R Factor Ants

minute read

Whilst working on a client engagement last week, over lunch, one of our party asked the question, does the weight of all the ants in the world outweigh all the people in the world?

This set-in motion a short intense spot of research around the table to answer this question which is what you might expect from a group of curious data people.

The conversation started with various anecdotal statements from, “there are lots of ants”, to, “when I was in the jungle in South America if you stood still for 5 mins you were covered in ants!”.

Someone Googled (other search engines are available) the average weight of an ant, someone else searched the total number of ants in the world. What we did all agree on was 60kg as the average human weight and the 7.5bn global population. Within the space of 5 mins, with a help of a little data, we had an objective answer. I will leave you to embark on this fun exercise yourself to get the answer, but I will say if ants developed a hive mind, humans would be in serious trouble.


This got me thinking about a recent conversation with my two teenage children about potential overpopulation and the growth rate of the human population. Anecdotally, the view of the average person in the street seems to be that the global population will continue to grow faster and faster until we use all our resources, hence the end of life as we know it.

However, after checking the data the story is quite the opposite.

The human population has an R number, (which we are all familiar with), what you did not expect is that this number is less than 1, which means we are not reproducing enough to sustain or grow the current population!  

You see, it takes 2 people to create 1 person, so 1 child is R < 1, 2 children R = 1, 3 or more R > 1.  When you throw in the mix that women now have much greater choice and choose to have less children or none at all. The data from the Office of National statistics suggest we are at, or close to the maximum global population of humans on the planet. 

Data is everywhere and if used well can very easily pivot subjective opinion, remove cognitive bias and answer questions. 

What examples do you have of where Data has challenged popular opinion or answered a question, we would love to hear your thoughts. 


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