The Importance of Being Factual

The world is better than you think. Really? Really. Consider these–all based on UN statistics:

  • Life expectancy has risen worldwide from 31 years in 1800 to 72 years in 2017.
  • No country in the world has an average life expectancy of less than 50 years today.
  • The percentage of undernourished people has dropped from 28% in 1970 to 11% in 2015.

  • Oil spills have dropped in the last 40 years from a high of its 636,000 tons in 1979 to 6000 tons in 2016.
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  • The percent of children worldwide dying before their fifth birthday has decreased from 40% in 1900 to 4% in 2016.
  • The percent of one-year-olds who have received at least one vaccination has increased from 22% in 1980 to 88 percent in 2016.
  • Countries allowing lead in gasoline has dropped from 193 in 1986 to three and 2017.
  • The number of nuclear arms has dropped from a high of 64,000 in 1986 to 15,000 in 2017.
  • The number of countries in which women have a right to vote has increased from one in 1893 to 193 and 2017.
  • Worldwide, the average male has 10 years of education. The average female has 9 years.
  • The share of the earth’s land surface that is protected as national parks or other reserves has increased from less than 1% in 1900 to 14.7% in 2016.

Yes, in Factfulness, Hans Rosling regularly emphasizes that a lot of bad things are happening that we still need to work on. His main question, though, is Why don’t we know about all this good news? He offers a number of reasons.

One is that those in the media like to emphasize the dramatic and potentially fearful which captures attention (and advertising dollars). We know China is a huge economic threat because the media always talks about it. What they rarely mention is that extreme poverty was reduced in China from 42% of the population in 1997 to 0.7% in 2017. In the same period India reduced its share from 42% to 12%.

Activists also like to focus on the negative and play to fear as well to raise money and support. So that’s often what sticks.

With fascinating stories and a dose of humor, Rosling explains other reasons we have such a deficient view of the world. He memorably labels these The Gap Instinct, The Straight Line Instinct, The Generalization Instinct, The Blame Instinct and more. In doing so he offers helpful tips for combating these tendencies. So, when you hear almost anything dramatic or outrageous, take a breath and take it with a grain of salt.

Rosling thinks this good news should encourage us to keep working at correcting other problems because we can now see from our experience of the recent past that major successes are possible. He not only shows what’s going well he also offers guidelines for how to make sure what we are doing to correct remaining problems are the most beneficial.

Yes, this book just might turn your view of the world upsidedown.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

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