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Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Posted by Raul Barral Tamayo en martes, 2 de noviembre, 2021

Copyright © Factfulness AB 2018

Factfulness: the stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.

When asked simple questions about global trends (what percentage of people around the world are living in poverty; why the global population is increasing; how many girls finish school) we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess journalists, Nobel laureates and investment bankers.

In Factfulness, Professor of International Health and global TED phenomenon Hans Rosling, together with this two long-time collaborators Anna and Ola, offers a radical new explanation of why this happens, and reveals the ten instincts that distort our perspective.

It turns out that the world, for all its imperceptions, is in a much better state than we might think. But when we worry about everything all the time instead of embracing a world view based on facts, we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most.

Inspring and revelatory, filled with lively anecdotes and moving stories, Factfulness is an urgent and essential book that will change the way you see the world.

Hans Rosling was a medical doctor, professor of international health, and renowned public educator. He was an adviser to the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, and he co-founded Médecins Sans Frontirèes in Sweden and the Gapminder Foundation. His TED talks have been viewed more than thirty-five million times, and he was listed as one of Time Magazine’s one hundred most influential people in the world. Hans died in 2017, having devoted the last years of this life to writing this book.

Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Han’s son and daughter-in-law, are co-founders of the Gapminder Foundation, and Ola its director from 2005 to 2007 and from 2010 to the present day. After Google acquired Trendalyzer, the bubblechart tool invented and designed by Anna and Ola, Ola became head of Google’s Public Data Team and Anna became the team’s senior user-experience (UX) designer. They have both received international awards for their work.

Comments extracted from the book, they could be right or wrong, you decide for yourself:

  • In 2005 we founded the Gapminder Foundation, with a mission to fight devastating ignorance with a fact-based worldview.
  • This book is about the world, and how to understand it.
  • Over the past twenty years, the proportion of the global population living in extreme poverty has halved. This is absolutely revolutionary. I consider to be the most important change that has happened in the world in my lifetime.
  • Almost all children are vaccinated in the world today. It means that almost all human beings alive today have some access to basic modern health care. But most people do not know this. On average just 13 percent of people get the answer right.
  • It is not a question of intelligence. Everyone seems to get the world devastatingly wrong. Not only devastatingly wrong, but systematically wrong. Results are worse than random.
  • Every group of people I ask thinks the world is more frightening, more violent, and more hopeless than it really is.
  • How could policy makers and politicians solve global problems if they were operating on the wrong facts? How could business people make sensible decisions for their organizations if their worldview were upside down?
  • People had a world-view dated to the time when their teachers had left school.
  • The ignorance we kept on finding was not just an upgrade problem. The new ideas just wouldn’t take. Even straight after my presentations.
  • This book shares with you the conclusions I finally reached about why so many people score worse than chimpanzees on fact questions about the world.
  • Step-by-step, year-by-year, the world is improving. Not on every single measure every single year, but as a rule.
  • Overdramatic worldview is so difficult to shift because it comes from the very way our brains work.
  • Our brains often jump to swift conclusions without much thinking, which used to help us to avoid inmediate dangers. We have many instincts that used to be useful thousands of years ago, but we live in a very different world now.
  • We need to learn to control our drama intake. Uncontrolled, our appetite for the dramatic goes too far, prevents us from seeing the world as it is, and lead us terribly astray.
  • This is data as you have never known it: it is data as therapy. It is understanding as a source of mental peace.
  • Many of the changes they think will never happen have already happened.
  • The child mortality rate takes the temperature of a whole society. Because children are very fragile. There are so many things that can kill them. It doesn’t just tell us about the health of children. It measures the quality of the whole society.
  • You won’t find any countries where child mortality has increased. Because the world in general is getting better.
  • 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. Dividing the world into two misleading boxes, it completely distorts all the global proportions in people’s minds.
  • Graphs showing levels of income, or tourism, or democracy, or access to education, health care, or electricity would all tell the same story: that the world used to be divided into two but isn’t any londer. Today, most people are in the middle. There is no gap between the West and the rest, between developed and developing, rich and poor.
  • There are only a very few countries in the world (exceptional places like Afghanistan or South Sudan) where fewer than 20 percent of girls finish primary school, and at most 2 percent of the world’s girls live in such countries.
  • Life expectancy in low-income countries is 62 years. Most people have enough to eat, most people have access to improved water, most children are vaccinated, and most girls finish primary school.
  • Only 9 percent of the world lives in low-income countries. And those countries are not nearly as terrible as people think. Low-income countries are much more developed than most people think.
  • There are 5 billion potential consumers out there, improving their lives in the middle, and wanting to consume shampoo, motorcycles, menstrual pads, and smartphones. You can easily miss them if you go around thinking they are «poor».
  • Dividing countries into two groups doesn’t help aid money to find the poorest people.
  • The four income levels are the first, most important part of your new fact-based framework.
    • Level 1. Extreme poverty. <$2 per day. Five children. Fetch water from a dirty mud hole and hour’s walk away. Gather firewood, prepare same gray porridge every meal, every day, for life. You can’t afford antibiotics, children die. Roughly 1 billion people live like this today.
    • Level 2. $2 – $8. Can buy food. Save some money and buy sandals, a bike, and more plastic buckets. Half an hour to fetch water. Gas stove instead of gathering wood. Electricity to homework under a bulb, too unstable for a freezer. Mattresses instead of mud floor. Roughly 3 billion people live like this today.
    • Level 3. $8 – $32. No more fetching water. Stable electric line. Motorcycle. Vacations. Roughly 2 billion people live like this today.
    • Level 4. Rich consumer. More than twelve years of educiton. Airplane on vacation. Eat out once a month. Car. Hot and cold water indoors. Roughly 1 billion people live like this today.
  • The difficulty, when you have always known level 4 of income, is to understand the huge differences between the other three levels.
  • 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 wasa still on Level 1, in extreme poverty. Today the vast majority of people are spread out in the middle, across Level 2 and 3, with the same 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.
  • Dividing the world into two distinct sides is simple and intuitive, and also dramatic because it implies conflict, and we do it without thinking, all the time. Journalists know this. They set up their narratives as conflicts between two opposing people, views, or groups.
  • Apartheid was very unusual. Much more often, gap stories are a misleading overdramatization. In most cases there is no clear separation of two groups, even if it seems like that from the averages.
  • To control the gap instinct, look for the majority. Beware comparisons of averages. Beware comparisons of extremes.
  • In order for this planer to have financial stability, peace, and protected natural resources, there’s one thing we can’t do without, and that’s international collaboration. The current lack of knowledge about the world is therefore the most concerning problem of all.
  • Good general principle with statistics: be careful jumping to any conclusions if the differences are smaller than say, roughly, 10 percent.
  • In the year 1800, roughly 85 percent of humanity lived on Level 1, in extreme poverty. All over the world, people simply did not have enough food. Most people went to bed hungry several times a year. Level 1 is where all of humanity started. It’s where the majority always lived, until 1966. The extreme poverty rate has been failling since 1800.
  • Just 20 years ago 29 percent of the world population lived in extreme poverty. Now that number is 9 percent.
  • Back in 1800m among all babies who were ever born, roughly half died during their childhood. Most of the other halg died between the ages of 50 and 70. The average life expectancy across the world today is 70. Actually, it’s better thant that: it’s 72.
  • Almost every country has improved by almost every measure.
  • Our negativity instinct: our instinct to notice the bad more than the good.
  • We avoid reminding ourselves and our children about the miseries and brutalities of the past.
  • I’m not a optimist. That makes me sound naive. I’m a very serious «possibilist». It means someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason, someone who constantly resists the overdramatic worldview.
  • When women are educated, all kinds of wonderful things happen in societies. Educated mothers decide to have fewer children and more children survive. More energy and time is invested in each child’s educaiton. It’s a virtous cycle of change.
  • 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. It’s both bad and better.
  • The media and activists rely on drama to grab your attention. Negative stories are more dramatic than neutral or positive ones.
  • The UN population experts think the curve will flatten out at somewhere between 10 and 12 billion people by the end of the century.
  • As billions of people left extreme poverty, most of them decided to have fewer children. They no longer need large families for child labor on the small family farm. And they no longer needed extra children as insurance against child mortality.
  • The single factor that does have a strong connection with large families: extreme poverty.
  • Every generation kept in extreme poverty will produce an even larger next generation. The only proven method for curbin population growth is to eradicate extreme poverty and give people better lives, including education and contraceptives.
  • 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.
  • Here’s the paradox: the image of a dangerous world has never been broadcast more effectively that it is now, while the world has never been less violent and more safe.
  • If we look at the facts behind the headlines, we can see how the fear instinct systematically distorts what we see of the world.
  • original entry: https://raulbarraltamayo.wordpress.com/2021/11/02/factfulness-by-hans-rosling/
  • The risks we fear the most are now often the risks that actually cause us the least harm.
  • It’s amazing how well people can work together when they share the same fears. The fear instinct is so strong that it can make people collaborate across the world, to make the greatest progress.
  • Without world peace, you can forget about all other global progress.
  • Ingegerd Rooth, missionary nurse in Congo and Tanzania: «In the deepest poverty you should never do anything perfectly. If you do you are stealing resources from where they can be better used».
  • Paying too much attention to the individual visible victim rather than to the numbers can lead us to spend all our resources on a fraction of the problem, and therefore save many fewer lives. This principle applies anywhere we are prioritizing scarce resources.
  • Almost all the increased child survival is achieved through preventive measures outside hospitals by local nurses, midwives, and well-educated parentss Especially mothers: the data shows that half the increase in child survival in the world happens because the mothers can read and write. More childnre now survive because they don’t get ill in the first place.
  • If you are investing money to improve health on Level 1 or 2, you should put it into primary schools, nurse education, and vaccinations. Big impressive-looking hospitals can wait.
  • Never believe that one number on its own can be meaningful. If you are offered one number, always ask for at least one more. Something to compare it with.
  • Everyone automatically categorizes and generalizes all the time. Unconsciously. It is not a question of being prejudiced or enlightened. Categories are absolutely necessary for us to function. They give structure to our thoughts.
  • Almost everyone in the world is becoming a consumer. If you suffer form the misconception that most of the world is still too poor to buy anything at all, you risk missing out on the biggest opportunity in world history.
  • Not painting the walls can be a strategic decision in countries on Levels 2 and 3. It’s not that they can’t afford the paint.
  • «Your world has become so safe that when you go abroad the world is dangerous for you».
  • The main factor that affects how people live is not their religion, their culture, or the country they live in, but their income.
  • Here are some toothbrushes from families with different income levels. On Level 1 you brush with your finger or a stick. On Level 2 you get a plastic toothbrush. On Level 3 you get one each.
  • When presented with new evidence, we must always be ready to question our previous assumptions and reevaluate and admit if we were wrong.
  • Beware of the «majority». The majority just means more than half. Ask wether it means 51 percent, 99 percent, or something in between.
  • Assume people are not idiots. When something looks strange, be curious and humble, and think, in what way is this a smart solution?
  • Best places to invest right now were probably those African countries that had just seen decades of rapid improvements in education and child survival. I mentioned Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Ghana.
  • The destiny instinct is the idea that innace characteristics determine the destinies of people, countries, religions, or cultures. It’s the idea that things are as they are for ineluctable, inescapable reasons: they have always been this way and will never change.
  • Societies and cultures are not like rocks, unchanging and unchangeable. The move.
  • The idea that Africa is destined to remain poor is very common but often seems to be based on no more than a feeling.
  • Five large African countries (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and Egypt) have life expectancies above the world average of 72 years.
  • Just 50 years ago, China, India, and South Korea were all way behind where sub-Saharian Africa is t oday in most ways, and Asia’s destiny was supposed then to be exactly what Africa’s destiny is supposed to be now.
  • I think that last to leave extreme poverty will be the poorest farmers stuck on really low-yield soils surrounded by or close to conflicts. That probably account today for 200 million people, just over half of whom live in Africa.
  • Regardless of religion, women have more children if they live in extreme poverty on Level 1.
  • The macho values that are found today in many Asian and African countries, these are not Asian values, or African values. They are not muslim values. They are not Eastern values. They are patriarchal values like those found in Sweden only 60 years ago, and with social and economic progress they will vanish, just as they did in Sweden.
  • Don’t confuse slow change with no change. Don’t miss an annual change because it seems too small and slow. Slow change is still chabge.
  • Update your knowledge. Some knowledge goes out of date quickly. Technology, countries, societies, cultures, and religions are constantly changing.
  • Constantly test your favourite ideas for weaknesses. Be humble about the extent of your expertise. Be curious about new information that doesn’t fit, and information from other fields. See people who contradict you, disagree with you.
  • Almost every activist I have ever met, whether deliberately or, more likely, unknowingly, exaggerates the problem to which they have dedicated themselves.
  • Though we absolutely need number to understand the world, we should be highly skeptical about conclusions derived purely from number crunching.
  • The world cannot be understood without numbers. But the world cannot be understood with numbers alone.
  • Instead of fighting this disease or that disease, it is wiser to provide and gradually improve primary health care for all.
  • A young man in Cuba: «We are not the healthiest of the poor, we are the poorest of the healthy».
  • The United States is the sickets of the rich.
  • The United States spends more per capita on health care than any other country in the world, but 39 countries have longer life expectancies. The answer is difficult, by the way: it is the absence of the basic public health insurance that citizens of most other countries on Level 4 take for granted. Doctor spend time that could be used to save lives or treat illness providing unnecessary meaningless care.
  • The health-care system in the United States is suffering from the single-perspective mind-set: the seemingly reasonable but actually bizaree idea that the marked can solve all a nation’s problems.
  • I strongly believe that liberal democracy is t he best way to run a country. But here’s the thing, and it is hard to accept: the evidence does not support this stance. Most countries that make great economic and social progress are not democracies. It’s better to argue for democracy as a goal in itself instead of as a superior means to other goals we like.
  • Beware of simple ideas and simple solutions. History is full of visionaries who used simple utopian visions to justify terrible actions. Welcome complexity. Combine ideas. Compromise. Solve problemas on a case-by-case basis.
  • The blame instinct is the instinct to find a clear, simple reason for why something bad has happened.
  • We like to believe that things happen because someone wanted them to, that individuals have power and agency: otherwise, the world feeks unpredictible, confusing, and frightening.
  • The blame game often reveals our preferences. We tend to look for bad guys who confirm our existing beliefs. Let’s look at some of the people we most love to point the finger at: evil businessmen, lying journalists, and foreigners.
  • Most of the journalists and filmmakers who inform us about the world are themselves misled. Do not demonize journalists: they the same mega misconceptions as everyone else.
  • Before modern medicine, one of the worst imaginable skin diseases was syphilis. 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.
  • The Industrial Revolution saved billions of lives not because it produced better leaders but because it produced things like chemical detergents that could run in automatic washing machines.
  • Electricity is a basic need, which means that the vast majority (almost everyone on Levels 2, 3, and 4) already has it. Still, just one person in four gets the answer right.
  • We must put our efforts into inventing new technologies that will enable 11 billion people to live the life that we should expect all of them to strive for.
  • Look for causes, not villains. When something goes wrong don’t look for an individual or a group to blame. Accept that bad things can happen without anyone intending them to.
  • When we are afraid and under time pressure and thinking of worst-case scenarios, we tend to make really stupid decisions. Our ability to think analytically can be overwhelmed by an urge to make quick decisions and take immediate action.
  • The call to action makes you think less critically, decide more quickly, and act now. Relax. It’s almost never true. It’s almost never that urgent, and it’s almost never an either/or.
  • Now that we have eliminated most immediate dangers and are left with more complex and often more abstract problems, the urgency instinct can also lead us astray when it comes to our understanding the world around us.
  • We do not seem to have a similar instinct to act when faced with risks that are far off in the future. In fact, in the face of future risks, we can be pretty slothfull. That is why so few people save enough for their retirement.
  • When people tell me we must act now, it makes me hesitate. In most cases, they are just trying to stop me from thinking clearly.
  • Fear plus urgency make for stupide, drastic decisions with unpredictable side effects.
  • Exaggeration undermines the credibility of well-founded data.
  • I would never show the worst-case line without showing the probable and the best-case lines as well.
  • Demographic forecasts are amazingly accurate decades into the future because the systems involved (essentially, births and deaths) are quite simple. Each individual cycle takes roughly 70 years.
  • Those who care about climate change should stop scaring people with unlikely scenarios.
  • When you are called to action, sometimes they most useful action you can take is to improve the data.
  • The concept of climate refugees is mostly a deliberate exaggeration, designed to turn fear of refugees into fear of climate change.
  • Crying wolf too many times puts at risk the credibility and reputation of serious climate scientists and the entire movement.
  • Data must be used to tell the truth, not to call to action, no matter how noble the intentions.
  • The overdramatic worldview in people’s heads creates a constant sense of crisis and stress. The urgent «now or never» feelings it creates lead to stress or apathy.
  • The five global risks that concern me most are the risks of global pandemic, financial collapse, world war, climate change, and extreme poverty. There is a sixth candiate for this list. It is the unknown risk. It is the probability that something we have not yet even thought of will cause terrible suffering and devastation.
  • We need to ensure that basic health care reaches everyone, everywhere, so that outbreaks can be discovered more quickly.
  • Terrorists hide in the few remaining areas of extreme poverty.
  • There’s no innovation needed to end poverty. It’s all about walking the last mile with what’s worked everywhere else. As long as people remain in extreme poverty they keep having large families and their numbers keep increasing.
  • Any prediction about the future is uncertain. Be wary of predictions that fail to acknowledge that. Insist on a full range of scenarios, never just the best or worst case.
  • A wise governor of Tanzania: «When someone threatens you with a machete, never turn your back. Stand still. Look him straight in the eye and ask him what the problem is».
  • We should be teaching our children the basic up-to-date, fact-based framework:
    • That the are countries on all different levels of health and income and that most are in the middle.
    • About their own country’s socioeconomic position in relation to the rest of the world, and how that is changing.
    • How their own country progressed through the income levels to get to where it is now, and how to use that knowledge to understand what life is like in other countries today.
    • That people are moving up the income levels and most things are improving for them.
    • What life was really like in the past so that they do not mistakenly think that no progress has been made.
    • 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.
    • That cultural and religious stereotypes are useless for understanding the world.
    • How to consume the news and spot the drama without becoming stressed or hopeless.
    • The common ways that people will try to trick them with numbers.
    • That the world will keep chaning and they will have to update their knowledge and worldview throught their lives.
  • It is quite exciting being curious, because it means you are always discovering something interesting.
  • What you learn about the world at school will become outdated withing 10 or 20 years of graduating.
  • The world of the future will be growing primarily in Asia and Africa, not at home.
  • Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya are where some of the best investment opportunities can be found today.

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