THE reactions flew fast, but few involved bliss. Last week, many otherwise reasonable adults either squabbled online or reacted smugly to a report that described Filipinos as being among the most ignorant yet also the most confident among 38 nationalities. The hubbub began when some broadsheets and news sites reported on the results of the Perils of Perceptions 2017 survey released by the market research firm Ipsos Mori.
According to the survey, the Philippines placed third on a Misperceptions Index, after South Africa and Brazil. We fared better in 2016, landing 16th on what Ipsos Mori then called its Index of Ignorance. In 2016, we were less ignorant than the respondents from 15 other countries, including India, the United States, Singapore, Canada, and Russia.
Why we did better in 2016 than last year, the survey reports did not say. Maybe the “approximately 500 individuals aged 16-64” interviewed in the Philippines between Sept. 22 and Nov. 6, 2016 were just a better-read bunch than the ones polled last year. Maybe the subjects happened to be the ones they were interested in at the time.
In any case, different questions were asked in 2016 and last year, so a comparison wouldn’t be meaningful. What we got wrong in both years, however, is what’s interesting. It’s usually more productive to think about what we don’t know, rather than worry about what other people think we don’t know, you know?
Asked how many Muslims they thought there would be out of every 100 Filipinos, the average guess among 2016 respondents was 23 percent. The actual figure was less than six percent. Filipino respondents also underestimated just how many considered themselves happy. They were told to guess how many, out of 100, would describe themselves as “rather happy” or “very happy.” The average guess was 58 percent, but the true result was much higher at 89 percent, based on the World Values Survey.
Respondents in 2016 did get a public policy question wrong. Asked what percent of the Gross Domestic Product they thought went to health expenditures, the Filipino respondents’ average answer was 24 percent. Too generous. The actual share was less than five percent, based on World Bank data.
What did the respondents, by now much maligned, get wrong in 2017? Filipinos overestimated the number of deaths caused by terrorists in the 15 years after 9/11; the number of girls 15-19 who have given birth; the number of smart phones and Facebook accounts Filipinos possessed; and the number of registered vehicles for every 100 Filipinos. This last part, I’m guessing, is skewed by the amount of traffic most of us have to endure. Respondents told Ipsos Mori’s survey team that they thought 61 percent out of every 100 would have a registered vehicle. The actual number is 41 percent.
What’s amusing isn’t that we did so poorly on the survey, but that, on social media at least, people began to project their prejudices on the results. For the record, the survey does not compare variables. It doesn’t show how the respondents voted in May 2016 or attempt to correlate that with how much they knew about diabetes, suicide rates, smart phone ownership or deaths caused by terrorism from 2001 to 2016. So, really, the ones who assumed the respondents were either “Dutertards” or “Yellowtards” were the ones who betrayed their ignorance.
There is, however, something we can glean from this whole distraction, and it is the reminder that knowing what we are ignorant about is where learning can begin. Truly intelligent people won’t even bother to tell you how intelligent they are; they are more aware than most of us of how much we all can still learn. Eventually, they die, like all the rest of us. Ipsos mori, in a dead language. But while they live, they learn. That is a kind of bliss we can all aspire for.
(Tweet me something smart: @isoldeamante)