Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Factfulness by Hans Rosling

The Book in A Few Sentences 

Factfulness shows us that the world is not as bad as it seems, if you look at the facts. A fact-based worldview creates less stress and hopelessness than a dramatic worldview. It also helps us to see what we have to do to keep making the world better.

Factfulness summary

Here is my book summary of Factfulness by Hans Rosling. My summaries are casual and include what I believe are the essential concepts, ideas and insights from the book, along with direct quotes from the author.

  • “If you are more interested in being right than in continuing to live in your bubble; if you are wiling to change your worldview; if you are ready for critical thinking to replace instinctive reaction; and if you are feeling humble, curious, and ready to be amazed — then please read on.
  • Humans tend to divide things into two distinct groups with nothing in between. Good and bad, my country versus the rest. It’s simple, intuitive and easy but usually wrong.
  • Black and white thinking creates division and conflict. In reality, everything lies on a spectrum.
  • Part of our distorted worldview is that the media shows extraordinary events, not ordinary, everyday events. 
  • That’s why most people believe there are two worlds — the developed and undeveloped worlds. 
  • Here’s the truth: most of the world’s population is neither rich nor poor but somewhere in the middle.
  • When surveyed about fundamental questions like “In all low-income countries today, how many girls finish primary school?” Or “How many of the world’s 1-year-old children today have been vaccinated against some disease?” people across fourteen industrialized countries with all education and income levels scored worse than primates. 
  • The more educated people were, including teachers, the more likely they were to choose the wrong answer.
  • Many people believe the world is terrible and getting worse. Some things are getting worse, but many things are getting better and we should celebrate those successes.
  • For example, in 1900, only .03% of the world’s land surface was protected; today, it’s 14.7%, a 500x increase. In 1800 only 10% of the world’s 15+ population was literate; today, it’s 86%. In 1816 only 1% of the world’s population lived in a democracy; today, it’s 56%.
  • One of the reasons for our bias is the human mind’s inclination toward negativity. The ancestors who were anxious and fearful stayed alive.
  • In addition, misremembering the past; selective reporting by journalists and activists; as long as things are bad, it’s heartless to say things are getting better.
  • When people think the world is getting worse, they are more likely feeling, not thinking. 
  • “Remember: things can be bad, and getting better. Getting better, but still bad.”
  • In general, where income is higher, health is better.
  • Negative emotions like fear hinder our ability to think clearly and critically.
  • We gravitate to stories, and the more dramatic the report, the more likely it is to get our attention and stay in our memory.
  • The antidote to information overload is our ability to filter information with our attention. 
  • Which are you more likely to tune into: “Meteorologists correctly predicted mild weather in New York today” or “A giant tsunami slammed New York today.”
  • “The media cannot resist tapping into our fear instinct.” Stories triggering more than one fear often get even more coverage, such as kidnappings and plane crashes.
  • Here’s the paradox: there have never been more images of danger while the world is safer.
  • “In the deepest poverty you should never do anything perfectly. If you do you are stealing resources from where they can be better used.” - Ingegerd Rooth
  • Half the increase in child survival in the world is due to literacy among moms.
  • Per capita data is usually more meaningful than absolute figures when measuring rates for HIV, internet usage, or GDP.
  • Humans tend to generalize all the time about everything. Generalizing is necessary and helpful for navigating daily life, but it can distort reality when we jump to simple, easy conclusions without critical thought.
  • “The main factor that affects how people live is not their religion, their culture, or the country they live in, but their income.”
  • The most significant numbers, or the numbers that stand out, are where you can usually have the most impact.
  • Seeming logic combined with good intentions makes generalization errors nearly impossible to spot. 
  • We must always stay open to new evidence and be ready to admit when we’re wrong.
  • We tend to think that innate characteristics determine the destiny of people, countries, religions, or cultures.
  • Lofty statements tend to be feelings disguised as fact.
  • Africa and Asia are experiencing the most significant expansion of the middle-income market in history.
  • Iran experienced the fastest drop in babies per woman in history, but it went unreported in the free Western media.
  • It’s easy to confuse slow change with no change. 
  • Simple ideas are attractive because there’s a moment of insight where we think we finally understand something, even when we’re wrong.
  • Seeing things from one perspective inevitably makes us blind to information that doesn’t fit our view.
  • “Experts are experts only within their own field.”
  • We like to feel knowledgeable and useful and that our unique skills make us generally better.
  • “The world cannot be understood without numbers. But the world cannot be understood with numbers alone.”
  • Seeking blame blocks learning and diminishes objectivity. Once we identify the bad guy, our thinking stops.
  • Most of the world’s problems are problems of systems — or multiple interacting causes.
  • “The media is not and cannot be neutral, and we shouldn’t expect it to be.”
  • Two billion people can afford a washing machine, which frees people to spend that time learning to increase their income and further improve their quality of life.
  • We are a product of ancestors who quickly made and acted on decisions with incomplete information. 
  • Exaggeration undermines data integrity.
  • Data is about sharing the truth, not creating urgency, regardless of good intentions. 
  • Urgency distorts our worldview and creates stress or apathy rather than action based on reasoned analysis.
  • “Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya are where some of the best investment opportunities can be found today.”
  • The news is not a reliable way to understand the world; we need to learn to consume information objectively.
  • “A fact-based worldview is more comfortable. It creates less stress and hopelessness than the dramatic worldview, simply because the dramatic one is so negative and terrifying.”
  • “When we have a fact-based worldview, we can see that the world is not as bad as it seems—and we can see what we have to do to keep making it better.”

Related Resources

Here is a list of resources, including authors, books, websites, podcasts and concepts mentioned in Factfulness, which might be helpful for further learning.

Data

  • Gapminder
  • Global Burden of Disease
  • Relief Web
  • Dollar Street
  • Red List

People

  • Ingegerd Rooth
Thanks for reading.  You can get more thought-provoking insights right in your inbox. Each week, I share one book summary, and each month an in-depth article on wellbeing.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.