The fact that measles cases dropped 60% since 1999 is being sung on the mountain by news agencies around the world today. It’s a noble achievement, to be sure, but the fact that they dropped 60% doesn’t mean anything to me. 60% of what?
That’s easy to answer:
1999: 875,000 Measles Deaths
2005: 345,000 Measles Deaths
Ahhhh, that’s a little better. So, 530,000 people were saved from measles last year.
Half-a-million people is a lot of people, which still leaves me with a perception problem. I’ve never seen half a million dollars in one dollar bills. I’ve never seen half a million people in a stadium or at the mall.
I may have seen half a million grains of sand all in one place at some point, but there was nothing profound about each individual one. It’s hard to imagine half a million people with faces and families standing around or dying around. It all just seems like “a lot” to me. The problem with that is a quarter of a million people also sounds like “a lot”, or even 100,000 people, but “a lot” of people is not what was saved. 530,000 people is what was saved.
You see, the problem with our minds and numbers is that they don’t scale well. Most people’s brains can easily compare 1 to 10. (Use your fingers.) 1 to 100 is actually pretty easy. 1000 isn’t all that bad, either. Most people who’ve lived for a few years can conceptualize 1000 people. Maybe they can recall a concert or a mega-church they’ve attended.
1000 is not beyond the scope of human sight and gatherings, but it’s close. Multiply by another factor of 10 and we’re at 10,000. Now we’re talking stadiums or towns full of people. Go any higher and it’s extremely hard to conceive of the impact of losing that many things that are as important as people are.
So, let’s break it down into an even more digestible chunk.
How about this:
1450 people did not die TODAY because of the measles vaccine push.
There, that’s better. Wow, that’s a lot.