Fact Fullness (Hans Rosling)

Ten reasons why we are wrong about the world and things are better than you think.

“When asked simple questions about global trends- what percentage of the world’s population lives in poverty; why the world population is increasing; how many girls finish school- we systematically get the answers wrong” (Rosling)”.

As an economist, I found this book to be quite refreshing and optimistic about our present and the future. The author employs some elements of behavioral economics to explain human bias towards negative thinking. Rosling invites readers to challenge their views of the world by recognizing intrinsic bias in our way of thinking. He claims that negativity, linear thinking, fear, binary bias, generalizations, blame and urgency bias often play a big role in shaping our perception that the world is getting worse, when in fact it is has been getting a lot better.

According to Hans, one of the main reasons why we think that the world is a dangerous place full of poverty and violence is that we tend to stop fact checking after attending college, thus our knowledge about health demographics, population trends and wars is outdated, he calls this the gap instinct. Which also feeds into our over dramatic worldview. Our tendency to go by gut feeling about cultures, situations, and stats is shaped by news and their tendency to report isolated events that are the exception and not the norm. However, we take them as fact and store it as a common occurrence in our brains. Thus many assessments are fueled by feeling more than by fact, and even when presented with facts, people have a tendency to deny or process the information incorrectly. This is the main reason why it is so hard to change people’s perception about things. Only people trained to change their minds when looking at fresh data, are able to process new information and change their perception.

Rosling points out that while we tend to perceive the world in binary sets, poor/rich, good/bad, educated/uneducated, 90% of the population lives right in the middle. In other words, that gray area where things don’t conform to our two dimensional perception of the world is where reality sits. For instance, he challenges the notion of poor, middle income and rich countries. Instead he divides the world in 4 income levels, describing what life is like in each one of them. Further arguing that many countries have all 4 levels while others have 2 or 3 scattered across their territory. The United States and Mexico for example, have a larger than expected income level overlap. Where most people would think that populations outside of rich countries live in income Level 1(food scarcity, no running water, no shoes, and homes made of scraps) about 65% of the world live in Level 3, where they have all the necessities covered, a family vacations at least once a year and eats out at least once a month. Another 15% lives in level 4 income, which is the highest level, leaving only 10% of the world’s 7BN people living on level 1 (extreme poverty).

Rosling provides some rules of thumb to retrain our brains to think differently and challenge the unconscious bias that leads to poor decision making. He goes as far as to say that the most educated people are the ones who hold the most incorrect assumptions about the world. Definitely a must read for managers and executives making decisions on behalf of large corporations, as wrong perceptions can lead to a loss in market opportunities.

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