Have you ever seen the 4-minute video from BBC News featuring the very excitable professor of International Health, Dr. Hans Rosling? It was brilliant. With the help of his son and a team around him, he was able to illustrate 200 years of health and wealth of the peoples of the world in four minutes. He knew what he had was good, and you could see a bit of a twinkle in his eye at his letting you in on his secret. I have watched this video dozens of times, posted it on social media, and have watched several of his TED talks as well. He has the energy of a man half his age and a passion for his work like no one I have seen.
I am currently reading his newest book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. I am giddy with excitement when I read this book. His enthusiasm and passion springs to life off the page on topics and data that would otherwise seem so disinteresting – global health statistics. He discovered, through his work, that ignorance of the most basic facts of the current state of our world is startling and universal. Young and old, rich and poor, powerful, educated, and world leaders are consistently wrong about so much. He uses a series of basic questions to gauge level of understanding of our world and then compares the results with chimpanzees in the zoo and how their random answers are far superior to ours, but he does it with such boyish charm. I find myself amazed, as if I have just seen a spectacular magic trick. Here is an example:
In all low-income countries across the world today, how many girls finish primary school?
- 20 percent
- 40 percent
- 60 percent
On average, only 7% of people get this answer correct (10% for United States), but 33% of the chimpanzees, he reminds, scored correctly. The answer is C: 60 percent. How is it that so many have a misunderstanding? This question is what fueled his work. Not only are we getting the wrong answer, we are getting it so wrong, worse than random.
Here’s another one:
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
Again, only 7% of people get this correct (5% for United States). The chimps again scored 33% with the correct answer of C: Almost halved. The clear majority have a world view that is not only wrong, but it is so wrong in the wrong direction. Most believe extreme poverty has doubled, while it has almost halved. In just about every metric, people are better off than they were 20 years ago, and just about everywhere, too.
Each page, each new graph is like another magic trick to me, and like a 10-year-old watching sleight-of-hand magic, I read in awe.
I may write a full review once I have finished the book, but I decided that this snippet could not wait. Watch the videos and TED talks, and read this book. In all honesty, having this information has given me a fresh and enlightened perspective about our world. We are bombarded with messages that are incorrect and being infected with misinformation at an alarming rate. Dr. Rosling’s work is the vaccine against this negative (and unseemly) narrative.
Sadly Dr. Rosling passed away last year, but his work is continued by his son Ola, and his daughter-in-law Anna. Together they have created a phenomenal website – www.gapminder.org on which I have now logged several hours. They have uploaded all of their statistical data into very intuitive tools for you to explore, challenge your views, and to come to an understanding of the truth based on the facts. So generous is their work that I even made a donation to their cause. I have never donated to a website before, but I believed it was the least I could do for all the work that they have made available. I hope you enjoy it as well.