Back online, and my Davos answer

I’m back online. My email isn’t quite as out of control as last year, but it will take me a few days to catch up on things. Going offline for a week was nice, and I’d recommend it to anyone, especially if you have a wonderful companion to help you savor the time off.

Here’s my answer to the Davos question (“What one thing do you think that countries, companies or individuals must do to make the world a better place in 2008?”). I want people to explore how to measure where money can be spent most productively to tackle problems. That is, on issues where there is disagreement (take drugs: prevention? prisons? treatment? interdiction?), try to agree on a set of metrics to measure success. Or at least agree on a methodology to determine the metrics.

I enjoyed Scott Adams’ 9 point economic plan that distills a bunch of economic advice into ~200 words. I’d love to read a “9 point plan” that distills down the most likely ways to live longer (stuff like: don’t smoke, drink no more than one glass of wine a day), as long as the “9 point health plan” is based on solid research. I’d really like to read a paper where someone took a bunch of important issues and looked at the potential impact a single person could make on each issue.

Update, January 8th 2008: I said “I’d love to read a “9 point plan” that distills down the most likely ways to live longer (stuff like: don’t smoke, drink no more than one glass of wine a day)…” Well, once you’re on the lookout it’s easier to notice things. A recent Cambridge University study suggestions that four simple steps can add 14 years to your life:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Five servings of fruits and vegetables
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Exercise

And that list is sorted by what will extend your life longer.

18 Responses to Back online, and my Davos answer (Leave a comment)

  1. Glad to see you back, I hope you got time to relax and get refocused.

  2. Welcome back, Matt.

    I think the world would better place in 2008 if you start the year by a GrabBag post 🙂

  3. I agree that measurement of results is vital, especially as you give in your examples health care. In following the links from your last post I loved the idea presented of what a Wikipedia donation can do. The writer posted that Wikipedia has around a million dollar per year budget, and a thousand dollar donation can make a major improvement, where a thousand dollar donation to your average university will just pay for more bureaucracy. (And yes other SEO’ers I too think Wikipedia should remove their no-follow tags :))

    Although I think this is a controversial statement that popular culture disagrees with, the concept of one person standing in front of a group of people talking as a way to disseminate information should have gone out of style at the time of Gutenburg.

    Someone who knows how to study, can learn just about any University type subject from Wikipedia in a fraction of the time of going to school with a massive savings on resources such as the energy expended in transportation, and buildings. University type settings can be saved on things like research to discover new knowledge, and of course important social activities like Werewolf.

    Those things not found in Wikipedia can always be found through Google.

    Let’s all be massively successful this year, make tons of money, and make the world a far better place!


  4. The problem with your theory as well as many other theories in this materialistic world is – the use of the word MONEY.

    We are talking about problems that go beyond mathematical measurement of efficient and proficient monetary investments.

    Your proposal would not take in such elements as intangibles and long term societal benefits versus short term band-aid approaches. Both are necessary, but the former, extremely hard to measure.

    Also, the vast socio-politico- economic changes needed in the fabric of the social structure of any society in question.


    On another issue:

    Could you please share your traffic stats for 2007?
    Including screenshots of:
    * Search Engine Referrers
    * Keywords
    * Social Sites Referrers
    * Visitor Geography
    * Average Time Spent


    Please do a detailed follow up to this subject as verified by Peter Norvig
    Perhaps both of you can do a post together on this intriguing policy by Google

  5. Dave (original)

    Prevention through education is the only long term solution, IMO.

  6. Public/Private Ventures is a 30-year-old nonprofit that researches and disseminates best practices in doing good works. Their publications are at Think benchmarking and field testing.

  7. Cool — thanks for mentioning that, Sumana!

    Dave, I tend to agree. Preventing a problem is usually a lot easier than fixing it down the road (at least in my experience).

  8. ” Preventing a problem is usually a lot easier than fixing it down the road”
    Indeed, that’s why you get your oil changed ever 5000 miles, and you go to the doctor every year, and the dentist twice a year, and that rude doctor with the finger when you turn 50…

    Of course, this is a lot of personal responsibility with change, and people with the mindset to leech will require more than *education* to fix their ways. They’ll need some real, solid incentives – not just with the goal for a better society.


  9. Welcome back Matt 🙂

  10. Preventing is easier to do, but not to get started. You have to show to people a problem is about to happen or might even happen further into the future. How can you measure the result of prevention while all you have to compare with are (subjective) assumptions.

    That generally just gets you into long discussions that get you nowhere closer to prevention. In most cases (not all) things have to go wrong before enough people agree that a solution is required.

    But that doesn’t mean prevention should not be tried.

    Prevention through education is a nice idea and I think is already in place more than you think. I moved to Brazil 6 years ago and am integrated enough to understand and see problems that I hardly saw in the Netherlands. The simple fact that 99.99% of the population in the Netherlands can read prevents a lot of problems. In Brazil the percentage of people that don’t know how to read or write is so big that you notice simple problems occur that don’t happen in countries where everybody knows how to read and write.

    So education definitely helps a lot in prevention.

    However, problems that develop so slow they take more than a generation to become visible, and then more than the next generation to visibly worsen, can not really be prevented by education. The development is so slow that it either won’t matter for you during your life time, or it is one of the main probems in your life time. Polution problems are an example of that. Global Warming ( I refuse to call it Global Climate Change) is the ultimate problem I think. And the weirdest (but in reality very logical) side of the solution to Global Warming is that the only reason the whole world is now interested in solving this problem,…. High Oil Prices!

  11. welcome back

    Its REALLY hard to eat 5 servings of fruit or vegetables a day (for me anyway). I have managed to quit smoking and excercise, and I can usually limit my drinks to a few.

    Breakfast is usually cereal or a protein bar, then lunch is usually a sandwich. I can occasionally get a side of fruit or veggies, then I almost always have at least one large side of veggies for dinner.

    Most days its probably just 1 side per day. One thing I have tried to add to help is getting all natural fruit drinks (there is a great brand called naked) which can count as 1 or 2 sides. They are expensive, like $3-$4 per bottle for the good stuff, but the health benefits are almost certainly worth it.

  12. According to Alec Holden, who won £25,000 by betting that he would live to 100 (, the key is to “do as little work as possible”, eating “porrige for breakfast” and “remembering to keep breathing”.

    I think I’ll quit my job and buy a box of Ready Brek.

  13. Why did you quit exercise Wesley?

    It’s on the things To Do and not To Quit


  14. I was actually blown away to your stats – a lot of people are looking. Great numbers.

  15. Hi,
    Welcome back Matt!!!

  16. Many of the people who have lived to be the OLDEST on the planet took one stiff drink of alcohol per day, usualy first thing in the morning. One only and not very big, enough to “cleanse the system of bacteria”.

    Anything in moderation seems to be ok, except smoking.

  17. heres a great site thats free for people who might need some sort of help

  18. Hi!

    As Matt asked the Davos Question like he did,

    I answered with a general slogan.

    Now Matt answered the question his way and said also:

    I’d really like to read a paper where someone took a bunch of important issues and looked at the potential impact a single person could make on each issue.

    More than 3 decades ago I told (all man I could reach this days) nearly the same arguments that today brings Mr. ex Vice-President A. Gore a Nobel Prise for his film about global warming.

    Every knows the ice in the oceans shrinks, and ice bears will lost their land,
    but who thinks about the used volume of ice (XXX miles³ which will be blank water soon), in which phytoplankton generates the first steps to feed all life above? Who discusses the influences of that, to over fished fish populations?

    More heavy earthquakes caused by global warming, never heard about?

    The end of last ice age the northern parts of Europe raised 900 yards while the ice melt.
    How many yards will Greenland rise, while the glaciers there becomes water?
    And will a earthquake one of the consequences when the large lake in between the glaciers find its way down to the ocean? Will be the large amount of freshwater cut the salt% in this ocean large enough to slow down or stop the Golf stream?

    I think have some new solutions for some old problems of this world,
    where I can find ears with brains behind, which can imagine?

    Today more square miles desert are human made than on nature based.
    And much of those bottom paid the price for human culture, as megalomania overcomes the mighties of the past (Great Wall, Pyramids).

    The diluvian/Flood of the Bible may be the result of beginning copper age. It’s smelting needs for hundreds of years all the trees in the northern mountains where the 3 rivers comes from.

    My impact till today is near zero, because of a lack of money, publicity and power. Without the lever of money and as a no one it needs a real non linear wave human to make an impact on the worlds problems.

    So the world seems to me as a place, where uninspired bankers and politicians looking after a practicable way to lead the money and credit in their direction, while announcing quick and intellingent help to every problem media took note.

    Greetings Karl