Saturday, February 23, 2019

FACTFULNESS: Why we're wrong about the world, and it's better than we think.

Factfulness  by Hans Rosling (New York: Flatiron Books, 2018.)

Factfulness is about how we best can understand our surroundings and then act appropriately. It’s about avoiding errors embedded in the way humans learn. Read and learn, but also keep in mind the need to think holistically.

Rosling's a medical doctor. His book is written with the care that a good medical doctor gives to a patient. "Here's what's wrong with you. Here's a therapy for you. Do the therapy every day."

Example: it’s a very hot day, so hot that the direct sunlight is a risk. Happiness, short term and long term, comes from avoiding sunburn. Short term you avoid pain. Long term you cut the risk of skin cancer. You’re happy about those results, right?

Elevate this example to the level of selected global trends by reading Factfulness. “Factfulness” is thinking accurately about big trends such as economic development. It’s about gathering your information carefully, paying attention to actual patterns, avoiding rumor. I agree with Rosling: achieving factfulness and avoiding harmful human instincts (the fear instinct for example) can help  immensely in our thought process.

Rosling, a medical doctor, has contributed enormously through his medical service in Africa and his subsequent quest for factual knowledge about the world. I loved his explanation of the psychology of we humans--of how we are attracted, instinctively, to the overly dramatic stories, even if they’re not factful. In other words, learning fueled by our primal instincts (by fear, for example) leads to error. Current example in the U.S.: fear the immigrant, build a wall, keep us safe.  

Rosling spent a lifetime developing his own learning skills, as well as his professional business, around factfulness. I really identified with his stories about his medical service in tropical Africa. He adjusted his medical practice to the needs of the very poor and achieved tremendous results in saving lives. That’s factfulness in action.

He then went on to apply lessons learned in tropical Africa to the worldwide situation. What he advocates is a fact-based worldview instead of the drama-based worldview of hyper-journalism.

The result is an improved view of the current and future world situation: the world is in better shape than we might think. He has a fact-based treasury of knowledge; it’s truly a great contribution.

As you read, however, I ask you to be fact-based about Rosling himself. His audiences have been the elites. Example: he’s been a presenter for the wealthy and the powerful who gather at the World Economic Forum (Davos, Switzerland).

By all means get and read Rosling’s Factfulness. Learn what he means by: “Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.” (Quoted from title page.) Rosling is a clever writer about a heavy topic and you’ll enjoy his informal presentation style, beginning with the x-ray of a sword swallower on page 1.

I recommend that you ask this question as you read: what has Rosling omitted? I think he’s omitted a huge swath of disturbing facts about insect loss, global warming, internet threats to political life. His factfulness seems very selective. And selective factfulness is not truly factful.

Learn the great lessons Rosling teaches on thinking factfully, but also learn to think wholistically, not just selectively. Think wholistically and think environmentally. Green factfulness is the goal.   

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