Why Gapminder Exists
We humans are born with a craving for fat and sugar. But that’s not all – we are also born with a craving for drama, which pulls our attention away from facts towards exciting stories. We get bored if nothing happens.
That’s the reason why journalists, politicians, and lobbyists tell dramatic stories about extraordinary events and unusual people and situations. These dramatic stories fill up people’s minds. The sum of all the drama leads to an overdramatic worldview that is very common and very stressful. It leads to thoughts like: “The world is getting worse!”, “It’s us versus them!”, “Other people are strange!”, “The population just keeps growing!” and “Nobody cares!”. Fortunately, these mega misconceptions are not unpredictable. They follow very systematic and predictable patterns, which means they don’t have to be dismantled one person at a time, but they can be confronted with systematic solutions.
For the first time in human history, reliable statistics exist for nearly all aspects of global development. The data shows a world where many things improve, a world that can’t be divided into us and them, a world where people across all cultures and religions make decisions based on universal human needs, a world that is constantly changing, a world that is quite easy to understand.
Most people have a pessimistic worldview, and some have a naïve optimistic worldview, thinking that everything will be fine. But Gapminder’s popularity so far has been possible because many people actually are fed up with these two categorical positions. That’s what we call a fact-based worldview. A world that is bad in many ways, but still better in many ways, e.g. applied to the current Corona pandemic, to think clearly and support the right actions, it’s crucial to realize that never before has the world been better equipped to handle a global pandemic like this one.
To start making use of all the abundance of data, the overdramatic worldview has to be dismantled, and new fact-based habits must be invented. We have tested the knowledge of the world’s top decision-makers in both public and private sectors and their ideas about global trends and proportions are often just as wrong as the general public’s, or even worse. Worryingly, we have found the same systematic misconceptions among journalists, activists, teachers, children and the general public. This problem has nothing to do with intelligence. It’s simply a lack of factual knowledge and a lack of practical tools and habits to keep track of facts. Without such tools and habits, dramatic misconceptions win, even in classrooms and inside the UN.
Facts don’t appear automatically in our heads like opinions do. Facts have to be learned. To solve this massive global problem we need to start teaching global facts in schools and in corporate education. This is an exciting problem because it seems very solvable and solving it would have enormous long-term impact. Like the visionaries who imagined that all children should learn to read and write, Gapminder is envisioning a world where all people have the skills to control their dramatic instincts and instead use facts to understand the world, which would enable an endless amount of better decisions for sustainable global development. If decision makers knew to check proportions before getting carried away by a slogan, and if they understood the climate system then they would realize what energy transformations are most crucial. By extensive knowledge testing, we have identified systematic misconceptions and we are building free tools for anyone with a human brain to rid themselves of the common misconceptions and acquire skills to maintain a fact-based worldview. The global need for widespread fact-based habits is as important today as ever.