Framing Science

Big Think, the YouTube for intellectuals, is devoting the next 30 days to highlighting the most dangerous among ideas. Here’s how the editors describe the theme:

Throughout the month of August, Big Think will introduce a different “dangerous idea” each day. Brace yourself: these ideas may at first seem shocking or counter-intuitive–but they are worth our attention, even if we end up rejecting them. Every idea in the series will be supported by contributions from leading experts, from the world’s top theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, to prolific legal scholar Judge Richard Posner, to Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker, to linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky.

Today’s dangerous idea is posed by bioethicist Jacob Appel who suggests that the government should supplement our drinking water with lithium, which some studies suggest might lower suicide rates. You can watch Appel pitch his dangerous idea below and read more about his proposal–along with the arguments against– at Big Think’s Dangerous Ideas blog.

What do readers think? My own feeling is that in a world of Glenn Beck conspiracy theories and widespread government distrust, that at least in the short term, the political dangers of the idea outweigh the possible public health benefits.

UPDATE: Big Think sent along this news release detailing upcoming Dangerous Ideas.

BigThink.com Declares August “The Month of Thinking Dangerously”

New York, NY, August 2, 2010 – Had Copernicus been too terrified to
publish his theory of heliocentrism, how long would it have taken
people to realize that Earth, in fact, revolves around the Sun? Had
U.S. Secretary of State William Seward folded to public scrutiny and
not purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for two cents an acre,
America would face a worse oil crisis today — and may have faced a
nuclear threat on North American soil during the Cold War. In the
spirit of those who are brave enough to advance seemingly radical
ideas, Big Think presents “The Month of Thinking Dangerously.”

Throughout the month of August, Big Think will introduce a different
“dangerous idea” each day. Brace yourself: these ideas may at first
seem shocking or counter-intuitive — but they are worth our
attention, even if we end up rejecting them. Every idea in the series
will be supported by contributions from leading experts, from the
world’s top theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, to prolific legal
scholar Judge Richard Posner, to Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary
Becker, to linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky. Kicking off the
first week of the series, Big Think announces its first five dangerous
ideas:

1. Drug Our Drinking Water (August 2)

When the government added fluoride to our drinking water in the 1940s,
it was hailed as a great public health success. Why shouldn’t the
government add a trace amount of lithium–which has been shown to
limit suicide — to our water as well? It may save 12,000 lives a
year.

2. Sell Your Kidneys (August 3)

As an adult you’re capable of making your own economic decisions about
your livelihood — why shouldn’t you have the right to sell one of you
kidneys?

3. Erase Traumatic Memories and Achieve Your Own “Eternal Sunshine” (August 4)

Scientists have already been able to eliminate certain memories in
mice and are expected to be able to the same in humans. Shouldn’t each
of us have the right to wipe traumatic events from our mind to ensure
a happier life?

4. Blot Out the Sun — Or Face Extinction (August 5)

Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen argues that adding “about 3
million tons per year of sulfur” to the atmosphere would lower average
temperature at the Earth’s surface by about 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Abandon Earth — Or Face Extinction (August 6)

“It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the
next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human
race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet,”
says Stephen Hawking. It’s time to abandon Earth.

These are just five of the 30 dangerous ideas in Big Think’s latest series.

Big Think is a global knowledge network that showcases the
cutting-edge ideas of leading experts in a variety of fields. Big
Think has interviewed more than 1,500 thought leaders, including
economists Paul Krugman and Muhammad Yunas, futurist Ray Kurzweil,
biologists Rickard Dawkins, E. O. Wilson, Paul Nurse and Anthony
Fauci, filmmaker Ken Burns, novelists John Irving and Paul Auster,
business leaders Meg Whitman and Richard Branson, investors Peter
Thiel and George Soros, journalists Arianna Huffington and David
Remnick, US Poet Laureates Billy Collins and Rita Dove, US senators
John McCain and the late Teddy Kennedy, particle physicists Freeman
Dyson and Michio Kaku, and artists Chuck Close and Jules Feiffer. For
more information about Big Think or its “Month of Thinking
Dangerously” please feel free to contact Andrew Dermont at (212)
242-0617 or andrewdermont@bigthink.com.

Comments

  1. #1 Phillip IV
    August 2, 2010

    My own feeling is that in a world of Glenn Beck conspiracy theories and widespread government distrust(…)the political dangers (…) outweigh the (…) benefits.

    Perhaps we could start by adding lithium to Glenn Beck’s drinking water – that might actually help about those conspiracy theories.

  2. #2 stripey_cat
    August 2, 2010

    The people I know on Lithium antidepressants suffer from hellish side effects – better than death, but not by a margin you could drive a lorry through. Is it possible to get a therapeutic dose to the few who need it without making millions ill? Also, medicating without consent is very dubious ground (at least under UK law – it requires the patient to be sectioned by a judge, and for the doctor to show clear likelihood of benefit to the patient).

  3. #3 V. infernalis
    August 2, 2010

    Big Think has interviewed more than 1,500 thought leaders, including economists Paul Krugman and Muhammad Yunas, futurist Ray Kurzweil, biologists Rickard Dawkins, E. O. Wilson, Paul Nurse and Anthony Fauci, filmmaker Ken Burns, novelists John Irving and Paul Auster, business leaders Meg Whitman and Richard Branson, investors Peter Thiel and George Soros, journalists Arianna Huffington and David
    Remnick

    Arianna Huffington is a “thought leader” and “journalist”?

  4. #4 Ben
    August 3, 2010

    Should we give Chemotherapy to everyone in the US because some of the population may have cancer? This makes NO sense. Do not drug my water, or anyone else’s. Forcing the population to take drugs by drugging our water is something out of a nightmarish sci-fi movie where an evil genius has taken over the world and is drugging everyone “for their own good”. Every time science comes up with some great new discovery “for the benefit of mankind” it never stops to think if what is being done is actually a GOOD IDEA or not.

  5. #5 fffffffffff
    August 5, 2010

    you are an idiot, why don’t you drink lithium water and go die early and I think I won’t and have my brain receptors still working.
    how about the government experiments on themselves and they all drink lithium water and see if it goes well.

  6. #6 Anonymous
    August 6, 2010

    nooooooo, WE DONT WANT THIS PLEASE , I DONT WANNA BE A MINDLESS DRONE, I WANNA BE A HUMAN AND BE NORMAL WE DONT WANT THIS IN OUT WATER TRUST ME PEOPLE … IM NOT A CONSPIRCY THERIST IM JUST A AVG PERSON AND I KNOW ABOUT LITHIUM

  7. #7 Spartiate
    August 9, 2010

    This punk is a lyier, he is an eugenic son of a bitch,who is payed by big pharma, lithium is dangerous since 1 ppm,it reduce IQ of children than 10 and X2 bones cancers,since 1 ppm !! (excuse me for my english i’am french)

  8. #8 Anonymous
    August 25, 2010

    you people are crazy. go eat some lithium and die.and get this retard off the screen. stop the lies stop the nonsense.
    why not add some mercury to water and kill all of you insane bastards? there is no conspiracy theory.
    there is just what you alongside the elite is doing to get us all sick or dead.
    stop the control stop the genocide

  9. #9 Jackson
    August 30, 2010

    “Glen Beck conspiracy theories” I knew this was going to happen. Glen Beck is a neo-con actor, hired to associate his delusional antics with ‘conspiracy theories’. The main stream media has successfully fooled many people in society into believing that anything out of the ordinary is a conspiracy theory and is ridiculous simply because many do not know about it. Our water is being poisoned. With lithium, lead, and sodium fluoride. Our required immunizations kill children. There is even video evidence of air force jets dumping chemicals. This is fact. Not Glen Beck conspiracy theories. The global elite is reducing the population. I guess they’re going ‘green’.

  10. #10 fred
    September 14, 2010

    Brave New World see SOMA

  11. #11 Ash
    October 6, 2010

    They’ve been adding fluoride to our water and food for 60 years. Fluoride is absorbed by the pineal gland (apparently what makes us dream, so maybe even what makes us think?) I’ve heard fluoride soaks up lithium.. So could this be a form of mind control? I’m not a science person so if anyone can analyse this it would be great.

  12. #12 dalpezzo15
    February 7, 2011

    ooh, those are good ideas. lets add lithium, a toxic metal, into our drinking supply. arter all, we dont need our brains. and another good idea: lets send millions of pounds of sulphur into our atmosphere. breathing poisin gas is fun! oh, and lets also mess around with our perfectly good brains, and delete information on them. think, people.

  13. #13 ak
    April 30, 2011

    It is designed to kill you, plain and simple get it through your heads. Anyone who has any doubt is clearly drinking too much tap water already.

  14. #14 Randy
    May 25, 2011

    I like how you at once overtly denigrate and yet unintentionally justify conspiracy theorists.

  15. #15 John J
    May 25, 2011

    The profound implications of this are also considered in the novel The Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy, but instead of Lithium heavy Sodium is put into the towns drinking water. The same ethical/moral dilemmas are dealt with. I highly recommend the book.

  16. #16 Marsbars
    June 2, 2011

    @ Ben
    They don’t care. Don’t you get it? Most of the people involved with coming up with ideas like this simply don’t care. They don’t care if it’s truly “healthy” because everything is relative to them. Population control/eugenics proponents are going to be at the forefront of pushing every agenda they can toward dumbing down, pacifying, and eliminating the sex/reproductive drive of the general population. It’s not a theory. It’s in their published works. They give lectures on such ideas at colleges. They lobby to governments concerning these ideas. How else do you think such ideas that are so obviously converse to the principles of free will get introduced into law?

  17. #17 Patrick
    November 3, 2011

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the obvious (and really f’in creepy) parallels between this and the Stephen King short story “The End of the Whole Mess”:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_End_of_the_Whole_Mess

  18. #18 kelli
    December 5, 2011

    utterly ridiculous is this for real? Are they trying to keep us calm and docile so we can simply accept everything the New World order has planned for us. There is a reason they are trying to subdue us people.. It is said that they plan of having everyone on at least 2 anti psychotic drugs in their lifetime and apparently this is just the beginning.
    Don’t Drink the water people

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