Back Cover Blurb
- Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.
- When asked simple questions about global trends - why the world's population is increasing; how many young women go to school; how many of us live in poverty - we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess journalists, Nobel laureates, and investment bankers.
- In Factfulness, Professor of International Health and a man who can make data sing, Hans Rosling, together with his two long-time collaborators Anna and Ola, offers a radical new explanation of why this happens, and reveals the ten instincts that distort our perspective.
- It turns out that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think. But when we worry about everything all the time instead of embracing a worldview based on facts, we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most.
- Inspiring and revelatory, filled with lively anecdotes and moving stories, Factfulness is an urgent and essential book that will change the way you see the world.
Author’s Note – ix
Introduction – 1
- The Gap Instinct – 19
- The Negativity Instinct – 47
- The Straight Line Instinct – 75
- The Fear Instinct – 101
- The Size Instinct – 124
- The Generalization Instinct – 144
- The Destiny Instinct – 166
- The Single Perspective Instinct – 185
- The Blame Instinct – 204
- The Urgency Instinct – 223
- Factfulness in Practice – 243
Factfulness Rules of Thumb – 256
Outro – 257
Acknowledgments – 261
APPENDIX: How Did Your Country Do? – 267
Notes – 275
Sources – 299
Biographical Notes – 327
Index – 331
Factfulness Rules of Thumb
- Gap: Look for the majority.
- Negativity: Expect bad news.
- Straight Line: Lines might bend.
- Fear: Calculate the risks.
- Size: Get things in proportion.
- Generalization: Question your categories.
- Destiny: Slow change is still change.
- Single Perspective: Get a tool box.
- Blame: Resist pointing the finger.
- Urgency: Take small steps.
- The Gap Instinct
- Factfulness is ... recognizing when a story talks about a gap, and remembering that this paints a picture of two separate groups, with a gap in between. The reality is often not polarized at all. Usually the majority is right there in the middle, where the gap is supposed to be. To control the gap instinct, look for the majority.
- Beware comparisons of averages. If you could check the spreads you would probably find they overlap. There is probably no gap at all.
- Beware comparisons of extremes. In all groups, of countries or people, there are some at the top and some at the bottom. The difference is sometimes extremely unfair. But even then the majority is usually somewhere in between, right where the gap is supposed to be.
- The view from up here. Remember, looking down from above distorts the view. Everything else looks equally short, but it’s not.
- The Negativity Instinct
- Factfulness is ... recognizing when we get negative news, and remembering that information about bad events is much more likely reach us. When things are getting better we often don’t hear about them. This gives us a systematically too-negative impression of t world around us, which is very stressful.
- To control the negativity instinct, expect bad news.
- Better and bad. Practice distinguishing between a level (e. bad) and a direction of change (e.g., better). Convince yours: that things can be both better and bad.
- Good news is not news. Good news is almost never reported. So news is almost always bad. When you see bad news, ask whether equally positive news would have reached you.
- Gradual improvement is not news. When a trend is gradually improving, with periodic dips, you are more likely to notice the dips than the overall improvement.
- More news does not equal more suffering. More bad news sometimes due to better surveillance of suffering, not a worsening world.
- Beware of rosy pasts. People often glorify their early experiences, and nations often glorify their histories.
- The Straight Line Instinct
- Factfulness is ... recognizing the assumption that a line will continue straight, and remembering that such lines are rare in reality.
- To control the straight line instinct, remember that curves come in different shapes.
- Don’t assume straight lines. Many trends do not follow straight lines but are S-bends, slides, humps, or doubling lines. No child ever kept up the rate of growth it achieved in its first six months, and no parents would expect it to.
- The Fear Instinct
- Factfulness is ... recognising when frightening things get our attention and remembering that these are not necessarily the most risky. Our natural fears of violence, captivity, and contamination systematically overestimate these risks.
- To control the fear instinct, calculate the risks.
- The scary world: fear vs. reality. The world seems scarier than it is because what you hear about it has been selected — by your own attention filter or by the media — precisely because it is scary.
- Risk = danger x exposure. The risk something poses to you depends not on how scared it makes you feel, but on a combination of two things. How dangerous is it? And how much are you exposed to it?
- Get calm before you carry on. When you are afraid, you see me world differently. Make as few decisions as possible until the panic has subsided.
- The Size Instinct
- Factfulness is ... recognizing when a lonely number seems impressive (small or large), and remembering that you could get the opposite impression if it were compared with or divided by some other relevant number.
- To control the size instinct, get things in proportion.
- Compare. Big numbers always look big. Single numbers on their own are misleading and should make you suspicious. Always look for comparisons. Ideally, divide by something.
- 80/20. Have you been given a long list? Look for the few largest items and deal with those first. They are quite likely more important than all the others put together.
- Divide. Amounts and rates can tell very different stories. Rates are more meaningful, especially when comparing between different-sized groups. In particular, look for rates per person when comparing between countries or regions.
- The Generalization Instinct
- Factfulness is ... recognising when a category is being used in an explanation, and remembering that categories can be misleading. We can't stop generalisation and shouldn't even try. What we should try to do is stop generalizing incorrectly.
- To control the generalization instinct, question your categories.
- Look for differences within groups. Especially when the groups are large, look for ways to split them into smaller, more precise categories. And ...
- Look for similarities across groups. If you find similarities between different groups, consider whether your categories are relevant. But also . . .
- Look for differences across groups. Do not assume that what applies for one group (e.g., you and other people living on Level 4 or unconscious soldiers) applies for another (e.g., people not living on Level 4 or sleeping babies).
- Beware of "the majority.” The majority just means more than half. Ask whether it means 51 percent, 99 percent, or something in between.
- Beware of vivid examples. Vivid images are easier to recall but they might be the exception rather than the rule.
- Assume people are not idiots. When something looks strange, be curious and humble, and think, In what way is this a smart solution?
- The Destiny Instinct
- Factfulness is ... recognizing that many things (including countries, religions, and cultures) appear to be constant just because the change is happening slowly, and remembering that even small, slow changes gradually add up to big changes.
- To control the destiny instinct, remember slow change is still change.
- Keep track of gradual improvements. A small change every year can translate to a huge change over decades.
- Update your knowledge. Some knowledge goes out of date quickly. Technology, countries, societies, cultures, and religions are constantly changing.
- Talk to Grandpa. If you want to be reminded of how values have changed, think about your grandparents’ values and how they differ from yours.
- Collect examples of cultural change. Challenge the idea that today’s culture must also have been yesterday's, and will also be tomorrow’s.
- The Single Perspective Instinct
- Factfulness is … recognizing that a single perspective can limit your imagination, and remembering that it is better to look at problems from many angles to get a more accurate understanding and find practical solutions.
- To control the single perspective instinct, get a toolbox, not a hammer.
- Test your ideas. Don’t only collect examples that show how excellent your favorite ideas are. Have people who disagree with you test your ideas and find their weaknesses.
- Limited expertise. Don't claim expertise beyond your field: be humble about what you don't know. Be aware too of the limits of the expertise of others.
- Hammers and nails. If you are good with a tool, you may want to use it too often. If you have analyzed a problem in depth, you can end up exaggerating the importance of that problem or of your solution. Remember that no one tool is good for everything. If your favorite idea is a hammer, look for colleagues with screwdrivers, wrenches, and tape measures. Be open to ideas from other fields.
- Numbers, but not only numbers. The world cannot be understood without numbers, and it cannot be understood with numbers alone. Love numbers for what they tell you about real lives.
- Beware of simple ideas and simple solutions. History is full of visionaries who used simple utopian visions to justify terrible actions. Welcome complexity. Combine ideas. Compromise. Solve problems on a case-by-case basis.
- The Blame Instinct
- Factfulness is ... recognizing when a scapegoat is being used and remembering that blaming an individual often steals the focus from other possible explanations and blocks our ability to prevent similar problems in the future.
- To control the blame instinct, resist finding a scapegoat.
- Look for causes, not villains. When something goes wrong don’t look for an individual or a group to blame. Accept that bad things can happen without anyone intending them to. Instead spend your energy on understanding the multiple interacting causes, or system, that created the situation.
- Look for systems, not heroes. When someone claims to have caused something good, ask whether the outcome might have happened anyway, even if that individual had done nothing. Give the system some credit.
- The Urgency Instinct
- Factfulness is … recognizing when a decision feels urgent and remembering that it rarely is.
- To control the urgency instinct, take small steps.
- Take a breath. When your urgency instinct is triggered, your other instincts kick in and your analysis shuts down. Ask for more time and more information. Its rarely now or never and it's rarely either/or.
- Insist on the data. If something is urgent and important, it should be measured. Beware of data that is relevant but inaccurate, or accurate but irrelevant. Only relevant and accurate data is useful.
- Beware of fortune-tellers. Any prediction about the future is uncertain. Be wary of predictions that fail to acknowledge that. Insist on a full range of scenarios, never just the best or worst case. Ask how often such predictions have been right before.
- Be wary of drastic action. Ask what the side effects will be. Ask how the idea has been tested. Step-by-step practical improvements, and evaluation of their impact, are less dramatic but usually more effective.
In-Page Footnotes ("Rosling (Hans) - Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think")
- No doubt these are available on-line at Gapminder.org somewhere.
- The main interest in the book is in all the facts (or alleged facts, maybe) presented, and the false intuitions exposed. These “summaries” are the learning points from the chapters – but they are all methodological, rather than the “key facts”.
Sceptre (3 April 2018)
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)