2018 Reading List: Factfulness by Hans Rosling

How much do you know about the world we live in?

No, really. How much do you know? Do you know how many girls worldwide go to school? Do you know many households in other countries have electricity? Do you know the proportion of people living in poverty worldwide?

These topics are not typically things that are on our radar. The answers aren’t found on the five o’clock news, or in your Instagram feed. There is no headline that reads “Five families in Somalia confirm indoor plumbing is working.” There’s no reason to bring up the state of endangered species at your next happy hour. But we all have estimated answers to these questions anyway. And it is our estimated worldview that shapes our opinions about so many other things.

Our estimated answers to these questions are wrong. And our view of the world we live in is wrong. 

Don’t worry. I just learned this too.

But this is exactly why Hans Rosling wrote his book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think. He’s not out to blame the media (which he kind of does anyway) and he’s not trying to tell you you’re a shitty person (which you’ll kind of feel like after you read the book). He simply wants to set the world straight with what is going on.

His books aims to to give you the tools to figure out when your preconceived notions about the world might be false. He tells you how to evaluate the facts, news, and opinions that you’re given throughout your life, and determine if they should be up for more scrutiny.

His ten reasons are different takes on why we see the world the way we do, and how we assess it differently to combat our tendencies.

He says that we have a tendency to listen to over-exaggerations, to look at standalone numbers, to be influenced by extremes, to look at averages instead of individuals. All of these tendencies, and others, cause us to think that the world is a terrible place. In a nutshell.

We think that there are more people in poverty than there actually are because we see the sad commercials asking us for money. We think that girls are mostly uneducated because the news only reports on the efforts of Malala and Emma Watson trying to get more girls in school, not on the girls who already are. We think that disease is rampant and kids aren’t getting vaccinated because we only hear about the numbers of people dying of malaria today, not comparing it to the vastly larger numbers of people who died of malaria years ago.

Let’s face it, our brain can only handle so much in a day. There are days I can’t remember to take the laundry out of the washer. There’s too much information to process so we create shortcuts and stereotypes. We draw quick conclusions and we make assumptions. We connect dots that might be a little too far away. We have to do this to get through the day, but this is how we’ve created our false worldview. We saw one sad commercial and assumed that every child in Africa is hungry. We don’t have time to study the facts.

Rosling is challenging us to step it up. His book has quick, helpful tools to help us remember that what we see in the news or hear from a friend is almost definitely not the whole picture. There are very easy ways to tell if the information you’re getting is exaggerated, singled out, stereotyped, isolated, or aggregated (depending on the statistic in question). And he challenges us to remember these tips.

It would be easy to tell you that I read this book and what I got out of it was that the world is better than I thought it was. That’s literally the title of the book.

But in reality, this book was so much more than debunking a single myth, or giving me the answers to 13 fact questions. It told me why we believe what we do – why the whole world gets it wrong. And it is truly eye-opening.

Bill Gates said that this book is one of the most important books he’s ever read. If people can read this book and really take away the strategies to look at the world with a fuller view, then we might actually be on the way to real change.

People in this world are richer than they’ve ever been. There has been real progress in education and women’s rights. People are more healthy and have more access to clean water and medicine than they ever have. There is reason here to celebrate and to be grateful that we are lucky enough to live in such a world.

But with gratitude must come humility, because as Rosling points out, things can be better but still be bad. Change should start with the real picture. We’ve made progress, but there’s so much more to be done.

I would recommend this book to anyone. Literally anyone. It might change your life.

 

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