Tags All Entries

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

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

Chapter -1 :

Chapter One: The Gap Instinct

the gap instinct. I’m talking about that irresistible temptation we have to divide all kinds of things into two distinct and often conflicting groups, with an imagined gap—a huge chasm of injustice—in between. It is about how 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.

Human history started with everyone on Level 1. For more than 100,000 years nobody made it up the levels and most children didn’t survive to become parents. Just 200 years ago, 85 percent of the world population was still on Level 1, in extreme poverty. Today the vast majority of people are spread out in the middle, across Levels 2 and 3, with the same range of standards of living as people had in Western Europe and North America in the 1950s. And this has been the case for many years

Factfulness is … recognizing when a story talks about a gap, and remembering that this paints a picture of two separate groups, with a gap in between. The reality is often not polarized at all. Usually the majority is right there in the middle, where the gap is supposed to be. To control the gap instinct, look for the majority.

• Beware comparisons of averages. If you could check the spreads you would probably find they overlap. There is probably no gap at all. • Beware comparisons of extremes. In all groups, of countries or people, there are some at the top and some at the bottom. The difference is sometimes extremely unfair. But even then the majority is usually somewhere in between, right where the gap is supposed to be.

The view from up here. Remember, looking down from above distorts the view. Everything else looks equally short, but it’s not.

Chapter Two: The Negativity Instinct

This chapter is about the negativity instinct: our tendency to notice the bad more than the good. This instinct is behind the second mega misconception. “Things are getting worse” is the statement about the world that I hear more than any other. And it is absolutely true that there are many bad things in this world.

There’s a dip in the global life expectancy curve in 1960 because 15 to 40 million people—nobody knows the exact number—starved to death that year in China, in what was probably the world’s largest ever man-made famine. The Chinese harvest in 1960 was smaller than planned because of a bad season combined with poor governmental advice about how to grow crops more effectively. The local governments didn’t want to show bad results, so they took all the food and sent it to the central government. There was no food left. One year later the shocked inspectors were delivering eyewitness reports of cannibalism and dead bodies along roads. The government denied that its central planning had failed, and the catastrophe was kept secret by the Chinese government for 36 years. It wasn’t described in English to the outside world until 1996. (Think about it. Could any government keep the death of 15 million people a global secret today?)

It seems that when we hear someone say things are getting better, we think they are also saying “don’t worry, relax” or even “look away.” But when I say things are getting better, I am not saying those things at all. I am certainly not advocating looking away from the terrible problems in the world. I am saying that things can be both bad and better

Factfulness is … recognizing when we get negative news, and remembering that information about bad events is much more likely to reach us. When things are getting better we often don’t hear about them. This gives us a systematically too-negative impression of the world around us, which is very stressful. To control the negativity instinct, expect bad news.

• Better and bad. Practice distinguishing between a level (e.g., bad) and a direction of change (e.g., better). Convince yourself that things can be both better and bad. • Good news is not news. Good news is almost never reported. So news is almost always bad. When you see bad news, ask whether equally positive news would have reached you. • Gradual improvement is not news. When a trend is gradually improving, with periodic dips, you are more likely to notice the dips than the overall improvement. • More news does not equal more suffering. More bad news is sometimes due to better surveillance of suffering, not a worsening world. • Beware of rosy pasts. People often glorify their early experiences, and nations often glorify their histories.

Chapter Three: The Straight Line Instinct

Factfulness is … recognizing the assumption that a line will just continue straight, and remembering that such lines are rare in reality. To control the straight line instinct, remember that curves come in different shapes.

• Don’t assume straight lines. Many trends do not follow straight lines but are S-bends, slides, humps, or doubling lines. No child ever kept up the rate of growth it achieved in its first six months, and no parents would expect it to.

Chapter Four: The Fear Instinct

Risk = danger × exposure. The risk something poses to you depends not on how scared it makes you feel, but on a combination of two things. How dangerous is it? And how much are you exposed to it? • Get calm before you carry on. When you are afraid, you see the world differently. Make as few decisions as possible until the panic has subsided.

Chapter Five: The Size Instinct

I remember the words of Ingegerd Rooth, who had been working as a missionary nurse in Congo and Tanzania before she became my mentor. She always told me, “In the deepest poverty you should never do anything perfectly. If you do you are stealing resources from where they can be better used.

buildings. But almost all the increased child survival is achieved through preventive measures outside hospitals by local nurses, midwives, and well-educated parents. Especially mothers: the data shows that half the increase in child survival in the world happens because the mothers can read and write. More children now survive because they don’t get ill in the first place. Trained

Chapter Six: The Generalization Instinct

It will be helpful to you if you always assume your categories are misleading. Here are five powerful ways to keep questioning your favorite categories: look for differences within and similarities across groups; beware of “the majority”; beware of exceptional examples; assume you are not “normal”; and beware of generalizing from one group to another.

If someone offers you a single example and wants to draw conclusions about a group, ask for more examples. Or flip it over: i.e., ask whether an opposite example would make you draw the opposite conclusion

assume they are smart and ask yourself, How can this be such a smart solution?

Chapter Eight: The Single Perspective Instinct

But activists who devote themselves to protecting vulnerable animals and their habitats tend to make the same mistake I’ve just described: desperately trying to make people care, they forget about progress

The world cannot be understood without numbers. But the world cannot be understood with numbers alone.

Out of the failure of this attempt to eradicate one single disease came the insight that, instead of fighting this disease or that disease, it is wiser to provide and gradually improve primary health care for all.

Chapter Ten: The Urgency Instinct

problem-solving organization should not be allowed to decide what data to publish either.

A

*

:CUSTOM_ID: section

Links to this note