How many of the world’s 1-year-old children today have been vaccinated against some disease?

  1. 20 percent
  2. 50 percent
  3. 80 percent

If you read this month’s “News and Views” article, you are likely to get this answer right (C. 80 percent). But, only 17 percent of U.S. residents asked this question got it right, and residents of many other countries did no better in informal surveys conducted by the author. The highest number of correct answers was given in Sweden and, even there, only 21 percent answered correctly.

This is one of 13 questions presented at the beginning of the book, Factfulness. Hans Rosling, with assistance from his son and daughter-in-law, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, points out that most people get questions related to the state of life around the world wrong. In fact, chimpanzees more often choose the correct answers by chance alone than do people from around the world.

Once this point is made, Rosling goes on to describe 10 instincts that lead people to be so consistently wrong. Each instinct is described with examples in a dedicated chapter of the book

  • Gap instinct — Look for the majority not just the extremes.
  • Negativity instinct — Realize that we are more likely to hear bad news than good.
  • Straight-line instinct — Lines come in different shapes, so do not always assume straight lines.
  • Fear instinct — Understand fear in the context of actual risk.
  • Size instinct — Compare numbers, specifically if you see extremely large or extremely small numbers.
  • Generalization instinct — Categories can be misleading because they often oversimplify the situation being discussed.
  • Destiny instinct — Even when change happens slowly, it still creates differences over time.
  • Single perspective instinct — Beware of having a limited point of view as it may not provide an accurate picture.
  • Blame instinct — Rather than look for someone to blame, look at how to improve systems.
  • Urgency instinct — Most situations are not so urgent that a decision has to be made immediately, so take time to evaluate.

Rosling suggests that rather than using a two-factor system to describe the world’s population, such as developed and developing, we should look at the world’s population as a four-level system. People living on less than $2 per day are considered to be in level one and those living on more than $32 per day are in level four. Through measures such as mode of transportation, drinking water, cooking methods, and others, Rosling shows how those living on levels two through four is where most people in the world reside. Throughout the book, he returns to the importance of this more descript way of analyzing quality of life and how the populations of some countries have moved to higher levels over time.

For anyone interested in public health or a better understanding of the world’s health and living conditions, this book is required reading.

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Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.