Seven Surprising Truths about the World

A lot of the bad news you think you know is wrong.


Did you know that the incidence of cancer in the United States has been declining for nearly 20 years? That the spread of pornography correlates with a decline in rape? That average IQs are going up substantially all around the world? These are just some of the truths that are well-known to the scholars who study those subjects but generally come as a surprise to even the best-educated among us.

As reason reflects on how the world has changed since the magazine's founding in May 1968, here are seven surprising pieces of unalloyed good news.

Cancer Rates Are Going Down

A 2007 American Cancer Society poll found that seven out of 10 Americans believed that the risk of dying from cancer is going up. In fact, not only have cancer death rates been declining steeply, age-adjusted cancer incidence rates have been falling for nearly two decades. That is, in nearly any age group, fewer Americans are actually coming down with cancer.

Advances in modern medicine have increased the five-year survival rates of cancer patients from 50 percent in the 1970s to 68 percent today. That much you might expect. More surprising is that the incidence of cancer has been falling about 0.6 percent per year since 1994. That may not sound like much, but as John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, explains, "in recent years, about 100,000 people each year who would have died had cancer rates not declined are living to celebrate another birthday."

Why is cancer becoming more rare? Largely because fewer Americans are smoking, more are having colonoscopies in which polyps that might become cancerous are removed, and many women stopped hormone replacement therapy in the early 2000s, all behaviors that prevent the onset of cancer. Advances in genetic screening for cancer risks will further reduce cancer incidence as empowered patients take preventive actions like actress Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy, which reduced her lifetime risk of heritable breast cancer from around 90 percent to 5 percent.

 The news is not all good. Rising levels of obesity have been associated with increases in cancers of the kidneys, esophagus, pancreas, and elsewhere. But falling mortality and incidence rates do indicate real progress in the War on Cancer.

More Porn, Less Rape 

Over the past two decades, as pornography has become much more easily accessible over the Internet, the rate of rape and sexual assault has declined by about 60 percent, according to the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). 

The BJS conducts an annual National Crime Victimization survey of more than 100,000 households, asking if anyone has been the victim of various crimes in the past year. In 1995, the rape/sexual assault rate was reported as 5 per 1,000 American women over age 12. In 2011, the rate had fallen to 1.8 rapes/sexual assaults per 1,000. 

Meanwhile access to pornography has dramatically increased. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of a fast Internet connection must be in want of some porn," the journalist Sebastian Anthony joked last year on the website Extremetech. Dozens of porn platforms are among the top 500 sites in terms of traffic, according to Google's Doubleclick Ad Planner. The largest, Xvideos, draws 4.4 billion page views per month—three times more than CNN or ESPN, and twice as many as Reddit.

A comprehensive 2009 review in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior by the Texas A&M International University psychologist Christopher Ferguson and the University of Texas at San Antonio criminologist Richard Hartley concluded that easy access to porn does not cause rape. "Considered together, the available data about pornography consumption and rape rates in the United States seem to rule out a causal relationship," Ferguson and Hartley wrote in their summary of the academic literature. "One could even argue that the available research and self-reported and official statistics might provide evidence for the reverse effect; the increasing availability of pornography appears to be associated with a decline in rape."

The Clemson economist Todd Kendall, in a 2006 study supported by the National Bureau of Economic Research, concluded that "Internet access appears to be a substitute for rape; in particular, the results suggest that a 10 percentage point increase in internet access is associated with a decline in reported rape victimization of around 7.3 percent." Kendall found that "there is no statistically significant relationship between internet access and any individual FBI index crime (other than rape), including murder, robbery, aggravated assault, robbery, larceny, and auto theft." Crime rates are plummeting all over, but it's only rape that appears to be pegged to online connectivity.

Longer Life Expectancy Stops Population Growth

An exciting convergence between demography and evolutionary theory is shedding considerable light on why people the world over are having fewer children. It turns out that the longer people can expect to live, the fewer children they have. In fact, if current fertility trends continue, world population could well top out in the middle of this century at between 8 and 9 billion, then begin to decline.

A fascinating study by the University of Connecticut anthropologists Nicola Bulled and Richard Sosis looks at life expectancy and fertility rates in 193 countries. In the October 2010 issue of Human Nature, they report that "when life expectancy is high, educational attainment is also high, reproductive timing is delayed, and overall reproduction reduced."

The University of Michigan ecologist Bobbi Low and her colleagues have found that once women can expect to live past age 60, they begin to have their first child later in life and have fewer children overall. Longer life expectancy is also correlated with more education for women.

Bulled and Sosis report a similar finding: Women who live in countries where life expectancy is below 50 years bear an average of 5.5 children. When life expectancy is between 50 and 60, they bear an average of 4.8 children. The big drop occurs when they can expect to live between 60 and 70 years, in which case women have about 2.5 children on average. The decline continues if women expect to live between 70 and 75 years to 2.2 children, and falls to just 1.75 children if they can expect to live older than 75.

The United Nations World Population Prospects 2010 Revision reported that world average life expectancy for women is now 70 years. Global average life expectancy in 1960 was 52 years and the total fertility rate was about 5 children per woman. As life expectancy keeps rising, average total fertility today has fallen to a world average of 2.36 children per woman, just slightly above the 2.1 replacement rate.

People Everywhere Are Getting Smarter

About half of Americans two generations ago would have been diagnosed as mentally retarded based on today's IQ tests.

In 1980, the New Zealand political scientist James Flynn discovered that average IQs in many countries have been drifting upward at about 3 points per decade over the past couple of generations. In fact, the average has risen by an astonishing 15 points in the last 50 years in the United States. In other words, a person with an average IQ of 100 today would score 115 on a 1950s IQ test, and a person of average IQ today would have been in approximately the top 15 percent of same-age scorers 50 years ago. If the average American kid were to take the first Stanford-Binet IQ test from 1932, she would score about 124 points today.

"This means that on an IQ test made in 1930 the average score of the entire population would give an IQ between 120 and 130 according to the original standardization," the Hungarian technologist Kristóf Kovács explains. So "instead of 2 percent, 35–50 percent of the population would have an IQ above 130. And vice versa; if the current standard was applied to people living in 1930, average IQ would be between 70 and 80, and instead of 2 percent, 35–50 percent would be diagnosed with mental retardation." 

What accounts for this massive increase in IQ scores? Researchers have suggested a panoply of causes, including better nutrition, exposure to more mentally challenging media, and more formal schooling, but my favorite is the reduced load of infectious childhood diseases.

A fascinating study published in the June 2010 Proceedings of the Royal Society by the University of New Mexico biologist Christopher Eppig and his colleagues finds an intriguing correlation between the average IQ of a country's citizens and the intensity with which they suffer from parasites and infectious diseases. The authors note that the brains of newborns burn up 87 percent of infants' metabolic energy; 5-year-old brains use 44 percent; and adult brains consume 25 percent of the body's energy. Mobilizing the immune system to fight off diseases and parasites is very metabolically expensive, diverting nutrients and energy that would otherwise be used to fuel the building and maintenance of the human brain. If this analysis is substantially correct, then promoting public health also promotes higher IQs.

The new study reports, "Infectious disease remains the most powerful predictor of average national IQ when temperature, distance from Africa, gross domestic product per capita and several measures of education are controlled for. These findings suggest that the Flynn effect may be caused in part by the decrease in the intensity of infectious diseases as nations develop."

The converse of this research should find a correlation between higher average IQs and increasing allergy and asthma rates. Allergy and asthma rates are hypothesized to be on the rise because children's immune systems, no longer challenged by infections, have become oversensitive, attacking the bodies they are supposed to protect. Myopia also correlates with higher IQ scores; U.S. myopia rates in people ages 12 to 54 increased from 25 percent in 1971–72 to 41.6 percent in 1999–2004. But higher IQ correlates with better health and longer lives, less propensity to commit crimes, and higher income (although not greater than average personal wealth). 

Trade Creates Jobs and Makes People Richer

Benjamin Franklin once declared, "No country was ever ruined by trade." Franklin believed that the free exchange of products across borders was good for everybody, "even seemingly the most disadvantageous." But in the 21st century, many voters and the politicians they elect believe the opposite. Being open to trade, people fear, allows rapacious corporations to "ship jobs overseas."

A March 2011 European Economic Review study forthrightly asks the question: Does exposure to international trade create or destroy jobs? The answer strongly backs Franklin's observation. "A 10 percent increase in total trade openness reduces aggregate unemployment by about three quarters of one percentage point," the authors conclude. Simply put: Trade creates jobs. 

Trade openness is generally measured by adding together the value of a country's exports and imports, then dividing that sum by total gross domestic product (GDP). In other words, the higher a country's volume of international trade, the higher its degree of trade openness. So the U.S. GDP in 2010 was roughly $15 trillion in 2010; exports and imports combined totaled just over $4 trillion, yielding a trade openness index figure of around 27 percent.

Why does free trade create more jobs? The European Economic Review study suggests that freer trade boosts overall productivity, enabling companies to hire more workers. Trade enhances competition, which weeds out inefficient firms and allows more productive ones to expand. As the average efficiency of firms in a country increases, they can earn more revenues by boosting production. And that leads to hiring additional workers. 

Trade openness also improves the lives and livelihoods of women. A 2012 study by two German economists, Niklas Potrafke of the University of Munich and Heinrich Ursprung of Konstanz University, examined the relationship: "Observing the progress of globalization for almost one hundred developing countries at ten year intervals starting in 1970, we find that economic and social globalization exert a decidedly positive influence on the social institutions that reduce female subjugation and promote gender equality."

A 2005 study in World Development by the London School of Economics economists Eric Neumayer and Indra De Soysa found that "countries that are more open towards trade and/or have a higher stock of foreign direct investment also have a lower incidence of child labor." Openness to trade also correlates with higher school attendance rates. This finding suggests that legislation such as the recent bill proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) restricting imports made using child labor would actually backfire, forcing kids to work at less secure and less well-paying jobs in the informal sector. 

Trade openness is additionally coupled with higher per capita incomes. In 2009, economists Vlad Manole of the Conference Board in New York and Mariana Spatareanu of Rutgers devised a trade restriction index to probe the degree of trade protection in the economies of 131 countries using data between 1990 and 2004. They found that "a 1 percent decrease in trade restrictiveness leads to an approximately 0.3 percent increase in income per capita."

So why do people, especially politicians, believe that freer trade increases unemployment, hurts women and children, and reduces incomes? The 19th century French economist Frederic Bastiat explained this sort of disheartening policy myopia in his brilliant essay, "What is Seen and What is Not Seen." People tend to focus on the seen consequences of a policy, such as competition from trade eliminating some jobs at relatively inefficient companies. And they miss the unseen benefits, such as the new jobs that result from increased average productivity.

The protectionist politics that follow from this misdiagnosis mean that a few seen workers get to keep their jobs while a much larger number of unseen jobs never get created in the first place. Meanwhile, the same laws make other Americans worse off by forcing them to spend more, because they are denied access to less expensive imports.

Local Biodiversity Is Increasing

Ascension Island is about as isolated as a piece of land can get, sitting in the Atlantic Ocean about midway between Africa and South America. When the British claimed authority over the uninhabited, barren hunk of stone in the early 19th century, it was frequently likened to a "cinder" or a "ruinous heap of rocks." The new owners named Ascension's central peak White Mountain, after the color of the bare rocks of which it was composed.

In 1846, botanist John Hooker from the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew visited and decided to try transplanting a wide variety of plants onto the island. A century and a half later, the result has been an "accidental rainforest." White Mountain, now renamed Green Mountain, is covered with an extensive cloud forest consisting of guava, banana, wild ginger, bamboo, the Chinese glory bower and Madagascan periwinkle, Norfolk Island pine, and eucalyptus from Australia. Because of the man-made micro-climate, what used to be a desert island now features several permanent streams.

Ascension Island undercuts the conventional ecological wisdom that tropical rainforests are supposed to take millions of years to form. And what happened on Ascension has been happening all around the world, as people have moved thousands of species from their native habitats to new locales, increasing species richness. Wherever human beings have gone in the past two centuries, we have increased local and regional biodiversity.

Yet "the popular view [is] that diversity is decreasing at local scales," the Brown biologist Dov Sax and the University of California–Santa Barbara biologist Steven Gaines report in a 2003 article for Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Sax and his University of New Mexico colleague James Brown point out in a 2007 roundtable in Conservation that "North America presently has more terrestrial bird and mammal species than when the first Europeans arrived five centuries ago."

While some introduced species do outcompete natives and contribute to their extinction, that phenomenon is relatively rare. On the whole, the actual number of species in any given area has tended to increase. For example, New Zealand's 2,000 native plant species have been joined by 2,000 from elsewhere, doubling the plant biodiversity of its islands. Meanwhile, only three species of native plants have gone extinct. In California, an additional 1,000 new species of vascular plants have joined the 6,000 native species in the Golden State, while just 40 species have gone extinct. Similar increases in plant diversity can be seen around the globe.

The species that have become extinct and are most in danger of extinction are those that dwell in isolated habitats such as oceanic islands or freshwater streams. In a 2008 article for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sax and Gaines note that thousands of oceanic bird species went extinct as Polynesians spread across the Pacific bringing not only themselves but hungry rats. Nevertheless, they point out, the overall species richness of the plant life on Pacific islands has increased considerably, and bird species richness has remained about the same, since the number of extinctions has been balanced by a number of new species moving in.

Mammalian and freshwater species richness has dramatically increased on Pacific islands as well—it was much harder for animals like rats, pigs, deer, lizards, frogs, catfish, and trout to colonize islands on their own. In addition, while some freshwater species in continental streams and lakes have gone extinct, most now harbor more species than they did before. Hawaii is, for example, home to more than 2,500 new species of invertebrates.

In many cases, the newcomers may actually benefit the natives. In a 2010 review article in the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, the Rutgers ecologist Joan Ehrenfeld reported that rapidly accumulating evidence from many introduced species of plants and animals shows that they improve ecosystem functioning by increasing local biomass and speeding up the recycling of nutrients and energy. For example, zebra mussels are very effective filter feeders that have helped clear up the polluted waters of the Great Lakes enough to permit native lake grasses and other plants to flourish.

"Imagine that an alien scientist from outer space were to visit both New Zealand and Great Britain," write Sax and Gaines. "Would this individual be able to distinguish which species are native and exotic, and would it be able to demonstrate that invaders have caused more damage or disruption to ecological processes than natives?" The answer to both questions is no.

Markets Make People Nicer

In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx thundered that the bourgeoisie and the markets that allow them to prosper "left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous 'cash payment.'?" In other words, markets destroy fellow-feeling, turning human beings into cold, cruel calculators. But recent research on how 15 small-scale societies play certain canonical economic games suggests that simply isn't so.

The societies investigated by the economists and anthropologists organized as the MacArthur Foundation's Norms and Preferences Network ranged from hunter-gatherers to slash-and-burn horticulturalists on five continents. To probe these societies' attitudes toward sharing and fairness, the researchers had their members play several games. One of these is called the Ultimatum Game. In it, researchers provisionally allot a divisible pie ($10, say) to one player. This player, the "proposer," offers a portion of the pie to the second subject, the "responder." The responder, who knows both the offer and the total amount of the pie, chooses to either accept or reject the offer. If the responder accepts, he or she gets the amount offered and the proposer gets the remainder. If the responder rejects the offer, neither player receives anything.

Rationally speaking, one might expect that the proposer would offer as little as possible ($1, say) and that the responder would never reject an offer because, after all, one dollar is better than nothing. Yet in hundreds of experiments in nearly two dozen countries, subjects rarely act in that purely self-interested way. In modern societies, the most frequent amount offered by proposers is 50 percent, and responders commonly reject offers under a third. After examining a number of different explanations, most researchers have concluded that those choices are based on the players' sense of what is fair. Since these experiments are usually conducted using western undergraduates, the Preference Network researchers wondered if the results would hold true across societies.

The experimenters offered participants the equivalent of a day or two's wages in their societies. The researchers found that the average offers from proposers ranged from a low of 26 percent to a high of 58 percent and that the most frequent offers ranged from 15 percent to 50 percent. Some groups, such as the Machiguenga and Quichua in South America and the Hadza in Africa, offered around 25 percent of the pie. The most frequent offer from the Machiguenga proposers was 15 percent. Only one Machiguenga responder rejected such a low offer.

Societies like the Machiguenga and Hadza, which deal with few outsiders and are not economically dependent on people other than close kin, turn out to be the stingiest players. The Orma in Africa and the Achuar in South America, who are more integrated into markets, tend to play more like the western undergraduates. "The higher the degree of market integration and the higher the payoffs of cooperation, the greater the level of prosociality found in experimental games," the researchers found.

Herbert Gintis, co-director of the Preference Network team, speculates that markets bring strangers into contact on a regular basis, encouraging people to develop more concern for others beyond their family and immediate neighbors. Instead of parochialism, being integrated into markets encourages a spirit of ecumenism. "Extensive market interactions may accustom individuals to the idea that interactions with strangers may be mutually beneficial," the researchers theorize. "By contrast, those who do not customarily deal with strangers in mutually advantageous ways may be more likely to treat anonymous interactions as hostile, threatening, or occasions for opportunistic pursuit of self-interest."

Markets teach participants the habits of cooperation, trust, and fairness. Based on his research, Gintis argues that history traces humanity's ascent from tribal selfishness to more cosmopolitan liberality. "Market societies give rise to more egalitarianism and movements toward democracy, civil liberties, and civil rights," Gintis argues. "Market societies and democratic societies are practically co-extensive." And they are more generous too.  

NEXT: Obama Calls for Calm After George Zimmerman Verdict

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  1. Yeah, the world is pretty much getting better in every possible way over time. But that doesn’t sell newspapers (what does anymore?) and it certainly doesn’t make for prime television. Maybe it’s a good thing, though. If most people think the world is getting worse, they might try harder to make it better.

    1. Pretty much. The last decade was the greatest in human history, and it isn’t even close. Per capita GDP grew by something like 10% per year. Thanks largely the fall of communism and neoliberal reforms/globalization, I might add.

    2. “Yeah, the world is pretty much getting better in every possible way over time.”

      If you read more than newspapers, you might not be so quick to jump to conclusions. According to the FAO in all human history, there have never been so many people suffering from malnutrition as there are today. There most recent estimates (2007) are 923 million people, an increase of 80 million over their 1992 estimate. Never saw these figures trumpeted in the press, maybe we should be speaking of 8 surprising truths.

      1. 1. There have never been as many human beings alive at one time as there are today. As such, we can have a lower percentage of humanity with malnutrition and still have more people with malnutrition than any arbitrary point in the past.

        2. I bet that stat is bullshit, completely dependent on some really inclusive criteria for ‘malutrition’.

        1. “As such, we can have a lower percentage of humanity with malnutrition”

          We could indeed. I don’t have the numbers on hand, so I’m not sure if that is the case. Even so, I was surprised to learn that the number of people suffering malnutrition in the world today is greater than any other time in human history.

          You mention that there have never been more people throughout world history. You could also mention that food production has never been higher. This makes my figure even more surprising. Both food production and malnutrition have never been higher.

          Sorry Agammon, I don’t bet with people who don’t use their real name. Credibility issues.

  2. If everybody’s getting smarter, why is our politics getting stupider?

    1. I blame the media

      1. Ding ding ding! Correct!

      2. Ding ding ding! Correct!

    2. Some of the most intelligent people I have known have been imbeciles when it comes to politics.

      Intelligent!=Smart, but we’re always reminded by the chattering classes that it is.

      1. This. Some of the most intelligent people I have known, and some of the most otherwise rational people I have known, have had blind spots for some pet issue, often political or religious. I’ve heard blitheringly stupid arguments from people who, but for that blind spot, ought to have known better (and no, I’m not going to claim that I’ve never done the same thing). I’ve read some speculation that there used to be an evolutionary advantage in unquestioningly following the Top Men.

        1. My buddy is smart. Earns high income in sales. Over $180 000. Yet, he’s “not complaining” about the high marginal tax rates. He babbles on about using all the left-wing buzz words like “consumerism” and shit like that and that ‘deregulation’ has ruined capitalism and so on.

          The consumerism angle lost a bit of its edge after he bought himself an $8000 Rolex.

          So yeah, it doesn’t correlate.

      2. Intelligence and common sense are two different beast. I know some very intelligent people that lack any and all common sense when it comes to politics and things associated with politics.

    3. The other question would be why does higher IQ not seem to translate to more common sense?

      1. High IQ = Less Religion.

        The more secular countries (US, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia) are more prosperous.

        1. Hahahahahahahahaha.

        2. I hate when atheists are anti-religous. That is a big part of why I am not openly atheist. I don’t want to be associated with the clowns who are intolerant of religion.

          1. Then you hate it when the topic is discussed by one side – see Sam Harris.

            It must be discussed to understand how the world works.

            Dawkins and Harris are doing the world a great service.

            1. You can be a-religious without being anti-religious.

              1. A narrow definition of ‘religion’ is what fools like buttface use to justify their own beliefs.

                Buttface’s religion is worship of the state. He/she is as blind to the contradictions of his faith in the state as any religion is in their beliefs.

            2. Harris is a jackass that makes all us atheists look bad. It figures you would like that douchebag.

          2. An important point of atheism is feeling intellectually superior to those of religious beliefs, which is why people like Palin’s butthole feel the need to chime in with High IQ = Less Religion.

            1. Not all atheists are anti-religion.

              1. Exactly. I am atheist. My wife is catholic. I am more than willing to escort her to church on Sundays. She is more than willing to not push her beliefs on me. I love her and respect her for the things we share and our differences. She gives me the same love and respect.

          3. I hate when atheists are anti-religous.

            If only.

            Most athiests replace sky-daddy religious beliefs with even stupider ones, like various flavors of socialism, or new age mysticism.

            1. Most atheists are quiet about it because the vocal anti-religious assholes give a bad name to those of us who simply lack faith.

              1. What category do atheists who take people to court for “my feelings were hurt by public display of ‘x'” fall?

            2. Citation needed, VG.

            3. Oh, and mysticism is a form of religion.

          4. I understand your point, but I’m tired of having to pretend I don’t find religion ridiculous. I don’t inject it into conversation, but if it’s brought up I’ll state my mind. Why should I give religion special consideration that I don’t give liberals or conservatives?

            1. I have the same level of disgust for evangelicals that won’t take a polite no thank you. I find is distasteful to discount a person just because they have a system of faith. I don’t feel the need to spread my lack of faith but if I did I would like to think I would do it in a respectful manner of others beliefs.

          5. I wish someone would notice and mention the difference between “not believe” and “believe not.”

        3. How do you figure? IQ measurements are all about cognitive ability. Science tends to replace faith, but you can easily have faith with high cognitive ability. The drop in religion does correlate with kids getting more schooling in some countries. Is that what you are talking about?

        4. You could have fooled me about those supposedly secular countries being prosperous because of some magic lack of religious fervor. I see daily proof of the fanatical religious fervor of the political and intellectual classes in these secular countries. These clows are the biggest religious fanatics of all with their adherence to the teachings of the cult of AGW…

          1. They still have religious fervor, but it’s not oriented towards (traditional) religion any more. Instead it’s oriented towards crap like AGW or environmentalism or PETA or etc.

        5. High IQ = Less Religion Buttplug.

          Hi shreeky.


      2. I think it is because even the most intelligent people rest their reasoning and beliefs on a lot of unproven assumptions. When you are dealing with such a complex thing as human interactions, it is impossible to base everything on obvious facts. And then people make mental leaps in making judgements about things, fail to see all of the consequences of something and just go with what feels right emotionally. I think that everyone probably does all of this a lot more than they would like to think.

        1. There’s also the sourc I of information they base their opinions on. Garbage in, garbage out as they say.

          1. Yeah, definitely that too.

        2. Or is also important to note that understanding reality is often hard, and reality is indifferent to our attempts at understanding it. That and the fact that even the most rational among us is using mental shortcuts all the time in order to function in life, and the stupidity of or world makes some sense. Most of our supposed rationality is emotional decision making post hoc justified by rationalizations. I come to this site, not because it doesn’t happen here, but because it happens less here than other places.

        3. Intellect and emotion aren’t supposed to be an either/or thing. You need a balance of both. Emotions are actually part of the sensory system – fear is there to tell you “there is danger here.” I’ve heard it said, “Fear is the Divine Protection our Creator gave us.” But then the intellect is there to find out exactly what it is that’s scaring me, rather than just knee-jerk reacting.

          The cure for fear isn’t to simply deny and dismiss it – the cure for fear is to make the unknown, known.

    4. The smartest guy I knew also had some of the most shockingly stupid moments of anyone I’d met up to that point.

      Also, in the same circle of friends was a guy who on average would fall below the level of the rest, but whenever he had a good idea, it would be a stroke of pure genius.

      Intelligence is not a constant or universal attribute of a person.

      1. Well, IQ mostly identifies the ability to extract patterns quickly from increasingly complex visual information. It measures abstraction and pattern recognition very well. This is pretty important if you want to know how fast a person can be taught a new skill and how many examples it will take for them to move from rote application to understanding of the underlying principle in a skill. Persons with IQ below 100 will have extreme difficulty mastering the abstractions needed to really understand calculus and the sciences that depend upon calculus. Beyond that, it gets very hazy about what one means by Intelligence in the IQ.

        1. Well, IQ mostly identifies the ability to extract patterns quickly from increasingly complex visual information.

          Not completely.

          Intelligence has multiple components and one of those is cognitive analysis (roughly what you said). Others include verbal and short term memory. This is an explanation of why the SAT is a pretty good measure of intelligence and correlates highly with IQ.

          (IQ is a specific measurement of intelligence and I don’t want to go off into the weeds over the IQ vs intelligence.)

      2. Think of all the intelligent guys who have been taken to the cleaners by bimbos. Or the intelligent women who get caught up with some bum who lives off them and cheats on them.

        Many very intelligent people want to feel good about themselves and thus embrace beliefs that identify them to others as caring, selfless, visionary, etc.

      3. Sure – just look at Sheldon Cooper. 😉

    5. If everybody’s getting smarter, why is our politics getting stupider?

      IQ measure academic aptitude and academics are almost entirely dumbfucks.

      1. The key word is “aptitude”. IQ only measures your potential, not how much of that potential is actuall being put to use.

        If intelligence were wine, IQ just tells you how big your wine glass is. It could still be a really big empty wine glass.

    6. “If everybody’s getting smarter, why is our politics getting stupider?”

      Because we live in democracies where stupidity is the smarter/more effective strategy. That’s why political extremism and ideological rigidity correlate positively with IQ.

  3. More Porn, Less Rape

    La la la, radfems can’t hear you! How dare you proffer mere facts that contradict the Goddess-inspired dogma.

    1. +40,000 sex workers at international sporting event

    2. Porn is rape, you’re just changing the circumstances.

      1. If you’re getting paid for rape like porn stars are, it’s not rape any more, it’s prostitution.

        1. Prostitution is also rape. All sex is rape. Especially consensual sex. That’s the worst kind of rape because the rapee doesn’t even realize she’s allowing herself to be raped.

  4. These are exciting times we live in, folks. Since I’ve been alive, we’ve gone from putting man on the Moon to hitching a ride on Russian deathtraps to go to low Earth orbit. Wait, what?

    1. That is funny. But I am excited that private companies are taking over the space program. Also the race to colonize mars is supposed to be financed through advertisements and donations. I count that as an improvement.

      1. So, what are they going to do when they get there?

        Don’t get me wrong, I think privatization of space is awesome. Launching satellites and the like.

        I just don’t see a profit to be made by exploration, and lacking that, I don’t see it happening.

        1. Lasso some decent sized asteroid out there, put it on a collision course with earth, add some sharks with lasers on their heads to make the shit really scary, and then demand 1 million.. erm what?.. ah OK 1 trillion dollars in tribute, or else!

          Profit! And without underpants even.

        2. Immediately space tourism. People who want to say they have been to space and get the view of the earth from low earth orbit. Astronaughts have had profound effects from viewing the earth I hear. The Mars colonization project the profit is in broadcasting the challenge. The participants get to be pioneers and the first Martians. Maybe later harvesting helium from the moon for fusion reactors or mineral harvest from asteroids.

        3. People are always looking for a place where they can go to be left alone to pursue their own destinies. Space is the only place we have left, and it’s a damn big place.

          1. Agreed. But the must be able to afford it.

            We are SEVERAL breakthroughs away from that.

            1. they

          2. Moon colonization is within reach technologically, although would be expensive.

          3. Space is not the only place. The oceans and Antarctica are closer and more profitable.

              1. Loved that show.

              2. Sealab 2021.

          4. Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact, it’s cold as all get out.

          1. How many guyz are willing to shell out $50B to go to Mars for a vacation?

            A few, certainly, but I question that business model.

            1. Columbus’s first voyage to America cost $8million in 2012 dollars, so clearly European tourism to America is a questionable business model.

              1. So, in 400 years, you’re sayin?

                Maybe 100.

        4. ‘So, what are they going to do when they get there?’

          Well what was the government going to do when it got there? Hell, what did the government do when it got to the moon? Pick up a few rocks? Could’ve had a drone do that.

          Its not about the destination, but what you learn on the journey – and I’m fine with that as long as I’m not picking up the tab.

        5. During the “Age of Discovery” {from around 1400 to 1800 ) much of the world ( from the Western point of view) was discovered by private ventures. In many cases whalers were in virgin seas before state sponsored expeditions and even the private ventures that came after the state expanded knowledge while looking for profit.

    2. Um, those Russian “Deathtraps” may not be as fancy and shiny as our retired shuttles were but their record of reliability is truely remarkable.

      Russians may not be so good with the beautiful elegant solutions to problems but they are goddamned masters of the rugged, reliable, brute force solutions

      1. Yeah, people joked about Mir with all the problems it developed and how it looked like it was getting along on duct tape & bailing wire, but when you consider its length of service you can’t complain.

        1. When it comes to engineering it works like this…

          You want a beautiful handcrafted work of art that will function perfectly damn near forever but costs an arm and a leg and takes forever to manufacture go to Germany

          You want a beautiful handcrafted work of art that may or may not function at all go to England

          You want an over engineered technological marvel with reasonably good reliability but costs an astronomical amount go to America

          You want something cheap, ugly, ineligant, and can be maintained by a simple farmer with little more than bailing wire and a screwdriver but gets the job done pretty damn near every time you go to Russia

          1. You want something cheap, ugly, ineligant, and can be maintained by a simple farmer with little more than bailing wire and a screwdriver but gets the job done pretty damn near every time you go to Russia

            And hope the result doesn’t blow up on the launch pad or burn up in re-entry.

            1. To be fair, we haven’t been all that good on the re-entry part lately either.

              Or the blow up on the pad part.

          2. NASA spent eleventy million dollars developing a ball point pen that could write in space with zero gravity, with ink that would flow at extremely low temperatures, and even work upside down.

            The Russians used pencils.

            1. NASA spent eleventy million dollars developing a ball point pen that could write in space with zero gravity, with ink that would flow at extremely low temperatures, and even work upside down.

              The Russians used pencils.

              That story is a myth.


              1. The Free Market Wins Again!

          3. “You want a beautiful handcrafted work of art that will function perfectly damn near forever but costs an arm and a leg and takes forever to manufacture go to Germany

            You want a beautiful handcrafted work of art that may or may not function at all go to England”

            If you want a REALLY beautiful work of art that will function well enough and costs an arm and a leg go to Italy. They do almost everything with beauty in mind.

            And Japan is a cross between US and Germany.

            1. If you want something beautiful, expensive, and requires more maintenance than you can possibly imagine – go to Italy.

              1. You notice how much these countries engineering abilities coorelate to the attitudes of their women?

                1. Oh, I don’t know, I remember this saucy little number in Munich one time…

    3. Unfortunately our little jaunt to the moon, and subsequent boondoggles like the space shuttle, crowded out private space development. That’s changing, and like Floridian said is an improvement.

  5. Russian deathtraps

    With many fewer deaths than the space shuttle.

    1. The space shuttle was just too complicated. Classic case of trying to do too much with a single piece of equipment.

      1. Classic case of a bureaucracy desperate to find a new project to maintain its bloated self, and making contradictory promises to every potential saviour under the sun.

        1. Well, yeah. That’s why it was too complicated. Who else would try to combine a cargo truck with a high end research lab and a repair shop?

      2. It was freaking 1970s tech for christ’s sake. That’s part of the big problem there.

        1. So was voyager but it is still going strong. Not to discount your point but those engineers were simply amazing doing what they did with what they had.

          1. Tripple redundancy!

            1. Needs one more “p”.


      3. The shuttle was effectively designed by congress. The shuttle as originally pitched was far more capable than what was finally built.

    2. With many fewer deaths than the space shuttle.

      Safety should *never* be the primary focus of any exploration endeavor.

      1. I was just responding to the “deathtraps” comment.

  6. Free markets and free trade do make for a more prosperous and civilized society.

    Whether the incidence of cancer is declining, as a matter of fact, is not established by looking to government statistics. Whether peeps are getting smarter, as a matter of fact, is not established by merely asserting that they are or by pointing to the results of “studies”.

  7. But but I had been assured by the Commentariat that everybody is stupid becuz KARDASHIANS and STUPID BOWL, amirite?

  8. If the planet is getting smarter then why is there so many Scientologists?

    1. With greater population the tails of the distribution are longer.


  10. More like a bunch of correlations that “unexpectedly” confirm libertarian prejudices.

    Correlations aren’t truths except in a trivial sense. A convincing explanation of why something happens demonstrates a grasp on truth. Short of that you have a lot of groping around, more or less productively. Polemic has its uses, but at the groping stage it’s often counterproductive. Dialectic is the superior approach to knowledge.

    1. Hahahaha…

    2. But the mental gymnastics to deny the most likely cause of the correlations are really far more impressive.

    3. Hmmmm, more people getting tattoos equals lower incidence of cancer!

  11. About half of Americans two generations ago would have been diagnosed as mentally retarded based on today’s IQ tests.

    I offer the current leaders of the “free world” as evidence to support this statement.

  12. As far as religion goes I think Michael Crichton nailed it.

    I studied anthropology in college, and one of the things I learned was that certain human social structures always reappear. They can’t be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people—the best people, the most enlightened people—do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.

    1. Religion, broadly speaking, is a psychologic mechanism for maintaining denial of the Absurdist dilemma. Seen from that point, most atheists are still religious. They’ve just switched to a more subtle form of the mechanism.

      1. “You’re born; you die; and everything in-between is just filler”

        –Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show —

    2. I suspect that is true about people in general. I think he is wrong when he says this though “you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life”.
      It is kind of a large assumption that life should have any meaning at all.

    3. “You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.”

      That’s fucking stupid. Like, “those who believe in nothing will fall for anything” level stupid.

  13. Six of these aren’t surprising at all. “People everywhere are getting smarter” seems to be contradicted by all the available evidence, at least from where I stand.

  14. “More Porn, Less Rape”

    Well, duh. This has been well-known for decades. Why go out for milk when you have a cow at home?

    1. Who knows it ?

      I always read that rape isn’t about sex, it’s about violence and control.

  15. A very interesting read. However, as a science correspondent, Mr Bailey should know better than spreading wild canards. Such as “many women stopped hormone replacement therapy in the early 2000s, all behaviors that prevent the onset of cancer. ” As far as I know there is no evidence that HRT causes the onset of cancer of any kind. If hormones caused cancer, then young men and women would be ridden with cancers as they have very high levels of the sex hormones. It’s true that supplementing with Premarin in the 1970s was found to be poor for women because it was made from horse oestrogen. But since the 2000s there has been available human equivalent oestrogen that does not cause cancer. SO that stopping HRT would not prevent the onset of cancer.

  16. I don’t understand why population stabilization is “unalloyed good news”. Unless you’re a Malthusian population bomb hustler, who gives a good goddamn what the global population is? It should be neither good or bad news that the population is growing, stable or shrinking.

  17. The entire population of the planet (7 bil) could live in the state of Texas, and a family of four would have 1/10 of an acre to live on.

    I love numbers, they never lie.

    1. I feel bad for whoever draws Lubbock.

    2. You guys all got to Alaska to prove that. You can probably have 1/2 an acre.

      Leave us alone down here.

  18. Do women who live longer have fewer children or do women who have fewer children live longer ?

  19. Everytime I read about people getting better scores on IQ test I shrug and then wonder where all these bright people are. The only thing I can think of that seems significant is that the educational establishment has learned to teach to the test.

  20. @umh. Yes indeed!

    Government run schools teach people what to think not how to think. And since such tests can test knowledge (including how to pass IQ tests) rather than the ability to think for themselves, scores would appear to improve…

  21. cancer incidence rates have been falling for nearly two

  22. world? These are just some of the

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