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A Confused Statistician

November 22, 2013 • Daily Email Recap

A Confused Statistician
Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich

Hans Rosling has been making a splash lately telling people his five pieces of good news that should “upgrade their world view” ( One is that “Fast population growth is coming to an end.” Globally, that may be true, but it is not happening soon, and it certainly isn’t true for countries like Nigeria, Zambia, or Yemen with average family sizes of five or more. Population growth globally is projected to continue for another century, barring some enormous catastrophe. The second item is that “The ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ worlds have gone.” Again, this is partly true but, although the sharp differences of thirty years ago are disappearing, almost half of humanity still live in conditions the average American, Australian, European, or Japanese would find unacceptable. Conservatively, somewhere around 2 billion people are seriously underfed or micronutrient malnourished. The third claim is that “People are much healthier.” Basically that may be true on average, but not in absolute numbers. In 1960, perhaps 1 billion of Earth’s 3 billion people were hungry, and several hundred million others were poorly nourished at best. That’s fewer than the 2 billion in bad health today because of dietary deficiencies, but the proportion of the population in poor health is not very different. Rosling’s fourth claim is that “Girls are getting better education.” True, but it’s far from universal. The fifth, “The end of extreme poverty is in sight” might be true, but more likely is “In this century extreme poverty will be the lot of most of humanity, after civilization collapses.”

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