“Top 5 world worst problems”

I noticed today on the CNN homepage a link titled “Top 5 world worst problems.” Curious I went to the link. It turns out that reporter John Sutter as part of his new Change the List project is asking for input on subjects he should cover. The concept is to “push for progress in places that need it most.” He and CNN have put together a list of 20 top issues and is asking readers to vote on the top five issues. The full list of the 20 top list is posted here. You can vote there as well.

My first reaction to the list was that I found it mind boggling that global warming and climate change was not on the list. But the the purpose of the list seems to be focus on short term and local problems. So perhaps there is some logic behind not including it on the list. But on the other hand when I think in terms of the the big issues before us certainly climate change needs to be on that list.

The list itself seems rather strange when I think of “top problems.” One item on the list deals with happiness saying: “Australia is the happiest, according to one survey. Who could use cheering up?” Somehow I cannot see how that made the list of big problems. How did that make the voting list?

There are a couple of issues where simple statistics is not understood. One item asks “Which U.S. state has the highest incarceration rate?” That is not a problems. It is a given. From a simple statistical perspective, and from simple logic one state will have the highest incarceration rate. That is not the problem. If there is an issue it is that the incarceration rate is too high in one or more states. The discussion needs to focus not on one state, but on the issue of what is too high a rate and are we as a country sending too many people to jail for the wrong reasons.

The same logic applies to the question about “America’s most endangered river.”

I am puzzled as well as to how such items as a lack of high-speed internet access in pockets of the US, high school graduation rates in the US, and the rich poor gap in the US made the list of the potential top 5 worst problems in the world. Those items make the list seem very much US centric. Sure they are US problems, but should they even show up on at list of the major world problems?

I wonder if they will publish the vote tallies or just tell us which were picked at the top 5 for the reporter to follow up with.

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