Thursday, 3 December 2015

Facts and Figures.

In the United States another crazy gunman has opened fire on a centre for handicapped people. At least, I think that's what it was. Why? When one of the Planned Parenthood places was attacked last week, someone commented that it would be possible to go some way towards solving the problem of such attacks by having more stringent controls over the sale of guns. Apparently you can buy a gun with minimum security checks. It's possible to walk into a shop and come out five minutes later armed to the teeth. OK! Perhaps I exaggerate a little. Maybe you can't come out with a huge arsenal but you can certainly get a gun more easily than you can get a bank loan! With fewer security checks! Crazy! 

We all have our own crazies, of course. Some of them have a lot of power. In the UK we have a prime minister who goes around calling people who don't want to bomb Syria terrorists or, at best, terrorist sympathisers. There's a desperate urge to be seen to be doing something. Why is stopping to reflect seen as a weakness. 

A French journalist who was held hostage by Islamic State for 10 months, has been asking government leaders not to bomb Syria, saying it was a trap that would only benefit Isis. He maintains that bombing the country is what Isis because it will lead to resentment against the bombers and increase support for them. He says that Isis have set a trap and the governments of the world are falling into it. 

Here is part of what he said: 

“At the moment, with the bombings, we are more likely pushing the people into the hands of Isis. What we have to do, and this is really key, we have to engage the local people. As soon as the people have hope in the political solution, then Islamic State will just collapse. It will have no ground any more. It will collapse.” 

Is anyone listening? 

Mind you, it's hardly surprising that we can't understand other countries and how they work. According to a recent international survey, we all have misconceptions about our own countries. Here are a few: 

In Britain, we think the top 1% wealthiest households own 59% of our country’s wealth, when they actually “only” own 23%. (That's still almost a quarter of the country's wealth!!!) 

Americans think that 33% of their population are immigrants, when in fact it is only 14%. (Unless you count all except the Native American Indians as immigrants!) 

Brazilians think the average age in their country is 56, when it is only 31. 

Russians think that 31% of their politicians are women, when it is only 14%. 

In Britain, we think that an extraordinary 43% of young adults aged 25-34 still live at home with their parents, rather than the actual 14%. 

In India, the online population think 60% of the whole country also has internet access, when in fact only 19% do. 

It seems that these misconceptions are a result of what the psychologists call "emotional innumeracy". And, of course, we also suffer from newspapers exaggerating things (numbers of immigrants flooding in) and our own desire for things to be better than they are (so people in Britain think that 44% of the population is overweight or obese when in fact it is 62%!). 

Will we ever get it right?

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