Matt Knutson: Having better data can lead to better lives

Published 9:38 pm Thursday, October 19, 2017

Things I Tell My Wife by Matt Knutson

“Sometimes I forget how much I love statistics,” I told my wife when I realized today was World Statistics Day. No, this isn’t a celebration of your least favorite college class, but rather a recognition of the importance of facts and figures. Perhaps you haven’t celebrated this annual occasion in the past, but it’s never too late to start. I’ll even help you out with some interesting stats below.

First — it’s important to note that World Statistics Day may in fact no longer exist. Originally hosted by the United Nations Statistics Division, this unique day hasn’t had an official celebration since 2015. Their credo for the day: Better Data. Better Lives. The U.N. is charged with maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development, and upholding international law, so it makes sense that they’d see a lot of value in having correct and informative data to carry out their work.

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Then-U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea shared, “On this World Statistics Day, I urge all partners and stakeholders to work together to ensure that the necessary investments are made, adequate technical capacity is built, new data sources are explored and innovative processes are applied to give all countries the comprehensive information systems they need to achieve sustainable development.”

When I thought about World Statistics Day, I realized I could find an incalculable number of stats to share with you. Should I focus on something in particular for this momentous day? Being true to self, I’ve focused on the most logical way to celebrate: statistics about the world. Now these aren’t astronomy statistics (though Earth does have a diameter of 7,926 miles) but rather some interesting numbers about life on our planet today. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m writing this two days in advance of World Statistics Day, so if you fact check me, these numbers could be ever so slightly higher.

Let’s start off with a big one: Nearly 7.6 billion. What’s that? The current world population. Sometimes numbers that large seem unfathomable. With the U.S. Census estimating Albert Lea having a population of 17,667, it’s clear there’s quite a bit more world out there than what we experience here in southern Minnesota. Out of 195 countries, the ones with the largest populations are China and India (the United States takes a very distant third place).

Getting a little darker for a moment, there will be about 150,000 deaths today, and about 28,600 of those people died from hunger. That’s 19 percent. Can you believe that nearly 1 out of every 5 people who died today didn’t have to? They’re no longer here because we failed them. Now, I didn’t know anyone personally who died of hunger yesterday, today or probably even tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be doing anything about it. Last fall I remember reading about my wife’s home country of Madagascar being plagued by a famine. At the time, the U.N. reported that 850,000 people were experiencing alarming levels of hunger. In 2016, the number of people in the world without enough food increased to 815 million. It increased! Statistics like this should empower us to take action.

Another big number: 5.15 billion. That’s the number of searches done on Google today. There were 460 million newspapers circulated today (including this one), and 637 million tweets were sent. Numbers like this speak to me as a communicator. We’re all on a quest to learn and share more information. Individually we might be pursuing different tactics to get our information and send it out into the world, but the heart of these numbers demonstrate that we’re living in an age of information consumption. Whether we take it all in or strategically filter the content we pursue, humanity is committed to discovery.

As you celebrate World Statistics Day, recognize the importance of facts and figures to your discovery process. Data exists out there that is incredibly relevant to your life as an individual as well as for our nation and the world. It’s compelling us to act if we’re bold enough to seek it out. There’s so much to our planet that we will never experience, but if there is a way for us to make it better for the people invisible to us, we should pursue it with fervor. Better data, and the commitment to acknowledging it, can indeed lead to better lives.

Matt Knutson is a communications specialist in Rochester.