Stats That Reshape Your World-View by Hans Rosling (Transcript)

As the TED website puts aptly, “In Hans Rosling’s hands, data sings. Global trends in health and economics come to vivid life.” In this TED presentation, Hans lays bare several myths around global development into vivid and clear perspectives thanks to the novel tool which uses called Gapminder…

Event: TED Conference – February 2006

Speaker: Hans Rosling

Audio only:

 

 

Hans Rosling – Professor of Global Health, Karolinska Institute, Sweden

About 10 years ago, I took on the task to teach global development to Swedish undergraduate students. That was after having spent about 20 years together with African institutions studying hunger in Africa, so I was sort of expected to know a little about the world. And I started in our medical university, Karolinska Institute, an undergraduate course called Global Health. But when you get that opportunity, you get a little nervous. I thought, these students coming to us actually have the highest grade you can get in Swedish college systems — so, I thought, maybe they know everything I’m going to teach them about.

So I did a pre-test when they came. And one of the questions from which I learned a lot was this one: “Which country has the highest child mortality of these five pairs?” And I put them together, so that in each pair of country, one has twice the child mortality of the other. And this means that it’s much bigger a difference than the uncertainty of the data. I won’t put you at a test here, but it’s Turkey, which is highest there, Poland, Russia, Pakistan and South Africa. And these were the results of the Swedish students. I did it so I got the confidence interval, which is pretty narrow, and I got happy, of course: a 1.8 right answer out of five possible. That means that there was a place for a professor of international health — and for my course.

But one late night, when I was compiling the report I really realized my discovery. I have shown that Swedish top students know statistically significantly less about the world than the chimpanzees. Because the chimpanzee would score half right if I gave them two bananas with Sri Lanka and Turkey. They would be right half of the cases. But the students are not there. The problem for me was not ignorance; it was preconceived ideas.

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I did also an unethical study of the professors of the Karolinska Institute — that hands out the Nobel Prize in Medicine, and they are on par with the chimpanzee there. This is where I realized that there was really a need to communicate, because the data of what’s happening in the world and the child health of every country is very well aware.

We did this software which displays it like this: every bubble here is a country. This country over here is China. This is India. The size of the bubble is the population, and on this axis here I put fertility rate. Because my students, what they said when they looked upon the world, and I asked them, “What do you really think about the world?” Well, I first discovered that the textbook was Tintin, mainly. And they said, “The world is still ‘we’ and ‘them.’ And we is Western world and them is Third World.” “And what do you mean with Western world?” I said. “Well, that’s long life and small family, and Third World is short life and large family.”

So this is what I could display here. I put fertility rate here: number of children per woman: one, two, three, four, up to about eight children per woman. We have very good data since 1962 — 1960 about — on the size of families in all countries. The error margin is narrow. Here I put life expectancy at birth, from 30 years in some countries up to about 70 years. And 1962, there was really a group of countries here that was industrialized countries, and they had small families and long lives. And these were the developing countries: they had large families and they had relatively short lives.

Now what has happened since 1962? We want to see the change. Are the students right? Is it still two types of countries? Or have these developing countries got smaller families and they live here? Or have they got longer lives and live up there?

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Let’s see. We stopped the world then. This is all U.N. statistics that have been available. Here we go. Can you see there? It’s China there, moving against better health there, improving there. All the green Latin American countries are moving towards smaller families. Your yellow ones here are the Arabic countries, and they get larger families, but they — no, longer life, but not larger families. The Africans are the green down here. They still remain here. This is India. Indonesia’s moving on pretty fast.

And in the ’80s here, you have Bangladesh still among the African countries there. But now, Bangladesh — it’s a miracle that happens in the ’80s: the imams start to promote family planning. They move up into that corner. And in ’90s, we have the terrible HIV epidemic that takes down the life expectancy of the African countries and all the rest of them move up into the corner, where we have long lives and small family, and we have a completely new world.

Let me make a comparison directly between the United States of America and Vietnam. 1964: America had small families and long life; Vietnam had large families and short lives. And this is what happens: the data during the war indicate that even with all the death, there was an improvement of life expectancy. By the end of the year, the family planning started in Vietnam and they went for smaller families. And the United States up there is getting for longer life, keeping family size. And in the ’80s now, they give up communist planning and they go for market economy, and it moves faster even than social life.

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