Factfulness

I have just finished reading a superb book titled: “Factfulness – ten reason’s we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think”.This book is my last battle in my life-long mission to fight devastating ignorance… Previously I armed myself with huge data sets, eye-opening software, an energetic learning style and a Swedish bayonet for sword-swallowing. It wasn’t enough. But I hope this book will be.” – Hans Rosling, February 2017. Having finished writing the book, soon after that Hans Rosling died, but I suspect his legacy will long live on.

Much can be found on the Web about Hans Rosling. According to some helpful promotional blurb:When asked simple questions about global trends―what percentage of the world’s population live in poverty; why the world’s population is increasing; how many girls finish school―we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess teachers, journalists, Nobel laureates, and investment bankers. Factfulness offers a radical new explanation of why this happens. It reveals the ten instincts that distort our perspective―from our tendency to divide the world into two camps (usually some version of us and them) to the way we consume media (where fear rules) to how we perceive progress (believing that most things are getting worse). Our problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know, and even our guesses are informed by unconscious and predictable biases.”

I am grateful to my son for pointing this book out and encouraging me to read it when inclined not to. It was not in my normal comfort zone, especially as one of its heartiest endorsers was Bill Gates, someone I am not normally a fan of. I come from a school of thought, influenced by my religious perspective, that believes the world is getting worse rather than better and accordingly it is easy to be carried away by so much gloom and doom news reporting to conclude the world is indeed getting worse. And even though I am not always true to my good intentions, I believe that our beliefs should be based on fact and that is what the author sought to provide in abundance. Having got my attention by scoring less than a chimpanzee in his “is the world getting better or worse quiz”, I followed his argument, loosely based around the notion all parts of the world have been moving steadily from the main populace being at “Level 1” (dirt poor) to “Level 4” (comfortably rich).

I found the book compelling reading and even more so given it was not an echo chamber for my own prejudices but rather challenging them. I found his many anecdotes, nicely complementing his fixation with gathering and analyzing data, both apt and riveting. The fact that he had been seriously helping in some of the more challenging parts of the world, in his capacity as a health care professional with a global perspective, gave him added kudos. And while the world may be getting better, he was under no illusion that there wasn’t a lot wrong that still needs to be dealt with, but as a “possibleist” he was able to share the hope based on a realistic assessment that many of these wrongs can still be put to right.

If I have a qualm, it is based on my Calvinistic belief humankind is basically sinful and without a radical change of heart, which is what acceptance of the Christian gospel message brings about, then those possibilities will not translate into realities. Even so, Factfulness is an important read, and one which I strongly recommend.

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