A thing called Factfulness

Every day, people scroll through social media and read news articles which make them feel scared or uncertain, but that doesn’t need to be the case. Beneficial, progressing change is happening all around us and noted here are a few ways to spot the most accurate data, and how to determine better conclusions. This article is structured by using student data from Allen High School to highlight some biases in our thinking and how to change these premonitions with a few tips. 

In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has…

  1. Almost doubled
  2. Remained more or less the same
  3. Almost halved


Anybody’s first thought may be that the population living in extreme poverty has almost doubled because of their perception of the poorest parts of the world. On the contrary, technology has made things better all over the world. The amount of people living in extreme poverty has almost halved globally, even in the poorest regions that come to mind. What about the specific countries in Asia and Africa, such as Afghanistan? They are progressing too. Institutions, such as schools; and technology, such as the internet and electronic devices, are spreading there too! 

If that’s the case, why don’t more people know about it? In most cases, the news and media only focus on the big events going on around the world. For example, last month the majority of news feeds were probably about the COVID-19 vaccine, the capitol or replayed clips of the capitol riot. The nation and media forget about the progress and focus on the trauma. 

So, how does one focus on the good? One of the best ways is to know we are always driving forward. With a new generation of entrepreneurs and more efficient usage of technology, many incredible opportunities are on the way. Take COVID-19 for example. Although it has continued to cause grief, it has allowed societies to adapt and come up with new methods of learning, teaching and working. One example of this is the addition of online tutoring sessions. While this may have been a necessity during the pandemic because educators and students couldn’t meet in person, it opens up different ways of learning, and new programs to establish in the classroom even after the pandemic ends. 

The second thing to remember is that most of the time the news exaggerates the reality of the event or doesn’t capture the pragmatic development worldwide. One may see a headline, for example, about “A flash flood that killed 20,” but that number of deaths from natural disasters, worldwide, has decreased to less than a half than it was in the past 100 years. So, if a similar flood were to happen in the 1920’s it would have killed 40 people.

Notice how things are getting better?  

The third thing to keep in mind is that very few countries have extreme statistics. The majority of the time, society is in the middle. The majority of countries are “middle income” or in between the best possible outcome and the worst possible scenario. Whenever given a series of comparable data, try to pick the positive, or progressing outcome because it most likely indicates the most accurate change. At the same time, keep in mind that negative data may indicate a variance from what typically occurs, and know that this variance could be just as important. 

Now, it may make sense that things are getting better, but what about the news that people do see? Be able to filter out what is a “rare” or “unusual” incident and what happens often. Also know that change in the right direction means untangling the knots of the past, which can be messy.

The next time a frightening, or even unusual headline appears, think about whether that happens often, and should be regarded as important or if it’s something that’s been dramatized to catch attention, but doesn’t happen very often. 

While this article describes the importance of positive change, or progress happening around the world, note that some aspects are truly negative and they need to be highlighted just as much. Some examples include safety, especially during the global health crisis of COVID-19, or the intensity of the issue of global warming and climate change. Just because these are not positive doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Instead, acknowledge that these changes are progressing in a negative trend and efficiently utilize your resources to help educate, and encourage knowledge. 

However, when taking the instance of the pandemic, it is important to recognize the scientific knowledge and medical progress which has been made in the past few decades to enable us to fight diseases such as the COVID-19 virus. 

Now here’s a quiz you can take to see what you learned. Remember the two key secrets to being more aware, or “Factful.” Things are better than they seem and we are always making progress in the right direction, whether we can sense it or not. Ready to give your Factfulness another shot? Take the test here and click here to see what other high schoolers chose. 

Interested in finding out more tricks to see things in a new light? Check out the book that got me to write this article: Factfulness by Hans Rosling.


1 – https://tools-v1.gapminder.org/tools/#$chart-type=mountain&url=v1 

2- https://www.gapminder.org/tools/#$state$time$value=2007;;chart-type=bubbles notice how the bubbles are organized closer to the middle of the graph