Sunday, September 23, 2018

Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Factfulness by Hans Rosling was an excellent book with the subtitle Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.

Rosling died from cancer in 2017 and the book finished after his death and written with his two longtime collaborators, son Ola Rosling and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Ronnlund. The couple created Trendanalyzer, the bubble-chart company acquired by Google and the three of them founded the Gapminder Foundation.

Factfulness makes the case that things really are better now than in the past and as Rosling knew he had terminal cancer during the writing process, he noted in the jacket for it that "this book is my last battle in my lifelong mission to fight devastating ignorance. Previously I armed myself with huge data sets, eye-opening software, an energetic lecturing style, and a Swedish bayonet for sword-swallowing. It wasn't enough, but I hope this book will be."

At the very beginning of Factfulness are 13 questions that Rosling in talks would pose to people about the state of the world, with those questions around topics like poverty, education, life expectancy, where people live, access to electricity, vaccination rates, and population growth. In response to those queries, people would consistently overstate the negative and miss out on improvements or the positive, with the book detailing out ten reasons why that's the case...

1. The Gap Instinct - Most societies are much more in the middle-class than people think, and there's really no longer the same clear delineation between developed and developing world, otherwise known as us and them.

2. The Negativity Instinct - We remember bad events and circumstances more vividly than gradual good improvements and things can be both bad and better at the same time, it's not binary.

3. The Straight Line Instinct - Things don't usually follow straight line growth, because something is currently increasing at a certain percentage, it doesn't mean it's going to continue at the same rate.

4. The Fear Instinct - When we're afraid, we don't think rationally, decisions should be made when calm and frightening and dangerous aren't always the same things.

5. The Size Instinct - We often are subject to the urgent vs. important concept... limited to the things we see right in front of ourselves, which makes it harder to allocate resources and attention. Additionally, the best way to understand a number is often to divide it by something, for instance there's pollution generated by a country, and then pollution generated by a country divided by the number of citizens. Also, beware of lonely numbers, when you see a number, it should be compared to another to get a good conclusion about it.

6. The Generalization Instinct - Assumptions can be that people's life differences are driven by religion, culture, or location, but really it's income that drives any differences in lives across the world.

7. The Destiny Instinct - This is assuming that things simply are as they are. However, incomes rise in areas and change occurs. Slow change is still change and there can be both bad and better at the same time.

8. The Single Perspective Instinct - We find simple ideas attractive and experts and activists are predisposed towards their ideas, it's part of who they are, a worldview takes precedence.

9. The Blame Instinct - It's easy to look for simply assigned blame (like deciding who at fault when refugees drowning between Africa and Europe), but we should look for causes, not villains, and systems, not heroes.

10. The Urgency Instinct - Things are rarely so urgent that something has to be done immediately, should slow down and consider the data and consequences of an action as fear plus urgency is a bad combination.

Rosling is known in part for his TED talks, with them having more than thirty-five million views, and he, Ola, and Anna provided in Factfulness an excellent data-driven world view, one that Bill Gates noted as "one of the most important books I've ever read, an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world."