Thursday, May 5, 2016

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

This blog post deviates from the topics learned in our biostatistics course, given it focuses on how we can use statistics to get a point across. Since Dr. Murphy gave great importance to bias and I have an interest on public health, I found this TED talk about reducing bias in our knowledge of global population and global health interesting. Hans and Ola Rosling use statistics to prove to the audience that they have a high statistical chance of being wrong about what they think they know about the world. I believe it was an interesting use of statistics, because, as we have mentioned in class, people pay more attention when they are presented statistics (even if these statistics are wrong), so it was smart of them to use this method to get their point across!

The main point of their talk is to improve the knowledge people have about what is going on in the world because, as Hans states, “the best way to think about the future is to know the present”. However, this is sometimes hard because of three skewed sources of information, which they recognize as:

1.     Personal bias: the different experiences each person has, depending on where they live and the people they are surrounded by
2.     Outdated information: what teachers teach in school is usually an outdated world view
3.     News bias, which is always exaggerated

Hans then adds intuition to this equation. He states that we seek causality where there is none and then get an illusion of confidence (which, as mentioned in class, can happen to many researchers). In order to combat it, he says that first we need to measure this false sense of confidence, in order to then be able to cure it. This way, we will be able to turn our intuition into strength again.

Hans’ son, Ola, then states four misconceptions people have about the world and then demonstrates the counterpart of each misconception, or how people should be thinking. The four misconceptions and their counterparts (shown after the arrow [à]) are the following:

1.     Everything gets worse à most things improve
2.     There are rich and poor à most people are in the middle
3.     First, countries have to be rich in order to get the personal development à first a country had to work on their social aspects, then they will get rich
4.     Sharks are dangerous (meaning: if you are scared of something, you are going to exaggerate) à sharks kill very few

Ola believes that if people change their point of view about the world by looking at the facts, they might be able to understand what is coming in the future.