The world is a complex, violent, scary place full of sectarianism, isolationism, and nationalism. That much is true, but it’s also a planet marching progressively onward too, with poverty, disease, child mortality rates, and inequality nowhere near as bad as they once were.
Yes, it’s a million miles away from perfect, but the world is in a better shape than we often think. A new book, Factfulness, has been composed to remind us of this fact: Starting with a simple quiz and the metaphorical use of a chimpanzee, it aims – as one of the authors puts it in the book’s introduction – to use “data as therapy”.
The book has three authors. The first, the late Hans Rosling, was a renowned professor of international health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute; known for his resplendent data visualizations, he was once referred to by the Guardian as the “data Jedi master.” The other two wordsmiths are Ola and Anna, his son and daughter-in-law and acclaimed data wunderkinds in their own right.
They chose to focus on “10 reasons” why we’re wrong about the world. A piece over at The Telegraph explains the writers’ treatise: That we’ve never lived in a safer, more prosperous and healthy era. This, of course, is supported by reams of data.
However, as is made clear, the reality of the world is often divorced from our perception of it. A quiz, asking readers to summarize the state of the world using key metrics, allows you to try this for yourself.
Here’s a selection of some of the questions. A 2018 version of the test can be viewed here, over on the Roslings’ fact-based foundation, Gapminder.
– Worldwide, 30-year-old men have spent 10 years in school, on average. How many years have women of the same age spent in school: 3, 6 or 9 years?
– How many people in the world have access to electricity: 20, 50 or 80 percent?
– What is the average life expectancy in the world today: 50, 60 or 70 years?
The answers, incidentally, are 9 years, 80 percent, and 70 years. The authors note that if a chimpanzee (or anything, really) were to randomly select the answers on the far longer quiz, all with three choices, it’d get 33 percent of them right. The average person reportedly scores just 16 percent, which suggests our perception of the world is unrealistically negative.
It’s unsurprising. Fearful tales in the media – true or not, sensationalist or not – grab our attention, and trigger a visceral reaction more powerful than rational arguments or nuanced prose. This book’s use of the quiz, then, serves to remind us that fearful perspectives dominate our lives more than they probably should, even if we still have a lot of work left to do.
[H/T: The Telegraph]