This week I posted a quiz compiled by Hans Rosling regarding our knowledge of the broader world, specifically the strides made in global health and poverty. You can find that post here. I heard from a number of folks taking the quiz that they failed – miserably. We laughed when I told them I only got half of the questions right. Inwardly I chastised myself for my own lack of knowledge.
Rosling, in his book Factfulness,takes that quiz a little further and talks about the results. The findings are fascinating and troubling – especially in a series of questions that are neither trick queries or realities that can’t be found thousands of times on the internet. In some research of 12000 respondents, here’s what he found.
In question #3 on extreme poverty only 7% of respondents got the answer – less than 1 in 10. The strides made in global poverty are actually staggering (“revolutionary”says Rosling) and yet so few answered correctly. It didn’t matter what political preference the respondents had, or what part of the world they were from (although only 5% U.S. respondents got it right).
Question #9 was about vaccination. The answer is that virtually all children in the world are now getting vaccinated. How many got such a staggering development correct? 13%. This aspect of humanity is growing exponentially and yet few know anything about it.
The last question on climate change was different, with 86% answering correctly. Why? Because it’s in the media all the time, is the subject of significant debate, and is a reality many face every day. People exposed to such issues obviously do better on the results.
What difference did education make? The answer will surprise you. Teachers, accountants, researchers, business executives, journalists, medical students – these, and others, did very poorly, with some getting poorer marks than those in less-educated fields. Those with failing marks included a team of Nobel laureates selected by Rosling.
As Rosling notes in Factfulness,the vast majority were not only devastatingly wrong, but systematically wrong – meaning that the ignorance was prevalent regardless of which aspect of life respondents came from. He concludes his findings with this observation:
“Every group of people I asked thinks the world is more frightening, more violent, and more hopeless – in short, more dramatic – than it really is.”
In a world where everyone is confronted by the pros and cons of Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau or other world leaders, by too much politics and too little humanity, we can grow deeply disillusioned as to our own collective potential. The truth of our progress is “out there” but, sadly, we must look for it in a world distracted by glitter and negativity. Yet, in some areas of global health at least, we are making a historic difference and it’s good to be reminded of our possibilities.