🟪 Good Friday Charts

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"This tendency to overemphasize the negative can have an impact on the choices that people make and the risks that they are willing to take."

- Daniel Kahneman (March 5, 1934 – March 27, 2024)

Good Friday Charts

We humans suffer from a well-documented "negativity bias" that systematically gives us an overly gloomy impression of the state of things.

This psychological quirk affects our lives both collectively and individually, as the great Daniel Kahneman (who passed away this week at the age of 90), noted in books like Thinking Fast and Slow and Noise. Our bias toward negativity leads to unwarranted pessimism, apathy and a reluctance to address real problems.

Reading Kahneman’s work will help fight those tendencies, but people (myself included) don’t like to read much more than about 1,000 words at a time (hence the average length of this newsletter). Kahneman’s books, although eminently readable, are a lot longer than that.

Fortunately, the real antidote to negativity bias is not reading — specifically, not reading the news.

The self-declared "possibilist" Hans Rosling found that the people who read the news most frequently have the lowest opinion of the world. 

You might be thinking, duh! That’s because all the news is bad!

But this is exactly the problem — nearly all the news is bad, but only because it’s the bad things that make the news.

There’s a lot of good news in the world, too. 

But good news isn’t, well, news, as the economist Bryan Caplan explains in making his convincing case that both you and the world would be better off if you consumed no news at all.

Newsletters, however, remain a force for good, of course, because they are more likely to report the good news. 

There’s been a lot to report lately!

For example: Non-opiod pain killers are coming, AI is spotting cancers that doctors miss, nature’s all-important bees are plentiful, new weight-loss drugs could add 1% to US GDP, US life expectancy is rising again, hand transplants are now a thing, underground delivery might soon be a thing, life-extension science may soon let you live an extra 50 years and it’s safe to have kids because climate change is probably solvable.  

That’s only a random sampling, of course, there’s much, much more to be found — and even better, some of it comes with charts!

So let’s finish the week with some good things to look at.

Generational progress:

Contrary to popular perception, the data shows that each generation (in the US, at least) continues to be economically better off than the previous one.

The tide is turning in the war against our phones:

Recent data shows that we are capable of breaking our social media habits (but follow me on X and Farcaster). Now we just need to break our news habit. 

Back to the future:

A new discovery is that adding sails to cargo ships saves 3 tons of fuel per day.

Deforestation is declining:

The rate of deforestation in the Amazon fell 50% in 2023. It’s not yet what we need (reforestation), but the news there is at least less bad.

AI to the rescue: 

I don’t know what this infographic means, but I know it’s great news because I found it in a report on how AI has discovered the first new class of antibiotics in decades. The seemingly unsolvable crisis of antibiotic resistance suddenly looks solvable.

The good old economic days are now:

Last week, Jensen Huang predicted that AI would usher in a "new industrial revolution." US data suggests it may already be underway.

The best news:

There is of course still too much poverty in the world, but there’s a lot less than there used to be — there’s also a lot more than there will be: "The history of global poverty reduction has only just begun."

India has recently been leading the way:

The poverty rate in rural India has fallen from 70% to 20% in just two decades.

The good news needs reporting:

Surveys indicate that only 5% of Americans are aware that global poverty has been falling. I blame the news.

"A single cockroach will completely wreck the appeal of a bowl of cherries," Daniel Kahneman writes, "but a cherry will do nothing at all for a bowl of cockroaches."

The news has been showing us all of the cockroaches and none of the cherries, and it’s making the world look much less appetizing than it is.

The world isn’t only cherries, of course, but if you go looking for them, you might be surprised at how many there are to be found.

Have a great weekend, positively-biased readers.

Byron Gilliam

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