So I recently read: Factfulness

I first came to know about Hans Rosling, through this TED Talk. I was searching for data visualizations and how the world perceives other nations.

Naturally, once you watch this, you will realize that Hans Rosling was not only a witty speaker, but also the stats he displayed were proof that most of our knowledge comes from our perceptions and not the facts. These perceptions are ingrained in us from the very beginning. The even more disturbing part is that the perceptions present the image of something from the past and are highly deceptive because the world is continuously changing. The example of how Chimps sometimes, randomly, would be more right than most of the so-called developed and educated audience was extremely funny.

So, I recently read a book called

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think

by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, and Anna Rosling Rönnlund.

Hans Rosling has passed away since then but you would’ve certainly heard of Gapminder and if you haven’t, it is difficult to not have seen graphics from a similar org called ‘Our World in Data’. Remember the daily cases and overall case graphs? Hans Rosling, for most of his later life, worked to help people know better about the world. He was a Swedish medical professional who worked extensively in Africa and Asia so he saw things firsthand.

Here are some of my notes from the book:

We can divide people or countries into 4 Levels of Development based on income. Every country wants to be at Level 4 that’s the highest per capita income level. Funnily, every country would believe that they are not on Level 1, which is the poorest of all. Like a normal curve, the majority of the world lies on Level 2 and Level 3, and even if news channels show a grim picture of the world, the trend is that every country is moving towards Level 3 or 4, the pace might be different. It is also fully possible that a country might appear on Level 4 but it might have subsections of societies that are on Level 1. For example, if you work in any Tech Park in Bengaluru, you work on Level 4. As soon you come out and hit the traffic, you go through Level 3 and Level 2, and sometimes Level 1 as well. As soon as you enter your home, you are back to Level 2 or Level 3, if not Level 4.

This book tries to encourage people to think beyond the news articles and images one has been through. It encourages one to think about averages and exceptions. I particularly like the aspect that it tries to clear the stereotypes and encourages the reader to look at things objectively.

My highlighted notes

  • The throat is flat, not round. That is how circus performers swallow flat swords.
  • Critical thinking is always difficult, but it’s almost impossible when we are scared. There’s no room for facts when our minds are occupied by fear.
  • Fears that once helped keep our ancestors alive, today help keep journalists employed.
  • A doctor in a relatively poor country continuously has to balance between treating everyone or putting all resources on one patient.

“In the deepest poverty you should never do anything perfectly. If you do you are stealing resources from where they can be better used.”

  • Finding Real Stats and Numbers by dividing the total by the population. For example, emission by China and India is often called the highest. But in reality, per capita emissions by China and India is still lower than the West.

“I learned that Indian Medical textbooks were sometimes three times as thick as Swedish ones, and they had read it three times as many times.”

  • Forming your worldview by relying on the media would be like forming your view about me by looking only at a picture of my foot.
  • Being intelligent—being good with numbers, or being well educated, or even winning a Nobel Prize—is not a shortcut to global factual knowledge. Experts are experts only within their field.
  • Red List is a list, where you can access the status of all endangered species in the world, as updated by a global community of high-quality researchers who track the wild populations of different animals and collaborate to monitor the trend.

“Give a child a hammer and everything looks like a nail.”

“If the pharmaceutical companies were better at adjusting their prices for different countries and different customers, they could make their next fortune with what they already have.”

  • Before modern medicine, one of the worst imaginable skin diseases was syphilis, which would start as itchy boils and then eat its way into the bones until it exposed the skeleton. The microbe that caused this disgusting sight and unbearable pain had different names in different places. In Russia, it was called the Polish disease. In Poland it was the German disease; in Germany, the French disease; and in France, the Italian disease. The Italians blamed back, calling it the French disease.
  • We need the Olympic Games, international trade, educational exchange programs, free internet—anything that lets us meet across ethnic groups and country borders.

The best part about this book is about Teaching Children

We should be teaching our children that there are countries on all different levels of health and income and that most are in the middle.

  • Teach them about their own country’s socioeconomic position and its relation to the rest of the world, and how that is changing.
  • Teach them how their own country progressed through the income levels to get to where it is now.
  • Teach them what life was really like in the past so that they do not mistakenly think that no progress has been made. • We should be teaching them how to hold the two ideas at the same time: that bad things are going on in the world, but that many things are getting better.
  • Teach them that cultural and religious stereotypes are useless for understanding the world.
  • Teach them how to consume the news and spot the drama without becoming stressed or hopeless.
  • Teach them the common ways that people will try to trick them with numbers.
  • Teach them that the world will keep changing and they will have to update their knowledge and worldview throughout their lives.

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