Factfulness

Hans Rosling2.jpg

By Andrew Quist

Although it might not feel like it, the world is improving. In the past 20 years, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has halved. Crime is going down, more girls around the world are attending school, and 88% of the world’s children are being vaccinated. Why then, does it feel like things are getting worse?

Renowned physician and statistician Hans Rosling’s latest book, Factfulness, identifies 10 biases that cause us to see things as worse than they really are and distract us from the ways we can most effectively enact positive change. These biases include our tendency to notice negative developments and ignore positive ones, our instinct to pay attention to things that frighten us, and our tendency to misjudge the importance of numbers given without context.

Due to understandable developments in our psychology when we were hunter-gatherers, our minds are programmed to focus on the negative and dramatic, take brash action in the face of fear, and ignore or minimize risks that play out over a long period of time (like climate change). These biases might have served us well 100,000 years ago. After all, if the rustling in the bushes might be a lion, it’s better to act immediately and run away, rather than collect data and carefully analyze the situation. The problem with this psychological inheritance is that most of the challenges we face today are complex, and effective solutions must be carefully analyzed and implemented. Eradicating an Ebola epidemic or improving a collapsed economy require the focused analysis of data. We can’t afford to be blinded by fear, blame, and gross assumptions.

Factfulness concludes each chapter with practical advice we can put into practice to see through our biases and engage in fact-based decision making. Rosling’s advice will make you more effective at solving your own and society’s problems. Rosling died while writing this book (it was finished by his son and daughter-in-law), but he was proud to be able to provide “an enjoyable text that will help a global audience to understand the world.” Rosling and his co-authors challenge us to view the world not with rose-tinted glasses nor pessimistic insecurity, but as it really is. That way we are in the best position to enact meaningful change.

Factfulness was published in 2018 by Flatiron Books AB.

Photo of Hans Rosling by Bernt Sønvisen CC BY-ND 2.0