on Monday, June 18th, 2018
Good News, Bad News and “Facts”
It is surprisingly easy to get caught up in things – a news story or a post with a catchy headline, a picture showing something terrible and an article that makes us wonder how things got this way. Have things been getting worse while we weren’t paying attention?
Hans Rosling, MD, Professor of International Health and best selling author has some surprising facts you should know. Maybe, just maybe, things are getting better. (Try your knowledge out.)
There are 2 billion children in the world today, aged 0 to 15 years old. How many children will there be in the year 2100, according to the United Nations?
- A: 4 billion
- B: 3 billion
- C: 2 billion (Correct Answer)
C (2 billion) is the correct answer. That’s right – no change. UN experts expect that in the year 2100 there will be 2 billion children, the same number as today. They don’t expect the line to continue straight. They expect no further increase. The average number of children per mother has dropped from 5 in 1948 to 2.5 today. The UN expects the growth to slow down – the rate of growth is shrinking and it the momentum from the higher birth average.
In all low-income countries across the world today, how many girls finish primary school?
- A: 20%
- B: 40%
- C: 60% (Correct Answer)
The correct answer is C. Yes – 60% of girls in low-income countries finish primary school. Only some exceptional countries like Afghanistan and South Sudan have 20% or less of girls finish primary school. Life expectancy in low-income countries is 62 years. Most people have enough to eat, most people have access to improved water, most children are vaccinated, and most girls finish primary school.
In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has …
- A: almost doubled
- B: remained more or less the same
- C: almost halved (Correct Answer)
“Almost halved” is the correct answer. In the year 1800, roughly 85 percent of humanity lived on less than $2 per day (Level 1) which is extreme poverty. All over the world, people started in level 1. It’s where the majority always lived, until 1966. Just 20 years ago, 29 percent of the world population lived in extreme poverty. Now that number is 9 percent.
In 1996, tigers, giant pandas, and black rhinos were all listed as endangered. How many of these three species are more critically endangered today?
- A: Two of Them
- B: One of Them
- C: None of Them (Correct Answer)
How many people in the world have some access to electricity?
- A: 20%
- B: 50%
- C: 80% (Correct Answer)
80 percent” is the correct answer. Most of people in the world now have some access to electricity. It’s unstable and there are often power outages, but the world is getting there.
How did the number of deaths per year from natural disasters change over the last hundred years?
- A: More than doubled
- B: Remained about the same
- C: Decreased to less than half (Correct Answer)
“Less than half” is the correct answer. In fact, the number of deaths from acts of nature has dropped far below half. It is now just 25 percent of what it was 100 years ago. The human population increased by 5 billion people over the same period, so the drop in deaths per capita is even more amazing. It has fallen to just 6 percent of what it was 100 years ago. The reason natural disasters kill so many fewer people today is not that nature has changed. It is that the majority of people no longer live on Level 1.
Where does the majority of the world population live?
- A: Low-income Countries
- B: Middle-income Countries (Correct Answer)
- C: High-income Countries
“Middle-income countries” is the correct answer. 75% of the humanity lives in middle-income countries. 91% of humanity lives in middle or high income countries. 9% are in low income countries.
How many of the world’s 1-year-old children today have been vaccinated against some disease?
- A: 80% (Correct Answer)
- B: 20%
- C: 50%
Things are not as bad as they seem.
If you take the quiz, there are 12 questions and that vast majority of people that have taken the test don’t do well. Not just a little wrong, but seriously wrong. In 2017, 12,000 people took the test in 14 countries – and the average was 2 out of 12. In any high school quiz that is an F.
So why are peoples impression so far from reality? There are many reasons, and if you are able to, I highly recommend reading Hans Rosling’s book. Here are some key points that help to explain why so many people, and indeed, the world are misinformed:
- We are programmed biologically to pay attention to the worst case risks.
During our evolution our ancestors which were more risk averse ended up with a higher chance of surviving. During the night if you woke up at night to a sound and assumed it was a dangerous predator like a lion and hid in the tree, even if you were wrong 90% of the time you would end up surviving. While others which say assumed the noise was the wind or a small animal were right 90% of the time – but when they were wrong they did not survive. Their DNA did not get passed on. So in assessing life threatening risks, those that assume the worse (even when rare) had a better chance of surviving. You are a descendant of those cautious ancestors.
Of course today, our world is very much safer. The chance of dying from a lion attack are extremely small. However it means we by default lean a little towards assuming the worst case – even if there is little evidence.
- Disasters and Bad News is more interesting and memorable
- Bad things like earthquakes, plane crashes, natural disasters make the news because they are dramatic. Scenes of hurt people, crying children easily capture our sympathy and desire to help. The Bad things also tend to happen quickly – within a few minutes, hours or at most days, the disaster is seen to unfold and cause its death and havoc. This makes its way to our news papers because it is dramatic.
Good news tends to happen over much broader time frames. The absence of a plan crash is good news, but no paper will print an article on the front page saying “No planes crashed today – Isn’t that great”. Did you know that from yesterday to today, there are 125,000 less people in extreme poverty? That’s right – 125,000 people have been lifted up from barely surviving level in one day. Now, did you also realise that this same good news has been happening for the last 25 years? Let me repeat that – every day for the last 25 years there has been 125,000 less people in extreme poverty.
Stated another way, 20 years ago approximately 2 billion people were in extreme poverty. Today it is 1 billion. That’s a great improvement – but clearly there is more to be done.
An important contrast is that around 1800, before the industrial revolution, 98% of the world was in extreme poverty. We are within a couple of decades of eliminating extreme poverty. This is good news. There are quite a few other areas where there is consistent significant improvements, such as crime rates, death from natural disasters, infant mortality, people with access to electricity and so on. All good news – but you will not see it listed in the headlines.
- Journalists need to Capture your interest with Drama
Journalist, it turns out, do equally poorly in the quiz – the same 2 out of 12 average. You would think being journalists they would be more likely to know the facts. The journalists therefore appear to be simply not informed. Just like you, they gravitate to the dramatic news. Further, they will maximise the drama because that it what captures the readers, gets those “clicks” and ultimately pays their wage.
- We make assumptions based on Country, Race, Religion, Culture etc.
Hans breaks down the world into 4 income levels based on the average US$ per day. Level 1 is $2 per day or less, level 2 is $2-$8 per day, level 3 is $8-$32 per day an level 4 is more than $32 per day. The majority of the world is in level 2 and level 3. What is surprising, for many countries people can be living in different levels in the same country. In fact, the day to day life of people have more in common based on the level of income rather than country, race, religion or culture.
So we should not be categorising people based on where they live, or their nationality, or race. At level 1 income you cook all meals on a fire, your may have a roof and some walls, water is manually collected from somewhere, you have no electricity, you may have one shared tooth brush, you eat the same meal almost every day and your toilet is typically a hole in the ground. There are people at level 1 everywhere in the world – China, Russia, Africa, the Americas and Asia. The majority in China and India are now in level 3. They have moved most rapidly from level 2 in the last 20-30 years. Almost 2 billion people have managed to move from level 2 to level 3 in a couple of decades. In fact almost all countries average income level is increased – the only difference is how quickly they have been improving.
- Beware of the single number statistic or line
Last year, according to UNICEF, 4.2 million children died before they turned 1. This is clearly terrible – even a single unnecessary death is too much. However 2 years earlier it was 4.5 million. In 1950 it was 14.4 million. You need at least a few numbers to see a trend. A single number can be misleading.
When considering business requirements for a technical project, one of the most basic steps is to ask lots of questions and try to assume nothing. If in doubt, clarify – ask more questions. When actually coding (programming), it’s even more important. In the actual code, putting in checks that confirm your assumptions is a good part of writing reliable code.
Keep asking, Assuming Nothing
It turns out that living in the modern world, with the 24×7 news and connectivity to the amazing internet almost globally does not relieve us from theses basics – ask lots of questions, assume nothing and look for facts and data. You need the facts to see what is really bad or not.
How are your world facts? Find out.
Take the 5 minute World Facts Quiz – click here. You will be surprised.
‘Factfulness’ by Hans Rosling.
Get the book here: Factfulness – Hans Rosling
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