Hans Rosling (2018) Factfulness

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Hans Rosling is dead, but his work lives on. Clichéd, I know. But Rosling does something we rarely do, he looks at the facts. And he concludes that the world is so much better than it’s ever been. He’s an optimist, a myth buster and all-round good guy.

I’m none of these things. I’m a bit like Calimero, walking about under rainy skies with an egg-shell head and complaining ‘It’s an injustice. It’s an injustice’.

This is a book I should really re-read, but I won’t, of course. It’s an injustice. It’s an injustice.

Let’s look at the facts in factfulness.

The Gap Instinct is when we create a binary world, black and white, rich and poor, celitc and rangers. In between the two groups we place the valley of death with no river styx and no boatman to help us across. Here’s my prejudices. I think rich, elderly, self-serving, white men are responsible for most of the world’s ills. Shhh, whisper it, here’s the rub. I still believe it after reading Rosling’s book. I guess I could quote John Maynard Keynes, ‘In the long run we’re all dead,’ or ‘when the facts change, I change my mind’.

Rosling argues and gives statistical evidence to buttress his argument that mostly we don’t change our mind much. Our prejudice remain the same. Our world view undisturbed.

Rosling asks what is wrong with this picture of ‘them’ and ‘us’? We shift ourselves to the side of the angels. Rosling concludes that there is no them and us. There is only us, but he’s talking about a bigger picture and no just my prejudices.

Measuring the gap between rich and poor, the developing world and the developed world here is the matrix he uses to measure progress.  He doesn’t, for example, use the Marxist, or indeed Weberian idea of class. Too messy. He’s looking for something more practical. The world’s population, about seven billion people as split into four income levels. Each figure represents a cohort. On Level 1, for example, about 1 billion people live on a $1 per day.   Level 2, about 3 billion people live on $4 per day. Level 3, 2 billion people, live on $16 per day. Here we are on Level 4, a billion people live here, that’s where I live, ‘you are a rich consumer,’ $64 per day. I don’t feel rich. That’s the problem. It’s not about feelings but facts. The world is becoming richer and more people are moving through the levels quicker than at any other time in history.

Rosling reminds us: Beware the comparisons of averages. Beware comparisons of extremes. And reminds us the view from up here (rich man’s territory) skews our vision and understanding.

We get to, ‘The Negativity Instinct’, familiar territory for me and The Mega Misconception that The World Is Getting Worse’. Actually, I got this question right. I did quite well in Rosling’s quiz. I ticked the box that said the world is getting better. Thinking and feeling again. Rosling shows that those living in ‘extreme poverty’ $1 a day, has halved in the last 20 years and has been falling steadily since 1800s (when measurements began). Average life expectancy is on the up and up. Child survival at birth to five years has taken an exponential leap.   Even Hunger is declining. We’re all fat bastards now, but not equally flabby.

Science, Literacy, Democracy, Clean Water, Immunization rates, Number of Girls in school all increasing.

We don’t Trump the good news. We Trump the Trump, whether that’s a good thing, or a bad thing, it’s a very human trait.

So here’s Rosling’s view of how to think and not feel. Balance negative news with positive news. Trump may be the moron’s moron, but he’s old and he might die soon. ‘Expect bad news’ Trump may get re-elected. ‘Don’t Censor History’. I don’t. I just blame the morons that voted for him.

‘The Straight Line Instinct’ is to be avoided. Here his example is The Mega (he used Mega lots) Misconception That ‘The World Population is Just Increasing and Increasing.  Here Rosling is playing devil’s advocate for us dummies. He concedes that over the next 13 years about a billion people will be added to the population. But the number of children will be about the same. As the world’s population becomes richer we have less children. I can cut in here and say, yeh, I knew that. In South Korea during the 1950s (Korean War) women had on average about seven children. Now, they have one. Yeh, one, it’s causing real problems. As it is in Japan and China.

Rosling’s quick fix here is don’t assume straight lines (question them). Many or most trends are S-bends, slides, humps or doubling lines.

The Fear Instinct is in some ways what makes us human. We think with our heart and not our head. Men in advertising love it. They sell us everyday fear. Your penis is too small. Yes, it is, thanks.  Rosling asks us to ‘be afraid of the Right Thing’.  He gives us a natty equation. Risk = danger x exposure.

The Size Instinct is like the penis risk equation, getting a handle on proportion. Journalists make everything bigger. They direct our limited attention span to how big the disaster they are covering is. Rosling asks us to compare the numbers. In 2016, for example, ‘4.2 million babies died’.  But back in the 1950s it was ‘14.4 million’.

Rosling’s compass. Compare and contrast. 80/20 rule. Look for the largest numbers and deal with them first. They are likely to be more important than the others put together. Divide them. Amounts and rates tell different stories.

The Generalization Instinct is something we’re all good at. It’s a bit of a hybrid. The gap instinct makes us think in terms of us and them. The generalization instinct makes us think them over there are all the same. Think of our old friend the moron’s moron generalizing about ‘shit countries’ – over there.

In general, Rosling’s what to do list is generalizable under the headings. ‘Look for differences within groups. Look for similarities across groups, but also differences across groups. Beware of ‘the majority’ (especially morons that label others ‘enemies of the people’). Beware of vivid examples. Assume people are not idiots (unless they’re the current US President).

The Destiny Instinct. I get that all the time. My destiny is told in the nearest puddle. Someone bigger is going to stand on me. For Rosling the Destiny Instinct is the kind of prejudices that make the white man’s burden sound perfectly reasonable. Rosling puts it in terms of snobbish self-regard. But what he does here is confirm my suspicions that the world economy is moving East to Asia. China is the new United States. Britain is a pimple on the end of United States arse. Rosling tells us Africa, with the poorest countries in the world can catch up. As China did, in a relatively short time, before leaving many nations in the wing mirrors. As South Korea did. As India is doing.

His factfulness checklist has in it Keep track of gradual improvements. A small change can translate into a huge change over decades. I’d need to fling in Thomas Piketty’s Capital here. He shows that those whose incomes (the one-percent) grow faster than the 99% then small changes are massive changes and a worrying trend over time.

Rosling asks us to update our knowledge. Yeh, read books. I like that idea. Think for yourself. Go on try it at home.

Talk to grandpa to see how things have really changed. Talk to me. I remember phone boxes that took two-pence coins.

Collect examples of cultural changes. See above.

The Single Perspective Instinct is a variation on the old chestnut when you’ve got a hammer everything looks like a nail, or when you’re the moron’s moron everybody looks like a terrorist apart from the leader of the terrorist state which invade Ukraine, disembowelled Chechnya and broke so many Geneva Conventions they ran out of condemnations. But as Rosling argues, we find simple ideas attractive, but not as attractive as prostitutes peeing on a bed Mr T? Sorry, I’ll need to be more professional here.

Rosling argues we should trust professionals and experts. Not everyone is equal in what they know, but everybody can have an opinion. Look at the data.  But look at the data critically.

The checklist asks you to test your ideas. Be humble (I like that). Hammers and nails. If you’re good with a tool you’ll want to use it. Number, but only numbers. Beware of simple ideas and simple solutions. Get rid of all immigrants and we’ll all be great in Great Britain again. Make America Great Again.

The Blame Instinct is fishing for a simple reason for complex problems. Playing the Blame Game is easy. Do it at home. I blame elderly rich white men. (I’m with Piketty on that one, but they don’t have to be white, just superwealthy, which qualifies as white).

Rosling looks at how we scapegoat ‘Refugees’, for example. I’ll cut to the chase them away. ‘Our European governments claim to be honouring the Geneva convention that entitles a refugee from a severely war-torn country [like Syria] to apply for and receive asylum. But their immigration policies make a mockery of this claim…’

Here’s the checklist. ‘Look for causes not villains’ [the 1% who own mostly everything] ‘Look for systems, not heroes [expropriation of capital].

‘The Urgency Instinct’ is human nature. Amazon promises to deliver the next day, but that’s not soon enough. We want it now. ‘Tomorrow may be too late’. Rosling tells us to relax. ‘It’s almost never true’. He tells us to put a foot in our mouth and control the urgency instinct. ‘Insist on the Data’.

Now we’re on my territory. Read This Now. Urgent.

Rosling’s checklist of ‘The Five Global Risks We Should Worry About.’

We can exclude Rosling from this list as he’s dead.

  1. Global pandemic
  2. Financial Collapse
  3. World War III
  4. Climate Change
  5. Extreme Poverty.

These are not independent of each other. Climate Change is inevitable. We’ve missed the boat. And World War III isn’t inevitable, but more likely with the moron’s moron in office and financial collapse would be inevitable should a war start. Maybe not. I don’t want to find out.

Here’s the cure. Take a breath Mr President. Insist on the data. Beware of fortune-tellers Mr President don’t appoint them to the highest offices of state. Be wary of drastic action Mr President.

Rosling’s final words really were his final words. ‘I have found fighting ignorance and spreading a fact-based worldview to be sometimes frustrating, but ultimately inspiring and joyful way to spend my life’. Amen to that.

Yep. Factfulness. We’ve been here before, but with the growth in social -media reports and fake news we never needed it more.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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In Nick Hornby’s book About a Boy made into a 2002 film, also about a boy, but with the big buck’s bonus of Hugh Grant as the lead, Will Freeman, bonds with a young boy and kids on he’s a single parent to get into the pants of Rachel Weisz, who’s definitely all woman, and not an LA hooker, the fiction is that Freeman can only live the life of Reilly because he inherited the rights to the song ‘Happy Birthday’. Every time it was sung in the world it began to rain dollar bills on him.

Imagine a world in which the family of Bill Gates couldn’t afford a computer were living on welfare or locked in a cycle of dead-end jobs or prison. Imagine a world in which ways of editing the germ-line of genes, Crispr, and changing the face and bodies of humanity and other species, curing cancer and AIDs, worth billions of dollars is the frontline of research by the growing biotech industries and go back to 1951.

Maverick scientist George Gey’s assistant took cell samples of tissue from Henrietta Lack’s cervix, which proved to be cancerous. 15 000 women a year were dying from cervical cancer. Herietta Lacks was no exception. She died in agony in the public wards of John Hopkins hospital segregated from white people ‘the blackness be spreadin all inside’ her. They were sure Henrietta Lack’s tissue would die too, as so many tissue cultures had died before it, but it did something extraordinary, it lived on to circle the earth and be taken into orbit by astronauts. HeLa cells were the Adam and Eve of tissue culture. It was traded and sold and still exists, but in modified form, much as the original Windows operating system lives on.

Rebecca Skloot (2010) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks wasn’t the first to investigate what happened to the husband and three small children, two still in diapers, she left behind, but she was the most comprehensive, gaining the families trust, and in particular that of Henrietta’s daughter Deborah. All of the family have health problems. Deborah for example quotes what the Social Security people said about her.

I’m paranoid, I’m schizophrenia, I’m nervous. I got anxiety, depression, degenerating kneecaps, bursitis, bulged discs in my back, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cholesterol…’

Deborah doesn’t wish to be immortal.

Truth be told, I can’t be mad at science, because it help people live, and I’d be a mess without it… but I won’t lie, I would like some health insurance so I don’t got to pay all that health insurance every month for drugs my mother cells probably helped make.’

Henrietta’s youngest son is mad, constantly beaten as child, nicknamed Crazy Joe as an adult, he found Islam in prison, where he served time for murder after stabbing another black men straight through the heart with a knife, and he changed his name to Zakarihya. New start. Same old Crazy Joe when he came out. The truth teller.

Them doctors say her cells is so important and did all this and that to help people. But it didn’t do no good for her, and it didn’t do no good for us. If me and my sister need something, we can’t even see a doctor because we can’t afford it. Only people that got any good from my mother’s cells is the people that got money, and whoever sellin those cells—they get rich off mother and we got nothing.’

Crazy Joe recognises there is a law for the rich and a law for the poor. But Rebecca Skloot gets inside the nuclear family, even though she’s white, by being honest, hardworking, sympathetic and poor. We need more Rebecca Skloots clones in this world. Ask yourself this question would a biotech company exploit a nice middle-class boy like Hugh Grant in the same way? Crazy Joe is the sanest man this side of the moon.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole