One article in last Sunday's New York Times proclaimed: "Everything has only gotten worse ..." while a few pages later a headline from the usually critical Nicholas Kristof told us, "This Has Been the Best Year Ever (Again)."
So what are we to believe?
I read an important book published last year called Factfulness by Hans Rosling. His message is that we need to rely on facts to inform us about the world, not our fears, emotions, or any rules of thumb or the popular media. All these sources feed into our prejudices and preconceived notions -- whether we're man or woman, young or old, Democrat or Republican -- and give us a distorted view of the world.
In his book Rosling offers a quiz to test the reader's knowledge. For example, he asks: "In all low-income countries across the world today, how many girls finish primary school? A. 20%; B. 40%, or C. 60%." What do you think?
Hans Rosling, who died in 2017 at age 68, was a Swedish physician and professor of international health. My quiz below is inspired by his book, but I've tried to focus my questions more on the United States. Still, the questions will hopefully illustrate his point that we need to know the true facts, not the facts as massaged by politicians, corporations, the internet or the media. That's the only way we can respond to real problems, and not get paralyzed by unfounded fears or misdirected sympathies.
The answer above, by the way, is C. 60% of girls even in low-income countries get at least a primary school education. Most people think the number is lower than that -- an example of how we often believe things are worse than they really are.
So put on your thinking cap. Here's the quiz:
1. What is the poverty rate in America today?
A. 15% B 12.3% C 11.8% D. 9.7%
2. How many homeless people are in the U. S.?
A. 1 million B. 500,000 C. 200,000 D. 100,000
3. Since 1980 the share of Americans judged to be middle class by the Federal Bureau of the Census has:
A. Increased significantly B. Increased slightly C. Decreased a little bit D. Decreased drastically
4. In the year 2000 the federal estate tax kicked in for estates worth over $1 million. In 2020 the threshold is:
A. Still $1 million B. $10 million C. $11.4. million D. $11.58 million
5. At what income level do Social Security benefits start to become taxable for a single person?
A. $0.00 (it's all taxable) B. $25,000 C. $32,000 D. $60,000
6. How many women currently serve in the U. S. House of Representatives?
A. 154 B 132 C 101 D 87
7. For every 100 women age 25 - 29 who have at least a college degree, how many men of the same age have a college degree?
A. 124 B. 104 C. 96 D. 85
8. In the year 2000 11.6% of people age 65 and over suffered from dementia. The latest figures show the rate of dementia among the elderly is:
A. 18% B. 14% C 11.6% D. 8.8%
9. Currently the obesity rate in America is:
A. 40% B. 30% C 25% D 12%
10. How have the number of murders per year changed over the past 40 years?
A. Almost doubled B. Increased by about 20% C. Remained about the same D. Decreased by about 30%
11. In 1999 there were 16,849 deaths due to drug overdose in America. What's the latest figure (as of 2017)?
A. 15,387 B. 22,200 C 36,010 D. 70,237
12. The number of major oil spills by tankers (defined as 1000 tons or more) was 636 in 1979. By 2016 that number decreased to:
A. 535 B. 121 C. 37 D. 6
13. Global climate experts project that over the next 50 years the average temperature will:
A. Get slightly warmer B. Get dangerously warmer. C. Stay about the same D. Get colder
14. The phrase: "The U. S. in his initials stands for 'Unbelievably Stupid'" refers to which president?
A. Gerald Ford B. George W. Bush C. Ulysses S. Grant D. Donald Trump
Come back in a few days for my next post to see the answers, which will offer both good and bad news . . . but also help us recognize progress when we've made it, and point us in the right direction when we're trying to solve ongoing problems.