Fake or real?
The world isn't quite as awful as we think it is
Before his death last year, Hans Rosling, the Swedish physician and public health expert, had acquired a reputation as a debunker of myths, especially those that give rise to “fake news". In his last book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World—And Why Things Are Better Than You Think (Hachette, Rs499), co-written with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, he made a compelling case for a radical revision of our perception of the world. Praised by Microsoft founder Bill Gates as “one of the most important books I’ve ever read", Factfulness is narrated like a TED Talk, which Hans Rosling had given quite a few, bolstered with graphs, charts, statistics and quizzes.
Factfulness begins with 13 questions, with multiple-choice answers, which test the reader’s grasp of contemporary healthcare, population, ecology, epidemics and climate change. Gravitating invariably towards the worst, I got two right, which is apparently the average even among the best-informed minds. As Rosling says, even chimpanzees are smarter, getting 33% of the answers right by the sheer law of probability.
What makes human beings, blessed with intelligence that has evolved for millennia, so susceptible to misinformation? In 10 boldly argued chapters, Rosling charts 10 “instincts" that derail us from our better judgement: the gap instinct that tricks us into believing in lazy “Us" versus “Them" platitudes; the straight-line instinct, which addles our brain with non-sequiturs; the fear instinct that scares us about disease and disasters when the evidence points to the world having better coping mechanisms; and so on. The final chapter urges us to practise “factfulness" and to get better at it.