Factfulness by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund (book review).

In his introduction, United Nations advisor Hans Rosling sets a test of 13 questions about how well you know statistics about the welfare of the world. I only scored 5 right, although I was basing my answers on the worse areas of the world that frequently have famines than a world average. The results from around the world shows a general lack of knowledge that when he got chimpanzees to make guesses based on picking up bananas, they actually scored higher which he thought was alarming. I wonder if humans using the same random technique would have improved their scores? Roughly speaking, you would have a better chance of being right had you guessed than thought about the answers you gave. If you buy this book, do the test fairly. What you think is right comes from what you think you’ve perceived and read than the reality of collected modern statistics.

The book, ‘Factfulness’, has a sub-title on the cover, ‘Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think’ which sums up what this book is striving to achieve. Our news media tends to focus on what is going wrong with the world more than what is right. I know in British media, there are some good news stories but, outside of high-profile people and celebrities, they rarely see as many headlines or remembered as much which distorts our view of the world. Then again, bad news mostly doesn’t happen to all people all the time so, although there is a lot of it, I guess the average unit population, it’s a tiny amount that gets excessively publicity. Rosling’s explanation of how our fears play up and focus on such things should be required reading.

Rosling makes an interesting point that there are more developed than undeveloped countries since the 1950s. He does this based off averages and comparisons of collected UN statistics and explains how they are worked out. It’s a shame there’s a glitch in the 1960s when China concealed 40 million deaths from famine because I would ask how often do other countries hide data until much later. Don’t think Rosling lives by statistics and warns never to trust any of them 100%.

Something that I do agree with is how terminology sticks and, by being inflexible, people think it’s always that way. I think that’s in the nature of Man with a need to put everything into boxes to keep track. If nothing is presented to change it then it stays that way in our heads, hence third world countries always remain that way despite how quickly so many of them are now advancing ahead of our own, with India being a prime example.

Another thing that should be addressed better is the accuracy reliability of data on the Internet. Rosling points out the data is there but as his example points out specific websites, it becomes obvious that the news outlets aren’t drawing upon them. Where he presents data on terrorism, there is far more in the first 3 level regions than region 4, where we’ve gotten off lightly in comparison.

What Rosling calls the 80/20 rule is also called the Pareto principle on-line, where 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes and happens across the board so a lot of it is blown out of proportion. Something I’m now going to add a little more awareness to now. It should help you raise the level of applied importance. There’s a lot of good data here that can certainly help your SF ideas and stories. If you want to reduce the population, the wealthier a country becomes the less desire to birth my babies as women want to have more to do with their lives.

Rosling makes a point of reminding us to update our knowledge. I know when I was growing up, a lot of the books I read from the library were often a decade old and I suspect that’s how information stuck in our heads with no thinking that it would change drastically and so went on with the next subject. Updating information is no bad thing but now we have the Internet and can look up what we need to know, assuming we look, then we need websites carrying official data, such as the one that Rosling works for at the UN, to show up more prominently in the search engines. He does point out the Red List for endangered species but not its website address. Knowing the correct name should make things easier for you though.

He makes a potent thing that if you want to compare countries then it should be based on them being at the same level than some below your own. His example of the USA at a level 4 feeling better off compared to Cuba at level 3 shows a poor comparison. Speaking of the USA, 39 countries have a greater life expectancy simply because everyone has free health care.

His exploration of the blame instinct should make you sit back and think. Humans are notorious for blaming their country’s woes on anything but their own. Much of the carbon dioxide emission problems still stems from level 4 wealthy countries and the lower levels combined don’t equal ours. We can’t call the kettle black without showing we’re tackling the same problem ourselves.

You should also think about the consequences of making rash decisions when confining people without explaining why when there is an epidemic in progress. Rosling knew this from first hand experience making this book required reading for all people in charge when such things happen. This doesn’t mean people in the middle of an outbreak shouldn’t have some restriction in travel movements but equally they need to be fed and helped to do their own jobs. On top of this, all pertinent data should be collected together so when the illness eases off, it can be noted and moved along at the right pace. Urgency should be not only a matter of dealing with an outbreak but helping the people caught within it properly.

Add this book as another important read for this year. It will challenge what you think you know against what is actually happening. We do get taken in by particular emotive words like ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ countries. I can also see how and why some of these countries are catching up. It does make me wonder whether a Level 4 country is a plateau or are their ways it can develop further.

Please check out their website,, and above all else, buy, read and digest this book and you’ll look at the world differently.

From a writer’s perspective, having the right information at your fingertips will ensure you present a better picture of the world if you’re writing contemporary. With our genre, you will certainly want to use it to move away from convention

GF Willmetts

May 2018

(pub: Sceptre/Hodder & Stoughton. 344 page illustrated indexed small hardback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-473-63746-7)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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