Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Systematically Ignorant Nobel Laureates

Scientists score lower than chimpanzees when quizzed about basic, state-of-the-world facts.

Swedish global health educator Hans Rosling succumbed to pancreatic cancer in February 2017. A year later his important book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think appeared. For those of us starting to consider holiday gift-giving, it’s a wonderful choice.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a massive exercise in pompous speculation about the future. But scientists’ ability to accurately predict what comes next is undermined if their view of the present is wrong.

Rosling says most of us are walking around with a systematically mistaken view of the current state of the world. He further reports that smart, highly educated individuals – including Nobel winning scientists – suffer from more “devastating ignorance” than does the average person.

For decades, Rosling began his public lectures by asking his audience a dozen or so multiple-choice questions concerning global patterns and trends connected to “poverty and wealth, population growth, births, deaths, education, health, gender, violence, energy, and the environment.” Most people, he says, “do extremely badly.” Worse, in fact, than chimps would if they picked answers at random.

We think global poverty has increased when it has actually fallen dramatically. We think there are fewer tigers, giant pandas, and black rhinos now than in 1996, but the opposite is true. We think few of the world’s children have been vaccinated, when the number’s actually 8 out of 10.

This juicy quote provides yet another reason why experts foretelling the future should be taken with a grain of salt:

I have tested audiences from all around the world and from all walks of life: medical students, teachers, university lecturers, eminent scientists, investment bankers, executives in multinational companies, journalists, activists, and even senior political decision makers. These are highly educated people who take an interest in the world. But most of them – a stunning majority of them – get most of the answers wrong. Some of these groups even score worse than the general public; some of the most appalling results came from a group of Nobel laureates and medical researchers. [bold added]


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Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling & Anna Rosling Rönnlund


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This entry was posted on October 31, 2018 by in ethical & philosophical, IPCC and tagged , , , .
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