Factfulness was written by Hans Rohling, who was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition and passed away before the release of the book. Hence, his two children Ola and Anna, took it upon on themselves to work on the book and publish it. For one, I am so glad they did.
Factfulness came into light when Bill Gates shared on social media how this is the one book everyone needs to read. The world isn’t all that bad—there are good things happening too—it’s just the media doesn’t want you to know. Hans Rohling says in the book that everything written here is a “result of constant discussion, argument, and collaboration between three people with different talents, knowledge, and perspectives.”
Having read it, I too agree with Bill Gates: this book is a must read! It will definitely change your perspective towards the world and will enable you to recondition your thinking pattern to make sense of what’s happening in the world.
The book is split into ten chapters, and each chapter deals with a specific subject, in which the author talks about facts. There is a rather interesting multiple-choice test that Hans asks the reader to complete, and I was able to get most of them wrong. I was answering the questions based on my information and knowledge from the news channels and newspaper, but Hans proved me wrong because a lot of the real answers, based on facts, don’t make it the mainstream media. Hans says that it is his aim to help us reader develop a set of thinking tools to understand how the world works and getting the big picture right.
“It is my last attempt to make an impact on the worked: to change people’s way of thinking, calm their irrational fears, and redirect their energies into constructive activities. This is data as therapy. It is understanding as a source of mental peace. Because the world is not as dramatic as it seems.” (page 15, 16)
While I will not get into details and reasoning behind the author’s research, for it is very detailed, I will share some of the big ideas.
The ten distinct categories are:
The GAP Instinct
- Recognize when a story talks about a gap
The basic idea here is that the world will have you believe that there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor. They always drum on about this piece of information which leads people to believe that the gap is so wide that the situation is worsening. Rohling merely asks the readers to look at the majority, in other words, look for the middle.
- Beware the comparison of averages
- Beware comparisons of extremes- the difference between top and bottom can seem unfair- look for the middle.
- The view from up here- taking a bird’s eye view will bring things in perspective
The NEGATIVITY Instinct
- Recognize when we get negative news
We have a tendency to look for the bad more than good. Our media channels thrive on spreading news that’s fearful and bad. There is enough factual information out there, which is beautifully displayed in graphs terms, that shows 16 bad things decreasing, such as legal slavery, plane crash deaths, child labor and death penalty. Then there are 16 good things that are increasing such as protected nature, literacy, electricity coverage and immunization.
- Expect bad news- practice distinguishing between bad and good news
- Good news is not news—when you see bad news, ask whether equally, positive news would have reached you
- Gradual improvement is not news
- More news does not equal more suffering
- Beware of rosy pasts
The STRAIGHT LINE Instinct
- Recognize the assumptions that a line will just continue straight
This short chapter talks about how we shouldn’t be alarmed when we see straight line graphs that show a dramatic increase in world population. A lot of it has to do with how the graph has been made, and in most cases, the lines are rather dramatic.
- Remember curves come in different shapes
- Don’t assume straight lines
The FEAR Instinct
- Recognize when frightening things get out attention
The media loves tapping into our fear instinct. They will show images of natural disasters, crimes, wars and conflicts and so on. “In 1986, there were 64,000 nuclear warheads in the world; today there are 15,000.” (page 115). The writer shares enough facts to show that a lot of these fearful elements, including terrorism, are actually on the decrease. It’s just that media doesn’t actually report this and thus we never get that impression.
- Calculate the risks
- The scary world: fear vs reality
- Risk = danger x exposure
- Get calm befire you carry on
The SIZE Instinct
- Recognize when a lonely number seems impressive (small or large)
This chapter deals with the idea that numbers can freak you out. We can take things out of proportion and out of context with numbers. For example, a UN statistic saying that 4.2 million babies were killed last year. Just that amount will freak you out. But keeping it in perspective:
2016 = 4.2 million babies dead
2015 = 4.4 million babies dead
2014 = 4.5 million babies dead
1950 = 14.4 million babies dead
So the number has actually decreased lot.
- Get things in proportion
- Compare- always look for comparisons
- 80/20 rule
The GENERALIZATION Instinct
- Recognize when a category is being used in an explanation
This chapter talks about how we all easily categorize and generalize everything. We do this because it gives structure to our thoughts, but this also distorts our worldview. Again, media is the culprit here because all information is being purported by them. The challenge thus becomes to become more about the categories, and the author says that traveling helps us see the world from a different perspective.
- Question your categories
- Look for differences within groups
- Look for similarities across groups
- Look for differences across groups
- Beware of the “majority”
- Beware of vivid examples
- Assume people are not an idiot
The DESTINY Instinct
- Recognize that many things appear to be constant just because the change is happening gradually
The destiny instinct is the idea that “innate characteristics determine the destinies of people, countries, regions, or cultures. It’s the idea that things are as they are for in electable, inescapable reasons: they have always been way and will never change.” (page 167).
- Keep track of gradual improvement
- Update your knowledge
- Talk to Grandpa
- Collect example of cultural change
The SINGLE PERSPECTIVE Instinct
- Recognize that a single perspective can limit your imagination
“Forming your worldview by relying on the media would like forming your view about me by looking only a picture of my foot.” (page 185). When we see things from only one angle, we will never develop the whole view. We enjoy the single perspective because of it understandable, simple and easily explained. When we get more perspective of the same thing, it becomes complex for us.
- Test your ideas
- Limited expertise
- Hammers and Nails
- Numbers, but only numbers
- Beware of simple ideas and simple solutions
The BLAME Instinct
- Recognize when a scapegoat is being used
This is the instinct to “find a clear, simple reason for why something bad has happened.” (page206). It comes naturally to us to find a reason when things go wrong. Thus begins the blame game. Of course, things aren’t always as simple as it may seem to us.
- Look for causes, not villains
- Look for systems, not heroes
The URGENCY Instinct
- Recognize when a decision feels urgent
“Act now or lose the chance forever!” The sense of urgency can drive us mad. The author tells us to relax because it’s almost never true. It’s almost never or urgent. The urgency instinct makes us want to take immediate action when in reality the danger isn’t all that imminent.
- Take small steps
- Take a breath
- Insist on the data
- Beware of fortune tellers
- Be wary of drastic action
So how do we cultivate the habit of practicing factfulness. The author suggests the following areas in which to practice it: education, in business, in journalism, in your own organization or community, and as an individual citizen.
There are details here which will help the readers identify techniques and methods in which to understand the facts and not panic over a situation. By checking in with facts will help alleviate any sense of danger or fear.