Saturday 1 January 2011

Hans Rosling: The Joy of Stats

He is a health professional, a statistician, a software developer, an advisor to international organisations and a sword swallower. That last one was an unexpected discovery in this multi-talented man's resume. We'll come back to that one in a video.

Current, Mr. Rosling is Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institute, one of Europe's largest medical universities. He co-founded the Gapminder Foundation with his son and daughter-in-law which developed the Trendalyzer software system. This software converts statistics into moving, interactive graphics and his lectures using this system to visualise world development have won awards. Here's an example of what this gentleman is doing:

Hans Rosling's 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes - The Joy of Stats - BBC Four
Hans Rosling's famous lectures combine enormous quantities of public data with a sport's commentator's style to reveal the story of the world's past, present and future development. Now he explores stats in a way he has never done before - using augmented reality animation. In this spectacular section of 'The Joy of Stats' he tells the story of the world in 200 countries over 200 years using 120,000 numbers - in just four minutes. Plotting life expectancy against income for every country since 1810, Hans shows how the world we live in is radically different from the world most of us imagine.

Google Public Data Explorer
According to Wikipedia:
On 16 March 2007 Google acquired the Trendalyzer software with the intention to scale it up and make it freely available for public statistics. In 2008 Google made available a Motion Chart Google Gadget and in 2009 the Public Data Explorer.

Public Data Explorer is now available to the public as an experimental service. Google is looking for feedback and talks in its official blog dated March 2010 about its eventual goals in using this technology.

Last year, we released a public data search feature that enables people to quickly find useful statistics in search. More recently, we expanded this service to include information from the World Bank, such as population data for every region in the world. More and more public agencies, non-profits and other organizations are looking for ways to open up their data and expand global access to this kind of information. We want to help keep that momentum going, so today we're sharing a snapshot of some of the most popular public data search topics on Google. We're also launching the Google Public Data Explorer, an experimental visualization tool in Google Labs.

What's interesting about this is that Google has started with a piece of software, Trendanalyser and put it together with data sets publicly available from various sources. We, the public, now can use the two to explore the data, study the statistics and visually represent the statistics to better understand the numbers and possibly discover new perspectives on the existing data. The blog entry says that they are currently offering data from the following sources with more to come as other organisations see the value of contributing to this effort.
  • the World Bank
  • the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • the U.S. Census Bureau
  • the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)
  • the California Department of Education
  • Eurostat
  • the U.S. Center for Disease Control
  • the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Google Example
In this example from Google, we can observe Unemployment in the United States from January 1990 to October 2010. You will note how the display is similar to the Trendanalyser demonstration in Rosling's video above. Move the slider back and forth to change the display according to a point in time.

TED: Hans Rosling: No more boring data - Feb 2006
With the drama and urgency of a sportscaster, statistics guru Hans Rosling uses an amazing new presentation tool, Gapminder, to debunk several myths about world development. Rosling is professor of international health at Sweden's Karolinska Institute, and founder of Gapminder, a nonprofit that brings vital global data to life. (Recorded February 2006 in Monterey, CA.)

TED: Hans Rosling: New insights on poverty and life around the world - March 2007
TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers are invited to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and TEDTalks cover these topics as well as science, business, politics and the arts.

As promised, he swallows a sword!!!

Final Word
Hans Rosling is quite the interesting gentleman. His lectures are both interesting and entertaining but more importantly, they are thought-provoking. With the acquisition of his Trendanalyser software by Google and Google's offering of it as the Public Data Explorer, what else will we be able to do in order to make sense out of the numbers that may seem meaningless up to now? Will we all find the joy of stats?


Wikipedia: Hans Rosling
Hans Rosling (born 27 July 1948) is a Swedish medical doctor, academic, statistician and public speaker. He is Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institute and co-founder and chairman of the Gapminder Foundation, which developed the Trendalyzer software system.

BBC: The Joy of Stats: Professor Hans Rosling

YouTube: The Joy of Stats (59 minutes)
This is the complete BBC show.

YouTube: Rosling's World - a documentary about Hans Rosling (57 minutes)

Unveiling the Beauty of Statistics
This has a video of another great talk by Professor Rosling. Well worth watching.

Google Video search: Hans Rosling


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