Understanding the world through a column of statistics

November 11, 2006 | By | 7 Replies More

Bill Moyers wrote that “it has been said that the mark of a truly educated person is to be deeply moved by statistics.” To the extent that this is true, go hither and understand the world through the statistics presented by “Worldometers.”  Lots of thought-provoking statistics kept up to the second (through extrapolation). 

I see that 28,125 people have died of hunger so far today.  Enough people to fill a big stadium, many of them children, dying of something entirely preventable . . .

Very much worth a visit, if you are capable of being “deeply moved by statistics.”

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Category: Culture, Economy, Energy, Statistics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Erika Price says:

    Unfortunately, we have trouble processing and truly picturing a vastly large number of deaths. At some point, a large number of deaths or victims just seems like "a large number" and we can't distinguish much of a difference between a few hundred thousand and a few million when we hear the numbers. For that reason, simplifying such deaths into a daily or hourly rate, a smaller number, tends to humanize tragedy. We should find statistics such as these moving- but much of the way we interpret and respond to statistics lies in the way we see them presented.

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    Erika's comment reminds me of Stalin's famous quote: "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."

    As I recall, the quote referred to the feeling the public has toward war: the first person who dies in a war is seen as a tragedy — it represents the end of diplomacy and the likely start of many more deaths — but, as the war progresses, people lose that sense of individual tragedy and grow numb to the mounting death toll, for the reason Erika mentions. We see this in America, and especially in the White House, with regard to the Iraq invasion. Bush, for example, is far more concerned about avoiding the appearance of failure than about preventing the needless death of more American soldiers. This can only happen after one has depersonalized the death toll from the level of being a tragedy to that of being a statistic — i.e., something that masks the human cost.

  3. Erika Price says:

    Grumpy, for me this post brings to mind two quotes: the Stalin one that you mentioned, and a similar idea expressed by Mel Brooks: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die." Proximity and scope often determine the meaningfulness of facts and events.

  4. grumpypilgrim says:

    Going back to Erich's post…hunger is indeed a global tragedy: if I recall the statistics correctly, about a third of the world's population is starving while about a third is obese; thus, the problem is not one of shortage, but rather of distribution.

  5. Dan Klarmann says:

    Hunger is a more complex issue than either side seems to acknowledge. If you feed a man for a day/week/year/generation, you end up with an exponential growth of hungry people.

    Endemic starvation can be blamed on the juxtaposition of modern medicine and ancient reproductive edicts, keeping too many people alive to mature and then starve as formerly adequate resources are rapidly exceeded.

    Better distribution would help, for a generation or two, and then…?

    Beware sweeping decisions based on a narrow view of statistics. We are presently living well beyond the original Malthusian limit on the back of rapidly depleting oil. Once we run out of fossil-fuel-fertilizer, then what do we eat?

    Even with nuclear fusion, technology is unlikely to provide an answer once we run out of arable land. We need to either find more land (off planet?) or curb our growth (war and plague don't do enough, any more).

  6. Scholar says:

    How do you guys feel about groups like ZPG (Zero Population Growth)? My initial reaction(years ago) was to pass them off as radicals. Now I'm not really sure where I stand, (I don't know enough about the issues at hand), or if there is a "right" answer to overpopulation.

  7. Dan Klarmann says:

    ZPG is now called Population Connection, in order to move the focus from procreation issues to the socio-politics of populations exceeding their support infrastructure.

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