Factfulness by Hans Rosling Book Review

Factfulness by Hans Rosling Book Review 

And today, we’re looking at “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling, in cooperation with his son Ola Rosling and his son’s wife Anna RoslingR√∂nnlund. The book starts with a couple of multiple-choice questions. Allow me to ask one of those as an example. In the last 20 years the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has A: almost doubled, B: remained about the same, or C: almost halved. What do you think? The correct answer is C: almost halved. However, if you chose an incorrect answer you are in good company. Rosling asked this question to 12,000 people in different countries and most of them were wrong. For example, in Germany, only six percent of the people answered correctly. in the US it was only five percent, in the UK only nine percent. So Hans Rosling said, “Well, I will go to the zoo and I will ask the .... ah, not him ... I will ask the chimpanzees.” The chimpanzees don’t even understand the question. However, if they just choose A, B, or C at random, 33 percent of chimpanzees should end up with a correct answer. And 33 percent is considerably more than five or six or nine percent. So the humans who did the questionnaire, they didn't just know the answer and pick something at random. They consciously picked the incorrect answers. How can it be that our knowledge of the world is so wrong, is wrong to such an extent? Hans Rosling explains this by 10 instincts that lead us astray, 10 mental mistakes we make when viewing the world. The first of those is the “Gap Instinct”. We like to imagine two extremes that are far apart with a big gap in between. For example, we like to think of the world as divided into poor, developing countries and rich, developed countries. At this point, Hans Rosling shows a chart that shows the number of babies per woman and the child mortality rate because those are good indicators for the standard of living in a country. Now, I could hold the page that has the chart into the camera but that wouldn’t look very good and that wouldn’t be very helpful for you. But fortunately, we don’t have to rely on that. Hans and Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling R√∂nnlunddidcacan't just write this book, they also founded the Gapminder Foundation. and the Gapminder Foundation provides a lot of numbers and statistics on its website gapminder.org. So I can use this to show you the chart in full screen and color. Have a look! The vertical axis shows babies per woman. Further down means fewer babies. The horizontal axis shows child mortality. Further left means fewer children die. The colorful circles represent the different countries. The bigger a circle is the higher that country population. For example, the big circle here is China and the very small circle are the Seychelles. The colors represent different regions. As you can see here, green is North and SouthAmerica, yellow is Europe and Russia, blue is Africa, red is Asia and Oceania. And, as you can see, we really have a small cluster of rich, developed countries and a big cluster of poor, developing countries. However, you’ve probably noticed the big number in the background. This is the state from 1965. Allow me to forward it to 2019. As you can see, the distribution has changed dramatically. The area in the middle that used to be a gap now contains the majority of the world population. As a replacement for those outdated categories of developed nations and developing nations Hans Rosling proposes to distinguish between four income levels. Level one is extreme poverty. At this level, people have less than two dollars per day. They might not have sufficient food, they might not have constant access to clean drinking water. Medical services are either not available or they can’t afford them. One billion people worldwide live on level one today. On level two, people have two to eight dollars per day. At this level, they have sufficient food, they can afford basic medical services, and the children go to school. They can afford shoes, they might have a bicycle or a gas stove or electric lighting. Three billion people live on level two today. On level three, people have 8 to 32 dollars per day. At this level, they probably have running water indoors, even though it might be just cold. 


They probably have stable electricity so they can have a fridge. They can afford a motorbike or another means of motorized transportation and they can afford better education for their children. Two billion people live on level three worldwide today. And finally, on level four, people have more than 32 dollars per day. Of course, they have hot and cold water indoors. They can afford a car and they can travel by plane on vacation. But I don’t need to tell you a lot about level four because, if you are watching this, you probably are on level four and you know your own standard of living. If we are on level four, three dollars more or less don’t make a huge difference for us. So it’s difficult to imagine what a big difference it is to live on level two instead of level one. Today, one billion people worldwide are on level four. The majority of the world population, five billion total, are on level two and level three, which is a standard of living that is similar to what we had in Western Europe and North America around 1950. When we read the book, at first this is all just fun facts and general education for us. However, this information is crucial when it comes to making political or economical decisions. Imagine a big company that’s making some basic everyday goods such as menstrual pads or toothbrushes. However, there are five billion people on level two and three that are quite interested in buying just basic menstrual pads and toothbrushes at an affordable price. I’ve been talking for a while about the gap instinct and some basics now. The other nine instincts I will go through more quickly so the video doesn’t go on endlessly. Instinct number two is “Negativity Instinct”. When I asked you the question about poverty, did you say it doubled? Because we tend to believe that things are getting worse even though they seldom are. If we look at a chart and there is an increase or a decrease we expect this to continue in a straight line. However, there are several different types of charts and quite often there is no straight line. The most important example in this chapter is the increase in the world population. In the last hundred years, we had a quite a big increase in the world population. And a lot of people are afraid this increase will continue like this and the population will just grow and grow until we face severeproblems from overpopulation. The topic has even appeared in popular culture. Think, for example, of Dan Brown’s “Inferno”,the book and the movie, or one of the Avengers movies or the Kingsman movie. In all of those there was a super villainwho wanted to severely decimate the world population in order to rescue mankind fromgoing extinct due to overpopulation. Actually, however, we are already past thepeak. Do you remember the chart I showed you, withthe number of babies per woman? Did you see how all the bubbles move downwards? In 1965, on average, a woman had five children. In 2017, this had decreased to 2.5 children. So the rate of birth has gone down. We have two billion children today and theUN expects there to be still two billion children in 2100. The population will still increase in thecoming decades, but not because there are more children. Currently, the age groups form a kind of pyramid.we have two billion children at the bottom, we have less young adults, even less olderadults, and so on. So, kind of a pyramid shape. Now, if the two billion children of todaygrow up to become adults and they are replaced by the same number of new children, then thiswill move upwards to form a kind of tower or something like that. So in the coming decades the population willincrease but we won’t have more children, we will have more adults. 


According to current predictions, the worldpopulation will grow to 10 or 11 billion people. But then the growth will stop and it won’tincrease anymore. Instinct number four and five I will dealwith together since they are similar. Instinct number four is the “Fear Instinct”. We tend to pay a lot of attention to thingsthat are frightening, that involve danger and risk, and that make us afraid. Even if there is very little actual dangerbehind them. And the “Size Instinct” means that weare easily impressed by a lonesome number or a single event, even if those aren’tthat significant anymore when put into proportions, put into context. For example by comparing a number with anotherrelevant number. It is october 17th 2004. We are in Sweden. Mari Larsson, 38 years old, mother of three,is murdered. Her former partner has broken into her houseand waited for her there. And when she came home he hit her head repeatedlywith an axe. At the same day, Johan Vesterlund, 40 yearsold, father of three, is attacked and killed by a bear on a hunting trip. Now, the question is: Which of those eventswas featured heavily in the media, in the news, and which one was barely mentioned? A human being killed by a bear, the last timethat happened in Sweden was 1902. This is a once in a century event. A woman is killed by her partner every 30days. Now, imagine you’re a journalist. You can’t write the same article each month– “Another woman killed by domestic violence.” Your readers would get bored of that quitequickly. However, this doesn’t change the fact thatbeing killed due to domestic violence is a thousand and three hundred times more likelythan being killed by a bear. Hans Rosling doesn’t elaborate on that butI’m pretty sure, at the time, there were several Swedes who said, “Oh, I better nottake my usual walk through the woods on Sunday so the bear doesn’t get me as well.”,or who canceled their camping vacation, or who suddenly felt uneasy living close to theforest. And the same is true for natural disasters. Natural disasters account for 0.1 of the deathseach year. Plane crashes account for 0.001 percent, murderfor 0.7 percent, nuclear leaks for zero percent, terrorism for 0.05. However, if you watch the news, if you havea look at the media they paint quite a different picture. So it’s quite important to remember to putthings into perspective, for example by comparing the deaths from the people killed by bearattacks to the people killed due to domestic violence. I will also combine instinct six and seven. You know how they are. They are all the same and they don’t everchange and that’s why they won’t make any progress!” We tend to emphasize cultural and religiousdifferences. For example, a lot of people believe thatin other religions people get a lot more children than Christian people. We have a chart for that. The vertical axis again shows babies per woman,the further down the fewer babies. The horizontal axis this time shows income. The further right the higher the country’sincome. The colorful circles again represent countries. The bigger the circle the higher the country’spopulation. The colors this time do not represent regionsbut religions. Blue are Christian countries, green are Muslim,red are Eastern religions. And, as you can see, they are pretty evenlydistributed. There are Christian countries with a lot ofbabies per woman and there are Muslim and Eastern religion countries with few babiesper woman. However, there is a strong correlation betweenbabies per woman and income. The higher a country’s income is the fewerbabies per woman there seem to be. Now, this is quite a common problem. A lot of differences we attribute to cultureor religion are actually differences in income levels. And there is quite a fascinating service providedby gapminder.org which is Dollar Street. At Dollar Street you can have a look at howpeople on different income levels around the world live by having a look at photographs. Let me show you an example. Here, I’ve got eight different bedroomsfrom families around the world who have between 900 and 1,100 hundred dollars per month available. One of those is from the USA and one is fromthe United Kingdom. Can you guess which those are? The others are from Brazil, Cambodia, thereare two from India, one from Mexico, one from Nepal. All right, I’ll show the country labels. Did you pick the right ones? I really recommend to have a look at gapminder.organd Dollar Street. I find them quite interesting and fascinatingand enlightening. Instinct number eight is the “Single-perspectiveInstinct”. We like simple explanations and we tend tolook for simple explanations, especially ones that confirm our world view, that confirmour ideologies. However, there rarely is a simple solution,a simple explanation, and ideologies are rarely the solution. In this chapter, Hans Rosling describes thesituation in Cuba where, due to government regulation, people have a good level of health,people are healthy, but they live in poverty.


 And he describes, in comparison, the situation in the United States which has the highest spending on medical services, on health services, of all countries but still is surpassed by 39 other countries when it comes to life expectancy. Instinct number nine is the “Blame Instinct”. We like to look for a scapegoat and blameall the problems on him, rather than searching for the actual explanation and the actualcauses. In 2015, 4,000 refugees drowned in the MediterraneanSea while trying to reach Europe in inflatable boats. You might still remember shocking images ofdead children washed ashore on European beaches. And the villain who caused this tragedy wasquickly found. It was smugglers who tricked poor refugees into handing over large sums of money for this passage to Europe in death traps of inflatable boats. However, Hans Rosling wondered, “Why didn’t those refugees take a plane or a proper ship? After all, all the European countries are signed up to the Geneva Convention, so refugees from war have a right to asylum.” Well, there is a European Council directive from 2001 regarding illegal immigrants. If an airline or a shipping line brings illegal immigrants into a country they have to take them back at their own cost. Now, obviously, this directive says it doesn’t apply to legitimate asylum seekers, it only applies to illegal immigrants. However, in reality, this doesn’t really matter because the person at the check-in counter can’t distinguish within a few seconds between an illegal immigrant and a legitimate refugee seeking asylum. This takes an embassy for several months. So the bottom line is: Commercial airlines and shipping lines won’t let anyone on board who doesn’t have a visa. So you have to use a single-use ship or boat and, yeah, that’s an inflatable boat. Instinct number 10, the final one, is the“Urgency Instinct”. If things appear to be urgent, we tend to to make hasty and bad decisions. Now, this chapter also deals with the problem that people who want to raise awareness and activists tend to create a sense of urgency because they find it necessary to get people to pay attention and to get people to realize its importance. Hans Rosling was involved in the fight against Ebola in African countries. And when he joined the fight there were only statistics that counted suspected cases of Ebola. And these statistics, they went straight up, they increased at an alarming rate, Now, one of the first things Hans Rosling did was that he collected data from the different laboratories and combined it and he created a statistic of confirmed cases of Ebola. And when he had finished that, he noticed that the confirmed cases of Ebola had reached a peak a few weeks before and, after that, the number of cases had been declining. And of course, this realization was, um, for the people in Africa who were fighting Ebola it was great to see that their efforts actually had an effect, that they were winning, and that the worst had passed and things were getting better. The book’s final chapter is about “Factfulnessin Practice” - in business, for journalists, politicians, and activists, and for your own organization. Now, I have to admit: When I started reading the book I was pretty clueless, just as the people who did Hans Rosling’s questionnaire. Now, obviously, if you buy a book that is called “Factfulness”, and the cover says, “10 reasons we are wrong about the world”, you might suspect those questions in the introduction will probably not turn out as you expect. However, if I had encountered them in a neutral place I would have answered most of them incorrectly and the chimpanzees would probably have laughed about me. So I learned a lot from this book and I'm glad I read it. And it was also quite enjoyable! For one, it’s a very positive book since you learn a lot of things that are nice and positive and optimistic. As it says, the world is better than we think! And on the other hand, it is quite well written. Hans Rosling traveled a lot and visited a lot of countries and did a lot of work and he tells several interesting and exciting experiences from his life. And also, the examples he uses are well chosen and well described. 

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