Book Review by Kristen Cudd
In 2005, Hans Rosling, his son Ola Rosling, and his daughter in law Anna Rosling Rönnlund founded the Gapminder Foundation whose mission is “to fight devastating ignorance with a fact-based worldview.” Factfulness is a result of their collaboration and decades of research. It was the final project of Hans, who sadly succumbed to pancreatic cancer before it was published.
Factfulness opens with a quiz to test readers on their knowledge of the world. The test poses well documented, undisputed fact-based questions about “poverty and wealth, population growth, births, deaths, education, health, gender, violence, energy, and the environment.” Rosling has presented tests of this nature to “thousands of people across the world” and most of them “do extremely badly,” scoring an average of only two out of twelve correct responses.
Most people do not know basic facts that are extremely important about life on earth. Massive ignorance is to blame. This is not a question of intelligence or education. In fact, groups of “highly educated people who take an interest in the world” score worse than the general public.
This points to a delusion we hold that “the world is more frightening, more violent, and more hopeless than it really is. After decades of work focused on this disparity, Rosling has come to believe that “the overdramatic worldview is so difficult to shift because it comes from the very ways our brains work.”
Our Overdramatic Worldview
We have an appetite for the dramatic that stems back thousands of years to times when rushing to judgement was critical to our survival. Dramatic stories and gossip were the only sources of information. The instincts that drive our cravings for drama go overboard in a world that is much changed. Our “dramatic instincts cause misconceptions and an overdramatic worldview.”
Factfulness is a practice that can be used to “replace your overdramatic worldview with one based on facts.” You do not need to learn everything there is to know about the world in order to have this healthier worldview. It’s about a way of thinking, not a knowledge base. Factfulness will help you recognize when you are slipping into dramatic thinking and shift to a fact-based mode to avoid misconceptions, reduce stress, and feel more positive and hopeful.
The book is organized into ten different instincts that impact our ability to have a fact-based worldview. Fear, blame, urgency, and negativity are examples of some of the instincts that steer us towards the overdramatic. Rosling calls these instincts “mega misconceptions” because they “have such an enormous impact on how people misperceive the world.” The worst offender of all is “the gap instinct.”
Humans divide the world into two groups: poor and rich. This division “completely distorts all the global proportions in people’s minds.” We speak about the entire human population in terms of “them and us.” These groups are also referred to as “the developing world and the developed world,” “west and rest,” “low-income, high income” and so on. These labels paint clear pictures in a person’s mind that we believe are based in reality. But we are wrong.
Rosling shares detailed data that illustrates perfectly how the world is divided into developing and already developed countries. Further, the data shows a clear correlation between child mortality rates and the level of development for that country. The problem, Rosling says, is that these data sets are from 1965!
The world has changed dramatically but we are still “stuck with a completely outdated idea about the rest of the world.” He goes on to share data from 2017 which clearly demonstrates that most of the world is already “developed” and all countries are heading towards having fewer children with low mortality rates. In fact, “85 percent of mankind are already in the so-called developed world.”
The data shows that 75% of people on Earth actually live in middle-income countries, a fact that most of us find difficult to believe even when faced with the actual numbers. This notion that the world is divided “with a majority stuck in misery an deprivation is an illusion.” That illusion colors our worldview, skewing it into the negative. And it is “simply wrong.” The other ten instincts presented in the book further explain how and why we hold a warped view of the world and how we can change that.
Anyone who is ready to have their worldview rocked and replace feelings with facts should read Factfulness.
Kristen Cudd is a Contributing Writer at Soundview. She spent seven years in publishing working with business book authors. She loves sharing her viewpoint as a contributing writer for various publications across multiple niches. Her other reviews can be found here.
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