Hans Rosling knows how to make a concise, powerful point. His mastery of statistics and visual aids doesn’t hurt. Behold, for instance, the Karolinska Institute Professor of International Health visualizing the health of 200 countries over 200 years with 120,000 data points. His ability to condense vast amounts of information into short bursts while providing the widest possible context for his points naturally endears him to the TED audience, which values counterintuitive intellectual impact delivered with the utmost succinctness. We previously featured a TED Talk from wherein the excitable professor explains world population growth and prosperity with props bought at IKEA. (The man comes from Sweden, after all. One must represent.) Now, on Bill Gates’ Youtube channel, you can watch Rosling’s shortest and slickest video yet: “The River of Myths.”
Opening with a visualization of 1960’s world child mortality numbers graphed against the number of children born per woman, Rosling uses his signature method of statistical-animation showmanship to explode myths about the potential of developing nations. We see that, as a country’s wealth rises, its health rises; as its health rises, its child mortality drops; and as its child mortality drops, so does its number of children born per woman, which leads to a sustainable overall population size. He then examines the separate regions of Ethiopia, formerly a developmental laggard, showing that the capital Addis Ababa ranks reproductively among the developed nations, while only remote regions lag behind. “Most people think the problems in Africa are unsolvable, but if the poorest countries can just follow the path of Ethiopia, it’s fully possible that the world will look like this by 2030.” We then see a projection of all the world’s nations clustered in the small-family, low-mortality corner of the graph. “But to ensure this happens, we must measure the progress of countries. It’s only by measuring we can cross the river of myths.” Have you heard a more powerful argument for the usefulness of statistics lately?
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.