Jai Mahtani, Charles Overholser, Flora Zhu and Nichole Kulikowski are all student members of Intelligent Optimism. Image Credit: Supplied


In an age of terrorist attacks, wars, plane crashes and natural disasters, young social scientists in Dubai have discovered a silver lining.

They call themselves ‘intelligent optimists’, and are leading a global movement to end negativity with news that’s factually accurate, uplifting and most importantly – good.

Starting out in 2013 at the Dubai Science Festival, this group of students would meet to discuss ideas and share positive information. They’ve come a long way since then.

Intelligent Optimism now has over 80,000 Facebook likes and is gaining a large following on different social media networks.

Rohan Roberts, head of professional development at The Winchester School, Dubai, and co-founder of Intelligent Optimism, said: “It’s not just blind optimism or a ‘Pollyanna’ view of the world. We are setting out to change mindsets by reminding people that despite all the negativity out there, humankind has achieved extraordinary things, and continues to do so every day.”

But does the world really need optimists?

Roberts thinks so. “Imagine the psyche of young people today. They switch on TV news or open the newspaper and constantly find death and destruction. How would they be inspired, and what future could they hope to make in such a bleak world?”

It’s why the movement has struck a chord with students in particular. Intelligent Optimism workshops take place throughout the year, wherein students are trained to spread the word of positivity to their peers and even teachers.

The group holds Think Tanks, which are informal brainstorming sessions, and meet-ups to discuss science and technology, and its impact on society.

Roberts said: “When you ask a person to draw a scientist, he/she would most probably draw a very stereotypical image of a person in a lab coat. It’s very different now – the world is full of exciting, interesting things. We’re a group of curious people trying to figure out how everything works, and share this awe-inspiring experience.”

With the support of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) locally, and the international backing of movers and shakers such as Canadian experimental psychologist Steven Pinker and British physicist David Deutsch, the phenomenon has spread rapidly on the internet.

The group uses shareable content online, to get people to wonder about the world they live in and think positively. Hard facts and science are the backbone of their message, and every piece of information shared is fact-checked and accurate.

Roberts said much of the news they share is common knowledge, but gets drowned out by the more intense bad news that dominates the headlines.

He said: “For instance, we are now living longer, healthier, wealthier, safer lives than at any point in the history of our species.”

In the past 100 years, the world has seen a 90 per cent decrease in infant mortality, a 99 per cent decrease in maternal mortality and a 100 per cent increase in the average human life span, according to US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wars too, have decreased drastically, despite what people may think, Roberts said.

“The United Nations defines wars as any conflict with over 1,000 deaths on average per year. By that measure, we had over a dozen wars in the 1990s, but today, the number is down to seven – and this includes what’s going on in the Middle East.”

The average number of casualties per war is also at its lowest, which means that humanity is currently living in the most peaceful era in history.

It doesn’t end with politics. The world has made great strides in science, literacy, healthcare, technology and gender equality, among other fields.

Raya Bidshahri, co-founder of Intelligent Optimism, summed up why people need to remember the good stuff in her blog post about the movement.

She wrote: “Human beings have many challenges to face in the near future, but let’s not forget that we’re the ones that genetically enhanced Nature, went to the moon, and developed technology almost as intelligent as ourselves. The future is in our hands… it’s just about making it happen and we can only do so by being intelligently optimistic.”