Challenged by a chimp? Take the factfulness test

Published on: 23 May 2019


By Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund
£12.99 by Sceptre

“Is the world a better place to live in than it was 30 years ago?” That’s exactly the type of question thrown at you by public educator and statistics guru Hans Rosling in Factfulness.

Sadly, Rosling, who was listed in The Times as one of 2012’s most influential people, died last year – but not before penning his first book, which begins by testing you on 13 questions about the world.

Those of you who have seen Rosling speak, in person or via one of his numerous TED talks, may be familiar with the material, but this book is about far more than geeky stats. It’s a guide to navigating the barrage of information and scary stories thrown at us on a daily basis.

Rosling described himself as a ‘possibilist’, and it’s unfair to dismiss him as an optimist. His book is a timely reminder about the importance of reframing analytical thinking – it is almost a practitioner’s guide to being an environmentalist. At the end of each chapter, you will find precautionary tales we should all heed – disastrous examples of people overstepping or misusing their expertise, blaming others or taking too much credit. 

Some people find discussing controversial issues such as population growth difficult, but Rosling confronts them head on. He touches only briefly upon other topics, such as world wars and climate change, with no real mention of biodiversity loss. But, having been written by a renowned health expert, it’s understandable that there is a firm focus on humans. 

Tackling delicate issues is bound to attract detractors, and, sure enough, Factfulness had barely hit the shelves before the UK charity Population Matters published its take on the publication. 

Under normal circumstances, a critique of the final works of someone recently deceased would seem harsh – as they can’t respond – but I think Rosling would have approved. After all, being challenged with alternative views and learning from them was the entire point of his life’s work. 

This is exactly why you should read this book. Oh, and you’re not alone if you answered ‘no’ to the question at the start of this review – even though you’d be wrong – or if, like me, you fail miserably on Rosling’s quiz. Thousands of people have taken it, but, sadly, humans do get a lower score than chimps! Why not track down a copy today and challenge your pre-conceptions? 

Jason Light is strategy lead (environment) at Eastleigh Borough Council