About me
Archive
About me

Weekend read: You’re wrong

Hans Rosling, the popular Swedish medical statistician, does a great line in pointing out the degree to which most people’s perceptions of the world are just plain wrong. My short recommended read for this weekend is much the same sort of thing, but based on a very recent survey.

Businessman wearing a dunce hat

This month, Ipsos MORI has been conducting a 14-country survey to find out people’s perceptions of the make-up of their populations and the scale of social problems. On most questions, the population of each country was way out of whack with reality. My recommended read is Zach Wener-Fligner’s snappy blog post about some of the key findings – but if you have time, it’s worth exploring some of the detail of the survey on the Ipsos MORI site, too.

Or if you haven’t got the time for that, here’s an infographic they put together with some interesting findings:

perils-of-perception-infographic_lightbox

 

Of course, there are lots of interesting implications here for democracy and social norming, and some interesting thoughts about responsibility, too. Though, before getting into this, we should take a moment to recognise that Great Britain did pretty well in the survey ranking, for all that we criticise ourselves for this sort of thing.

When articles have been published about similar surveys in the past, many commentators have reacted by blaming the media. I disagree: I don’t think that non-Public-Service media has any implicit responsibility to inform the electorate. I think their responsibility is to their shareholders, and if distorting the truth without breaking the law increases profit, then sobeit.

This is why Public Service media is so important, and so valuable. Public Service media outlets should, indeed, have a responsibility for educating and informing. This is a difficult task against the torrent of inaccurate information from elsewhere, especially when those outlets choose to pursue large audiences at the same time as giving entirely accurate information. I would challenge the existing industry assumption that Public Service media should obtain a large audience. Does it matter how many people consume BBC News, for example, provided it is understood to be a reliable source in times of uncertainty?

But then, I guess, there’s a reasonable counter-argument that if it doesn’t pursue an audience, the widely understood social narrative will likely deviate further from reality.

It’s a complicated problem – and shouting about the Daily Mail doesn’t help.

This 2,281st post was filed under: Weekend Reads, .

Ebola and big data: Call for help

This Economist article on the potential use of mobile phone tracking data in the West African Ebola outbreak us quite interesting. I’m not nearly expert enough to make any meaningful commentary on how useful or otherwise such data would be, but it seems unhelpful for networks to block data sharing.

But – and here’s the rub – there’s a really distracting logical flaw in the middle of the article. The Leader claims that tracking based on incomplete mobile phone data is “better than simulations based on unreliable statistics”.  Yet the Leader also describes the mobile phone data as incomplete and imperfect, which means it, too, will be a simulation based on unreliable statistics. And, besides, if they’re bemoaning the lack of availability of the data in the first place, how do they have the foggiest clue as to whether it will be better or worse?

I expect better from Economist Leaders!

This 2,280th post was filed under: News and Comment, Rants, , .

Weekend read: Supermarkets aren’t dying

My recommended read for this weekend is by food critic Jay Rayner, and was published a couple of weeks ago in The Guardian. I think they would have been better holding it back until this week: as Tesco’s profits drop precipitously, too many commentators have said ridiculous things about the future of supermarkets in general, and Rayner’s article provides a nice counterbalance.

Buying food

With my public health hat on, I would’ve liked Rayner to include some commentary in his article on the hygiene standards supermarkets have introduced to the supply chain, and the way that this has improved food safety to a level never previously achieved in the history of humanity. But he makes a good case without it, and it is refreshing to see The Guardian, of all the newspapers, celebrating the achievements of supermarkets for once.

This 2,279th post was filed under: Weekend Reads, , .

Weekend read: Consequences of surviving a lightning strike

My recommended read for this week is The Body Electric by Ferris Jabr in Outside.

As it turns out, lightning strikes are commoner than one might think, and the odds of surviving are pretty good. But there are bizarre, under-researched and under-explained after effects associated with survival.

Lightening over Manhattan

In his article, Jabr interviews some of the 500-a-year US survivors of lightning strikes, and explores several of the after-effects. It’s a really absorbing story, almost all of which was new to me. The only thing I remember from medical school about lightning strikes is the distinctive skin marking but I have learn from microcurrent machine reviews that people use this machine to help with this a reduce a little the impact on the skin. This article made me wonder whether I should have been taught more – but then, probably as a result of the more temperate UK climate, human lightning strikes are rather less common here than in the US.

Anyway, it’s well worth a read.

This 2,278th post was filed under: Health, Weekend Reads, , .


The content of this site is copyright protected by a Creative Commons License, with some rights reserved. All trademarks, images and logos remain the property of their respective owners. The accuracy of information on this site is in no way guaranteed. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author. No responsibility can be accepted for any loss or damage caused by reliance on the information provided by this site. This site uses cookies - click here for more information.