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Some notes from Factfulness (Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World - And Why Things Are Better Than You Think).

A helpful book about the potential for human progress when we work off facts rather than our inherent biases.

Barack Obama.


This book proves to you that the world isn’t as bad as you might think. Once you look through the headlines and news reports (which are purpose-built to instil concern), and instead, look at the data behind the story, you will find that things are always improving and are in fact much better than your own initial instincts and biases would lead you to believe.

Chapter 5 snippet

The Size Instinct.

Getting things out of proportion, and misjudging size is inherent in all of us. It’s important to look behind the numbers to get an accurate picture.

Beware lonely numbers - numbers presented without comparison.

Hans uses an example of 4.2 million dead babies.

UNICEF reported that 4.2 millions babies died in 2016, the year before this book was written. When we are presented with a headline like that, our sizing instinct can kick in, and overwhelm us with depression and anxiety at the awful thought of 4.2 million dead babies.
However, if we take the time to source an additional figure for comparison’s sake, we could look up the same number for the previous year and we would learn that it was actually 4.5 million in 2015. If we travel further back, it was 14 million in 1950.

Now that we have more numbers, we can look at the linear trend and see that things are getting better. The number of children dying is decreasing. Of course we would like that number to be even lower, but we can see that we are heading in the right direction. The number is currently the lowest it has ever been. Progress!

A rather extreme example, but the take-home points are important.

  • Big numbers always look big.
  • Single numbers on their own are misleading and should make you suspicious.
  • Always look for comparisons.

This was just a snippet of one of the subtopics within the “Sizing Instinct” chapter. Some other chapters include “the fear instinct, the generalization instinct, and the destiny instinct”. This is a pretty intriguing read and comes packed with graphs, charts and facts.

One for the reading list.