Updated: Sep 14, 2020
We are all experiencing unusual and distressing times. If our daily diet consists of large amounts of mass media, we may become distressed and if we base our information by what is shared on social media, we will be doomed to anxiety and possible discord.
Within this environment, I have found comfort from a somewhat unlikely source. It is a book by the late Hans Rosling. The book, Factfulness, felt like a reality balm. Factfulness looks into global trends and helps readers to understand the real meaning behind the data and this just calms things down- immensely.
The late author, Hans Rosling, practiced medicine and was a professor of International Health. He also advised members of the WHO and UNICEF as well as being a co-founder of Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Sweden and the Gapminder Foundation(1). Rosling’s gifted way of dissecting the world based on factual information has benefitted countless professionals and ordinary folks like myself.
One of the basic premises of his book is this:
“There are reasons why we are wrong about the world
and things are better than we think (2).”
Within the book, Rosling narrows his focus to ten ways in which the reader (and humans in general) instinctively respond to data and news. He also explains the ways in which news, data and graphics are chosen to illicit those negative responses. He then supplements the chapters with personal and entertaining history and quality data along with excellent graphs and diagrams. (this is a great gift for the visual learner!) Within the chapters, he dissects information and moves the reader from instinct to critical thinking. Lastly, he ends each chapter with suggestions for overcoming these natural instincts that tend to produce anxiety, stress, and even discord.
This book is truly important, truly useful and truly necessary for today’s Level 4 reader. (You will need to read the book to find out what it means to be level 4.)
Here is an example of how looking at data while suppressing our natural instincts can help us to see that the world is actually doing better that we imagined.
The Gap Instinct:
“The gap instinct creates a picture in people’s heads of a world split into two kinds of countries or two kinds of people: rich versus poor (Factfulness, P. 21)…The gap instinct makes us imagine division where there is just a smooth range, difference where there is convergence, and conflict where there is agreement (P. 39).” (3)
This is what we need today, elimination of unnecessary gaps and a lot more agreement! We need hope generated from receiving data with fresh eyes and finely tuned ears. I highly recommend spending the time to read this book. The message is needed right now as we endure times of uncertainty and try to manage massive amounts of news, data and information. I benefitted by learning to look at data differently and evaluate media claims more effectively.
It should be noted that I intend to reread this book periodically so that I am better able make sense of our shocking, confusing and out of balance world.
For fun, here is a link to a Factfulness quiz to see how well you are taking in information: https://factfulnessquiz.com/
Here is a link to GapMinder website: https://www.gapminder.org/
1. Rosling,H, Rosling, O, Ronnlund, A. 2018. Factfulness. New York, NY: Flatiron Books.