The Atlantic Has 17 Ideas to Change the World

The Atlantic’s annual ideas issue is out, with 17 of the mag’s picks for “modest” and unconventional notions they think can change the world. It’s a mix of some good, some bad and some entirely nonsensical.

  • Slate’s Emily Bazelon, in her typically well-reasoned style, says states rights are for liberals, too.
  • Molly Ball thinks the “do-nothing Congress” has actually done a lot. Not sure how this idea can change the world, especially when she admits that most of the big things Congress has done have actually been done to them, automatically.
  • Cable TV isn’t going anywhere, argues Derek Thompson, because it’s arguably still the best deal around when compared with every other imaginable form of entertainment. Anyone who’s called a cable company’s customer service line recently might beg to differ.
  • What if U.S. citizenship was not guaranteed by birth? Eric Liu wants you to take a citizenship test he thinks many of us will fail. He’s probably right.
  • Climate change is real. Hardly a novel idea, but this caught our eye because of Nicole Allen’s key takeaway: “The apocalyptic weather of the past year may soon be the new normal.” Maybe if the argument shifted that way, this one really could change the world.

The Atlantic‘s complete list of their picks for the year’s best ideas is online here, and it’s worth a look.

Some other stories that caught our eye…

How Junk Food Can End Obesity

The promise: “Is Michael Pollan wrong? Could the famous food writer, along with other influential advocates of unprocessed, local, farm-fresh foods be delusional in thinking that this ‘wholesome’ way of eating can really solve the America’s obesity crisis? In his cover story, David H. Freedman finds that much of the wholesome-food movement is fantasy, and demonizing processed food may actually be dooming the masses to a lifetime of obesity and disease…”

What It Delivers: This reminds a lot of this ridiculous TIME Magazine piece from 2009 on why exercise is bad for you. Freedman’s basic premise is that foods marketed as healthy are sometimes not as healthy as the marketers want us to believe. Imagine that. The real story is why we’re too stupid to look beyond those messages in the first place.

Verdict: Skip it.

America’s Emigration Problem

The Promise: “The conversation about immigration reform typically centers on all the people who want to come to the U.S. But as we see more and more retirees decamping to cheaper countries, Don Peck thinks it’s time to broaden the discussion to encompass who’s leaving.”

What It Delivers: We don’t hear this argument often, but Peck makes a good case for not only why older generations are leaving, but why we should help them.

Verdict: Read it.

Papa, Don’t Text

The Promise: “In this month’s Wordplay, Deborah Fallows asks: When parents are glued to their smart phones and are too distracted for baby talk, how do children learn language?”

What it delivers: There’s a bit of a technophobic tone in this one, starting with the pull quote at the top: “You can only do one thing at a time: talk to the baby or talk on the phone.” If the idea is that maybe we should all spend less time playing Angry Birds and more time with our kids, then by all means she’s got a point. But we have a pet peeve for journalists who take a single research study and make a story out of it, which Fallows does in this piece. Repeat after us: correlation is not the same thing as causation.

Verdict: Read it, but only if you have nothing better to do.