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APR 19, 2019

Factfulness: Doubt Your Instincts to See the World beyond Fake News

By Yasuji Takahara
iStock photo/MicroStockHub

Be honest…can you answer the following question?

Q: The UN predicts that by 2100 the world population will have increased by another 4 billion people. What is the main reason?*

A. There will be no more children (age below 15)
B. There will be more adults (age 15 to 74)
C. There will be more very old people (age 75 and older)

An online survey conducted in 2017 asked 12,000 people in 14 countries to answer a number of multiple-choice questions like these. Less than 33% answered correctly—a score defeated by chimpanzees, who (not surprisingly) chose their answers randomly. (My own score was 23%…I was completely clobbered by chimps. It was bananas.)

How could so many people, from the general public to the highly educated, lose to a bunch of chimpanzees?

To answer that very question, Hans Rosling presents Factfulness, a fascinating analysis of how our brains develop dramatic instinct in an overly dramatic world. He classifies these instincts into The Gap Instinct, The Negativity Instinct, Straight Line Instinct, The Fear Instinct, The Size Instinct, The Generalization Instinct, The Destiny Instinct, The Single Perspective Instinct, The Blame Instinct, and The Urgency Instinct. Through the course of the book, he suggests how we might fight each particular biased instinct and see reality—that is, see factfulness.

Each chapter takes on a curious, topical, or striking theme, from the relationship between religion and birth rate to the Tunisian tendency to buy bricks and build walls, rather than pay to have the whole project done for them. Examining these one by one under each particular chapter theme, Rosling manages an objective division between intuition and the real world.

This concept of factfulness has many similarities to the Business Analytics class at GLOBIS, as well as some aspects of the Social Venture Management class, which measures what is required to improve society.

As a doctor and public health expert, Rosling spent 20 years researching infectious diseases in Africa. Later, he acted as an adviser to WHO and UNICEF, as well as other aid organizations. He also co-founded the GapMinder “fact tank.” His TED talk has received over 35 million views. Factfulness, his last book before passing away in 2017, concluded with the hopeful thought that if we look at the world based on facts, we can see that the world isn’t so bad. From there, we can see what can be done to make it better.

Simply put, everyone should read this book and learn to confront the true, ever-changing state of our world. Through Rosling’s methods, we can come to see how our actions actually can improve the world, and that further progress is possible.

*Read Factfulness for the answer to this (and other) questions from the 2017 survey!