Things aren't as bad as you think (pt. 1)

The world seems full of hate and violence and awfulness of all hues these days. Except it’s not. Much of it’s only in our heads.

I dedicate this article to anyone who suffers from having a close family member addicted to race-hate inciting fear rag The Daily Mail. I feel your pain.

Gosh, Twitter is angry. And Facebook… Facebook is angry too. And have you seen the news lately? Terrible things are happening. It’s everywhere. We’re surrounded by imminent destruction of everything we hold dear. If you’re not very, very careful, you’ll be murdered or blown up or die of diabetes right now, this very instant.

as a rule, we tend to think that things are much, much worse than they really are

Except, of course, that it’s not true.

Do people do unspeakable things to other people? Yes, of course they do. And there is danger out there, no doubt. But, as a rule, we tend to think that things are much, much worse than they really are. Really. 

Who says?

The Ipsos MORI Perils of Perception survey is one of my favourite surveys (we all have a list, right?). They find out public opinion from 38 countries and compare perceived peril to actual peril (you know, the kind based on actual data). So how good are we at judging how widespread key issues are?

Spoiler: we’re terrible.

Another spoiler: everyone else is terrible too.

Things we think that are terrible which aren’t

MURDER:  75% of Britons think that the murder rate in this country is equal to or higher than it was in the golden, heady days of 2000. This is cobblers. The murder rate has, in fact, fallen by 29% in that time. To put that in context, we could bin 1 in every 3 episodes of Midsomer Murders. Glorious.

TERRORISM: A terrifying 85% of Britons are wrong about this — I mean, terrorism is everywhere these days, right? The majority of people questioned thought that deaths from terrorism in Britain were higher or equal in the past 15 years than in the 15 before that. In fact, they were significantly lower, dropping from more than 300 down to 62 (as of the end of 2016).

FOREIGN BORN PRISONERS: It points to a sadly racist view that we massively overestimate the proportion of our prison population that’s made up of immigrants. Those surveyed guessed that 34% of prisoners were foreign born. In fact, it’s 11.8%, which is funnily enough pretty much the same figure as proportion of immigrants in the overall population. It’s almost as if foreign people aren’t more likely to commit crimes just because they’re different from us. Imagine.

TEENAGE PREGNANCY: We’re massively off on this too. The survey average guess for this was that 1 in 5 girls and women aged 15-19 give birth each year. In fact, it’s 1 in 70.

DIABETES: Now diabetes is a very important medical condition for our society at the moment. But we still overestimate how widespread it is, guessing at 27% of the population. The actual number is about 5%.

HEALTH WOES: On a related note, we think that just over half of people have good health. In fact the number is 74%. We’re just not as sickly as the continuous health scares make us feel we are.

CONNECTIVITY: This is an interesting one… We believe that Britons are more connected technologically than we really are. The survey showed that we think 81% of people have a smartphone, and 74% of people are on Facebook. In reality, only 69% of people have a smartphone and 58% of people have a Facebook account. Though they might have lost a few since Cambridge Analytica.

Next up: Why things are actually better than you think >

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