a society we all weigh 25 pounds more than our counterparts did 25 years ago
  • even as our total fat consumption has gone down, our obesity has continued to accelerate
  • Americans are currently consuming 63 pounds per person of high fructose corn syrup per year

But it isn’t until minute 20 that Lustig throws down the gauntlet: “My charge before the end of tonight is to demonstrate that fructose is a poison.”

And thus was born our family’s Year of No Sugar.

The concept was simple: We were not eating added sugar. We would not eat it in the house, we would not eat it with a mouse. No white sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, molasses, maple syrup, honey, evaporated cane syrup, agave, brown rice syrup, artificial sweeteners of all stripes and no…not even fruit juice. Naturally occurring sugar — such as that contained in a piece of fruit — was fine, containing as it did all the beneficial fiber and micronutrients, and naturally limited the amount we ate — you’d get full before you could eat enough fructose to worry about.

But, in the interest of family harmony, we would have some exceptions too, number one being: As a family, we would pick one dessert per month to have which contained sugar. If it was your birthday that month, you got to pick the dessert.

Up until the year of the experiment, we — myself, my husband, and our two daughters Greta and Ilsa — were a fairly normal family when it came to food, I think. Perhaps a bit on the liberal-organic-dirt-worshipping-side, but nevertheless, still fairly middle of the road. We ate meat. We liked snacks. We liked desserts. Life is short, I reasoned, and although I have my requisite worried-Vermont-mom concerns, (hormone free beef? GMO corn? pesticides in the potatoes?) I tried to keep them in check. I didn’t want my kids growing up being afraid to live.

So, short of going to live under a rock, what can we do? How do we learn to be “moderate” in a culture that is, every minute of every day trying to convince us that moderation is whatever you want it to be?

Although we are no longer Sugar Abstainers, these days the four of us are what I’d call Sugar Avoiders of the First Degree. Here are a few of the things our family took away from our Year of No Sugar:

Number one: don’t drink sugar. If we change nothing else in our culture, we should do this one thing. Not only will we be far healthier, but we’ll begin to realize what we are up against in the Sugar Wars: the ubiquity of sugar, the elevated degree of sweetness we’ve been trained to expect. Tellingly, this cuts out most of our society’s popular options: soda, juice, sugared teas, sports drinks, vitamin waters. What’s left? Water. Lots of water. More water. Milk. Unsweetened tea and coffee. And, due to its vanishingly small percentage of fructose, I hereby give you permission to include wine. You’re welcome.

Number two: read ingredients, always. We have come to a point where it has become all too clear we cannot trust the food industry to have our best interests at heart. The more packages, boxes and bags you read, the more amazed you will be at the number of things you buy, things that are not even sweet, that contain added sugar in all its myriad guises and aliases. Think you know your favorite tomato sauce? Chicken broth? Salad dressing? Cold cuts? I’d be willing to bet if you look closely, you’re going to be surprised. The good news is there’s almost always another brand, further down the shelf, that doesn’t contain that sneaky ingredient, if you take the time to find it.

Number three: order simply in restaurants and don’t be afraid to ask. Once you start to ask, you’ll be amazed at how much restaurant food has added sugar in it. And that’s assuming the staff even knows what’s in their own food, which is not always the case. The usual suspects? Dressings, glazes, broths, marinades and always, always the sauce.

Number four: make sugar special. Skip the crappy cookies someone brought to the office. Try having oatmeal with bananas and raisins on top instead of brown sugar. Save your sweet tooth for that oh-so-special something that’s really worth, you know, consuming a little bit of poison for.

Eve O. Schaub is the author of Year of No Sugar.

Career Strategies

How To Ace a Job Interview: 7 Research-Backed Tips

How To Ace A Job Interview: 7 Research-Backed Tips
Chris Ryan—Getty Images/Caiaimage

1) Be Similar to The Interviewer

“Be yourself” can actually be a problem.

If you want to know how to ace a job interview it’s important to note that study after study shows the key to being liked and being more influential is similarity.

Research shows you can take advantage of this by researching the interviewer and coming across as similar to them:

After carefully transcribing and analyzing her interviews and field notes from observations in the firm, Rivera determined that, by the time a candidate had made it through the relevant resume screenings and landed an interview, her evaluation was not necessarily based on “maximizing skill—finding the person who was absolutely best at the soft or the hard dimensions of the job,” as Rivera puts it. Rather, the most common mechanism by which a candidate was evaluated was her similarity to her interviewer.

No lies are necessary. Think attitude.

Do they come across as aggressive and hard-charging or calm and passive? Do they come across as cultured or school of hard knocks?

2) Timing Matters

You might not have much control over this but make an effort to manipulate the timing to your advantage.

Research shows interviews go better when:

3) Frame the Conversation

First impressions matter even more than you think. And once they’re set, they are very hard to resist. Mastering first impressions is a key part of learning how to ace a job interview.

Research shows they’re the most important part of any job interview:

By careful analysis, the researchers found that all of these factors influenced the final interview ratings, and that this was due to the way they shaped first impressions: after those first few minutes, there was little extra influence of these qualities across the rest of the interview.

Optimize first impressions from the outset by framing the conversation with a few well-rehearsed sentences regarding how you want to be perceived. This will end up being the structure the other person forms their memories around.

Via Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To:

If you start out with a few well-rehearsed sentences about why you are the right person for the job, this first impression can help set the tone for your interview and for what is taken away from the meeting.

Persuasion expert Robert Cialdini, author of the classic book, Influence, slyly recommends asking them why they thought you might be good for the role.

After people make positive public statements about you they will subconsciously feel the need to not contradict them.

4) Feel Powerful

People who felt powerful before going in to an interview performed better:

Priming participants with feelings of power improves professional interview outcomes… In both studies, unaware judges significantly preferred the power-primed applicants.

As I’ve posted before, “fake it ’til you make it” works.

How can you make sure you feel powerful? Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy recommends doing a “power pose” in private before the interview:

Preparatory power posing is taking a few minutes before walking into a stressful interaction or situation to open up, occupy more space, and make yourself big. Stand with your feet apart and your hands on your hips, or with your arms reaching up in a ‘V.’ Or sit with your legs in front of you, feet propped up on desk or a table, leaning back, with your hands on the back of your head, fingers interlaced, and elbows pointing out.

Try power poses in the elevator, a bathroom stall, the stairwell…wherever you can find two minutes of privacy.

Does striking poses in the bathroom sound silly to you? Don’t laugh — it works:

As predicted, high power posers performed better and were more likely to be chosen for hire, and this relationship was mediated only by presentation quality, not speech quality. Power pose condition had no effect on body posture during the social evaluation, thus highlighting the relationship between preparatory nonverbal behavior and subsequent performance.

What type of people naturally know how to ace a job interview? Narcissists.

Now you don’t want to be overbearing but better to toot your own horn than to have it go untooted:

Narcissists scored much higher in simulated job interviews than non-narcissists, researchers found. They pointed to narcissists’ innate tendency to promote themselves, in part by engaging and speaking at length, which implied confidence and expertise even when they were held to account by expert interviewers.

5) Have a Strong Handshake

Your handshake matters a lot more than you might think.

Via The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism:

…experts at the University of Iowa analyzing interactions in job interviews declared handshakes “more important than agreeableness, conscientiousness, or emotional stability.”

And it’s correlated with getting an offer:

Five trained raters independently evaluated the quality of the handshake for each participant. Quality of handshake was related to interviewer hiring recommendations.

6) Know the Right Questions To Ask

Many people struggle with that moment in most interviews where they ask “Do you have any questions for us?”

This is not only a good time to get information but it’s a great time to impress them with an insightful question.

Quora and Inc offer a few winners:

  • Thinking back to people who have been in this position previously, what differentiated the ones who were good from the ones who were really great?
  • How would you describe the culture of the company?
  • What do you expect me to accomplish in the first 60 to 90 days?

7) Know How To Negotiate Salary

I’ve posted a lot of research about effective negotiating including my interviews with Robert Cialdini and FBI hostage negotiators.

But what’s the thing Harvard’s MBA school says is most important for landing a big offer?

“They need to like you.”

About 3:30 into the video below:

Here’s the equation for getting what you want. Cutting to the chase: You want to get more. You want more money, a better offer, a better deal; here are the components of what you need to do. First, they need to like you. That’s the first component. The things you do that make them like you less make it less likely that you are going to get what you want…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=km2Hd_xgo9Q

Next Steps

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Why I’m Running the Boston Marathon Again

Fortier, who ran the Boston Marathon in 2013, will compete again this year. Image courtesy of Dave Fortier.

Massachusetts resident Dave Fortier, who was injured near the finish line, is setting out to reclaim what was taken from him last year.

I never considered myself a runner, but five years ago my best friend Brad called to tell me he had cancer. Brad was always the fit one, and I decided running could be a way for me to support him and raise money for his cause, the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge, which benefits the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Before I knew it, I had signed up for my first marathon: the 2013 Boston Marathon.

The evening before the race my family walked down Boylston Street to scope out where they should stand during the marathon. We decided the area by the finish line would be too packed, and so they chose an area further back. When we passed the medical tent, my 14-year-old daughter said to me, “Dad, I hope you don’t end up here.”

The marathon was tough, but when I reached the 20-mile mark, I remember thinking to myself, this is it. My body was tired, but I was genuinely having a great time. I thought about Brad as I pushed through the last few miles–he was undergoing chemo at the time. I came up to the street where my family was, and I was rejuvenated when I saw them yelling and waving. When I turned onto Boylston Street, I was hugging the left side of the road like my training plan had advised. I started waving to the people cheering on the sidelines. I even stopped to thank a soldier for his service. I could see the arches over the finish line only 10 yards away and I was overwhelmed with excitement.

Then, suddenly, everything changed.

There was a huge flash to my left, right where I was waving to fans only a moment before. I felt the bang, and immediately grabbed my head in pain. My foot was hit with shrapnel, and an older man in orange (you may recognize him from footage of the explosion) collapsed in front of me.

I saw and felt the second blast, but I could barely hear it. I looked down and realized my foot was in a pool of blood, and I limped to the very medical tent my daughter didn’t want me to go.

Lying in the hospital bed later that day, I felt my phone buzz. It was a text from the Boston Athletic Association: “Congratulations on your time, you finished the Boston Marathon!”

Recovery was not easy, but I started trying to jog a bit in late May. I still have hearing loss in my left ear and I can feel the injuries in my foot, but by that summer I was running without much pain. Running is how I support Brad, so I was determined to continue. Since its inception 25 years ago, the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge has raised more than $61 million for cancer research. I’m one of more than 700 runners on the team this year raising money. I even ran the New York City Marathon in November.

I decided I also needed to start taking care of my emotional self to better understand my physical and hearing related issues, and I joined a support group for people injured in the bombing. I realized when I met them for the first time that these were the very same people I was waving to at the finish. We understand each other’s pain. We saw and felt the same things, we were within feet of each other when it all happened.

In the late fall it was announced that everyone injured in the bombings received two entries into this year’s marathon. Many of the people within my support group dealing with similar injuries were ecstatic. This was the marathon where we could take back our hearing, take back that chunk from our leg, take back our ability to walk. It wasn’t a tough decision to sign up for the second time. We’ve created a running group called 4.15 Strong, and 28 of us will be running the Boston Marathon. We’re a rag-tag group of runners. Some of us are limping, some walking, some running.

I’m constantly thinking about what it will be like to run that route again. I’ve made myself return to Boylston Street many times so that it won’t be as emotional on race day. It’s already set up just like it was last year. This year, I’ll be at the finish line to make sure all 28 of us make it across. We are taking back what was taken away from us last year as runners and spectators….and we’re running for those that can’t.

You hear a lot about “Boston Strong,” resilience, and recovery. I’ve seen what that means. I’ve witnessed people learn how to walk again with one leg, or learn how to walk with two new legs. People just don’t give up, we adapt and we persevere.

Dave Fortier lives outside of Boston in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where he owns a process and network optimization company. He lives with his wife and two daughters. You can visit his marathon fundraising page here.

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