Tim Harford talks to Bobby Duffy about why we are often wrong about a lot of basic facts
United States


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00:00:36dot com slash stats were a few tanks stats to five hundred five hundred hello and welcome to more or less on the BBC world service with the program which celebrates and checks the numbers that surround us in the news and everyday life and I'm Tim Hafid this week
00:00:57I've been talking to Bobbi Duffy the managing director of IT sauce Maurice Social Research institute and the author of a new book the perils of perception why we wrong about nearly everything the book reveals how little so many of us know about the basic facts of our world
00:01:13but was based his book on the research his team of down in forty countries and when we went into the studio he and my disloyal producer had laid a little truck for me Sir I'm just as we were coming in here my producer retellings on that told me
00:01:28that I was going to be tested I did not in fact expect this so you that you're going to test my misperceptions of the well so come on I'm ready I'm ready %HESITATION like this and more so you know I can this is this is risky Chloe this
00:01:41is risky for you to have well you live dangerously as a radio and kids say let's pick one of the ones that Britain comes top of liberal this list on the fifth you better than your your country people site what proportion of the total has a wealth if
00:01:55you think the wealthiest one percent in Britain I E. I'm going to guess that the top one percent own %HESITATION that forty percent of the household well well better than the average Briton and yet and yet very role it's very good illustration of the effects of the the
00:02:22reality is twenty three percent video forty percent guess is competitive fifty nine percent yes among the general public I'm kind I'm so I'm aside this is great on I'm a man of the people I am exactly halfway between reality and what people think this makes for the perfect
00:02:39mate okay to go yeah tell us a little bit about some of the myths misconceptions that you've investigated what whenever you ask what proportion of the population are immigrants in person you will almost always get at least double the estimate that the reality so the realities around thirteen
00:02:57percent in Britain and people was guess about twenty five percent it's kind of keeps coming out but not that sort of levels about twice the reality just met Muslim population the average gas across the whole population is about fifteen percent when it's around five percent in reality and
00:03:14then on teenage pregnancies your guests not and never guess it is often around one in five of teenage girls get pregnant each year when the reality is one point four percent say we are thinking that one in five girls in an old girl class is giving birth Heechee
00:03:35buttons on a mental image of young female population when in fact it is more like morning sixty to one seventeen that's right where where have you been asking these questions and and what what what discoveries stand out well we've done five or six International Studies now and some
00:03:53of them in up to forty countries say we've covered all areas of the globe and also to different questions across each of those and some of the biggest errors were often actually in countries outside Europe and North America so you some of the things that stand out in
00:04:17my mind are incredible pessimism in South Africa about things like trends in murder rates so you we could cause people to compare across all the different countries what's a moderate on time to the moderate in your country now compare to two thousand and across the thirty odd countries
00:04:39that week we'll stay in it actually declined by twenty nine percent about kind of period Bob Holly anyone picked a decline is the at Trent but South Africa stood out because it's actually spots on the average twenty nine percent decline in moderates the average condiment rates is ten
00:05:01times and cross the country looked at is across the country if you looked at and South Africa was spot on the average it is eighty five percent in South Africa through the metal rate had increased over that period son who would it be accurate to say that people
00:05:16are systematically pessimistic not everybody would agree that less immigration is good but I think a lot of the people who asked me to it immigration is very high are worried about immigration I think pretty much everyone would agree low crime is good pretty much everyone would agree that
00:05:34low levels of teenage pregnancy that's a good thing and yet we think that all of these things at a much higher than they really are so is a simple explanation we'll just too gloomy for those subs peasants absolutely that's the crux of the explanation and the cleanest comes
00:05:50from a very deep in built bias that we have to focus on the negative information eve tested people's perceptions against reality in countries all over the world do we all universally get the same kind of things wrong for the same reason or are that patent you can spot
00:06:11in the kind of things that the people mistake their patterns in terms of which countries tend to get things more right and which countries tend to get things more wrong say the countries that are most wrong most often going to an index that we created our Italy and
00:06:30the U. S. and the country's most often correct %HESITATION closest office Sweden and Germany so why why are they doing frankly I looked at everything that I could find a national level type of media type of day to provision education levels outcomes all of those types of things
00:06:49and that is one person that is related which is an index and also came up with on emotional expressiveness which is the extent to which you kind of raise your voice in argument so you touch other people when you're talking with the lawful in conversations about kind of
00:07:07how I'm thinking the Italians versus the Swedes exactly and I'm not correlated with misperceptions yes people express themselves an emotional ways and that is correlated with wrong about the world detail telling collection seriously like I do in the sense of I technically these correlations make point very cleaning
00:07:25but there's lots of spurious correlation it be really careful with this is a causation point not one of the most important explanations of people's misperceptions %HESITATION reported misperceptions is something called emotional and university within the books say this is this is the idea that when I say that
00:07:45immigration is twice its actual level when I answer that question I got two goals ago a accuracy gold or I'm trying to get the right answer also go a directional goal there on sending a message about what's worrying me I'm I've weather and complete conscious about %HESITATION not
00:08:02my concern because he's my Everest the me as much as my address them causing my concern cause and effect run in both directions of I think something is an issue I'm gonna think it's big %HESITATION I'm gonna give you a big number for it to the extent that
00:08:18I'm on misperceptions up up reporting misperceptions are part of an emotional reaction see on particularly worried about immigration or the Muslim population in the country %HESITATION teenage pregnancy and I will give a big concert and and find more emotionally expressive than I'm likely to exaggerate more in this
00:08:37season so the intuition I've got here is that when an Italian says %HESITATION immigration is we have the other half the population immigrants what I should be imagining is this is the kind of statistical equivalence of waving your arms around the gesticulating in an excited fashion and or
00:08:51is the Swedes are just a Germans just keeping it buttoned up and and and so they don't exaggerate in the same way because yeah maybe hopefully I mean that that's the image I have to and I think about is exactly that and I realize you need to careful
00:09:04with that correlation there was literally nothing else that's very well correlated across these different countries is any sort of expression partly because he hoped to get decent data country level about how opinion politics is how list you leaders are contempt of giving extreme messages all of all of
00:09:23those type things are very difficult Bobbi Duffy off the off the perils of perception that is all we have time for but if you'd like to know a little more about a statistic you see or hear do please send us an email but more or less at B.
00:09:38B. C. dot CIO dot UK we will be back next week until then goodbye

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