Saturday, August 6, 2022

Book Report Factfulness

 General Overview


The overall theme of Hans Rosling’s “Factfulness” is that the world is not all doom and gloom. The idea that people have of a deteriorating world is in fact a simple case of ignorance. For example, the common belief that the majority of citizens in third world countries live without electricity, children do not get vaccinated against preventable diseases, girls do not have access to education, and the overall life expectancy in these nations is on the decline, is a huge misnomer. Contrary to the picture that people in developed countries like to paint, a vast majority of people in these nations reside in the middle on the income scale. The children get vaccinated, girls have access to education, on average people have access to electricity and clean water. The people do not live as a normal middle class citizen of a western country, they also do not live in extreme poverty. 


Rosling first became aware of the massive ignorance responsible for the perception that global problems are only increasing and the world in general is in a bad shape, in the 1990s. While teaching a course in global health in Sweden, Rosling realised the culprit responsible for the global ignorance is overdramatic worldview and our dramatic instincts, which lead us to believe that everything is going downhill. Rosling discovered that people tend to distinguish countries by boxing them into “them/us,” “western/non-western,” or “developing/developed.” The book discusses ten dramatic instincts which drive people to divide things into different but conflicting groups. Rosling goes through each instinct to help the reader understand why there is a perverse negative attitude about progress and prosperity globally. He wants his audience to understand where the ignorance comes from and how they can move past it to change their worldview and encourage real change. 


Favorite Part


My favorite part of the book was chapter seven, “The Destiny Instinct.” The chapter description is “about rocks that move and what grandpa never talked about.” It is an appropriate title for the chapter as it discusses The Destiny Instinct, which is the idea that fundamental characteristics determine the destinies of people, cultures, or religions. The idea is that what has been will always be. For example, Rosling mentions a brief encounter with a man at one of his talks, who believed that Africa will never improve, because their culture will never allow for change. According to that man, Africa is destined to remain in the state it is now. However, Rosling presents data to show countries such as Iran, Bangladesh, and even Afghanistan is moving towards progress, specifically in the context of gender equality. Contrary to popular western view, average babies per woman from 1800 to today in Iran has dropped staggering. Similarly, Sweden’s sex positive culture was always not so. In fact, in the 1960s, abortion was illegal in the country and women seeking crossed the border and went to Poland, where it was legal. Poland, a staunch Catholic country is where women went to get abortion, but in the mid-sixties, tide changed and Poland made abortion illegal. This goes to show that what has been need not always be. Cultures, religions, and countries are always changing. As far as Africa is concerned, Rosling believes it can catch up and prosper, based on data that show in the last sixty years African countries south of the Sahara went from being colonies to independent states. Just as there was extreme poverty in Sweden at one point, there is poverty in Africa, but if Sweden as overcome it and become one the “developed” nations, so can Africa. I found this chapter inspiring, because right now in the age of cynicism promulgated by social media, it is refreshing to remember countries, cultures, and people are in a constant state of transformation. 


Least Favorite Parts


Rosling provides many graphs and figures to convey that overall the human progress is headed in a positive direction. For example, he discussed the reduction in oil spills via graphs, but he failed to mention the plastics polluting the waters and its impact on marine life. He also presented graphs to depict a decline of smoke particles in the air, but makes no mention of the putrid air quality in industrial Asia. The trope of this book is hope. Rosling’s ideology that things are not as bad as they seem necessitates a level of ignorance which fought against. If he were to take into account all the bad that is on the rise in the world, such as pollution, cyber terrorism, impact of social media on children, hyper polarisation of politics, and etc., it would be evident that things are neither improving nor deteriorating. Overall everything the state of the world is in the middle, similar to how Rosling described the average income status of citizens in most non-western countries.  




The Theme song of the sitcom, Big Bang Theory. The 21 second clip describes the existence and evolution of life after the big bang. I believe it complements the theme of Factfulness well, because it is shows the ever changing nature of universe. As the old cliché goes, change is the only constant, and per Rosling’s theory, the only reason the world seems to be changing for the worse is because of our ignorance. If we were to overcome our dramatic instincts that distort the reality, we could affect real change and inspire true human progress on a global scale.




The primary theme of the book is that true human progress is slow and steady, which people fail to recognise and misunderstand it due to their inherent biases for lack of progress. However, change is the way of the universe and nothing can remain stagnant, not even poverty. The issue lies in people failing to recognise change, which in turn discourages them from affecting change. Right now, this issue is a the very heart of the abortion debate in our nation. The recent opinion of the Supreme Court, effectively illegalizing abortions in many states, has pushed back the progress that the equal rights movement had made fifty years. Nationwide women were upset and concerned about their futures, and the overall trope in media was of hopelessness. However, as Rosling discussed in the book, it is important to remember the things are getting better, we often do not hear of them. Many states such as Texas, Alabama, Florida, and etc, wasted no times to enact abortion bans, however, state such as New Jersey, California, Oregon, Maryland, and etc, rushed to strengthen abortions friendly laws. The abortion debate has been going on for decades in this nation, but in order for us to make real and lasting progress on this topic, we must first recognize the gap in people’s beliefs and understand where the majority lies. As Rosling suggests in chapter one of the book, the reality is not reality is not so polarized and the  majority usually lies in the middle. The problem with the topic of abortion in this nation is that it has become extremely charged, due to the ignorance and prejudice of people. However, if the nation is to overcome this ignorance, we must first learn that the subject of abortion is irrelevant to either right or left wing. Rosling’s theories can potentially solve this debate once and for all if people follow the Factfulness Rules of Thumb carefully. 


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