Hans Rosling Debunks Data Myths

I’ve made it a goal this year to watch between 3-5 TED talks every week.  In case you don’t know what TED talks are, they are lectures given by some of the world’s most brilliant and innovative individuals, organized by the TED foundation and available on the website www.ted.com.  They are free and open to the public and since they can range anywhere from 5-45 minutes, they are a great way for a Smart Girl to get a quick look at a new insight or viewpoint on an idea.  One of my favorite TED speakers is a man named Hans Rosling, a Swedish demographer (someone who analyzes population data) who founded a website called Gapminder.  Gapminder is an online program where you can track statistical changes over time around the world, all at once.  One of my favorites is one that compares the relationship between income per person and average life-expectancy since 1800, with each country represented by a bubble whose size shows their population.  You can press “play” on the graph and see how much progress has been made.  For example, in 1955, China had an average life expectancy of 41 with the average person earning only $421 (adjusted for inflation).  Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it?  Now, however, China’s life expectancy has grown to 75 and the average person earns over $9,000 annually!  You can track the progress of any country around the world and I have to admit, it’s quite entertaining and fascinating.

Image courtesy of gapminder.org

Image courtesy of gapminder.org

What I find so interesting about Hans Rosling is that he is very optimistic.  He recognizes that there is still a lot of work to be done in places like sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, but what he does is show that we have already made immense progress over the past century so change is possible.  Much of Africa is on the right track to meet certain UN Millennium Devlopment goals, so all we need to do is give them time and support.  He points out that, 200 years ago, Sweden (with a current 100% literacy rate!) had a life-expectancy rate almost equal to China’s in 1955, with the two being almost equal now.  Sweden was not plagued by war and famine as much as China was, so they were able to develop very quickly and early.  Thus, Hans Rosling is showing that change is absolutely possible.  What I also appreciate about Hans Rosling is that he doesn’t like to use the terms “developing” or “western” countries because all countries are developing and have the same potential for reaching high life expectancies and countries such as India and China are achieving “western” standards today.  Rosling takes a unique standpoint because he is both optimistic and open-minded.  He presents data in a clear and engaging way that makes you curious for more.  Smart Girls are girls, to me, who are open-minded and willing to look at things from a new perspective.  They are committed to change and willing to work for it.  Progress in Africa and other “third-world” (another term he doesn’t like) countries is possible and Hans Rosling will show you just that.


For some of my favorite Hans Rosling TED talks, check out these links! http://new.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_the_good_news_of_the_decade



Here is the link to Gapminder as well: http://www.gapminder.org

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Kate Labonte

Katie joined SGG in 2013 and is the Executive Editor for Smart Mail, Women's News writer for the Smart Girls Guide, a blogger in Smart Girls Media Sisters, and mentor in the Smart Girls Mentorship program. She is a junior at Fordham University, where she is studying Political Science, Middle Eastern Studies, and Theology. She is currently spending a year at the London School of Economics, studying government and international history. Her smarts are in current affairs, international relations, history, women’s issues, and organizing. When she’s not working on Smart Mail over a cappuccino in London, she loves to read, travel, visit museums, cook, and practice yoga.