Factfulness: 10 reasons we’re wrong about the world, by Hans Rosling


There are reasons to be cheerful in Factfulness, Hans Rosling’s frank and funny guide to rational thinking.

We all like to think we’re clear and rational thinkers. But when news and social media are increasingly manipulated, misrepresented or misunderstood, it can be hard to see how things really stand.

Factfulness aims to be the antidote to this kind of wonky world view.

Gapminder, the independent foundation that Rosling co-founded, defines factfulness as “a new way of thinking about the world and the society…. It is the relaxing habit of carrying opinions that are based on solid facts.”

What is Factfulness like?

Rosling’s writing – like his talks – mixes hard facts with compelling anecdotes.

For instance, Rosling recalls how his grandmother would watch the washing machine through its entire cycle. He then connects this to evidence about societal progress.

There is some maths, but always within a context that aids understanding. You could in fact skip the graphs yet still feel you’ve grasped the essentials. Aside from Rosling’s skills as a narrator (and teacher), this may be a reflection of a professional life filled with drama and discovery.

Most of us are sure that things are getting worse – yet poverty is improving, female access to education has increased, and childhood mortality is falling. If you’re convinced the opposite must be true, Rosling will (gently) show you you’re wrong, and then guide you to back to a fact-based world view.

“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.”

The key elements of factful thinking are available for free on the Gapminder website. Rosling’s talks are also online. If you only watch one, I recommend Why Boat Refugees Don’t Fly!

Factfulness: 10 reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think, by Hans Rosling.

Quoted edition published by Sceptre, 2018

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Picture credit: Etienne Girardet