The scientists with reasons to be cheerful
As you might guess from the subtitle of DeFries’s 2014 book The Great Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis, she is hopeful about our ability to avert disaster. She argues that history has progressed by “ratchets”, where things improve; “hatchets”, where unforeseen problems occur; and “pivots”, where new solutions are found.
Not that you should put it like that to the Roslings themselves. “It’s not good news,” Ola says, when I suggest that this is the effect Gapminder – and Hans’s presentations – give the casual reader. “It’s just news. It’s factual news. It appears good because the default worldview has so much negativity. But sometimes the news is negative: look at the refugee crisis, climate change or inequality in the USA. We are trying to promote a state of mind called factfulness. This is a relaxing feeling of not carrying around opinions that often have no basis in reality. It’s very stressful to defend ideas that are not true.”
“I just came back from the US, where I met this guy with a start-up. He was from a poor background but is now worth millions of dollars,” Roser says. “He was telling me how awesome the USA is compared with other places in the world because you have high social mobility and people can rise through the ranks. But that’s not right. He was very enthusiastic, but one of his core beliefs was just wrong. I told him that if you want the American dream then you’d better move to Sweden. He was really surprised.”
Ola Rosling agrees. “It’s common among the highly educated to blame the mass media, but the mass media is just giving people what they want. We have to teach children how the media works.”