Here’s a question for you…
In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in poverty has…
• A) Almost doubled
• B) Remained the same
• C) Almost halved
Here’s another question…
What is the average life expectancy in the world today?
• A) 50
• B) 60
• C) 70
Try your luck at this one…
All things considered, do you think the world is…
• A) Staying about the same
• B) Getting worse
• C) Getting better
Those are among the questions that were put to more than 10,000 persons in a dozen countries in summer 2017 by the market research firm Ipsos Public Affairs.
The questions form the backbone of a fascinating book called “Factfulness,” which is subtitled “10 Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.”
After the enormity of the anti-Semitic hate crime this past weekend in Pittsburgh, which followed the pipe bombs, which followed the reports of a journalist’s gruesome fate in Turkey, it’s understandable if the last part of that subtitle has the ring of irony right now.
Yet the author, Hans Rosling, addresses that dissonance in his book. There are logical reasons, he assures us, for our dark worldview.
As a lifelong journalist myself, I cannot disagree with him that the nature of news coverage—an extension and mirror of human nature—is to accentuate the negative. However, he also acknowledges the self-evident fact that news organizations would not continue on that path unless there was a monetizable audience embracing that lurid coverage, known in the news trade as “if it bleeds, it leads.”
Mr. Rosling, who died in 2017, was a medical doctor and renowned public educator. With his son and daughter-in-law, he co-founded Gapminder Foundation. Its mission is to close the gap between important facts about the world and misperceptions about the world.
His premise—backed up convincingly in the data-driven book—is that our worldview is skewed by the heightened, disproportionate focus on bad things that happen.
Yet, he takes pains to point out, tremendous progress is being made in critical areas of human existence: eradication of poverty, higher levels of literacy, lower child mortality rates. His book attempts to rectify the pronounced imbalance between perception and reality.
On all three questions posed at the top, the answer is C, so Congratulations if your answers are Correct, because in each case, you would be in the minority: In the U.S. poll conducted by Ipsos, one person in 20 got the first answer, about poverty, right; about four in 10 aced the second question, about life expectancy; and about one in nine correctly answered the third question, about the state of the world.
To take the full quiz, go to Gapminder.org and click the button named Take the Gapminder Test.
The point continually and compellingly made in “Factfulness” is that we are needlessly pessimistic about the state of the world.
Mr. Rosling goes on to say, “Our brains often jump to swift conclusions without much thinking. It is not a question of intelligence. Everyone seems to get the world devastatingly wrong.” He includes in that assessment academics and a range of very accomplished, erudite classes of people.
He ascribes a lot of where we go astray to a severe shortage of serious thinking. There’s abundant evidence of that malady on social media, where the constant thrum of noise mocks any hint of nuance.
Trying to put forth a serious, middle-of-the-road thought on social media is like being at an NFL game and telling the boisterous, beer-swilling fan next to you, “I’m good with whoever wins.” That rude remark might earn you a suds shampoo, with a fistful of fries on the side.
“Democrats and Republicans often claim that their opponents don’t know the facts,” Hans Rosling writes. “If they measured their own knowledge instead of pointing at each other, maybe everyone could become more humble.” From his mouth to you-know-who’s ears, because humility cannot be counted as one of the qualities that is making America great again.
“Resist blaming any one individual or group of individuals for anything,” the late Mr. Rosling wisely counsels. “When we blame the bad guy, we are done thinking. It’s almost always more complicated than that. If you really want to change the world, you have to understand how it actually works and forget about punching anyone in the face.”
Yeah, but what fun is that?
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events, and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at email@example.com or 914-275-6887.