9 min read ⌚
Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
Terrorist attacks, climate change, pollution, children dying of preventable diseases…
Think that the world is worse than ever?
Well, it’s time you stopped being a pessimist and become “a very serious possibilist.”
What you need is a little dose of:
Who Should Read “Factfulness”? And Why?
Hans Rosling devoted most of his life to teaching people how to see the world more accurately.
Not only because, by his own admission, this has saved his life; but also, because it could help everybody act a little more reasonable and more in tune with what reality actually is.
“The world would be a better place if literally millions of people read the book,” wrote Bill Gates.
So, please do: you won’t regret it.
About Hans Rosling
Hans Rosling was a Swedish medical doctor, professor of international health, academic, statistician, and renowned public educator.
Listed by Time magazine as one of the one hundred most influential people in the world, Rosling was an adviser to UNICEF and WHO, and a co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières in Sweden and the Gapminder Foundation.
In addition, his TED Talks – in which “global trends and economics come to vivid life” – have been viewed by almost 40 million people.
Rosling died in 2017. He spent the last years of his life writing Factfulness, his only book. The book was completed by Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Han’s son and daughter-in-law.
“Factfulness PDF Summary”
You either know and love Hans Rosling or, well, you don’t know him.
Because it’s almost impossible not to love him even if you have seen merely one of his numerous engaging and wonderful TED Talks.
We know that not many people like to read stats, and even those who do, have problems making data and tables interesting.
Bar graphs certainly help, as do line graphs and pie charts.
But what Hans Rosling did was magic!
He basically made stats alive.
Don’t believe us?
Here’s the evidence:
Now, unfortunately, Hans Rosling left us a year ago, at the age of 68.
What he left behind him was the all but finished manuscript of Factfulness, as he says in the “Introduction,” his “very last battle in [his] lifelong mission to fight devastating global ignorance” and his “last attempt to make an impact on the world: to change people’s ways of thinking, calm their irrational fears, and redirect their energies into constructive activities”:
This is data as you have never known it: it is data as therapy. It is understanding as a source of mental peace. Because the world is not as dramatic as it seems. I will teach you how to recognize overdramatic stories and give you some thinking tools to control your dramatic instincts. Then you will be able to shift your misconceptions, develop a fact-based worldview, and beat the chimps every time.
And, in a nutshell, that’s what this book is about: a definitive proof (after all, it’s stats) that the world is not as bad as it seems.
There are ten reasons why you think that it’s terrible.
Ten instincts, ten mega misconceptions which prevent you from seeing the world accurately.
Let’s have a look at each of them.
And teach you how you can fight them!
Key Lessons from “Factfulness”
1. The Gap Instinct
2. The Negativity Instinct
3. The Straight Line Instinct
4. The Fear Instinct
5. The Size Instinct
6. The Generalization Instinct
7. The Destiny Instinct
8. The Single Perspective Instinct
9. The Blame Instinct
10. The Urgency Instinct
The Gap Instinct
Explanation: The gap instinct is basically the ubiquitous “us vs. them” logic, which leads you to categorize people into two groups with a large gap between them.
Examples: There are rich people, and there are poor people, there are developing, and there are developed nations.
Now, that’s true, says Rosling, if you’re living in the 19th century!
Because, nowadays, almost 75% of the population fits in the gap between the developing and developed! So, it’s not really a gap anymore, is it?
A more accurate model nowadays would be a model of four income levels:
#1. Level 1: 1 billion people (14%) live on around $1 a day (compare: in the 1800s, more than 85% of humanity could be described this way!)
#2. Level 2: 3 billion people (43%) make, on average, $4 a day
#3. Level 3: 2 billion people (29%) make $16 a day
#4. Level 4: 1 billion people (14%%) earn $64 a day
How to fight it: Always look for the majority: it’s usually in the middle, where the gap is supposed to be.
The Negativity Instinct
Explanation: Thinking that things are getting worse; evolutionary, it makes sense: it is more important to notice bad things than good if you want to survive.
Examples: Most people hear all the time news of terroristic attacks and watch CSI shows and think the world is getting more violent than ever; it is most certainly not; also, things can be both bad and getting better; for example, 4% of children younger than 5 died in 2016; however, almost half of them (44%) died in 1800; so, it’s a huge improvement!
How to fight it: Expect bad news, since they are much more likely to reach you; good news is not news, but that doesn’t mean that things are not gradually improving day in day out.
The Straight-Line Instinct
Explanation: The belief that trends go up in a straight line.
Examples: The population is rising steadily ever since the Industrial Revolution, and it’s only natural to expect that it will keep on rising if things are going as great as Rosling says. however, the United Nations think that we’re close to hitting the peak precisely because of better conditions, because as poverty decreases, so do the number of children.
How to fight it: Remember that straight lines are rare in reality: you grew up until you reached your twenties, and then stopped growing; so do many other things; so, don’t assume straight lines.
The Fear Instinct
Explanation: Now that we live in a world safer than ever, we’ve started fearing things that don’t exist; in fact, that’s where your stress (and ulcers) come from.
Examples: How much do you fear terrorist attacks? A lot – especially if you’re living in, say, Paris, or New York. However, do you know that during the past decade and a half, no more than 50 people are killed by terrorists on a yearly basis? Just for comparison: on average, 5000 people die in traffic accidents in a year!
How to fight it: Don’t ever forget that frightening things get your attention because of evolutionary reasons; but if something is frightening, it doesn’t mean that it is risky: stop overestimating the risks of violence or contamination; remember this equation: risk = danger × exposure.
The Size Instinct
Explanation: The size instinct is the reason why you overestimate the things your fear instinct tells you to dread.
Examples: Listen to this: 9.5 million crimes were reported in the United States in 2016; that’s too much! But, let’s put that into perspective: 14.5 million crimes were reported in the USA 1990. Does it sound that bad now?
How to fight it: As demonstrated in the example, by putting things into perspective; lonely numbers seem impressive, but mean nothing if not compared or divided by relevant numbers; always look for comparisons.
The Generalization Instinct
Explanation: Your instinct to oversimplify things by putting them into large categories; compare to the gap instinct.
Examples: Categories are usually used as explanations, but not as the only possibilities; generalization is helpful in the former case, misleading in the latter; for example, if I say, with Malcolm Gladwell, that there are two types of geniuses (Picassos and Cézannes), I’m explaining two extremes, but ignoring those that are in-between.
How to fight it: Always question your categories; look for differences within groups and for similarities across groups; beware of vivid examples and never forget that Blakean quote: “to generalize is to be an idiot; to particularize is the alone distinction of merit.”
The Destiny Instinct
Explanation: The idea that some outcomes are unavoidable because some things never change.
Examples: Hans Rosling is Swedish and, as is well known, Sweden is one of the most liberal countries in the world; you can’t even imagine that Catholic Poland will ever be as open about topics as sex and abortion as Sweden, can’t you?
And yet, in 1960, abortion was illegal in Sweden, and, in order to get one, young pregnant Swedish students traveled to – you’ve guessed it – Poland. Five years later, Poland banned abortion, and Sweden legalized it. The lesson? There are no innate characteristics of people. Things change.
How to fight it: Never forget that slow change is change nevertheless; try to keep track of gradual improvements and to update your knowledge as often as you can. Also: talk to Grandpa; that’s the best way to be reminded how values (even those which seem to have been there forever) regularly change.
The Single Perspective Instinct
Explanation: If you see the world through pink lenses, you’ll see it pink; if you see it through black, you’ll see it dark; both are limited, single perspectives: you need to use more than one lens.
Examples: North Korea and Venezuela are two of the worst countries to live in nowadays; for comparison, South Korea and Chile are highly developed, rich, and democratic nations. The lesson? Capitalism and democracy bring peace and prosperity; communism – doom.
However, if you visited these four countries in the 1970s, you’d have a very different opinion; back then, Venezuela was so rich it was called Saudi Venezuela, and people in North Korea earned more than their southern neighbors; moreover, South Korea and Chile were ruled by military dictatorships.
Did you know that?
And do you know that nine out of the ten fastest growing economies today are not exactly democratic? Still thinking that only democracy leads to economic growth?
How to fight it: Recognize that a single perspective can limit your imagination; test your ideas and beware of simple solutions: the world is just too complicated; travel to test your ideas; get a toolbox, not a hammer.
The Blame Instinct
Explanation: Once you identify a bad guy, you look no further than him; suddenly, he’s the one who should be blamed for everything.
Examples: Pharmaceutical companies often don’t research solutions to some ailments which only affect the most impoverished populations (malaria, sleeping sickness, and other neglected tropical diseases). So, blame it on the CEOs! However, does the CEO decide for himself or follows the lead of the board members? What about the shareholders?
Another example: Trump. It’s easy to blame him for all the problems in America, but it’s difficult to ignore the fact that many of them were there before he came to power.
How to fight it: Look for causes, not villains: there are usually no Darth Vaders in the world, but system malfunctions; the opposite is true as well: sometimes the system works well; so, resist pinpointing scapegoats or heroes.
The Urgency Instinct
Explanation: This is the instinct which tells you that if you don’t act now, tomorrow will be too late; activists and rhetoricians cultivate it so as to be heard; but resist the temptation to believe them.
Examples: Urgency usually comes with a clear-cut solution; take a breath before rushing into anything; for example, the refugee problem (and the maltreatment of people just like you) is a real one, but don’t point your fingers before understanding its complexity.
How to fight it: Recognize when a decision feels urgent: it rarely is; take small steps and insist on the data; beware of fortune-tellers, because every single prediction about the future is uncertain; also, beware of drastic actions
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“Factfulness Quotes”There’s no room for facts when our minds are occupied by fear. Click To Tweet Forming your worldview by relying on the media would be like forming your view about me by looking only at a picture of my foot. Click To Tweet The world cannot be understood without numbers. But the world cannot be understood with numbers alone. Click To Tweet Every group of people I ask thinks the world is more frightening, more violent, and more hopeless—in short, more dramatic—than it really is. Click To Tweet Here’s the paradox: the image of a dangerous world has never been broadcast more effectively than it is now, while the world has never been less violent and more safe. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
According to Bill Gates, Factfulness is “one of the most important books… an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.”
His wife Melinda shares the same opinion: “Hans Rosling,” she writes, “tells the story of ‘the secret silent miracle of human progress’ as only he can. But Factfulness does much more than that. It also explains why progress is so often secret and silent and teaches readers how to see it clearly.”
“A hopeful book about the potential for human progress when we work off facts rather than our inherent biases” (Barack Obama), Factfulness is an eye-opening account of what the world is and how we’ve made it that way.
And features numerous great pieces of advice to teach you how you can make it even better!