Factfullness – Rosling


So here lies the conundrum.

The world isn’t as bad as we think it is. Quality of life is the best it has ever been in right across the globe. That's not to say things aren't still bad, they are, but they are also better than ever. Bad and better.

So we have to hold contradictory world views. On one hand we need to feel the suffering in the world enough to be motivated to do something about it. But simultaneously, we have to appreciate that things are much better than they have been and not get sucked into dramatic apocalyptic thinking.

Four income levels

  • Level 1 – Earning less than $1 a day. Extreme poverty, without basics such as clean water, medicine, heating, healthy food.
  • Level 2 – Earning up to $7 a day. Still living in poverty, but have money for bicycle, basic electricity, live stock, slightly better food.
  • Level 3 - Earning up to $20 a day. Basic transport such as motorbike. Some savings, electricity and non-fire cooking methods. Access to medicine and healthcare.
  • Level 4 – Earning over $64 a day. You have access to modern life and consumerism. Life is good from her upwards.


  • The Gap Instinct (TGI) – we are inclined to group the world in two polar groups. This is a very human bias based in how we perceive ideas as included/not included. In reality, life is grayscale, with much in between the two poles. Life is a false dichotomy.
    • averages often create a larger apparent gap than there is in the raw numbers. Averages hide any commonalities and exaggerate broader differences.
    • Averages disguise the spread. A climate of 40deg summers and 0 deg winters on average is 20deg, but feels very different from living in Singapore where days are 20deg.
  • The Negative Instinct – because we tend to remember the past in a golden light, and since we are instinctively good at identifying problems (dangers) in the present, you get a perception of negative trends: that the world is getting worse.
    • Bad but better – to combat the negativity instinct, a useful way of perceiving the world is that there is still lots of suffering, but it's better than every before. It's both better and bad.
    • Expect bad news – news is only engaging when it is dramatic and negative. That's ok. Just keep that in mind by expecting bad news.
    • Slow progress isn't reported – when things slowly get better it's rarely noticable, not to mention reportable. So you will never hear about a 1% decrease in child mortality, but you over time this means huge change.
  • Straight line instinct – when we view a trend our natural instinct is to predict it continuing with the same velocity. While this is often true, it’s also often false.
  • Single perspective instinct – the tendency to attribute all effects to a single cause, rather than the interplay of many causes.
    • Ideology is harmful to society. Rather than making decisions on what the data and research says is best, we make decisions on what fits into our ideology.
    • To combat the single perspective instinct, get a toolbox of ideas/solutions rather than a hammer (ideology).
  • The Blame Instinct – we look for people to blame when things go wrong, when really it is from an interplay of factors. The system that people operate in is usually the problem rather than the people themselves. First you need to objectively understand the system (Ray Dalio) before you can design it to be better.
    • Resist finding a scapegoat.
    • Look for causes, not villains.
    • Look for systems, not heros.
  • The urgency instinct - the misconception that we must act now or never. Things are rarely this black and white, and more often this is used as a tactic to make people decide with little rational thought or analysis.


  • "Uncontrolled, our appetite for the dramatic goes too far, prevents us from seeing the world as it is, and leads us terribly astray."
  • "“Do you know why I’m obsessed with the numbers for the child mortality rate? It’s not only that I care about children. This measure takes the temperature of a whole society. Like a huge thermometer. Because children are very fragile. There are so many things that can kill them."
  • "gap instinct. I’m talking about that irresistible temptation we have to divide all kinds of things into two distinct and often conflicting groups, with an imagined gap—a huge chasm of injustice—in between."
  • "Anyone who has looked down from the top of a tall building knows that it is difficult to assess from there the differences in height of the buildings nearer the ground. They all look kind of small. In the same way, it is natural for people living on Level 4 to see the world as divided into just two categories: rich (at the top of the building, like you) and poor (down there, not like you)."
  • "It is natural to look down and say “oh, they are all poor.” It is natural to miss the distinctions between the people with cars, the people with motorbikes and bicycles, the people with sandals, and the people with no shoes at all."
  • "To control the gap instinct, look for the majority."
  • "Beware comparisons of averages. If you could 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 view from up here. Remember, looking down from above distorts the view. Everything else looks equally short, but it’s not."
  • "billions of people have managed to slide up from Level 1 to Levels 2 and 3, without the people on Level 4 noticing."
  • "averages disguise spreads.)"
  • "I’m a very serious “possibilist.” That’s something I made up. It means someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason, someone who constantly resists the overdramatic worldview."
  • "Definitely not. It’s both. It’s both bad and better. Better, and bad, at the same time. That is how we must think about the current state of the world."
  • "When people hear that the population is growing, they intuitively think it will continue to grow unless something is done. They intuitively visualize the trend continuing into the future. But remember, for my grandchild Mino to stop growing taller, nothing drastic needs to be done."
  • "Parents in extreme poverty need many children for the reasons I set out earlier: for child labor but also to have extra children in case some children die."
  • "Chemophobia also means that every six months there is a “new scientific finding” about a synthetic chemical found in regular food in very low quantities that, if you ate a cargo ship or two of it every day for three years, could kill you."
  • "So if you are investing money to improve health on Level 1 or 2, you should put it into primary schools, nurse education, and vaccinations."
  • "“But from now on we count carbon dioxide emission per person.”"
  • "Forming your worldview by relying on the media would be like forming your view about me by looking only at a picture of my foot."
  • "call this preference for single causes and single solutions the single perspective instinct."
  • "For example, the simple and beautiful idea of the free market can lead to the simplistic idea that all problems have a single cause—government interference—which we must always oppose; and that the solution to all problems is to liberate market forces by reducing taxes and removing regulations, which we must always support."
  • "Instead of comparing themselves with extreme socialist regimes, US citizens should be asking why they cannot achieve the same levels of health, for the same cost, as other capitalist countries that have similar resources."
  • "Factfulness is … 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."
  • "We like to believe that things happen because someone wanted them to, that individuals have power and agency: otherwise, the world feels unpredictable, confusing, and frightening."
  • "To understand most of the world’s significant problems we have to look beyond a guilty individual and to the system."
  • "I couldn’t blame these tragic deaths on the fishermen. Desperate people who need to get to market of course take the boat when the city authorities for some reason block their road."
  • "We cannot get into a situation where no one listens anymore. Without trust, we are lost."
  • "The other thought was something that a wise governor of Tanzania had told me: “When someone threatens you with a machete, never turn your back. Stand still. Look him straight in the eye and ask him what the problem is.”"


Sebastian Kade, Founder of Sumry and Author of Living Happiness, is a software designer and full-stack engineer. He writes thought-provoking articles every now and then on sebastiankade.com

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