Factfulness is easily my favorite and probably most groundbreaking read this year. After all, how often do we realize that most of our world view or how we look and understand the world is not only detached reality but also a completely biased version of it? Safe to say not often. As an individual who is generally well in keeping up with the happenings of the world around, I for one, was particularly grounded by this amazing piece of literature by the late Hans Rosling and his team.
If you follow the YouTube channel of Ted talks or are generally more interested in consuming information rather than celebrity gossip, you’d probably recognize the name, Hans Rosling. A Swedish physician by profession, Hans had been appearing in Ted talks across the globe with his beautiful datasets and charts in a “crusade to fight ignorance” of the general public and offering them a better perspective. But wait! Why was a Swedish physician flying around the world with datasets and charts rather than sipping hot chocolate in his office, in the first place? Well in his own words, Hans realized that the collective effect of media depiction, outdated information, and lack of critical thinking was making the people across the globe not only more cynical but also hopeless about the world, than they actually needed to be. He, as a learned individual observed the fact that to prepare for the demands of the future and to progress as a collective whole, the society (especially the younger lot) must learn to understand the present world as it actually is free of unnecessary biases.
To his shock, when he conducted some tests to check people’s perceptions about the world for example- Has poverty reduced in the world? How are the economies of poor countries progressing? Or simply is the world becoming a better place? He realized that most people across different countries were abysmally pessimistic or overly dramatic about the world. In fact, most of us did worse than chimpanzees in guessing correct answers! Yep, worse than primates. This discovery led to the conclusion that lack of information could not possibly be the cause behind this ignorance of the masses but it has to be more than that. He describes this tendency to paint the world more cynically than it actually is an “overdramatic worldview”.
This overdramatization emerges from very human instincts that have allowed us to progress from the dawn of civilization i.e., fear, generalization, simplification, urge of consuming information, conformity, belief in destiny, etc. Hans and his team have used beautiful datasets and numerous charts and compelling arguments, across this book, to make us see through our own biases that emerged due to cumulative human instincts and how we consume our daily information.
For instance, blaming religion, cultural practices solely behind socio-economic conditions of any country or a perpetual belief that some poor countries if sub-Saharan Africa will perpetually play catch up to the “developed West” etc. as it turns out reading this book deftly helped me in eschewing many of my own biases about these issues and many others. The book has 10 chapters, each explaining a human instinct and exploring how each of them leads to a given bias in hour mind and an overdramatic perception about the world. The best part about the narrative of authors is the fact that they explain each instinct with a life experience of Hans Rosling which keeps the reader hooked throughout the book. Further, the easy and lucid language used, makes the book readable to a wide group of people, serving the goal of writing it in the first place. Articulation of arguments is lucid and highly logical which makes reading the book an act of unlearning and learning at the same time.
The year 2020 has been a difficult year for most of us, heck! It has been difficult for each one of us as I am pretty sure that none of us enjoyed being stuck inside our homes in an atmosphere of impending doom and fear of the pandemic. Therefore, I feel that reading this book becomes even more important for us in this period as we look at the ending of the “annus horribilis” with hopeful eyes for a better future. Let's try to eschew our biases and a dramatic-falsified world view for a critically charged and factual reality that is full of possibilities for all of mankind.