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

AuthorHans Rosling
FinishedApril 23, 2019
Rating3.1 / 5

Goodreads link

I thought the book was easily consumable and had some good points. After the first 3 chapters, it got rather repetitive and the point was the same. I think this is one of those books that could have been distilled and reduced into one dense chapter or introductory essay. I appreciated Rosling’s stories and the diagrams were easy to understand.


  • As humans, our intuitions can often be very wrong.
    • “I want people, when they realize they have been wrong about the sorld, to nfeel not embarassment, but that childlike sense of wonder, inspiration, and curiosity…” (17)
  • “In order for this planet to have financial stability, peace, and protected natural resources, there’s one thing we can’t do without, and that’s international collaboration, based on a shared and fact-based understanding of the world. The current knowledge about the world is therefore the most concerning problem of all.” (49)
  • “We shouldnt diminish the tragedies of the droughts and famines happening right now. But knowledge of hte tragedies of the past should help everone reailze how the world has become both much more trnasparent and much better at getting help to where it’s needed” (56)
  • No conflict between celebrating progress and continuing to fight for more
    • Not mutually exclusive!
    • “If we lose hope because of stupid misocnceptions, it might not happen at all” (70)
  • “The only proven method for curbing population growth is to eradicate extreme poverty and give people better lives, including education and contraceptives” (91)
  • “The kind of information we seem most likely to process is stories: information that sounds dramatic … We end up paying attention to information that fits our dramatic instincts, and ignoring information that does not” (104)
  • DDT can be one of the quickest and chepaest ways to save lives bc it kills mosquitos so quickly in refugee camps, etc
    • “Some aid organizationss that depend on popular support avoid evidence-based solutions that actually would save lives” (117) :(
  • “The cruel calculus of extreme poverty” (127)
  • “The world cannot be understood without numbers. And it cannot be understood with numbers alone” (128)
  • Link between religion and number of babies per women is overstated.
    • Actual link is between income and number of babies per women (175)
  • Escape from extreme poverty and women’s access to education and contraception … (178) -- work i want to do?
  • Patriarchal values are not unchangeable! Sweden had them sixty years ago but with social and economic progress things change.
    • Maybe Korea and Neo Confucianism has a chance after all…
  • “We find simple ideas very attractive… We enjoy that moment of insight… It saves a lot of time to think like this. You can have opinions and asnwers without having to learn about a problem from scratch adn you can get on with using your brain for other tasks. But it’s not so useful if you like to understand the world” (186)
  • “The numbers will never tell the full story of what life on Earth is all about” (192)
  • “It is better to argue for democracy as a goal in itself instead of as a superior means to other goals we like” (201) i.e. economic and social progress, etc
  • “To understand most of the world’s significant problems we have to look beyond a guilty individual and to the system” (207)
    • I.e. do we blame mass shootings on guns? On mental health? On prevention?
    • The problem is that when we identify the bad guy, we are done thinking. It’s usually more complicated…. Usually systemic problems (221)
  • “Crying wolf too many times puts at risk the credibility and reputation of serious climate scientists and the entire movement… Exaggerating the role of climate change in wars and conflicts, or poverty … means that the other major causes of these global problems are ignored, hampering our ability to take action against them. We cannot get into a situation where no one listens anymore. Without trust, we are lost.” (233)
    • I.e. feminism too?
  • “If you can’t track progress, you don’t know whether your actions are working.” (235)
  • “When a problem seems urgent the first thing to do is not to cry wolf, but to organize the data.” (235)
  • Data is key!!!! It is important to protect data’s credibility AND the credibility of those who produce it. “Data must be used to tell the truth, not to call to action, no matter how noble the intentions” (236)
  • Be realistic about your knowledge. Be happy to say “I don’t know.” When you do have an opinion, be prepared to change it when you discover new facts.
    • Be curious! Be open to new information and actively seek it out
    • Embrace facts that don’t fit your worldview, try to understand their implications
    • “It is quite exciting being curious, because it means you are always discovering something interesting” (249)
  • “A fact-based worldview is more useful for navigating life…”
  • “Most of what i undesrand about the world i learned not from studying data or sitting in front of a computer reading research papers … but from spending time with, and discussing the world with, other people”


  1. Recognizing when a story talks about a gap … reality is often not polarized…
    1. Look for the majority
    2. Beware comparisons of averages
    3. Beware comparisons of extremes
  2. Watch the negativity instinct. Things can be better AND bad
  3. Don’t assume straight lines
  4. Fear instinct … frightening things get our attention
  5. Size instinct … Get things in proportion! Look for comparisons
    1. Focus time on understanding those that make up 80 percent of the total (80/20 rule)
  6. Generalization instinct … Recognize when a category is being used in an explanation; categories can be misleading. Question your categories
    1. Differences within groups and across groups
    2. Similarities across groups
    3. Beware of the “majority.” This can mean 99 or 51 percent
  7. Destiny instinct … Many people, countries, religions, cultures appear to be constant just because the change is happening slowly… small and slow changes gradually add up to big changes!
    1. Keep track of gradual improvements
    2. Update your knowledge. Always need to keep learning!
  8. Single perspective instinct … single perspective can limit your imagination. Get a toolbox, not a hammer! Numbers, but not only numbers
    1. 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 problems on a case-by-case basis” (203)
      1. Lol i.e. histler, voldemort, trump
  9. Blame instinct
    1. RESIST finding a scapegoat!
    2. Look for causes, not villains
    3. Look for systems, not heroes
  10. Urgency instinct … recognize when a decision feels urgent … it rarely is
    1. Take a breath
    2. Insist on the data!
    3. Be wary of drastic action