10 Ways We're Wrong About The World - A Summary of Factfulness by Hans Rosling

The main goal of the book, and this post, is for you to consider if your world view is correct.

“Factfulness - the stress free habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts”

One of the most important books I’ve ever read, an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world. - Bill Gates on Factfulness

The most ironic part about the need for this book is that it’s never been easier to broadcast the actual state of the world, and yet our understanding of the facts is overwhelmingly inaccurate.

“Forming your worldview by relying on the media would be like forming your view about me by looking only at a picture of my foot.” - Hans Rosling

If you’re interested in how accurate your world view is you can take the 13 question Factfulness quiz here)  

Assuming you already took the test or you have a suspicion that the world is not as bad as what’s portrayed in the media… good news, you’re right!

Let’s explore just how much better things really are and how you can adopt a fact-based worldview going forward.

The World Is Richer Than You Think

The number one misconception about the world is this idea of ‘developed’ versus ‘undeveloped’ countries.

Even Bill Gates has admitted that he incorrectly used these terms to talk about the Gates Foundation initiatives. You can read more about how he wants to stop talking about the “developing” world in his own article about the book.

It turns out, based on Hans' Factfulness quiz, he’s not alone. For example, question 2 on the Factfulness quiz is as follows:

Where does the majority of the world population live?

a.  low-income countries
b.  middle-income countries
c.  high-income countries

You might be surprised to know that not only is the answer NOT a, It’s not even close.

Less than 8% of the world’s population is living in extreme poverty (< $2/day). That might still seem bad until you consider that just 30 years ago it was closer to 40%.

Since there really isn’t a split anymore, Hans argues we need an updated way to think about how people live.

For that, he gives us the four income levels (each icon representing a billion people).

As of 2018 the World Bank is now using this model to classify countries.

From the top looking down it might be easy to think there is little difference between the different levels. For that exact reason Anna Rosling came up with the idea to visualize the different parts of everyday life for families across the world in different income levels. The end result is called dollar street and If you haven’t read the book or traveled extensively I highly encourage you to spend some time browsing the images of how people live across the world.

After seeing those images it might be hard to believe in the next 20 years almost three billion people are projected to move up into levels 3 & 4

Believe It or Not, Bad Things Are Getting Better.

If you were startled by the Dollar Street images I’d encourage you to take a moment to do the Factfulness quiz and get a sense of how accurate your current world view is.

After studying thousands of submissions the Gapminder team found another big misconception people have is a general sentiment that the world is getting worse.

Hans concluded that there are three things going on here to influence our negativity instinct. We’re mis-remembering the actuality of our past, there is selective reporting by journalists and the information we subject ourselves too, and the feeling that as long as things are bad it’s heartless to say they are getting better.

Of course everything is not fine but in fact, there are dozens of examples of ways the world is constantly getting better.

Hans gives 32 examples in the Factfulness book that you can find in graphs like the ones below listed  here.

Things Aren’t Destined To Be The Way They Were.

Unfortunately, even after seeing all of the data and examples many people used to believe that things will always be the way they once were.

While there are another 8 other ways we tend to hold incorrect views of the world listed in the book I think it’s most important to highlight some of the suggestions Hans gives from identifying our blind spots and fighting our human biases.

Look for differences within groups and avoid being persuaded by “the majority”.
- the majority could be 51 or 99 and insist on more accurate data.

- big numbers always look big but compared to what.  

Be wary of drastic action and fortune tellers. - (The Roadblock That Cost lives Story - in the audio - pg 223 in the book)
- step by step practical improvements and evaluation of their impact are less dramatic but usually more effective.

Don’t assume straight lines.
- the most common example here is the overpopulation fallacy. Think of it like height. If kids grew at the same rate 0-10 their whole lives we’d all be giants.

When you only know how to use a hammer, everything looks like a nail
- be aware that you will have a bias to fit a problem to the solution you are best at.

Look for causes and systems not villains or heroes.
- our blame instinct makes us exaggerate the importance of individual or particular groups. It steals our focus and blocks our learning of how to improve the systems that could have prevented the situation in the first place.

Use numbers, but not numbers alone - (Mozambique prime minister story - in the audio - pg 191 in the book)
“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.”

Further Resources:
Bill Gates also recommended both of these.

Enlightenment Now - Steven Pinker
It’s Better Than It Looks - Gregg Easterbrook

My Youtube video of the 13 question quiz