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Notes From the Fieldby Martin Weil

March 17, 2015

Hans Rosling Is An Optmist

And he has the data to prove why. See this great interview with the Swedish medical statistician on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS program.

Rosling is best known for his Ignorance Project whose goal is to educate all of us on our misconceptions regarding the state of things.

For example – a quick, multiple choice question:

In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has:

  1. Almost doubled
  2. Remained more or less the same
  3. Almost halved

If you answered “doubled,” you have lots of company as 66% of American respondents chose this answer.  Another 29% chose “remained the same.”  The correct answer, chosen by just 5% of US responders, is “almost halved.”

Rosling’s point is that we are gloomy about the state of the world in some large measure due to our utter ignorance of the facts on the ground. While a born pessimist myself, I think he is right.  I would point to our proclivity to obsess over what behaviorists call “headline events” – war, terrorism, natural disasters and the like – those news events that dramatically affect a minuscule share of the world’s population to the exclusion of the actual data.

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