Life is miserable for everyone

It's not all bad

The problem: We think the world is dramatically worse than it is. Even the most educated among us have made a completely wrong assessment of the global situation.
The solution: Mind the gap! A Swedish scientist corrects the situation with humor, quizzes and swords.

Can you prove that you are smarter than a chimpanzee? Before you confidently answer the question in the affirmative, is it not too much to ask to prove that, is it?

It's very easy, only takes a minute. Here are three quick quiz questions:

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1. Over the past 20 years, the proportion of the world's population living in extreme poverty has increased

a. almost doubled
b. barely changed
c. significantly more than halved.

2. How many of the world's one-year-olds are vaccinated against diseases?

a. 20 percent
b. 50 percent
c. 80 percent

3. How has the number of deaths per year from natural disasters changed over the past 100 years?

a. More than doubled.
b. About the same.
c. More than halved.

If you have tapped C three times, my heartfelt congratulations: you are smarter than a monkey. But if you miscalculated, you are in good company.

"For example, the fact that extreme poverty in the world has more than halved in the last 20 years is absolutely revolutionary," writes Hans Rosling, Swedish professor of international health, in his bestseller Factfulness, which has just been published in German (Ullstein). “I consider this to be the most important change that has happened in the world in my life. But people don't know. On average, only 7 percent answer the question correctly - less than one in ten! «When it comes to vaccination, the figure is 13 percent.

Last year, Rosling's team asked twelve questions like these to 12,000 people in 14 countries. On average, people answered two out of twelve questions correctly. Not a single one answered all the questions correctly. Rosling only selected questions about poverty and wealth, violence, education and the environment, the answers of which are irrefutably scientifically documented, not controversial.

This is why the chimpanzees come into play: If Rosling throws his catalog of questions into a monkey enclosure and there are three possible answers to each question, the monkey gang randomly gets 33 percent correct.

"Everyone seems to have a devastatingly wrong view of the world."

Hans Rosling

Rosling initially thought professors, health professionals, and other decision-makers would certainly do better. He even asked the questions at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The elite got more hits than the chimpanzees, but not on all issues either. "The worst results ever came from a group of Nobel Prize winners," Rosling discovered. “So it doesn't depend on intelligence. Everyone seems to have a devastatingly wrong view of the world. ”Chimpanzees are at least equally wrong, but humans tend to have the most negative of any question: We think the world is worse, more hopeless and more threatening than it is. “War, violence, natural disasters, corruption. It's bad about us and it's getting worse, right? The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, «is how the doctor and development worker sums up the prevailing worldview. "That is the image that most people in western industrial countries have in their heads."

The fact is, most people in the world no longer live in extreme poverty. Your children will be vaccinated; their girls go to school. Step by step, year after year, the world is getting better. Not in every way, not for each individual and not every year, but the direction is right.

That is why Rosling spoke of "massive ignorance". “When we use our sat nav in the car, we rely on it to use the correct information. So how are lawmakers and politicians supposed to solve world problems when they make their decisions on the basis of false facts? And how can each and every one of us know in everyday life what really matters and what we need to worry about? "

It is also a fact that this "overdramatizing worldview", as Rosling called it, does not spur us on to great deeds and activism in order to finally do something against poverty and social injustice, on the contrary. On the B-side of this record the silence of the collective shrug runs: Everything is so terrible, you can't do anything anyway.

That is also one of the reasons why I write this solution-oriented column: Because we journalists naturally report on the first page about plane crashes, Ebola epidemics and the latest mess in the corruption scandal, but on the back pages about how planes have become safer Nigeria defeated Ebola and overall corruption is declining worldwide. It's not about balancing the world's problems with cute cat videos, it's about getting a realistic view of the world.

Information alone is not enough; even colorful graphics only convince a few.

In 2005, Rosling founded the Gapminder Foundation together with his son Ola Rosling and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund. Your mission: Combat the devastating ignorance with a fact-based worldview. It was his children's idea to systematically measure ignorance.

But it soon became clear to Rosling: information alone is not enough, even his colorful graphics only convince a few. The media aren't the only villains either. The decision-makers from Davos have all the information. But if you don't have the data to peck out, it's still far off. After Davos, Rosling was “on the verge of throwing everything out”. Gradually, he found that even the people who liked his lectures "got stuck in their old, negative worldview." Maybe they were inspired for the moment, but the facts just didn't get through.

But then the question began to interest him: Why do we think that way? Because it's not just about getting the right information, it's about a much more fundamental problem: Our brain is calibrated to recognize dangers. We are not neutral: We consider negative information more than good information. We are more disturbed by tragedy than soothed by facts.

Rosling's solution: “Data as therapy, understanding as a source of inner peace. Because the world is not as bad as it seems. ”The book Factfulness is his legacy. The German publisher did not translate the English title because it cannot really be translated with "fact-based world view". The subtitle explains Rosling's mission: "How we learn to see the world as it really is." His hope: »Factfulness should be part of our lives as well as a healthy diet and regular exercise. ”Rosling was a brilliant speaker who entertained his audience with his dry sense of humor and even swallowing a sword on the TED stage, but he was also one Man of action. The doctor himself was in Mozambique in development aid for years.

But his mission, especially in the last few years, was to give people thinking aids: »You will be able to get a realistic overall picture of the state of the world without having to know every detail . "

The pop star of reason, who was able to explain global trends in such an entertaining way with the help of stick figures and circus tunts, was always annoyed when he was called an optimist. For him, facts and data rule, only presented in an entertaining way. "This book is my attempt to influence the world: to change people's mindsets, to alleviate their irrational fears and to redirect their energies into constructive action." It is also his "definitely last battle in my lifelong mission, the devastating one Fighting ignorance in the world. ”His last, because he died of pancreatic cancer last year. His son and daughter-in-law completed the book and are now running the Gapminder Foundation.

“Don't get me wrong,” said Rosling, “we need these dramatic instincts to get us through the day. But we have to learn to get a grip on our drama consumption. Without such control, our appetite for the dramatic goes too far and prevents us from seeing the world for what it is, and thus leads us terribly astray. "

Here, too, the chimpanzees are probably way ahead of us.