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Posted by on Mar 22, 2010

TED talk from Hans Rosling: Debunking Developing World Myths with Data

This is an absolutely brilliant talk about data and its use in the developing world by Hans Rosling. Rosling, at least according to Wikipedia, is “Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institutet and Director of the Gapminder Foundation, which developed the Trendalyzer software system. From 1967 to 1974 he studied statistics and medicine at Uppsala University, and in 1972 he studied public health at St John’s Medical College, Bangalore. He became a licenced physician in 1976 and from 1979 to 1981 he served as District Medical Officer in Nacala in northern Mozambique.”

He breaks down statistics from a visual point of view and the results are breathtaking. Evaluate your own assumptions before heading into it. What do you think of the life expectancy of China as opposed to the birth rate? What about Africa? Eastern vs. Western Europe? Most of my assumptions proved false.

It tells an interesting story when he breaks apart the African continent, showing the absolute divergences that occur there. Some have life expectancies under 40 years; some more than 70.

From my own line of work, I love the recommendations he makes about data and how to get at it. It is not enough that this data exists; it must be presented in meaningful ways. Who gets to decide what is meaningful? Whomever figures out how to extract meaning from the data. Jump in, mix up the data, and present it in new and unique ways. Greater revolutions have begun with simpler strategies than that. It is a recurring theme that we hear again and again in this world of limitless information and one that can serve as the mantra of the developing world (indeed, the world at large) when thinking about data and information:

Help me make sense of it all. Help me use it to my advantage. Help me build upon the work of others. Help me improve my lot in life. Help me make the world a better place with it.

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