One of my children is a graduate of a prestigious university. He tells me he stopped reading newspapers, does not faithfully read news reports online without checking them out further, watch much TV news, and rarely listens to radio news broadcasts while driving. “My head can’t handle all the facts and commentaries from pundits, and they don’t seem to care when their facts are wrong. It’s all mind-numbing and paralytic.”
People use fake news, misstate facts and misinterpret them to support their worldview. It is not a new strategy. Spies sent into the Promised Land returned to Moses with fake news, concocted facts and wild stories. Because of them, the Hebrews trekked the desert another 40 years.
Hans Rosling had enough, so he asked people in 30 countries, Do you think the world is getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same? He collates the answers in a 330 pages new book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — And Why Things Are Better Than You Think. Rosling built intelligence architecture for testing worldviews against truthful facts.
Rosling is a deconstructionist. He encourages everyone to question all traditional worldviews and assumptions by researching and exposing facts. His work gives gravitas to the notion that ideology is an excuse for not thinking, or, as Dorothy Kilgallen said, “A dogma is a man’s best friend.”
A large contributor to worldviews built on shifting sands stems from “Our problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know, and even our guesses are informed by unconscious and predictable biases.” The book is filled with eye-opening facts, it is extremely relatable, and engrossing peppered with real-life stories.
Hans Rosling led a storied life. He writes in such a personal way it seems effortless. His extreme work ethic had him traveling the world from his base in Sweden helping people. The stories he tells are fascinating as is learning how the doctor figured out the real facts in any given situation, in order to apply successful solutions. The more people he encountered the more I inquired, “The more ignorance I found, not only among my students but everywhere…. People were so wrong about the world.” Ignorance of the facts is the “most concerning problem of all.”
Dr. Rosling passed away before finishing the book. He was blessed to have capable and like-minded children to participate early in his mission and complete the book. It teaches a new way of thinking and arriving at conclusions. It is the most fascinating “how to” on the market. Rosling demonstrates how facts prove his worldview that things are improving and there is hope for humanity.
For instance, most people he surveyed hold a grim picture of the world. Rosling looks at the facts concluding:
- The vast majority of people around the world live a middle-class life.
- They are not impoverished and suffering and their lives improve regularly.
- Their girls go to school.
- Their children get vaccinated.
- They live in two-child families, and
- They want to go abroad on holiday, not as refugees.
Step-by-step, year-by-year, the world is improving.
There are huge challenges in the world, but using his methodology one can change a prevalent overdramatic worldview that is “stressful and misleading.”
Factfulness has 11 chapters including, The Gap Instinct, Negativity, Fear, Size, Destiny, etc. Then each chapter has subheadings that make the writing and ideas flow and connect. It concludes with Rules of Thumbs. The book offers tests for readers to take about facts they “know,” and the conclusions they construct for themselves and their countries.
On a personal note, his point makes me less stressed about conditions we’re told afflict the Jewish community. Many Jews get their facts from social media and Jewish newspapers where gloom and doom prevail. Here are facts for another worldview:
- Rabbi Sholom Gold points out there are more than 65 million refugees in 2018 and not one is Jewish. It’s the first time in 2,000 years.
- There are more young men learning in one Jerusalem-based yeshiva (institutes for religious studies), the Mir Yeshiva, than learned in all of Europe at any time before World War II.
- More Jews make kosher food choices than ever before with the industry topping $11B annually.
- There are more literate well-educated women graduates from Jewish schools than in the history of the Jewish people.
- The Jews are more physically and economically well off than any time in history.
- While there are hundreds if not several thousands of anti-Israel activists on any individual college campus, e.g., UC Berkeley, the fact is there are 42,000 students studying at UIC-Berkeley who exhibit a demonstrable lack of concern or animosity for Israel.
- Polls show Israel has the support of 74% of Americans, and most polled have a higher education.
- Every democracy has laws punishing anti-Semitism and protects their Jews.
Rosling claims the Blame Instinct is to “exaggerate the importance of individuals or of particular groups…. Following your blame instinct isn’t going to help.” At a time when EU countries are blaming one another for the misery of refugees, Rosling offers a particularly innovative solution based on facts he offers to the existential threats refugees face fleeing on boats.
I believe Factfulness offers a pathway to sensible thinking the world can especially use in the new age of abusive political rhetoric. The examples and stories the Doctor includes makes Factfulness a fun read, and the complementing plethora of graphs and charts add an evocative welcome visual experience. Do not miss the outro from Dr. Rosling’s daughters that offer a moving message about his impact on the family.
Dr. Rosling was a man who apparently loved practicing medicine, improving public health, but most of all, and teaching. His TED talks have been viewed 35M times. I hope I got his message right, but to make sure I am going read the book again and discuss it with my students.