TED@State: Hans Rosling asks if your mindset corresponds with his dataset

Posted by: Emily McManus

Hans Rosling at TED@State

Hans Rosling is a data rock star. Pulling health and social data from worldwide collections, he uses his brilliant bubble-making software, Gapminder, to stand our preconceived notions on their heads. Watch one of his three TEDTalks (in 2006, 2007 and 2009) and get ready to re-examine everything you think you know about the developing world.

Live at TED@State, Hans mixed up some classic data shows and some new analysis — focusing on the State Department folks and other government people who made up a good chunk of the audience. He says: “Does your mindset correspond with my data set? If not, one of them needs upgrading.” And he made the clever point that, for most of us, our basic view of the world is determined by the year our teachers were born. His software (and his “solidified laser pointer,” in the photo above — Hans tends to point with anything that he’s got handy) helped to refresh our view of the first world versus the third world.

The first world is traditionally viewed as a place of small families and long lives, while the third world means large families and short lives. But as he shows, this is changing. “Life expectancy,” he says, “is about the bathroom and the kitchen. If you have soap, water & food, you can live long.” And life-expectancy data is changing in the third world. His moving data bubbles show hopeful trends in many African countries (five of which, he points out, have low Western-level rates of child mortality, an indicator of overall health). Rosling pits country against country in child health data — with surprising results for his own country, Sweden.

Rosling concludes by addressing the government employees in the audience: “Thanks to the US for taking such wonderful health data! This is US government at its best.” USAID has funded 25 continuous years of demographic research that lets us understand how the world has changed. As he puts it: “This is not the State Department, this is the World Department, and we have very high hopes for you!”

Discuss this talk and more in the comments section: