A call for a culture of critical thinking

Abstract: South Africa's neglect of its children is damaging its global competitiveness... As highly developed as we humans think we are, we still retain elements of mammalian instinct, the strongest of which is to protect our young, even if it's at the expense of our own lives. Ironically, it is this mammalian instinct that defines one of the cornerstones of our humanity - it is considered abhorrent, even inhumane, to willfully subject a child to abuse, or to neglect its cries for help. It's helpful to bear this in mind when examining South Africa's ranking in global competitiveness. Every year the WEF (World Economic Forum) publishes the Global Competitiveness Report, which assesses the competitiveness landscape of a list of countries around the world according to twelve key indices. This year that list of countries totals 148. The report draws on an extensive spread of

Reality check: The world isn’t binary

Abstract: Binary thinking is a devastating human weakness... You can bet your next Christmas bonus that George W. Bush will never be included with Mandela, Lincoln and Churchill as a political figure with the capacity for inspirational, statesman-like oratory. However, there remains one speech he delivered where he, albeit unwittingly, managed to encapsulate the reason there's a propensity within the human condition for social upheaval, the likes of which we should expect closer to home in the period leading up to elections. In the days that followed the 9/11 attacks, the world scrutinised Bush for leadership and direction; and he replied in force on 20th September 2001 with a rally of fighting talk before a joint session of congress in which he drew a line and laid down the parameters for his war on terror. The standout message was the following: "Either you

The unwelcome eye of journalism

Abstract: There's been a nasty shift in South African journalism... Swimming upstream is a challenging endeavour - ask any salmon - but when the end task is a noble one, even if death - as in the case of the Pacific salmon - follows shortly thereafter, it can be argued that it's worth it. However, fighting against a tide of tabloid journalism has left science journalists wondering if it isn't easier to completely change species. Anyone entrusted with trying to get more science and critical thinking into the media, will be familiar with the edict of most editors that their readers, viewers or listeners 'don't have an appetite for science'. This is of course utterly ridiculous because we are all consumers of science; there isn't a single element to our lives, and how we live it, that isn't examined or improved on by science. But

How big a sucker are you?

Abstract: Think you can spot pseudoscience? Then take the test... Craniosacral therapy is at the very frontier of a branch of neurology that hopes to find cures for many of the debilitating neuromuscular diseases that still challenge medicine; including Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and multiple sclerosis. Except it's not. It's actually a non-scientific, so-called 'alternative' form of 'healing' that believes that gently massaging the skull and the sacrum - the large triangular bone at the base of the spine - will align harmony within the body. It'll make you feel good - as any good massage would - but it can't cure you of any neuromuscular disease. The proof is in its own claims: "[it] works with the whole person and changes may (my italics) occur in body, mind and spirit during and after sessions". And there's that key phrase: 'mind, body and spirit' -

The volatile chemistry of the business brain

Abstract: Think your staff think rationally? Think again. They're held hostage to chemistry... It's alluring to believe that we are the masters of our thinking, especially in a business environment; but hidden away in bits and pieces of our bodies are chemicals and bursts of electrical activity that hold our reasoning hostage. Towards the end of 2011 when Britain was still immersed in navel-gazing over the riots that had left its capital in flames, I was attached to the science desk of the Financial Times in London. One day I approached the editor with an idea that there were similarities between mob behaviour and the actions of market traders. He seemed bemused that I should even suggest that the responsible and calculative thinking that underpinned the world's financial capital could in any way mirror that of the rampant youths who had trashed and burned