Thursday, July 29, 2021

Book Report: Factfulness by Hans Rosling

For this book report I will be discussing “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling. 

    In the current environment where lies and fiction are just as often believed as facts, Hans Rosling's book is a practical guide using facts, statistical data and reason to become a more well-informed global citizen. The premise of the book is that we, as a society, need to open our eyes up to the multitude of positive changes that are taking place in the world. The author uses data in the form of statistics and charts as well as vivid examples from his own life to carefully examine how positive developments in the world are systematically underreported, while disaster news is vastly over-reported. For example, the world is improving in key categories such as child mortality rates, per capita income, healthcare, and literacy levels to name a few. However, Roslin goes into detail explaining how media bias, incorrect preconceived notions, and statistical illiteracy lead to a relatively gloomy (and inaccurate) worldview. I particularly enjoyed how very early in the book Rosling deviates from the notions of developed vs. developing countries, arguing that it is simply an obsolete way of classifying the world  and adapts a new perspective; he proposes a classification system based on four levels wherein each of the four levels corresponds to daily income level. I truly believe that viewing it as such enables us to change our perspective and see how many people have moved up from extreme poverty (level 1) to higher levels. Moreover, this four income level system helps us realize a more accurate worldview of wealth when compared to the outdated system of “developed” and “developing” countries.  

     My favorite part of the book is where Rosling presents and outlines ten (10) basic instincts that we all possess which prevent us from seeing the world as it really is. The ten include: The Gap Instinct, the Negativity Instinct, the Straight Line instinct, the Fear instinct, the Size instinct, the Generalization instinct, the Destiny instinct, the Single Perspective instinct, the Blame instinct, and the Urgency instinct. Rosling subsequently goes into detail on each one of these ten and explains strategies on how to avoid them and keep them from plaguing our perception of the world. These cognitive biases distort our view of objective reality and create false assumptions about people and the world at large, thereby impacting how we think. 

     The reason I chose this book is because it connects right back into the class concept of rational thinking vs fast thinking. A “factfulness” mindset, as Rosling proposes, seeks to overcome all the  aforementioned inherent biases within our brains. These fallacies, however, arise from our heuristics and our propensity to be fast thinkers. During the entire course we have been learning about how slow, rational thinking is what science is all about while fast thinking and heuristics make up pseudoscience. With that being said, each of the instincts and their challenges are rooted in heuristics, our innate mental shortcuts that are always present in our decision making process. Through reading “Factfulness” I have become better at understanding and recognizing the common “fast thinking” heuristics and biases that betray our tried and true rational decision making process. In conclusion, critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking which requires rigorous standards of excellence and the mindful application of them. It establishes the commitment to constantly improve effective communication and problem solving skills within ourselves, which is the essence of this course. It is honestly tough to describe in words how genuinely inspirational and important this book is on a large scale. Rosling’s main idea is that the world has been getting better rather than worse, that it is better than we currently perceive it to be,  and that changing how we think, not what we think, is the key to thinking critically. These are some of the qualities that I hope to carry with me from this course and utilize in my personal life. For instance, the generalization instinct is one that, looking back, I have definitely caught myself using. However, after reading this book I have taken Rosling’s key advice and implemented it directly into my train of thought, including: looking for differences and similarities among groups, being aware of “the majority” and not assuming that what applies to one group applies to another. I have included some key charts that I found to be the most important for anyone interested.

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