Americans, adjust your reality

A particle physics textbook I once enjoyed reading (And just for the fun of it — I found it in the public library in Gambia during Peace Corps!) once explained reality as this:

Reality is that which all of us share in common.

Well, nearly all of us. The following infographics present a jarring discontinuity between how many Americans see their own country and how the rest of the world sees America.

Side note: I just had a de ja vu. I saw myself posting this blog in dream about three weeks ago. Suck on that, science! I am a scientist that regularly has de ja vus. I don’t deny them just because I don’t understand them. To observe is scientific; to reject facts because they are messy is fanaticism. Science is not yet all-knowing, and America is not factually the greatest nation on Earth. Here’s why…

Maternity Leave

American law guarantees ZERO weeks of maternity leave to women. 

USA last in materinity leave

No, these 15 countries are not an anomaly. In fact, every country on Earth but 5 require some maternity leave. (Source: wikipedia)

Required Maternity Leave by Country

And most importantly to my thesis in this post, the perception of American men is that there is no problem…

American men vs women on maternity leave opinion polls

USA Healthcare

USA Healthcare is the most inefficient system in the industrialized world. We spend more and get less. And if you’re under 50, it is even worse. Source: Profit Is A Barrier: US Comes Last In Healthcare

Americans pay much more for healthcare US-healthcare-outcome-rankings

Last in obesity, nearly last in costs, last in teen births, but almost #1 in time spent talking to doctors.


Healthcare in USA as percent of GDP from 1960s to 2007

And for the kicker,  most Americans love our last-place system even more than other people love their better-performing healthcare systems. Reality has become detached from fact:

Americans mostly satisfied with their pitiful healthcare system

It all depends on which narrow “frustration” questions you ask, and believe me, there are plenty of people paid to distort our reality…. (remember we spend more time seeing doctors than people around the world but end up remaining sicker. Canada wins on “respect” and “affordability” and actual health outcomes. Perhaps 50 weeks of paid maternity leave helps too.)

Canada and U.S. views on health care

And while we don’t trust our legislators to improve our failed system, nobody else does either. Somehow, all these other countries still manage to deliver better health outcomes.

Americans more supportive of USA healthcare than other country citizens

And compared with the level of government distrust elsewhere, Democrats are actually more supportive of government-mandated health reform than are people anywhere else. Did you know that? Or was your reality distorted by the absence of facts?Obamacare Reform Poll 2012 by political bias


(That’s science, technology, engineering, and math – you know, the stuff that makes your life comfortable though you seem to have forgotten that it takes intellectual discipline to sustain a life filled with such comforts.)


This infographic points out the amazing opportunity that government STEM investments will yield in coming decades. And clearly, America has been doing better in STEM than in healthcare or maternity leave, but we still rank 18th, not #1.USA vs world STEM science education math ranking

We used to be #1, right?

[No image available]

I looked for half an hour for an infographic here, and couldn’t find one. It seems that we’ve been lied to about this. We were always an average country in math and science, according to Mother Jones:

Americans doing better in math than 50 years ago - Mother Jones

Those negative numbers circled in red are how many standard deviations below the mean most Americans performed. We’re better than in 1964, but still below average.

The myth that we’re #1 in STEM is partly based on USA spending more on our education than anyone else. We have always invested more of our GDP into science research than any other country. Some of this research is bleed-over from our military industrial complex. We do, however, lead the world in educating foreigners. Many of these people return home and spread America’s ideals and philosophy about investing in the future through education:

Students Abroad in America

And like maternity leave and healthcare, Americans are satisfied with the quality of our science education, despite actually being average.  In a 2006 survey only 48% of parents were NOT satisfied with their kids’ science education, compared to 32% in 2005. Only 25% of students think lack of emphasis on science and math is a problem for their future.

Only a quarter of kids think we lag behind in science and math.

In similar polling, half of parents are satisfied with education, but notice that the only thing that moves parents’ opinions is debate about legislation (No Child Left Behind Debate in 2000). The actual changes to education in subsequent years left no mark on opinion polls, because parents are not making opinions based on performance:

education 50 percent satisfied except during change

Our perception of the future is much more positive than our actual performance. And though I too believe we’ll remain #1 in science output in the world, it has much more to do with being the easiest place to find science grant funding, and not because our students are the best prepared:

USA Science World Leader by 2020

After all, when asked the same question about USA healthcare, we are just as positive about ourselves. We seem to think we’ll become or remain #1 at everything.

who will be leading nation in healthcare in future

Funny how 47% of Americans believe we will always be #1. That number 47 keeps coming up.

Other issues

About half of those who benefit from all these social programs don’t believe they have ever been the beneficiary of any socialist government programs (and presumably oppose them):

  • Pell grants, lifetime learning tax credit, G.I. Bill
  • Home mortgage deduction
  • Social security, medicare
  • Head Start

Again,  a majority of Americans hold an opinion that is contradicted by the facts. Source: Social Reform Issues by Suzanne Mettler

Gun violence

You probably expected this. We have a lot of guns and a lot of gun deaths, but very low support for gun control.

gun perceptions USA vs statistics

Did I mention we have a LOT of guns in America?

America has a lot of guns infographic

And there never was an assault weapons ban in America in 1994. Hundreds of models were exempted and there was never a gun buy back program, such as was used in Libera and Sierra Leone to get guns off the streets (successfully). I believe all existing assault weapons were allowed to remain in circulation (but the folks at the advocacy group are checking this fact for me):

Assault Weapons not banned in 1994

So any arguments for or against gun control that are based on the 1994 law are pretty useless. It is better to compare ourselves to the rest of the world, and to ourselves:



After posting this blog an advocacy group emailed me and requested that I include their infographic about what kinds of guns are assault weapons, including the weapon used in Newton, CT in 2012. So here is their info:


voc_viol_us_gun_1_graph_gun_deathsIf you were wondering why there is such strong resistance to gun control, it isn’t the 2nd ammendment. It is the people who profit from selling guns to the world: Our military industrial complex.

Why america fears gun control arms-trade-infographic

And more than 50% of Americans will continue to oppose gun control for the same reason they oppose health care reform, maternity leave, and harbor a delusions about how great our education system is performing: We need our reality to be adjusted by facts. Guns are not killing us, our inability to make decisions based on evidence is.

americans divided on gun new ban law
For too long we have let others shape our reality with their “facts”. Education has failed to train the citizenry in how to recognize when others are manipulating them. Distorted views start with people who profit by deceiving us.

We would be a better country if we provided universal healthcare, legal maternity leave, restricted guns, reinstated a mental health system that treats the ill with dignity, and rated our experiments in education against global standards, not local, state, or even national ones. We need to adjust our perception of reality itself. Healthcare is a failure. A non-profit effort to find health cures and provide loving “hearth care” to those in need would free up our economy to grow. That economy is also doomed so long as it depends on war, weapons, and the high cost of security.

Maternity leave, health care, gun violence, education, and our mental health system are all suffering from the same disease. It is a disease with a simple cure: Look outward, at the rest of the world and ask yourself if you are prepared to accept what you see as reality. 

Or you can go on believing in the perceived threats that we’ve been told to fear:
foreign threats to america

But if you do, this distorted perception will then shape your entire world view, eventually killing you as you stand guard against another terrorist attack, while heart disease and cancer take their toll:actual vs perceived threats

6 thoughts on “Americans, adjust your reality

  1. It is true and a reality that some ideal readers have become the books Oarther. I wish to draw my attention to the American government, that this issue of small weapon has real reuned most of our both local and international development in this third world. Can American government do something in especially east African community which used to be the promised land from God so called Ganan has turned into heal.+254 722571085

  2. If people think whatever they want and the facts be damned, then is there any hope the facts will make a difference? If we are a believing rather than an observing people, can the facts improve anything? If fear and mass culture and propaganda are the primaries, and facts are only the secondary influence, then what can be said for just getting reality factually strait? Isn’t something more required to reorient Americans to reality?

  3. I agree with 99% of what you’re talking about here, and then I arrived at the gun control portion. On many “big picture” portions of your argument, again, I agree. But to say that the exemptions of the 1994 AWB are “largely blamed for its failure” is not an intellectually honest position.

    The 1994 AWB failed in large part because we have a significant black market for weapons in this country. Any of the proposed legislation I’ve seen at state or federal levels is not focused on fixing that problem. 99.99999% of the allowed and grandfathered AW/AR’s purchased during the ban years were never, ever, ever used to commit a crime. However, many BANNED weapons were imported into the USA, purchased by criminals, and used to slaughter people in our inner cities. Again, our government seems to not really care about “those people.” Why does our gun control legislation so strongly focus on legal owners, and so blindly omit the thousands of crimes committed every year by illegal guns, or by criminals who possess illegal guns. Where I live, in Baltimore, 45% of suspects arrested for murder (usually, via firearm) have previous arrests for gun crimes. Why (except racism) do we not care to focus on this virus in our inner cities? Hint: banning rich guys from collecting 1940s military weapons won’t fix it.

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