10 things you didn’t know about 2016

From Brexit to Trump, terror attacks and continuing financial turmoil, it’s been a strange year. 

Here are ten reasons to still have faith in humankind, or at least some hope.

1.

We’re living longer. “So-called” experts keep finding ways of allowing us to live healthier lives. Here's how life expectancy has shot up in the last centuries, and continues to rise.

It's an interactive chart. You can add and remove countries to compare them.

 

If you think this is mostly a third-world phenomenon, have a look at these figures on child mortality in the UK just in the last 50 years. 

No. of children per 1,000 live births who die before reaching the age of 5.
Source: https://ourworldindata.org/child-mortality

Isn't that something to celebrate? Why aren't we celebrating?

2.

The probability of being the victim of a violent crime is tiny.  If we want to talk about problems in society, let’s talk about road traffic accidents and suicide, the top two causes of death for men between 15–24 in the USA. Did you know that in the USA in 2014, 27 people a day died through drink-driving accidents

We should also really talk about violence against women. Let’s be clear: western societies have a real problem with rape. In the UK about 85,000 women are the victims of rape every year. I think that's something that deserves more attention. 

Sexual violence isn’t an import. If a migrant commits a sex crime, prosecute him, bang him up, and if possible and prudent, deport him. But then let’s talk about all the non-migrants who commit the vast majority of sex crimes. If you’re not prepared to do that, but see migrants as a threat to “our women”, then you’re a racist. Simple as that. Deal with the problem.

Do you know what the most frequent crime commitment by migrants in Germany is? Travelling on public transport without a ticket (it's technically fraud, so a crime). Putting fare-dodging and murder in the same statistics gives a very muddy picture. 

The German Interior Minister puts it like this: 

In total, the currently available figures on trends show us that refugees are on average just as unlikely or likely to commit a crime as the local population
— Thomas de Maizière

That's my translation of this original: "Insgesamt zeigen uns die derzeit verfügbaren Tendenzaussagen, dass Flüchtlinge im Durchschnitt genauso wenig oder oft straffällig werden wie Vergleichsgruppen der hiesigen Bevölkerung".

Source: http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-12/zuwanderung-kriminalitaet-statistik-polizei-migration

3.

It’s better than we think. In a recent Ipsos-Mori study, almost all countries underestimated how happy their fellow countrypeople were. Why so gloomy? 

 Source, and many other interesting misconceptions:  http://perils.ipsos.com/slides/

Source, and many other interesting misconceptions: http://perils.ipsos.com/slides/

4.

Christians aren’t afraid of Muslims. In Austria, while 34% of the electorate recently voted for a right wing racist, the majority of the population showed a bold stoicism in the face of a terrible refugee crisis.

As I’ve said before, it’s only a crisis if you’re not dealing with it. And the reality on the ground? Austrians dealt with it. All the major charities, the largest of them Christian (including Caritas and Diakonie) performed unimaginable feats of logistics and support day by day. They put up beds, fed people, schooled them, taught them German etc. And they never once complained or chastised the recipients of their care due to their religious beliefs. I raise my hat to them, the silent heroes of our society. If you think they're cool, send them, or your local aid organisation, some money. 

People who say they want to defend their Christian country from Islamisation? Not Christians. Deal with it. 

5.

The European project is not dead. On the contrary. The EU gives us unprecedented freedom and quality of life. There is no region in the world that shares this level of prosperity, security, trade, freedom of movement and cultural diversity.

Here are 36 things the EU has done for you, and which no-one ever talks about

And these slides show how most people are wrong about almost everything to do with the EU. 

6.

Poverty keeps dropping. Isn’t that wonderful? Why aren’t we celebrating? Get out the champagne! 

Here's a bonus question: how many children worldwide do you think are vaccinated against measles? Seriously, think of a number. Here's the answer

7.

Removing borders has pitfalls, and massive advantages. The concept of the Schengen agreement is not dead. Millions of people profit from Schengen everyday.

Now, you could say, yes, but what about that criminal who crossed the border? Well, EU cooperation also meant that countries are able to arrest suspects in any EU country, and send them back for prosecution. This has made the EU safer.

Do you really think that more borders will make us safer? London 7/7, Madrid, Brussels, Paris? The 9/11 killers were in the country legally. Borders didn't stop them, and more borders wouldn't have either.

Have you forgotten the 1970s and 80s? Back when we had borders ... 

8.

Listen to those experts. If we listened to them more, maybe we wouldn’t be so worried. We’re happy to let experts design aeroplanes, bypass surgery, cancer treatment, mobile phones, streaming services and nuclear power stations. Let’s celebrate this trust in evidence and pragmatic empiricism.

This "expert" student has designed a vaccine cooler that works in hard to reach areas.

"Experts" have already developed a vaccine that could stop Ebola, which killed 11,000 people in 2014. What a fantastic piece of news, isn't it! 

9.

Science is a wonder. The scientific method is so clear, enthralling and enlightening. Don’t let people call science into question. There are bad scientists, sure. They perform bad science, and they get called out for it. That’s how science works. And that’s how we eradicate polio, tuberculosis, ebola, how we develop regenerative energy, how we care for our environment and our fellow human beings. It’s why in the UK the death rate for children with cancer has dropped by two thirds since the late 1970s.

So the next time someone tells you that homeopathy “works”, challenge them. It doesn’t work. There is no evidence that it works better than a placebo. It's wilful deception, or fraud. This isn’t opinion, it’s fact. Just because you believe something, doesn’t mean it’s true (and please don’t drag out the old trope about science also being a belief – if you do, you don’t understand the concept of science). 

Don't succumb to dinner party etiquette and let people get away with serious misconceptions.

10.

Remember that the politicians, the TV and the newspapers have an agenda. That’s not a conspiracy, it’s basic economics and it’s understandable. Talking about the advances in poverty reduction and immunisation doesn’t win votes. Writing the truth about sexual violence doesn’t sell newspapers. 

Don’t let politicians with tiny majorities frame the narrative to their own ends. The BBC news is there to keep you watching until Strictly starts. The free newspapers are there to sell adverts. Facebook and Google are advertising companies. Don’t forget that. They’re not there to inform you.


My conclusion is that humanity is in the best place it has ever been. Yes, we have colossal challenges ahead of us, but we’ve never been better equipped to deal with them. 

Every act of violence deserves condemnation, and I am not in any way excusing any of the mindless thugs who commit them, wherever they’re from. Prosecute and punish. It’s the rule of law. You’re innocent until proven guilty. 

Somebody recently told me that he believed that 36% percent (a very specific number) of the British population was Muslim. We then had a very friendly and interesting discussion about how wrong he was and where his perception came from. Do you know the answer? (See page 4 of these slides.)

Finally, tolerance isn’t conditional. Either you’re tolerant, or you’re not. All tolerance has boundaries, it’s never endless. But if you make your tolerance dependent on a condition, it’s not tolerance. Call it something else.

When the Austrian foreign minister calls for immigrants to respect the equal rights of women, when only 28% of his party’s MPs are women and it has never had a female leader, in a country that has never had a female head of government or head of state, it's hypocritical. Call it what it is. 


I had a good 2016.

I co-founded a charity that buys musical instruments for people who have fled their home countries due to persecution and violence. Read more about it here (we still need money).

Vienna Greeters, which I also co-founded, celebrated it’s second anniversary, having organised 840 free walks for over 2000 people and 140 volunteers.   
  
I worked with some amazing people at Naxos and neoScores and had a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to what 2017 will bring. 

How was your year?