NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Three Surprising Truths about the World

August 2, 2013

Did you know that the incidence of cancer in the United States has been declining for nearly 20 years? That average IQs are going up substantially all around the world? These are just some of the truths that are well-known to the scholars who study those subjects but generally come as a surprise to even the best-educated among the American population, says Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for Reason Magazine.

Cancer Rates Are Going Down.

  • A 2007 American Cancer Society poll found that seven out of 10 Americans believed that the risk of dying from cancer is going up. In fact, not only have cancer death rates been declining steeply, age-adjusted cancer incidence rates have been falling for nearly two decades. That is, in nearly any age group, fewer Americans are actually coming down with cancer.
  • Advances in modern medicine have increased the five-year survival rates of cancer patients from 50 percent in the 1970s to 68 percent today. That much you might expect. More surprising is that the incidence of cancer has been falling about 0.6 percent per year since 1994.

Longer Life Expectancy Stops Population Growth.

  • An exciting convergence between demography and evolutionary theory is shedding considerable light on why people the world over are having fewer children.
  • It turns out that the longer people can expect to live, the fewer children they have. In fact, if current fertility trends continue, world population could well top out in the middle of this century at between 8 billion and 9 billion, then begin to decline.
  • A study by the University of Connecticut anthropologists Nicola Bulled and Richard Sosis looks at life expectancy and fertility rates in 193 countries. In the October 2010 issue of Human Nature, they report that "when life expectancy is high, educational attainment is also high, reproductive timing is delayed, and overall reproduction reduced."

People Everywhere Are Getting Smarter.

  • About half of Americans two generations ago would have been diagnosed as mentally retarded based on today's IQ tests.
  • In 1980, the New Zealand political scientist James Flynn discovered that average IQs in many countries have been drifting upward at about 3 points per decade over the past couple of generations. In fact, the average has risen by an astonishing 15 points in the last 50 years in the United States.

Bailey explores four other surprising truths about the world, including less rape, trade makes people richer, local biodiversity is increasing and markets make people nicer.

Source: Ronald Bailey, "Seven Surprising Truths about the World," Reason Magazine, July 15, 2013.


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