Everybody--especially highly-educated elites--assumes their deeply-held beliefs are fact-based. You think that, don't you? I know I do.

Well, we all may be dead wrong, according to Bill Gates's new favorite book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.

According to author Hans Rosling, when asked basic questions about the state of the world and its population, elites--teachers, journalists, bankers and Nobel laureates--score fewer correct answers than chimpanzees choosing at random.

This is not to say that hoi-polloi with "alternative" afacts have a better grasp of reality. Quite the contrary; people who are uneducated or willfully ignorant are even more likely to filter information through

"ten instincts that distort our perspective―from our tendency to divide the world into two camps (usually some version of us and them) to the way we consume media (where fear rules) to how we perceive progress (believing that most things are getting worse). [As a result,] we don't know what we don't know, and even our guesses are informed by unconscious and predictable biases."

Factfulness (like another of Gates's favorites, Pinker's Enlightenment Now) points out that  reason, science and technology has massively improved the world, a process that will continue unless our (already tentative) grasp of reality slips even further.

However, it's notoriously difficult to disabuse people (elites or otherwise) of these instincts, especially if they've invested decades of mental energy in erroneous thinking. 

Gates is determined, though, to give an optimism-based-on-facts perspective a chance to influence future policies. Thus he's providing free copies of Factfulness to the one group of people who are most likely to entertain new ideas: recent college graduates.

Gates has therefore launched a web page where anyone who earns an associate's, bachelor's, or post-graduate degree this spring in the United States can obtain a free, downloadable copy of Factfulness. Gates explains that the book

"is packed with advice about how to see the world clearly [and] although I think everyone should read it, it has especially useful insights for anyone who's making the leap out of college and into the next phase of life."

Since about 4 million students graduate from college each year in the U.S., if only 25% of those graduates take Gates up on this offer, that would (obviously) be a million copies of the book, making it an instant bestseller.

Gates is certainly putting his money where his mouth is, that's for sure. But then he's always done that, eh?

Published on: Jun 5, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.