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My takeaway

Factfulness is about recognizing that we have a bunch of inherited instincts that guides us. These instincts can sometimes work against us and make us believe that the world is getting worse when it isn’t. It’s valuable knowing about these instincts, and to understand how they work.


My notes

These are my informal notes from Factfulness. It contains a mix of key highlights as well as my own thoughts and lessons.

  • It is the overdramatic worldview that draws people to the most dramatic and negative answers.
  • Our brains often jump to swift conclusions without much thinking, which used to help us to avoid immediate dangers. We are interested in gossip and dramatic stories, which used to be the only source of news and useful information. We crave sugar and fat, which used to be life-saving sources of energy when food was scarce.
  • We love to dichotomize. Good versus bad. Heroes versus villains. My country versus the rest. Dividing the world into two distinct sides is simple and intuitive, and also dramatic because it implies conflict, and we do it without thinking, all the time.
  • What we should do is stop dividing countries into two groups.
  • Simplification of information may be misleading, and averages are no exception. Averages mislead by hiding a spread (a range of different numbers) in a single number.
  • We are naturally drawn to extreme examples, and they are easy to recall.
  • Your most important challenge in developing a fact-based worldview is to realize that most of your firsthand experiences are from your immediate surroundings; and that your secondhand experiences are filtered through the mass media, which loves nonrepresentative extraordinary events and shuns normality.
  • Factfulness is recognizing when a story talks about a gap, and remembering that this paints a picture of two separate groups, with a gap in between. The reality is often not polarized at all.
  • The negativity instinct is our tendency to notice the bad more than the good.
  • Thanks to increasing press freedom and improving technology, we hear more, about more disasters, than ever before.
  • The news constantly alerts us to bad events in the present. The doom-laden feeling that this creates in us is then intensified by our inability to remember the past; our historical knowledge is rosy and pink and we fail to remember that, one year ago, or ten years ago, or 50 years ago, there was the same number of terrible events, probably more.
  • Constantly resist the overdramatic worldview.
  • Something that helps to control the negativity instinct is to constantly expect bad news. Remember that the media and activists rely on drama to grab your attention.
  • The media cannot resist tapping into our fear instinct. It is such an easy way to grab our attention. In fact the biggest stories are often those that trigger more than one type of fear. Kidnappings and plane crashes, for example, each combine the fear of harm and the fear of captivity.
  • The world seems scarier than it is because what you hear about it has been selected—by your own attention filter or by the media—precisely because it is scary.
  • Data shows that half the increase in child survival in the world happens because the mothers can read and write. More children now survive because they don’t get ill in the first place.
  • The gap instinct divides the world into “us” and “them,” and the generalization instinct makes “us” think of “them” as all the same.
  • Societies and cultures are not like rocks, unchanging and unchangeable. They move.
  • To control the destiny instinct, don’t confuse slow change with no change. Don’t dismiss an annual change—even an annual change of only 1 percent—because it seems too small and slow.
  • Keep track of gradual improvements. A small change every year can translate to a huge change over decades.