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« BFTP: Features of school cultures that embrace creativity | Main | Bullshit Literacy: 2019 update »
Thursday
Jun202019

Factfulness: a must read

I have a love-hate relationship with math. Throughout my elementary and secondary schooling, I felt math was my worst subject. While I liked geometry, I only made it through half my second year of algebra as a high school junior. I simply never saw the point of solving quadratic equations or converting perfectly good base 10 numbers to base 8. I assiduously avoided math there after.

I was successful in doing so until enrolling in a post-graduate program that called for a statistics class. I dreaded the thought of spending a semester of Saturday mornings doing abstract theoretical math problems that had no application to normal people's lives. (And yes, I vainly considered myself to be a normal person.) And I did not have the funds to pay some nerd take the class for me.

But it just so happened that I lucked out with my instructor at the University of Iowa. An adjunct taught the class who, as I remember, was a local 8th grade math teacher himself. To every concept in statistics (standard deviation from the norm, valid sample size, etc.), he used examples from everyday education. I ate it up. And to this day, I still apply some of the things I learned from that class, often questioning conclusions drawn by educators on "data" when good principles of statistics seem to be missing. 

So it always with great pleasure that I read a book in which numbers have a real application in helping me understand the world, especially the world of policy, politics, and social undertakings. I found Hans Rosling's book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World - and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. Sceptre, 2018 to be such a book. 

A fellow hiker highly recommended the book on one of our evening jaunts, but I was initially skeptical to read anything that says the world is becoming a better place. Might it just be big business propaganda to lessen concerns over global issues? (It was endorsed by Bill Gates.)

This book was just the opposite: a careful, readable, thoughtful, statistically-driven analysis of major changes in the world today - most very positive. Rosling, an international health care worker, gives 10 practical strategies for helping analyze the news one hears and putting it in a realistic context. I found this strategy important enough to buy a copy to send to my grandsons. It also put me in mind of Paulos's old book Innumeracy (which I am re-reading to my great delight.) 

If you want a means of determining what world events you should or should not be concerned about, you should read Factfulness.
 I feel a little less like I am drowning in seas of bias, propaganda, careless communications, and bullshit. 

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Reader Comments (1)

I agree this is a must read. If you love data, geography or get excited by census numbers this is the book to read. And it is positive at a time we need every possible positive message.

June 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPam Saunders

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