Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.
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.
In Factfulness, Professor of International Health and global TED phenomenon Hans Rosling, together with his two long-time collaborators, Anna and Ola, offers a radical new explanation of why this happens. They reveal 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).
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I enjoyed this book. I listened to it via audiobook which was excellent, so I cannot make comment to the figures and graphs found in the book. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to expand their worldview especially as it relates to global health, epidemiology, or socioeconomics. It would also make an excellent graduation gift for students graduating high school or college.
I enjoyed the author, Hans Rosling’s writing style and organization of the chapters. Though there was some redundancy in the beginning chapters and chapter transitions, I did appreciate the reiteration by way of rewording for review and summarization purposes most of the time. I liked the integration of personal stories that allowed for tangible means of communicating the instincts that helped me understand theoretical concepts. There was a bit of over overexplanation in the subtext in general, however.
As far as the main points were concerned, as they related to the instinct factors, which are influenced by internal and external bias, I think the premise could be summed up as a way of reframing context and perception of how we view the world and actual state and that the results may surprise you. I surprised myself by getting 12 of 13 questions correct before reading the book, but there was a lot that I was unaware of. At some points I did feel somewhat ambivalent as to the rationales behind them. The optimistic framework was both comforting and eye-opening to me. I would have liked to have seen more information about the quality of the data sets themselves, perhaps something along the lines of evaluating the methodology over time and underreporting.
I feel the author could have expanded on a couple of other topics topics as well. First, the definition of health, not as it relates to morbidity and mortality, but also to quality of life. It seems the concept was largely absent. I would have also liked to have seen additional emphasis on the value of human life outside of socioeconomic status and health outcomes. The author could have further elaborated on risk and risk perception and psychological implications. Also, could have included conditions and diseases that are noninfectious or noncommunicable. For example, I would have been interested in learning the stats on alcoholism or depression, in addition to subjective and objective measures of personal success, happiness, or joy as well. And how the development of bias and fallacies in journalism occur, how it has changed over the years, and its impact. Would have liked national security efforts and major disease pathways from a humanitarian perspective to be integrated into this book. I would have also liked to have seen debt factored into the reportable income stats and how that would play out in the different levels. I just felt there could have been a bit more information on these topics to further support his case and reasoning.
Apart from the writing itself, there was an overall tone of personal bias, mostly a heavy liberal one at that, however. For the most he did share his road to self discovery which was insightful and communicated his own shortcomings, limitations, and achievements as it relates to personal bias on most points which I did appreciate because it helped to give a sense of balance, perspective, and disclosure of any potential conflict of interest.
Also minor, but somewhat distracting was the wording about soap killing germs when it’s actually the mechanical means of removing bacteria that lowers microbial count (unless it’s antibacterial of course), the wording of “high quality researchers,” and the interchangeable use of the words nation and country. I found myself over analyzing some of the background data that was presented because again, opposing/contrasting viewpoints were mentioned and much appreciated, but not necessarily as an appraisal of the quality of the data itself/original research which I thought would be important for a book about factfulness. Probably my expectations from the author were high from these regards because of his level of expertise and the audience this book is seemingly intended for and what I was looking for.
All in all, with relabeling and change perception, the hierarchy still remains and it’s quantity driven. I certainly learned several facts that I did not know before reading this book and really liked how the author was willing to share his insight and perspective. I would have been curious as to what he would have thought about the labeling of patients by diagnosis, ie… cancer patients or diabetic patients, etc… based on his premise of the book and reevaluation of the term “developing country.” I think this book opens itself up to excellent discussion about how we value, perceive, and experience the world. And I always appreciate it when authors set out to educate an audience about specific topics such as this, especially when they’re guided by enthusiasm, positivity, and personal experiences within the field.