Factfulness
Dec 21, 2020

An amazing book that helps to point out some common misconceptions in each person. I, myself, completely change my mind about the world after reading this amazing book.

Click here to access the amazon link of this book.

This article is about to show you briefly all the lessons mentioned in the book. You can read this article as the reference for the book or use it like a summary documentation if you want to remind some of the book's lessons.

The table section of this article will be based on the chapter of the book. Each chapter corresponds to a common popular misconception about the world. Now let's start your journey to enlighten misconceptions.

Note: The answer to all the fact questions will be located at the end of this article. Let's challenge yourself to guess the answer to every single question to check your understanding of the world,

The Gap Instinct

Fact Questions

  • In all low-income countries across the world today, how many girls finish primary school?
    • 20%
    • 40%
    • 60%
  • Where does the majority of the world population live?
    • Low-income countries
    • Middle-income countries
    • High-income countries

Note

  • The fact is all the population in the world should be divided into 4 "groups":
    • Level 1: 1$ per day (around 1 billion people)
    • Level 2: 4$ per day (around 3 billion people)
    • Level 3: 16$ per day (around 2 billion people)
    • Level 4: more than 64$ per day (around 1 billion people)
  • The gap instinct
    • We, intuitively, always divide all the field of the world into 2 categories e.g: in population, we usually have 2 groups: rich and poor. That's definitely wrong. Almost people in the world currently live in middle-income countries. That means they neither live in rich nor poor condition.

Lesson

  • Recognizing when a story talks about a gap, and remembering that this paints a picture of 2 separate groups, with a gap in between. This reality is often not polarized at all. Usually the majority is right there in the middle., where the gap is supposed to be.

Solution

To control the gap instinct, look for majority.

  • Beware comparisons of average. If you check the spreads you would probably find they overlap. There is probably no gap at all.
  • Beware comparisons of extremes. In all groups, of countries or people, there are some at the top and some at the bottom. The difference is sometimes extremely unfair. But even then the majority is usually somewhere in between, right where the gap is supposed to be.

The Negativity Instinct

Fact Questions

Which statement do you agree with most?

  • The world is getting better
  • The world is getting worse
  • The world is getting neither better nor worse

In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has

  • Almost doubled
  • Remained more or less the same
  • Almost halved

What is the life expectancy of the world today?

  • 50 years
  • 60 years
  • 70 years

Lesson

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. This gives us a systematically too-negative impression of the world around us, which is very stressful.

Solution

To control the negativity instinct, expect bad news.

  • Better and bad. Practice distinguishing between a level and a direction of change. Convince yourself that things can be both better and bad.
  • Good news is not news. Good news is almost never reported. So news is almost always bad. Whenever you see bad news, ask whether equally positive news would have reached you.
  • Gradual improvement is not news. When a trend is gradually improving, with periodic dips, you are more likely to notice the dips than the overall improvement.
  • More news does not equal more suffering. More bad news is sometimes due to better surveillance of suffering, not a worsening world.

The Straight Line Instinct

Fact Questions

There are 2 billion children in the world today, aged 0 to 15 years old. How many children will there be in the year 2100, according to the UN?

  • 2 billion
  • 3 billion
  • 4 billion

The UN predicts that by 2100 the world population will have increased by another 4 billion people. What is the main reason?

  • There will be more children (age below 15)
  • There will be more adults (age 15 to 74)
  • There will be more very old people (age 75 and older)

Lesson

Recognizing the assumption that a line will just continue straight, and remembering that such lines are rare in reality.

Solution

To control the straight line instinct, remember that curves come in different shapes.

  • Don’t assume straight lines. Many trends do not follow straight lines but are S-bends, slides, humps, or double lines. No child ever kept up the rate of growth it achieved in its first six months, and no parents would expect it to.

The Fear Instinct

Fact Question

How did the number of deaths per year from natural disasters change over the last hundred years?

  • More than doubled
  • Remained about the same
  • Decreased to less than half

Lesson

Factfulness is ... recognizing when frightening things get our attention, and remembering that these are not necessarily the most risky. Our natural fears of violence, captivity, and contamination make us systematically overestimate these risks.

Solution

To control the fear instinct, calculate the risks. • The scary world: fear vs. reality. The world seems scarier than it is because what you hear about it has been selected—by your own attention filter or by the media—precisely because it is scary. • Risk = danger × exposure. The risk something poses to you depends not on how scared it makes you feel, but on a combination of two things. How dangerous is it? And how much are you exposed to it? • Get calm before you carry on. When you are afraid, you see the world differently. Make as few decisions as possible until the panic has subsided.

The Size Instinct

Lesson

Recognizing when a lonely number seems impressive (small or large), and remembering that you could get the opposite impression if it were compared with or divided by some other relevant number.

Solution

  • Compare. Big numbers always look big. Single numbers on their own are misleading and should make you suspicious. Always look for comparisons. Ideally, divide by something.
  • 80/20. Have you been given a long list? Look for the few largest items and deal with those first. They are quite likely more important than all the others put together.
  • Divide. Amounts and rates can tell very different stories. Rates are more meaningful, especially when comparing between different-sized groups. In particular, look for rates per person when comparing between countries or regions.

The Generalization Instinct

Fact Questions

How many of the world’s 1-year-old children today have been vaccinated against some disease?

  • 20 percent
  • 50 percent
  • 80 percent

Lesson

Recognizing when a category is being used in an explanation, and remembering that categories can be misleading. We can't stop generalization and we shouldn’t even try. What we should try to do is to avoid generalizing incorrectly.

Solution

To control the generalization instinct, question your categories.

  • Look for differences within groups. Especially when the groups are large, look for ways to split them into smaller, more precise categories. And ...
  • Look for similarities across groups. If you find striking similarities between different groups, consider whether your categories are relevant. But also ...
  • Look for differences across groups. Do not assume that what applies for one group (e.g., you and other people living on Level 4 or unconscious soldiers) applies for another (e.g., people not living on Level 4 or sleeping babies).
  • Beware of “the majority.” The majority just means more than half. Ask whether it means 51 percent, 99 percent, or something in between.
  • Beware of vivid examples. Vivid images are easier to recall but they might be the exception rather than the rule.
  • Assume people are not idiots. When something looks strange, be curious and humble, and think, In what way is this a smart solution?

The Destiny Instinct

Fact Questions

Worldwide, 30-year-old men have spent 10 years in school, on average. How many years have women of the same age spent in school?

  • 9 years
  • 6 years
  • 3 years

Lesson

Recognizing that many things (including people, countries, religions, and cultures) appear to be constant just because the change is happening slowly, and remembering that even small, slow changes gradually add up to big changes.

Solution

To control the destiny instinct, remember slow change is still change.

  • Keep track of gradual improvements. A small change every year can translate to a huge change over decades.
  • Update your knowledge. Some knowledge goes out of date quickly. Technology, countries, societies, cultures, and religions are constantly changing.
  • Talk to Grandpa. If you want to be reminded of how values have changed, think about your grandparents’ values and how they differ from yours.
  • Collect examples of cultural change. Challenge the idea that today’s culture must also have been yesterday’s, and will also be tomorrow’s.

The Single Perspective Instinct

Fact Questions

In 1996, tigers, giant pandas, and black rhinos were all listed as endangered. How many of these three species are more critically endangered today?

  • Two of them
  • One of them
  • None of them

Lessons

Recognizing that a single perspective can limit your imagination, and remembering that it is better to look at problems from many angles to get a more accurate understanding and find practical solutions.

Solution

To control the single perspective instinct, get a toolbox, not a hammer.

  • Test your ideas. Don’t only collect examples that show how excellent your favorite ideas are. Have people who disagree with you test your ideas and find their weaknesses.
  • Limited expertise. Don’t claim expertise beyond your field: be humble about what you don’t know. Be aware too of the limits of the expertise of others.
  • Hammers and nails. If you are good with a tool, you may want to use it too often. If you have analyzed a problem in depth, you can end up exaggerating the importance of that problem or of your solution. Remember that no one tool is good for everything. If your favorite idea is a hammer, look for colleagues with screwdrivers, wrenches, and tape measures. Be open to ideas from other fields.
  • Numbers, but not only numbers. The world cannot be understood without numbers, and it cannot be understood with numbers alone. Love numbers for what they tell you about real lives.
  • 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.

The Blame Instinct

Fact Questions

How many people in the world have some access to electricity?

  • 20 percent
  • 50 percent
  • 80 percent

Lesson

Recognizing when a scapegoat is being used and remembering that blaming an individual often steals the focus from other possible explanations and blocks our ability to prevent similar problems in the future.

Solution

To control the blame instinct, resist finding a scapegoat.

  • 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. Instead spend your energy on understanding the multiple interacting causes, or system, that created the situation.
  • Look for systems, not heroes. When someone claims to have caused something good, ask whether the outcome might have happened anyway, even if that individual had done nothing. Give the system some credit.

The Urgency Instinct

Fact Questions

Global climate experts believe that, over the next 100 years, the average temperature will ...

  • Get warmer
  • Stay the same
  • Get colder

Lesson

Recognizing when a decision feels urgent and remembering that it rarely is.

Solution

To control the urgency instinct, take small steps.

  • Take a breath. When your urgency instinct is triggered, your other instincts kick in and your analysis shuts down. Ask for more time and more information. It’s rarely now or never and it’s rarely either/or.
  • Insist on the data. If something is urgent and important, it should be measured. Beware of data that is relevant but inaccurate, or accurate but irrelevant. Only relevant and accurate data is useful.
  • Beware of fortune-tellers. 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. Ask how often such predictions have been right before.
  • Be wary of drastic action. Ask what the side effects will be. Ask how the idea has been tested. Step-by-step practical improvements, and evaluation of their impact, are less dramatic but usually more effective.

The Answer of Fact Questions

  • 60 %
  • Middle-income
  • The world is getting better
  • Almost halved
  • 70 years
  • 2 billion
  • There will be more adults
  • Decreased to less than half
  • 80 percent
  • 9 years
  • None of them
  • 80 percent
  • Get warmer
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