Ordinary mortals cannot take the isolated numbers scattered throughout thousands of news "stories" and put them together into a complete quantitative picture of the world. What do these numbers mean on a level humans can actually understand (e.g. per capita)? How do they relate to other statistics? And the most pressing question in my mind is, why doesn't the media put their numbers in a meaningful context?
The following is the sort of thing I'm talking about -- the sort of thing I never expect to see on the 6 o'clock news:
|Global Spending Priorities:||in $US billions:|
|Basic education for everyone in the world||6|
|Cosmetics in the United States||8|
|Water and sanitation for everyone in the world||9|
|Ice cream in Europe||11|
|Reproductive health for all women in the world||12|
|Perfumes in Europe and the United States||12|
|Basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world||13|
|Pet foods in Europe and the United States||17|
|Business entertainment in Japan||35|
|Cigarettes in Europe||50|
|Alcoholic drinks in Europe||105|
|Narcotics drugs in the world||400|
|Military spending in the world||780|
The topic of global priorities has been weighing on my mind recently, because I know they are all messed up, yet no one seems to notice. Everybody--reporters, politicians, and every kind of activist--likes to quote big scary numbers, without saying how they compare to all the other big scary numbers. Hunger activists know that enormous numbers of people are dying of malnutrition every day, and how much must be spent to put a dent in that problem. Water activists know how many people are getting sick from unsanitary water and how much might need to be spent to make a difference in that area. And Cancer activists know how many people are dying of cancer, though probably having no idea how much it will cost to find a cure. And Iraq debators on both sides know how much the U.S. spend on the war, and how many U.S. soldiers are dying (although the body count of 'liberated' civilians seems rather less well-known.)
Anyway, for some reason, these activists never get together and figure out what issues are in most dire need of solving. There are lots of people looking at a big picture, but very few looking at the biggest picture: the global priorities, the global proportions, the global disparities and this global disaster that we live in, but are largely unaware of.
I would like to see more global-scale comparisons between different issues. I hope you would, too.
P.S. Another problem with numbers in the media is that sources are often omitted. Sometimes I wonder how trustworthy the stated number are. Even knowing the source, reliability is difficult for an individual to determine. However, I have no solution to propose for that problem.
- (U.S.) National Priorities Project