Factfulness Summary: How to Think Clearly About the World

I love to read books from different fields to get new perspectives. The most recent book that I have read is Factfulness by Hans Rosling.

The book teaches us how to think clearly about the world. It says that there are ten instincts that can pull us in the wrong direction and it teaches us how to recognize and control them.

When we see the world with those instincts, we have an overdramatic worldview. As a result, we tend to see the world worse than it really is. We should replace it with a fact-based worldview which the book calls factfulness.

So how can we have a fact-based worldview?

To help you have it, here are the ten instincts and how you can control them.

1. The Gap Instinct

Definition: The tendency to divide things into two distinct groups with a gap between them. An example is dividing countries into “developed” and “developing” countries.

Problem: More often than not, there is an overlap between these groups. In fact, the majority is usually in the middle where the gap is supposed to exist.

Solution: Where there seems to be a gap between two groups, look for where the majority is.

2. The Negativity Instinct

Definition: The tendency to notice the bad more than the good. An example is focusing on the occurrences of certain accidents while the overall trends are actually declining.

Problem: When we look at the bad instances, we may lose sight of the big picture. As a result, we might think that the world is getting worse while it’s not.

Solution: Expect bad news because that’s what will most likely reach us. Good news rarely makes the headlines.

3. The Straight Line Instinct

Definition: The tendency to assume that a line in a curve will just continue straight. An example is projecting population growth into the future as if there is a constant population explosion.

Problem: It gives us a false projection about the future.

Solution: Remember that curves come in different shapes such as the bell curve. We need to think of the overall shape and not just the part we currently see.

4. The Fear Instinct

Definition: The tendency to give more attention to things that are frightening. An example is overestimating the odds of terrorism (which is frightening) compared to car accidents (which is less frightening) while car accidents are much more likely to happen.

Problem: It could cause us to focus our attention on the wrong risks.

Solution: Calculate the risks so that we know the real probabilities.

5. The Size Instinct

Definition: The tendency to be impressed by how big or small a number is without putting it into context. An example is assuming that the number of infant mortality is very high while it’s actually much lower compared to the past.

Problem: It could cause us to lose sight of the big picture.

Solution: Get things in proportion. Compare the number to other numbers (like the numbers in the past).

6. The Generalization Instinct

Definition: The tendency to put things into categories and assume certain things about them. An example is assuming that people from a certain country will always behave a certain way.

Problem: It could cause us to take the wrong conclusions and take the wrong actions.

Solution: Question your categories. Are they valid?

7. The Destiny Instinct

Definition: The tendency that certain groups will have certain destinies because of their innate characteristics. For example, we might assume that some countries would never leave poverty because of their cultures.

Problem: We could lose opportunities because we overestimate or underestimate a group’s future.

Solution: Remember that even small changes over time will add up to big changes. A group with seemingly small changes (positive or negative) will change a lot eventually.

8. The Single Perspective Instinct

Definition: The tendency to find single causes or single solutions to problems. For example, if you were a medical doctor, you might see things only from a medical perspective (forgetting about economics, for instance).

Problem: It could cause us to put our resources in the wrong place.

Solution: See a problem from many angles so that you can come up with the right solutions.

9. The Blame Instinct

Definition: The tendency to find a scapegoat for why something bad has happened.

Problem: When we think that we have found the “guilty” party, we stop looking for further explanations. In reality, problems are often caused by a system of interrelated factors.

Solution: Resist finding a scapegoat. Instead, try to understand the system behind the problem.

10. The Urgency Instinct

Definition: The tendency to act urgently without enough understanding of the real situation.

Problem: We might take actions with unintended side effects because we haven’t thought it through.

Solution: Take small steps. Make sure that you have enough data to understand the real situation before taking action.

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Be careful not to fall into these traps. When you control these instincts, you will think clearly about the world.

I hope you have found this Factfulness summary useful. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

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