Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.When asked simple questions about global trends—what percentage of the world’s population live in poverty; why the world’s population is increasing; how many girls finish school—we systematically get the answers wrong. In Factfulness, Professor of International Health and global TED phenomenon Hanstrends—what...

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Title:Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
Author:Hans Rosling
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Edition Language:English

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think Reviews

  • Andy

    Rosling writes about the most important things in the world and does so in an accessible and entertaining style. He busts myths using facts. This is what non-fiction is supposed to be.

    Much of what "everybody knows" and that we read in the news every day is wrong, because hardly anyone bothers to do reality-checking. This is a recurring problem in non-fiction books, including ones about science. So, when finally someone is exposing ignorance, clarifying truth, and exploring logical implications,

    Rosling writes about the most important things in the world and does so in an accessible and entertaining style. He busts myths using facts. This is what non-fiction is supposed to be.

    Much of what "everybody knows" and that we read in the news every day is wrong, because hardly anyone bothers to do reality-checking. This is a recurring problem in non-fiction books, including ones about science. So, when finally someone is exposing ignorance, clarifying truth, and exploring logical implications, I am going to give him 5 stars.

    Gapminder and this book are great gifts to the world. Rosling will be missed. Viva facts!

  • Bill Gates

    I talk about the developed and developing world all the time, but I shouldn’t.

    My late friend Hans Rosling

    “outdated” and “meaningless.” Any categorization that lumps together China and the Democratic Republic of Congo is too broad to be useful. But I’ve continued to use “developed” and “developing” in public (and on this blog) because there wasn’t a more accurate, easily understandable alternative—until now.

    I recently read Hans’ new book

    I talk about the developed and developing world all the time, but I shouldn’t.

    My late friend Hans Rosling

    “outdated” and “meaningless.” Any categorization that lumps together China and the Democratic Republic of Congo is too broad to be useful. But I’ve continued to use “developed” and “developing” in public (and on this blog) because there wasn’t a more accurate, easily understandable alternative—until now.

    I recently read Hans’ new book

    . In it, he offers a new framework for how to think about the world. Hans proposes

    (with the largest number of people living on level 2).

    This was a breakthrough to me. The framework Hans enunciates is one that took me decades of working in global development to create for myself, and I could have never expressed it in such a clear way. I’m going to try to use this model moving forward.

    Why does it matter? It’s hard to pick up on progress if you divide the world into rich countries and poor countries. When those are the only two options, you’re more likely to think anyone who doesn’t have a certain quality of life is “poor.”

    Hans compares this instinct to standing on top of a skyscraper and looking down at a city. All of the other buildings will look short to you whether they’re ten stories or 50 stories high. It’s the same with income. Life is significantly better for those on level 2 than level 1, but it’s hard to see that from level 4 unless you know to look for it.

    The four levels are just one of many insights in

    that will help you better understand the world. I’m excited that Hans’ publisher Flatiron Books plans to donate 5,000 copies to Books for Africa and Reader to Reader—two organizations that encourage reading in underserved communities. Hans worked on the book until his last days (even bringing several chapters with him in the ambulance to the hospital), and his son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna helped finish it after he passed.

    The bulk of the book is devoted to ten instincts that keep us from seeing the world factfully. These range from the fear instinct (we pay more attention to scary things) to the size instinct (standalone numbers often look more impressive than they really are) to the gap instinct (most people fall between two extremes). With each one, he offers practical advice about how to overcome our innate biases. Gates Notes Insiders can

    of the gap instinct chapter.

    Hans argues that these instincts make it difficult to put events in perspective. Imagine news coverage about a natural disaster—say, a tornado that kills 10 people in a small town. If you look at only the headlines, you’ll view the event as an unbearable tragedy (which it is). But if you put it in the context of history, you’ll also know that tornadoes today are a lot less deadly than they used to be, thanks to advanced warning systems. That’s no consolation to the loved ones of those who died, but it matters a great deal to everyone who survived the tornado.

    That idea drives the work Melinda and I do every day, and Hans articulates it beautifully in

    . It’s a great companion to Steven Pinker’s

    (although Hans is a little less academic than Pinker is). With rare exceptions, most of the miracles of humankind are long-term, constructed things. Progress comes bit by bit. We’ve cut the number of people living in extreme poverty by half over the last twenty years, but there was never a morning when “POVERTY RATES DROP INCREMENTALLY” dominated newspaper headlines.

    Another remarkable thing about

    —and about Hans himself—is that he refuses to judge anyone for their misconceptions. Most writers would beat people up for their ignorance, but he doesn’t. Hans even resists going after the media. Instead, he tells you about the history of his own ignorance. He explains that these instincts make us human, and that overcoming them isn’t easy.

    That’s classic Hans. He was always kind, often patient, and never judgmental. He

    not only understanding how global health was improving but sharing what he learned in a fun, clear way with a broad set of people. If you never met Hans or watched one of his many TED talks,

    will help you get a sense of why he was so special. I wish I could tell Hans how much I liked it.

    is a fantastic book, and I hope a lot of people read it.

  • Daniel Clausen

    This is probably one of the most important books available today. Why? Because our world is desperately in need of a shared sense of reality, and it's very important that this reality has a solid grounding in science and reason. The book is not without its controversy. The charts and graphs mostly come from UN and World Bank statistics. Many people will argue about the "factfulness" of the various datasets presented in this book-- after all, your faith in the science and facts of these books als

    This is probably one of the most important books available today. Why? Because our world is desperately in need of a shared sense of reality, and it's very important that this reality has a solid grounding in science and reason. The book is not without its controversy. The charts and graphs mostly come from UN and World Bank statistics. Many people will argue about the "factfulness" of the various datasets presented in this book-- after all, your faith in the science and facts of these books also assumes your faith in the institutions collecting data (over and above other institutions like your local church).

    But if you do have faith in these institutions, then you'll see that just because the institutions and the data aren't perfect (just like many other things in modern life) they are improving. The relentless pursuit of progress also extends to our statistical understanding of the things around us. For my part, one of the most striking things about the book is how uncontroversial its assertions are...and how simple the statistical facts of the world can be rendered.

    At one point in the book, the author asks harder epistemological questions. For those who have a more mystical understanding of vaccinations, chemicals, and even modern science, the author asks "What evidence would make you change your mind?". Regrettably, for most of the world, the answer is this: "If the answer benefits my tribe and its particular world-view, then yes, easily accepted....oh, and by the way, I'll use the open-mindedness of non-tribal people against themselves by sewing the seeds of skepticism while continuing to build walls to protect my tribe's worldview."

    Will you ever be able to convince a climate change skeptic to accept climate change? My own very controversial answer is this: Only if you can co-opt their tribe. That is very different than getting a tribe to buy into the shared world of factfulness.

    My best guess is that this method of argument works within a worldview of competing tribes: Your tribe will have beneficial treatment, jobs, and prestige within this world and protection from other tribes. (Notice how the language of shared humanism is absent and the language hierarchy of tribes is emphasized).

    A true understanding of science requires that we always regard truths as provisional and that we look for falsifying evidence. My fear is that eventually the world will become so polluted by tribal world-views that all forms of shared factfulness will become polluted by tribalism. Zero-sum competition will lay waste to the public utility that is a shared fact-based world.

    There is one very controversial assertion in this book that I would like to reflect on. At several points, the author asserts that our current methods of pursuing progress are working. Child mortality rates are falling, crime is falling, battle deaths are falling, and national economies are rising out of poverty. I don't doubt the assertion within the framework of the book, but I do wonder about our current moment in history. A time when:

    1- populism

    2- social media enhanced sectarianism

    3- the displacement of localisms by globalization

    4- and discontent with the vast changes in technology

    are leading to the most difficult problem of our time: tribalism.

    As tribalism increases, our modern scientific tools for tackling climate change, political violence, disaster relief, and the fragility of the global economy deteriorate. As they deteriorate, zero-sum competition between tribes looks more logical. The tools of tribalism are becoming more visible: demonization and humiliation of enemies, the hoarding of resources, and the use of conflict over cooperation.

    This is not a problem I'm ready to answer right now, but Rosling's thesis that public education may restore our confidence in these tools and roll back tribalism does provide some hope if not a sufficient political answer to our current moment in history.

  • ☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~  ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣

    This is either a very cruel book or a very fair one, and I'm not sure which one.

    On the one hand, the author is extremely sharp in that he realizes that bisection of the world is severely crippling to rational thinking process. When it becomes 'us' and 'them', most of our thinking processes will be black and white colored, or rather discolored. What we keep missing is that this world is complex and multifaceted enough to fit into no nice and tidy boxes. So, understanding that there are more than

    This is either a very cruel book or a very fair one, and I'm not sure which one.

    On the one hand, the author is extremely sharp in that he realizes that bisection of the world is severely crippling to rational thinking process. When it becomes 'us' and 'them', most of our thinking processes will be black and white colored, or rather discolored. What we keep missing is that this world is complex and multifaceted enough to fit into no nice and tidy boxes. So, understanding that there are more than 2 ways to live and more than 2 types of countries and more than 2 political parties and more than 2 ways to have a prospering state governance and ... and ... and ... is precious. And it's hindered by the tribal 'us'/'them' classification.

    He's also very right about our usage of outdated statistics and our lack of understanding of how data works.

    He's very wrong about diminishing the role of mass media in development of generations of people who

    - know next to nothing on the scientific way of thought, cannot think for themselves, cannot see neither the big picture nor the small one;

    - are gullible (i.e. my 'friend' writes anything on Facebook and I go on to believe it...);

    - cannot distinguish between horrible, questionable and reliable sources of info (feel free to use your own classification here), i.e.: Facebooks posts, World Bank data, blog entries, articles from around the web, research of different types and other stuff - everything gets lumped in these modern heads and become a congealed mass of truth, lies, wishful thinking, misrepresented info, incomprehensible blabber...

    Basically, people don't know how to use healthy skepticism for the info they are being spoon-fed. The don't even realize they have this option. Some guy or gal with PHD and a bunch of publications supposedly said this and that to some blogger or journalist and this becomes the new evidence of anything:

    - hackers, Russian or otherwise,

    - chemical weapons of varied countries,

    - health benefits of anything,

    - freethinking and progressive nature of [place your religion/persuasion/political inclinations here],

    - bloodthirsty and dated and inhuman nature of [place your religion/persuasion/political inclinations here]...

    ... and this becomes the new truth, right until the new information fad comes in vogue.

    I don't get the reason why the author suggests chucking the 'developing'/'developed' countries significators in favor of 'Levels' 1 to 4. Probably I should read way less trash but I immediately had a flashback to Districts in Hunger Games. Anyway, why 4 groups? Why not 5? Maybe 3 would have been less confusing? Or could it be that 10 might have allowed us to explore the shades of human misery and else in more relief? Why 4?

    Also, the author is making a big deal out of the fact that most world's population seems to be living in the middle class... To me, the author's description of the 'middle class (Lvls 2 and 3) sounded like something not exactly from Dante's Hell but very close to it. Basically, he proves that 6 bln out of our current 7 live in various shades of misery, from abject to hopeful, which is not as ground-shaking realization as he might be thinking. The difference is that when we think of middle class, we almost never think of it in terms of his Lvls 2 and 3... Our perception is strongly rooted in what he puts in the Lvl 4 bucket. So, we are not really always thinking of the middle class, when we are thinking of it, and our perception should be more humble and terminology more precise.

  • Apoorva

    Factfulness is written by Hans Rosling, a doctor, a researcher, and a lecturer in global health along with his son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling, both of whom were responsible for compiling the data. The data is presented in the form of bubble charts, graphs and it’s verified by international organizations.

    The aim of the book is to fight ignorance and dramatic worldview with well-researched facts and global statistics. This book starts off with a quick 13 question quiz to test

    Factfulness is written by Hans Rosling, a doctor, a researcher, and a lecturer in global health along with his son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling, both of whom were responsible for compiling the data. The data is presented in the form of bubble charts, graphs and it’s verified by international organizations.

    The aim of the book is to fight ignorance and dramatic worldview with well-researched facts and global statistics. This book starts off with a quick 13 question quiz to test how you see the world in general. The author then proceeds to explain the world and banish misconceptions using different instincts.

    :

    It’s obsolete to divide the countries into developed and developing countries. The majority fit into developed countries. It’s proper to classify countries into 4 income levels starting from Level 1 that has poorest countries to Level 4 that has richest countries.

    The majority of people live in the middle and the author explains how life looks like on all levels based on his interviews with people on all levels. This new way of classification helps to understand the world in a practical way without any prejudice and misconceptions by dividing the world into two categories.

    You can look at the lives of people on different levels by visiting

    , a project where lives of about 300 families in more than 50 countries have been photographed and documented.

    The author dispels the negativity instinct i.e. ‘Things are getting worse’ by presenting the improvements that happened and those that are taking place actively. Some improvements are happening so gradually that they’re inconspicuous so it’s easier to dismiss them.

    Small advances go unreported by the media but these changes add up in a long run. Also, people tend to glorify their pasts. I’m sure you’ve come across people who start the sentence with ‘In those good old days’, this only strengthens the negativity bias.

    The attention-grabbing news is the one that generates fear in our mind. The author explains why and how our fear instinct is invoked and urges us to understand the difference between what’s frightening and what’s dangerous as it leads us to shift our attention from something that’s risky to something that’s mildly harmful.

    This can cause people to make rash decisions by calling on our urgency instinct. Thinking about the worst case scenarios only makes people take quick decisions without thinking critically.

    The size instinct leads us to get things out of proportion by shifting our focus to an individual entity. It’s important to compare a lone number with another to get a clear image for eg. We should compare data from the present with the past. Also, the most important thing is to understand what the numbers explain about the real world.

    The generalization instinct leads us to group together things which are unrelated and on a large scale, it forms a stereotype that can cause people to draw wrong conclusions about a certain entity. The author also illustrated how the cultures, religious values, people and nations constantly changing and progressing.

    The single perspective instinct leads people to conclude that all problems have a single cause and they blame a singular identity like the government or the management while reality is much more complex than that. It’s better to be open to different ideas.

    :

    The author is candid while putting forward facts and he has used experiences from his life to present his ideas. He also admits the mistakes he made in the past due to ignorance and his instincts which make reading the book an interesting experience. While reading, you can just feel how dedicated he is to his work.

    I don’t mean to be dramatic (!) but reading this book has really been an eye-opening experience as I got to see the world from a fresh perspective. Journalists and documentarians prefer to tell stories that create conflict and hence, they should not be relied upon to show the unfiltered picture of the world.

    Despite explaining how media is responsible for presenting the distorted view of the world, the author does not blame them; he blames the different instincts that guide people. In order to break away from those instincts, he urges us to constantly keep updating our knowledge and changing our views in accordance with the newly discovered facts.

    This book does not try to make us see the world through rose tinted glasses, far from it. The author admits that the world is still bad but there’s no denying that it has gotten better and it is getting better. This was a very insightful and informative book. I believe this book should be read by everyone.

    .

  • Khurram

    A very good book, with a very important message about finding facts from data, and more importantly finding the truth in all the information fed to us.

    This is the a last effort from Hans Rowling, and him long time contributors (family). It contains real stories and new ways of looking at world data as well as new ways of thinking.

    The message I really took away from this book is the world is not perfect. We have a lot of work to do, but to not forget all we have achieved,

    A very good book, with a very important message about finding facts from data, and more importantly finding the truth in all the information fed to us.

    This is the a last effort from Hans Rowling, and him long time contributors (family). It contains real stories and new ways of looking at world data as well as new ways of thinking.

    The message I really took away from this book is the world is not perfect. We have a lot of work to do, but to not forget all we have achieved, to take encouragement from this, to continue to improve.

  • Justin Tate

    It's a shame I rarely pick up nonfiction, because I always enjoy it when I do. The premise of this one is to debunk common misconceptions people have about the world and explain how a mindset shift toward facts solves a lot of everyday problems. It's mostly optimistic, because that's what the facts are saying, but he addresses the woes too. The problem is, when asked about important world trends, nearly everyone has the wrong viewpoint. Even experts. His mission is to examine why this is and hel

    It's a shame I rarely pick up nonfiction, because I always enjoy it when I do. The premise of this one is to debunk common misconceptions people have about the world and explain how a mindset shift toward facts solves a lot of everyday problems. It's mostly optimistic, because that's what the facts are saying, but he addresses the woes too. The problem is, when asked about important world trends, nearly everyone has the wrong viewpoint. Even experts. His mission is to examine why this is and help get people out of the funk.

    I'm an analytical guy, so I rarely jump to extremes or find myself enraged by the news. But still, when quizzed, I also answered most of the basic fact-based questions incorrectly. It's a big world out there and so much of the good news isn't dramatic enough to break through the headline stories about plane crashes and murders.

    Having read this book, I feel like I have a better understanding of the power of small improvements over time and how to filter out the theatrics from the facts. He also provides some great resources where you can go if you actually want to look for facts and not narrative.

    Recommended for sure, but giving 4 stars instead of 5 because around the halfway point I did feel like he began beating a dead horse. The examples became too similar and lost their zeal compared to the eye-opening punch of the earlier segments. Still, it's a well-written, short book that made me feel more educated. Can't ask for much more than that!

  • Emily May

    It is not easy to say anything bad about this book. Not because there aren’t issues with it - there are - but because this was Rosling’s last passion project that he completed while battling through his final months with pancreatic cancer. If you are unmoved by his son’s final words, then you are a much stronger person than I am.

    Mr Rosling is indeed passionate about his work.

    is

    in which the author frequently delights at the progress made across the g

    It is not easy to say anything bad about this book. Not because there aren’t issues with it - there are - but because this was Rosling’s last passion project that he completed while battling through his final months with pancreatic cancer. If you are unmoved by his son’s final words, then you are a much stronger person than I am.

    Mr Rosling is indeed passionate about his work.

    is

    in which the author frequently delights at the progress made across the globe. And progress has definitely been made. Perhaps the most shocking fact this book reveals, for me, was how many people truly seem to believe the world is in a worse state than it was decades, or even centuries, ago.

    Rosling constantly reminds us - a little condescendingly, if I'm honest - that even the smartest of smart folks get his little questionnaire about the state of the world completely wrong.

    has a very similar premise to Pinker's

    , though Rosling's work seems much more rooted in numbers and solid facts. I like numbers. Numbers do not lie. However, the way they are presented, the emphasis placed on certain numbers over others can be misleading. Despite cautioning against certain misconceptions, Rosling et al often uses these misconceptions to their own advantage.

    One example is this question:

    There are a few problems with this. You can probably guess that the answer is C. The way this question is written is deliberate: Is it 20%? No! Is it 40%? No! Oh my goodness, it's a whopping 60%?!

    But let's take a second look at this. Firstly, what is a "low-income" country? We are never told. I combed through the notes and appendices at the back to make sure it wasn't clarified somewhere. It could be what Rosling refers to as "Level 1" but, as he already told us, even some people at Level 3 are below the U.S. poverty line, so who knows exactly what constitutes "low-income"?

    Secondly, what is "primary school"? This differs from country to country. In some countries with middle schools, primary schooling might only be up to 7 or 8 years old. And, thirdly, the deliberate format of the question seeks to play up the 60% statistic. This still means that hundreds of millions of girls in "low-income" countries (40% is HUGE) receive no or incomplete primary education, and we can only know that 60% finish some kind of primary schooling of unspecified length.

    The book is split into sections, dismantling various kinds of misconceptions based on human instincts to generalize, fear and blame. What's strange, though, is how the authors often fall prey to the same instincts. Rosling cautions us to not give weight to averages - because they often hide a spread of values - but the majority of his graphs and charts use averages. The argument is built on averages.

    Additionally, he spends a whole page discussing the limitations of Wikipedia, noting a particular case where Wikipedia was missing 78% of a list of terrorism deaths in 2015. He then proceeds to use Wikipedia as a source ten times.

    The book's argument is far stronger when it focuses on things being BETTER rather than good. It might be difficult to convince me that 60% of girls finishing primary school is a positive statistic, but showing an increase in the numbers over time - slow or otherwise - is much more convincing. And, as the Roslings conclude, things

    getting better by most measurable standards across the globe.

    I do also think something huge is missing from this book and it is an integral part of the misconception and misrepresentation of the state of the world. It seems like Rosling was a good, kind person. Which is possibly why he failed to consider a little something called motive. Why might someone want to present the "developing" world as terrible and backward and incapable of ever modernizing? Perhaps some do indeed wish to believe that western hegemony is “natural” and that the rest of the world is backward. Could it be that part of the misconception is rooted in the old imperialist notion that the rest of the world can't possibly be as good? Isn't America held up by the insistence that it is "the greatest country on earth"?

    Rosling suggests that the western dismissal of "developing" countries as destined to stay the way they are because of their "culture" is caused by mistakes made by innocent human instincts. A skeptic might wonder if it is really all an innocent mistake.

    I've said more than I meant to here, but I guess it's the kind of book that encourages you to think about things. For that, at least, it deserves three stars.

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  • Radiantflux

    78th book for 2018.

    I hate TED talks. This book is mostly like an extended TED Talk. Ipso facto I mostly hated this book.

    Rosling's central thesis is that in most measures of human development the World is much better than we'd think. That part of the book I enjoyed, though the data backing this up could have been presented in a far shorter book.

    Rosling spends a lot of time talking about the important people (e.g., bankers, Davos, bankers at Davos, TED talks) that he's pre

    78th book for 2018.

    I hate TED talks. This book is mostly like an extended TED Talk. Ipso facto I mostly hated this book.

    Rosling's central thesis is that in most measures of human development the World is much better than we'd think. That part of the book I enjoyed, though the data backing this up could have been presented in a far shorter book.

    Rosling spends a lot of time talking about the important people (e.g., bankers, Davos, bankers at Davos, TED talks) that he's presented this findings too. And he repeats and repeats and repeats his horror that people are so so ignorant not to know "basic" facts about the World (like probable demographic shifts over the next 100 years). This is all tedious and doesn't really help. He also gives a series of annoying tips about how to read statistics.

    The central problem with his optimistic World view is that it ignores all the declining global environmental indicators. This is not a side issue. Environmental indicators are declining precisely because the World is developing and consuming more and more (which is not to say that most of the damage is done by the most developed). It is an impossibility that most people in the World can reach Rosling's Stage 3, let alone Stage 4, with current technologies. The World couldn't even survive the World population eating meat at the same rate as people in Europe, the US or Japan, let alone adopting the rest of their lifestyle.

    I agree entirely with Rosling's point that people will want to reach Stage 4 (and have a right to do so), but his sort of glib analysis of how everything is getting better, allows decision makers in the West to continue to ignore this issue and live in the vague hope that a techno-fix will arrive just in time. I have no doubt this was why Rosling was so popular at Davos.

    2-stars.

  • Mehrsa

    Why I am right and everyone is wrong. I gave a bunch of really smart people a quiz and they all got it wrong --how could they be so dumb? The book proceeds in this way. The point is taken--things are way better than they seem. I get it. I believe his facts (though I dispute some of his rosy conclusions about the world), but I could not get over his condescending cockiness.

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