Factfulness – Hans Rosling

  • FactfulnessTitleFactfulness – Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.
  • Authors: Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund
  • Publication Date: 2018
  • Recommendation Score: 5/5

Book Review

Factfulness is about how to get the world right. In a fast-changing world, our brains are bombarded with a large amount of information all the time. This book gives insights about how to deal with data and build a fact-based view of global events and issues. It provides some mental tools for individuals, organizations, and governments to make better decisions. Factfulness is full of eye-opening facts and is very pleasant to read.

Hans Rosling, the main author, argues that young people today see the world and think about it, as it was several decades ago (when their professors were young), and that older people have not updated their information since then. We would like to think about the world in a static way, whereas it is changing continuously and at a faster pace. He proves this by a series of tests (multiple answer questions) like the following one taken from the book:


and gives you the right answer, with the percentage of people who answered correctly in several countries as follows.


Based on this exercise, Rosling noticed that when people don’t know the correct answer, their results were not random (otherwise they would score 33% right for the given 3 choices, like would the chimpanzees do!). He concluded that the problem is that people have a distorted image of the world, which makes them score worse than the chimpanzees!

Hans Rosling’s TED talks motivated me to read this book. Rosling, who passed away in 2017 before the book was published, had several decades of experience in global health. He had a very rich experience so that the book is almost his biography.

The 4 levels

The author suggests not to talk about developed and developing countries anymore since it reflects a simplified view (the west and the rest) that does not help to understand the world today. Instead, Rosling suggests classifying the world based on income levels, and identifies 4 levels:


Based on these levels, the book presents a new vision of the world.

Why we’re wrong about the world

To answer this question, the book emphasizes 10 human instincts (we could call them the 10 biases):

  • The Gap Instinct: the binary view of the world, we and them, the west and the rest, etc.
  • The Negativity Instinct: the world is getting worse; it was better in the past. Look at what we see on the media.
  • The Straight-Line Instinct: the world will change always at the same pace (world population will NOT).
  • The Fear Instinct: we exaggerate the impact of frightening things, which are often statistically negligible (sharks, airplane crashes, etc.).
  • The Size Instinct: we look at a (small or large) number and judge or act, without comparing it to other numbers.
  • The Generalization Instinct: they are all the same. People are idiots. There may be some minor exceptions.
  • The Destiny Instinct: this or this country will not change. It is in their culture.
  • The Single Perspective Instinct: I’m an expert in my field, I know everything.
  • The Blame Instinct: we look for scapegoats, not real causes. We look for heroes, not for systems.
  • The Urgency Instinct: it is “now or never”. Look at what just happened!

The book provides examples for each instinct and gives suggestions on how to avoid their trap.

For more details: www.gapminder.org


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