The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Facts, Problems, and Fears

One of the biggest problems with facts is that they challenge preconceived ideas.

Preconceived ideas are ideas that have been around for a long time and have established themselves through a large presence. They have kept such a presence as problems receive more coverage than their resolutions. For many, the advantage of problems is that they generate attention. This is especially true if the attention can be linked with drama or fear. Once drama or fear in the room, people become interested.

Looking at the way most countries deal with the pandemic we can see where fear is involved. To validate confinement and other measures we’ve had to learn about the danger of the virus. The main focus being that it threatened our health care system. While this threat is real it is intriguing to see how the data we are being shown remains general. Possibly even impacting the ability to coordinate chosen measures with the spaces where there is a pressing need. Verifying where the problem is most present could lead to more efficient usage of fast tests. It could shift the way we allow contacts within the spaces where most deaths continue to occur. But somehow the elderly have moved out of focus. The data shown continues to focus on averages across the population.

We still have a lot to learn about the pandemic and how to best address it. There are no easy solutions. But it does exemplify our use of data and how given ideas quickly lead our thinking.

Hans Rosling was a professor of international health at Karolinska Institute. As a public speaker, he had become well known through his different TED talks. Most invited us to revisit our ideas of the way the world evolved. With his ability to transform data into visuals and stories he also made visible that the global evolution has been much better than currently perceived.

Taking for example his washing machine TED talk he made visible how it had transformed women’s and family life by describing how his grandmother was mesmerized by the first washing machine in their household. At the same time, he made a case that the global availability of washing machines would have less impact on energy consumption than the shift in wealth.

He was able to disconnect fears from problems highlighting the possible.

With his last book, Factfulness he tried to share this understanding on a wider scale. But there is still much work to do. Most people, including media and politicians, continue to misinterpret how well off the world is compared to some 80 years ago.

If you think that you have a better understanding of the basic global facts than everyone else, check it out. The test they made available on the Gapminder Foundation website is eye-opening.

The threats the world is facing continue to be real. But Rosling’s invitation was to localize where the possibilities are. Amplifying problems hide the best possibilities behind our fears.



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