Hans Rosling and Osa Rosling: How not to be ignorant about the world

Speaker

Hans Rosling is a Swedish medical doctor, statistician and global health expert. Ola Rosling is the director and co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation (http://www.gapminder.org).

Summary

Hans starts his presentation on ignorance by conducting a quick poll of the Ted audience. He asks a few multiple choice questions about trends across history.

  1. How have deaths from natural disasters changed over the last century?
  2. How long has the average 30 year old woman spend in school?
  3. How did the percent of people living in extreme poverty change over the last 20 years

The actual deaths from natural disasters, for example, dropped from 0.5 million (1900) to 0.1 million (2000). But only 30% of the Ted audience and 12% of Swedish public were correct on this question. To further prove his point about ignorance, Hans presents the results from a third survey group: chimpanzees at the zoo. Simply by choosing at random (33%) they choose the correct answer more often than everyone else.  The polling results from the other two questions followed a similar pattern: the trend in education and impoverished people changed for the better while people assumed a negative change.

Hans introduces the Ignorance Project, cofounded by him and his son to investigate what the public knows about basic global patterns.  In their pilot project, they used these very same questions, along with some others, that were picked up by CNN.

CNN asked their readers, what percent of 1 year old children are vaccinated against measles?

The correct percentage is 80%, but predictably, the majority thought it was significantly lower. Only 17% of US public and 8% Swedish public were correct. But more surprisingly, 80% of the US media and 92% of the EU Media were wrong as well. The problem, he says, isn’t that people don’t listen to the media, it’s that the media don’t know themselves.

Hans son, Ola, comes out on to the stage to speak on the second half of their topic: Why are we so ignorant and what can we do about it?

A combination of personal bias (from different life experiences), outdated facts (from school books), and news bias (which exaggerates the unusual) all give people a skewed view of information. And because we rely on our views to generalize about facts, our intuition works against us, giving us an illusion of confidence.

Because people don’t have time to memorize facts every night, the shortcut to managing our ignorance is to turn our intuition back into a strength. To do this, Ola suggests being aware of some misconceptions you might have about how the world works.

  1. Most things get worse

– If you’re sitting with a question in front of you and you’re unsure, guess “improve.

  1. There is a duality of rich and poor

– The world has shifted to a larger middle class

  1. First people need to be rich and then they can do social good

-The majority of countries in the “middle class” send girls to school

  1. Sharks are dangerous

– If it makes you scared/feel afraid, assume you are going to exaggerate the problem

As part of the Ignorance project, Hans and Ola have created a Global Knowledge Certificate. They asked from organizations like Amnesty International and UNICEF what facts they thought the public didn’t know. Then they took that list and cross-referenced it with the facts people polled worst in. They want this shortlist to be used as a certificate, to show to a school or an employer that you are globally knowledgeable.

Ola concludes by reitierating the importance of winning the fight against ignorance. “If you have a fact based worldview of today, you might be able to understand the future. “

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