Factfulness sounds like a word that Stephen Colbert invented, a companion word to ‘truthiness’. It is actually the late Hans Rosling’s non-fiction bestseller that uses stats to prove how the world is much better than we often think it is. Rosling was a Swedish physician who spent a number of years working in remote and impoverished communities, so you might suppose him to have a grim outlook on society and our ‘progress’. This is not the case- he is ever-optimistic and he has the graph charts to show you why.
There were a number of big take away facts here for me, not least in how to think about, compare and interrogate (and ask for!) statistics. A lot of the ideas that people have about infant mortality, life expectancy, the number of people living in poverty, etc. date from the 60s. While life is still generally short and tough for a number of people (Congo, Afghanistan, Syria), this number is shrinking. Additionally, the ‘buckets’ that we often use to divide up the world- First World, Second World, Third World- are grossly outdated. We should instead be thinking about there being four buckets, and we should know that the vast majority of people live in the top three buckets.
I travel and read widely so I was not always surprised by Rosling’s facts the way he intends most reader to be, but that didn’t make for less enjoyable- or less enlightening reading. I’ll be considering some of the tools he is teaching when I am faced with overwhelmingly negative news cycles- just because something is bad doesn’t mean it isn’t also getting better. This was a hopeful thought for a stressful year.