The Hope of Science and the Science of Hope

05/14/2015 05:51 pm ET | Updated May 14, 2016

Dire statistics and horrific stories litter our newscasts every day presenting the modern world as aimless, chaotic, and lost -- going backward in almost every area of social importance.

But is this really the way things are? Is it really the way they have to be?

While there is an element of truth in this characterization of present society as nothing more than chaos, there is also a force for good in the modern world that has the potential to reverse all of these trends.

We know a great deal about how to have a large impact on many (if not most) of the ills that face society -- from child abuse to drug problems to mental health problems and more. Successful programs have been created to help mitigate these problems and others. We even know the core principles that underlie these successful approaches, so we can focus more deeply on what works, eliminate what doesn't and scale them to broader educational and social programs.

We know all these things because modern behavioral and evolutionary science has found answers that work. The careful, controlled research has been done. At least partial answers are in our hands, right now.

Unfortunately these answers and the foundations they stand on are largely invisible to policy makers and to the public at large.

But Anthony Biglan is trying to change that. In his new book The Nurture Effect Biglan separates the wheat from the chaff pointing the way toward science-based behavior change that we know works at the personal, community, and global levels.

Change that Works

Tony is a friend and personal hero. Intelligent, focused, and impossible to slow down, for the last four decades Tony has been at the forefront of behavioral science and its use to prevent social ills. Tony knows many of the people who have tested these methods; he himself was involved in some of the key studies, policy innovations, and legal struggles. He brings this massive experience to the book. The result is a far-reaching, carefully argued, compelling volume in which he tells the stories of the developers of this science as well as the people whose lives have been affected -- showing in case after case that these methods are powerful tools in the creation of deliberate social change.

Biglan digs deep into the science and shows how a handful of key concepts like increasing nurturance, cooperation, and psychological flexibility, while decreasing coercion and aversive control have been shown over and over again to affect profound and lasting change. And he provides step-by-step instructions on how we as individuals, communities, and as a society can implement these techniques into our lives.

I know this all sounds a little too good to be true, but Tony takes the time to walk the readers through the research, and its quality and replication. We as a society have spent billions on research to learn what works in addressing our social and psychological problems. Today, we have a mountain of answers that could enormously impact our lives. It is our belief as a society in science and the hope it provides that has given us these answers. That is wonderful, but it is not the whole story.

As Biglan walks through the data and it becomes clear that the techniques he illustrates are empirically validated, our sense of skepticism gradually falls away and we begin to wake up to an incredible reality: We have at least partial answers -- all we have to do is apply them.

Together we can create a more nurturing and effective society, step by step. We have the knowledge to do better -- much, much better. And ultimately we will follow such steps -- knowledge this important doesn't remain forever unused.

But why are we waiting? Why is it so hard for us to act now?

By bringing together the fruits of behavioral and evolutionary science, the modern world can begin a grand journey. We have long been buoyed up by the hope of science in the abstract -- that is why we as a human community have funded the knowledge developers who have created this body of work. We will learn more as we go, but it is time to use what we have together created. It is time to apply the science of hope.

You can be part of this movement toward a brighter feature. Check out The Nurture Effect to learn how.