In Under Three Minutes, Hans Rosling Visualizes the Incredible Progress of the “Developing World”

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?

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hans Rosling Uses Ikea Props to Explain World of 7 Bil­lion Peo­ple

200 Coun­tries & 200 Years in 4 Min­utes, Pre­sent­ed by Hans Rosling

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.

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