Anna Rosling Keynote Lecture

Factfulness. How prejudices and the misuse of data condition our view of the world's problems.

On 17 December 2018, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised Anna Rosling's keynote lecture "Factfulness. How prejudices and the misuse of data condition the vision of the world's problems" on the occasion of the publication of her book of the same title published by Deusto.

Anna Rosling Rönnlund is a designer who, together with her husband Ola Rosling, founded the non-profit organisation Gapminder. The Gapminder team created an information visualisation software, called Trendalyzer, which transforms statistical data into attractive graphics and animations. Trendalyzer was sold to Google in 2007, Anna continued to work on its development until August 2010. Since then, they have been developing free-to-use educational content such as videos, Flash presentations and PDF graphics to help better understand global demographic changes. Their goal is to provide simple access to information and hard data provided mostly by the United Nations. Because of their interdisciplinary nature, the tools can be used in geography, mathematics and history classes, for example, and stand out for their way of combining data processing with information visualisation. Their latest project is called Dollar Street, an interactive platform that allows you to look at the intimate lives of 200 families in 50 countries around the world. With this project, Anna Rosling Rönnlund wants to show how people live in different parts of the world in order to fight stereotypes and ignorance.


On 17 December 2018, Anna Rosling gave a lecture at the Rafael del Pino Foundation entitled "Factfulness. How prejudices and the misuse of data condition the vision of the world's problems", on the occasion of the presentation of the book of the same title of which she is co-author. According to Rosling, founder of Dollar Street, when people search the internet, they often find answers to their questions. Often, their questions are about specific things and it is the context that is missing, which led her, her father-in-law Hans and her husband Ola to write the book Factfulness. They started the book by asking 13 questions. The first is whether climate experts believed that in a hundred years' time temperatures would be warmer, colder or stay the same. The first answer is the option considered by the experts. Well, this question was asked in 14 countries and most people got it right. This indicates that people understand that there is something wrong with the climate and have the right idea about it. They then moved on to the next question, which is how many children over the age of one are vaccinated in the world. The correct answer, out of the three choices they offered, is 80%, but very few people got it right. If chimpanzees were asked the same question, given three options, they would get a correct answer rate of 33%, which is much higher than the rate obtained in those 14 countries to that question. Chimpanzees, in fact, do better because they tend to choose between the extreme options. The same question, on vaccinated children, was also asked at the World Health Organisation congress and only 27% got it right. At the World Economic Forum in Davos the percentage was 18%. At a congress that brought together Nobel laureates and scientists in the field of medicine, the percentage was only 8%. It dropped to 4% among MBA staff at one of the five largest banks in the world. Vaccination is a good indicator of the state of a society because you have to have infrastructure, mothers have to be able to read and write to know when and where to take their child for vaccination, you need a cold chain, you need a customs system, ... And people underestimate how far the world has come. Out of twelve such questions, one 15% did not get any of them right. Nobody got all twelve right either, and only one person got eleven right. Only 10% did better than the chimpanzees, which is disturbing in a society like ours, which has many well-educated people. Why are we so wrong about what is going on in the world? When people are asked how they think the world is going, they tend to choose an answer that fits their view, which is usually pessimistic. The data, however, show that things are getting better: slavery is going down, infant mortality or mortality from natural disasters is going down, there is an increasing percentage of children being vaccinated, etc. It is hard to see these things when you look out of the window. What we learn about the world we do when we watch the news. In the news, we see disaster after disaster. All this is extraordinary because it is in the news and then we try to incorporate it into our worldview. But this worldview is going to be a bit strange because it only shows the exceptions. To overcome this limitation, it is better to think of the world as a street, with the richest on the right and the poorest on the left. If we ask where the country is located in Sweden, people tend to locate it in the middle of the street, when in fact it is one of the richest countries in the world. This mistake is due to the view of the world in the news. The world, however, does not look like what is shown in the news. To understand the world we have to divide it into four income levels. Level 1 is extreme poverty, level 2 corresponds to low middle income, level 3 is defined by high middle income and level 4 would be the richest. To understand what all this means, think about the fact that if a person in level 1 has to travel somewhere, they would walk. A level 2 person would go by bicycle. A level 3 person would go by motorbike and a level 4 person would go by car. Well, at level 1 there are one billion people, at level 2 there are three billion, at level 3 there are two billion and at level 4 there are another billion human beings. Moreover, to understand the world you also have to know where people live. One billion people live in America, one billion in Europe, one billion in Africa and four billion in Asia. In the future, the population is going to grow and, according to the United Nations, we are going to have more people in Africa and a little more population in Asia, while Europe and America will remain as they are today. What we call the West will only represent 8% of the world's population, so it will have to be careful because, in the future, it will have little influence on decision-making. At the same time, the number of adults will increase, but not the number of children. This, together with an increase in life expectancy, will lead to an ageing of the world's population. We tend to think of everything European and American as the centre from which everything derives, but this is beginning to change. More and more people are going to be in income levels two and three, so there will also be more and more non-Westerners at the head of large corporations. Adapting to change requires data to improve our decision-making. But we also need to control our instincts. First we have the instinct of discrepancy, where we tend to see things in a very extreme way. Then we see a lot of stories about negative things, but we don't see the ones that work. We also have the principle of the straight line, whereby we tend to keep moving along the same course. The problem is that many things in life don't behave like that. In addition, we have a lot of things that are fear-driven, so we need to calculate the risks associated with them. Then we have size: you always have to compare and divide because things could have been worse before. Then comes the tendency to generalise, to think that everyone is the same. Then there is the instinct of fate, whereby we think that everything is static, that nothing changes, when most things are changing, but at such a slow pace that we don't notice it. Then there is the idea of a single solution, so we tend to look for things to support our ideas instead of looking for data and analysing the facts. We are also always looking for someone to blame, which prevents us from being constructive. Finally there is the tendency towards urgency, towards now or never, but things can be done little by little.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.