Thursday, January 31, 2019

We know little about the world situation

Hans Rosling
Hans Rosling (1948-2017) was a Swedish doctor in medicine, who worked in the Karolinska Institute and investigated certain rare tropical diseases such as konzo, which proved to be a food contamination with cyanide. He was one of the founders of the Gapminder Foundation, which specializes in the analysis and dissemination of little-known data and in carrying out surveys to discover the degree of popular knowledge about economic, sociological, and highly topical worldwide issues.
In 2018 appeared his posthumous book, Factfulness, dedicated to explaining some of the discoveries of the Gapminder Foundation about the ignorance of many people on important issues, an ignorance which has spread a vision of reality very different from that provided by the data.

In 2017, the Gapminder Foundation conducted a survey among 12,000 people, citizens of fourteen so-called rich countries. Participants had to answer twelve questions. For each question, the survey provided three possible alternative answers. Therefore, if someone answered this survey in a purely random manner, the number of correct answers would be, on average, equal to 4 (12/3).
Initially, the test consisted of 13 questions, but one of them was eliminated from the results because it was too easy (87% of the participants guessed correctly).
I will not comment on the questions, because I don’t want to give clues to solve them. Anyone can still access the test and check their level of knowledge or beliefs about the twelve questions. The test can be done here. When I did it, I got 8 correct answers for the 13 questions (7 for the final 12, one half plus one).
I recommend that, if you wish to perform the test, do so before looking at the results of the survey, which can be viewed here. The average of hits of those who made the original test turned out to be 2.2, a little more than one half of the random result. 14% of the participants did not get a single hit. 80% guessed less than 4, therefore worse than a random choice. Only 10% got more than 4 correct answers (and so they were above the random level). None of the participants gave the 12 correct answers. Just one got 11 hits (all but one).
The 14 countries where the survey was conducted were South Korea, United States, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Norway, Japan, United Kingdom, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Spain, France and Belgium, in order of correct results. The Koreans got the best (23% of correct answers). The last were the Belgians, with 15%. Therefore, the level of ignorance of the inhabitants of all these countries turned out to be quite similar. As a comparison, if the test were answered randomly, an average of 33.3% of correct answers would be obtained.
Of the 12 questions, just one was answered correctly above the random level, although just barely (37%). The other 11 were below that level. Two of them got less than 10% correct answers.
It seems therefore that we know very little about the world around us because we are full of preconceived ideas that obscure our reflective capacity and make us blind to the data. Now that the Internet puts a huge amount of data at our disposal, much greater than what has been available to anyone until a few years ago, are we making a proper use of it? Perhaps not.

The same post in Spanish
Thematic Thread on Politics and Economy: Previous Next
Manuel Alfonseca

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