[Updated with link to the graph I referenced. Thanks to the folks who found it.]

The other day I saw a very cool graph that showed which vitamins and supplements have good science behind them and which ones don't. The graphic was interesting on several levels. The first thing I noticed was how cleverly constructed it was. I could see at a glance which vitamins and supplements are supported by science. The graph was interesting enough to keep me staring at it, following its little lines and connections as if searching for Waldo. That level of engagement probably helped me retain more information than if I had skimmed it.

The next thing I realized is what a good public service this graph was. Millions of people would see it and come away with knowledge that directly applies to their own health. Some people might start taking useful supplements and vitamins and others might discontinue the ones that science doesn't support. There's a good chance that the creator of the clever graphic saved some lives. How many of you have a job that rewarding?

I was wondering about the artist who made the graph. Did he or she get this assignment and think I can save some lives? Or was it just another assignment and just another paycheck? People who are primarily working for money can do good work, but the cleverness of this particular graph suggests there was a stronger motivation behind it. I think the creator was aware of the stakes and elevated his or her game through intrinsic motivation.

Whenever you see the x-factor in someone's output - that little extra something that turns the good into the awesome - it's a marker for intrinsic motivation. Monetary motivation plateaus at the point you think your work equals your pay. For most people, that happens when the product is good but not awesome. To get to awesome you need to think you might be changing the world, saving lives, redeeming your reputation, attracting the mate of your dreams, or something else that is emotionally large.

One of my techniques for staying motivated is that I put everything I do in the context of how it might improve the entire world, or at least some subset of it. With Dilbert I imagine that at least some of my output makes people laugh, or smirk, or feel less alone in their misery. Laughter decreases stress, which improves health and increases both productivity and creativity. In a very small way I'm nudging the world in a positive direction. That thought helps me dig deeper to find the x-factor for tomorrow's comic.

Then there's this blog. I don't expect anything I write here to directly influence world events or to change anyone's mind about anything. But what I know from my work as a creator of content is that all creativity comes from putting existing ideas into a mixing bowl then swirling the whole mess around to see what happens. The more ideas you are exposed to, the more likely one of your mixtures will produce something great. If you read any idea in this blog that you wouldn't have thought on your own, your creative potential is increased. That's a big deal because nothing of importance has ever been done without creativity. I'm motivated by the thought that I'm contributing to civilization's creative pool.

This brings me to your job, whatever that might be. Is there any opportunity - no matter how small - for you to change the world through your work?

Leave me a comment and tell me what you're doing that could change the world, no matter now slightly, in a positive direction.
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Aug 28, 2012
I have multiple sclerosis, and after I was diagnosed in early 2006, one of the first things I learned about it was the increasing incidence the further away from the Equator you go. It was a short process that got me thinking Latitude ... Sunshine ... Vitamin D - and so I started taking Vitamin D pretty much straight away. Not a megadose, just the standard RDA. I think it's made a difference, though I have been on other treatments for 5 years now.

What some research shows is that my Vitamin D levels aren't as relevant as my mother's were; I was born in the Spring in Scotland, so there's a good chance my mother was deficient while carrying me. So, ladies, it's better that you get pregnant towards the end of Winter, and get out for a regular waddle in the sunshine!
Aug 28, 2012
@Therion, The thing preventing the world from moving past capitalism is the notion of self-interest. And the thing preventing anything OTHER than capitalism is that the majority of people don't do work without self-interest factored into it. It's cool that a teensy, tiny fraction of the world's population is willing to do altruistic work (primarily when their needs are addressed via some other channel), but you wouldn't have anything resembling an economy (capitalist or need based or whatever) without providing work incentives.
Aug 28, 2012
Your question does not line up with your presentation. You point out a graph that may or may not actually relate to health, without any real level of correlation between how much each of those things matter in relation to other things. Not to mention the risks associated with some of the items there.

For example, one of the big winners in that graph is vitamin D. It's so great, it shows up in two places. Based on that graph, we should all run out and buy a zillion units of vitamin D, and we'll all live forever!

One problem. Vitamin D, as is vitamin A, are fat-soluble vitamins, unlike, say, vitamin C which is water soluble. With water-soluble vitamins, your body can easily rid itself of them when it has more than it needs; it comes out in our urine. Dr. Dean Edell of radio fame used to say that Americans had the most valuable urine of anywhere in the world because it is so loaded with unneeded vitamins.

But fat-soluble vitamins are a different story. They get stored in our fat tissues, and are thus hard to get rid of. You can get too much vitamin A and vitamin D. Too much vitamin D causes a buildup of calcium, and can lead to kidney problems.

What about the relative virtue of the vitamins and supplements versus other health factors, such as diet and exercise? Not only that, but can you recall how many things "science" once said were bad for you that are now considered good for you? Can you say Alar? How about shellfish raising cholesterol? How about caffeine causing cancer, where now it's considered good for you?

I will never forget the old Woody Allen movie, "Sleeper," where Woody's character is frozen after a failed hernia operation and re-awakened in a far-off future time. Two doctors are discussing his earlier life. One doctor asks the other what Woody's character did back in old New York. The other doctor replied, "He ran something called a 'health food store.'" The first doctor asks, "A health food store? What is that?" The first doctor replies, "In those days, people thought that they would be healthier if they ate things like wheat germ and took vitamins." The first doctor replies, incredulously, "Had they no Big Macs? Had they no hot fudge sundaes?"

In any case, I have learned over the years to take such graphs with a big grain of salt. Eat reasonable amounts, exercise regularly, and ignore the health fad du jure.

But as to Scott's question: my wife and I (mostly her) have a business that assists senior citizens with the complexity of modern living: dealing with Medicare and insurance companies, banks and other financial institutions. She also monitors caregivers and other service providers, helping guard against financial abuse and physical abuse of seniors. Not an earth-shattering change, but at least an attempt to help a less-able segment of society cope with confusing issues and lead fuller, more enjoyable lives. In one case, she was able to help one of her seniors recover from a relative's use of her identity to the tune of over $30,000.

Nothing major, but at least we've been able to help a few people over the years.
-7 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 28, 2012
Speaking of what's rewarding and what's good for humanity. I think Fox-News-watching, right-wing libertarians are the biggest force for evil on the planet right now. Singlehandedly they're preventing the world from moving beyond capitalism.
Aug 28, 2012
Whoa - I never said I was Albert Schweitzer!

But @whtllnew: I'm sure you'd agree with Churchill that jaw-jaw is always better than war-war. Every day I see those countries you mention arguing around a table, instead of cutting all communications except the kind we see today between the US, Iran and Israel, i.e. self-serving propaganda. We know where that ends.

And PeterJ57: I didn't say we advocate the EU's policies on anything. If EU citizens say we are distorting the market and creating poverty we make sure people hear what they have to say, in everyone's language.

Maybe a little less cynicism would help you appreciate the graph too.
Aug 28, 2012
I'm reminded of the kid who was admonished for pulling the wings off butterflies.
He explained about all the earthquakes he was preventing on the other side of the world.

The urge to do good is strong - but it is totally subjective.
Charity can often be shown to prolong the agony - in many cases the country can't support the population growth, in others the world aid simply prolongs the war which caused the problem.

Our EU commenter just proved the point. The EU is putting countries into poverty and distorting the free market worldwide - yet these people think they are doing good.

Dilbert does a valuable public service. Many people don't question - Dilbert puts forward a cynical alternative that makes them examine their own views on the subject.

As to the graph - I clicked on the men button and concluded that men don't have problems and women do. I added that to the female gullibility for hair and "beauty" products and thought there is a mental issue there to solve, rather than a chemical one.

But as someone said statistics are like bikinis - it is not what they reveal but what they hide which is interesting. No statistics to relate health to wealth. Nothing on race. Age. Housing. I'll bet all of those have a lot of influence.

How did the graph designer relate one survey to another? Did he weight the undergraduate research equally to the lifetime in the field people? The drug company sponsored "research" equally to the independent? The trial on a hundred people equally to the million subjects?

Without those the pretty graph is just that - a pretty graph.
Aug 28, 2012
Scott, I luckily enough to work for a company that design, manufacture and sells fitness equipment and related services. So we are always looking for new ways of getting more people into physical activity.

My last project (which is a bit crazy) relates to a simple idea that try to answer the following question: can we inspire people to get active? Answer: let's tell people what other people similar to them do so to get some inspiration.

We are in the early stages and testing it in the UK (you can try it at http://www.movergy.com )

If someone starts trying something new and changes her lifestyle so to include more physical activity, that would be a great results.
Aug 28, 2012

[I guess that doesn't mean much in the US, but over here the last few times we didn't listen to each other we tended to end up in, err, World Wars. ]

...really...I suppose as an ignorant yankee I shouldn't tell Europeans how they ended up in world wars but I had the impression that poor communication had little to do with how you ended up in WWI and WWII.

To brutally oversimplify I had the impression that the reason you ended up in WWI was because Germany was becoming a major power, France wasn't ready for that and managed to get Britain and Russia on their side. And I had the impression the reason you ended up in WWII was because the Germans, after years of political and economic chaos, chose as their leader someone who was bound and determined to undo Germany's defeat in WWI at the same time Britain and France were (temporarily) too scared to stop him. I further had the impression that the major players in these conflicts had no trouble getting across the message they wanted to get across.

Not saying your work is unimportant. Just asking where poor communication enters into WWI and WWII.
Aug 28, 2012
Nice post!

We work as translators and interpreters for the European Union here in Brussels. We know we make a difference, allowing people to understand each other's point of view, get their voices heard, make multilingual democracy work.

I guess that doesn't mean much in the US, but over here the last few times we didn't listen to each other we tended to end up in, err, World Wars.

So yes, I like to think we make a real difference. Obviously our PHBs (who know a few words of English, or French) just think we're a ridiculous extra expense.

Watch this space to see how the Greeks explain things to the Germans and French over the next few months - and don't assume that they'll manage to do it all in English...
Aug 28, 2012
You're way too optimistic about the world, Scott... Did you see that recent article that said that people suffering from mild to moderate depression have a dramatically more realistic view of the world?

I once heard about the "thirds" in a company: The top third do most of the work. The middle third does roughly their share. The bottom third does nothing, frequently negating the work of the other two thirds. That sounds about right to me.

I wanted to rant about this for an additional few paragraphs, but suffice it to say that I spend the vast majority (90%) of my job doing regulatory and compliance stuff for my software, instead of programming it. This ironically results in far worse software, because I don't have time to add new features, fix UI problems, or do more than minimal testing.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 28, 2012
I've helped lots of people with 23 years as a voluntary mountain rescue member. I also got involved as joint editor of a free-to-download booklet "Travel at High Altitude" on how to keep healthy (and alive) while at altitude, which has now been translated into 12 more languages and from responses we have had it's certainly saved the lives of many people.

Keeps all the problems of work as an electronic design engineer in their right place - it's only a job.....
Aug 28, 2012
Well, my job is in the AP dept of my local government to make sure the doctors who look after the poor get paid. I would like to think that making sure doctors who look after the poor staying in business is a good thing for society. But then the new computer system we are using sucks and doesn't work, the dept that actually pays the bills reeks of incompetence, and some of the doctors are weasels trying to double and triple bill us and that saps money from our budget.

I'm also going to post to my own blog that putting ethanol into gas during a major drought is a stupid idea. Ethanol is worse for the environment than gas and frankly we need to use the water to protect our food crops instead. People can make do on a little less gas, not so much if they lose too much food. I doubt many people will see the post though... :

BTW, I like the worth it line in that graph. It seemed like one of those little extras to me.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 28, 2012
@jibbley If a substance had "other miraculous benefits", then there would have been a study done to verify the claim. If the study had been done, it would have a bubble on the chart somewhere. If a supplement has been studied in relation to more than one condition, it has more than one bubble. If the study has not been done, there can't be a bubble. You can't rate the effectiveness of a supplement that hasn't been studied, because IT HASN'T BEEN STUDIED. Of course the chart is incomplete. Human knowledge is incomplete. That's why scientists do studies; to add more data to human knowledge.
-5 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 28, 2012
That char is worse than useless, it's a classic example of "make a man believe he's thinking and he'll love you for it, make a man actually think and he'll despise you".

Problem: It only lists relationships between substances and very specific diseases. Take a random example - lycopene. If you find it on the chart (which isn't easy, btw, another failing of the chart..) you'll come away thinking it's useless because it only has a listing for "prostate cancer". It may have other miraculous benefits but you'll never know because the author of that chart didn't have a study at hand. The chart's incompleteness is what makes it dangerous - you assume it's complete whereas if they filled in the missing items it could change radically.

It's also confusing because many things appear on it multiple times in different places. It took me a while to figure out and other people seem to be having the same problem.

Disclaimer: The only reason I picked lycopene is because I've got a slice of watermelon in front of me with a "high in lycopene" sticker on it. I have no idea what lycopene is.

Aug 28, 2012
PS , I don't make bananas money wise... My works has become more of a hobby.
Aug 28, 2012
.I work at throwing many ideas around and I currently have a few at my plate.

My primary work right now is... I have been working on a hypothesis to a possible cause of multiple sclerosis.( An neurodegenerative auto immune disease)

lately I have been studying what lab work needs to be done to test my hypothesis. And i'm finding I may have 3 hypothesis all together.

My idea is quite novel in regards to the immunological, biochemical mechanisms, and the somewhat relative simplicity of the possible mechanism of pathogenesis of the disease.

My father has multiple sclerosis and I have seen the effects of the disease on him and others.

I'm pretty motivated to finish my paper. I work pretty freaking hard on my research. And at times its all I can concentrate on. I cant do the multitasking thing so well though....

As to rather if i'm wrong or right with my MS work, it's ok to me either way. Over the past few years I have gained a wealth of knowledge and creativity that only few people possess.

I have multiple roads and directions I can go with my ideas...

I think of ideas like fishing.The more poles a person puts out in the pond, the higher the probability of having a catch.
Aug 28, 2012
EMU, good sighting, I was wondering what the X axis was for, turns out it's just alphabetical sorting.
Aug 28, 2012
Great post Scott.

I introduced a company wide wiki saving (the employees themselves said in a poll) 10% of their time - which was previously wasted looking for information. This helped them to do more of what they really wanted to do - their technically challenging, fun job.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 28, 2012

I have found a way to live as I long as I want without earning money.


Aug 28, 2012
I teach, run a department with about 80% of the necessary resources to do what it already does, and generate research, some of which has practical use. The latter can be used by anyone in the world, free of charge.
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