The phrase “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” was made famous by Mark Twain, and sometimes we really feel like this about the hard truth. The facts that are served to us through mass media. Sometimes the quote can be correct. It is easy to use statistics in dubious ways. However sometimes statistics can just make the truth shine and totally new connections can be made visible.
The internationally acclaimed Swedish Professor Hans Rosling has the power to make statistics sing. Thursday night there was a program with Rosling on BBC channel 2 where he he explored some myth bustling truths about population growth and how changes related to wealth and health are shaping the world of today and tomorrow. Bill Gates has said a Rosling presentation about the effectiveness of healthcare projects in the developing world was the main reasons behind his decision to donate billions of dollars to the issue. Google has provided Rosling with revolutionary software, the engine behind his show-stopping lectures.
What Rosling does, in a nutshell, is animate graphs. One graphic bubble showing, for example, life expectancy in a country, is quite unremarkable, but with Rosling’s software at the click of a mouse, that bubble will move, showing where it was on the graph in, say, 1913, and how it has changed every year since right up until the present day.
Add other dots, representing other countries, from United States and India to China, and suddenly you have a moving stream of multi-coloured bubbles that puts each country’s life expectancy into perspective and shows how the figures have changed over the last century. Combine all this with the professor’s hyperactive presentation style and the dry subjects of statistics are suddenly presented with a a compulsive narrative.
Below is a link to the BBC program. It is one hour long and really worthwhile to watch. Two unexpected truths presented in the program are that 80% of the world population is now literate and families have on average 2,2 children, so the Earths human population may level out at 11 billion people.
As always with Rosling it is entertaining and memorable, and it brings across very important messages for our survival on earth.