Are you smarter than a chimp? When it comes to knowledge about global socioeconomic trends, there is a good chance you are not. For years, Swedish global health expert, Hans Rosling, has been giving Ted talks and making presentations about global trends. One his favorite teaching tools is to ask people a question like this:
Globally, over the past 20 years, the rate extreme poverty has:
- Stayed the same.
- Decreased by more than half.
Now chimps will select at random, giving a 33% chance of each answer. Yet when Rosling asks audiences, at least half will say A, a sizable percentage will say B, while a few will say C. Yet C is the correct answer! This is the case on one variable after another. Audiences routinely score worse than chimps, choosing the most negative option.
As an old adage has it, "It isn't what we don't know that gets us in trouble. It's what we know that ain't so." That we routinely pick the wrong answer more often than chimps shows that we clearly we have bias.
In the Ted talk, How not to be ignorant about the world, Hans' son Rosling notes that part of the problem is our education system. Teachers go to college at a particular point in time and learn the state of the world at that time. But they tend not to learn about ongoing developments. The data has often been hard to come by and hard to interpret. So teachers are biased by what they learned years ago. (Reporter have the same problem.) But there are other factors.
During our evolutionary history, our brains became wired to notice threats. Hunters walking through the brush who were attentive to the possibility of tigers lying in wait, likely survived those who went about carelessly enjoying a beautiful day. So when we reflect on broad human trends, we are disposed to fixate on perceived threats. What was useful for us in the wild, is counter-productive for us as we try to interpret socioeconomic trends. If you want to outscore a chimp on an exam about global well-being, Ola Rosling suggests that you must drop your predispositions and adopt these four rules of thumb:
1. Assume most things are improving.
2. Assume most people are in the middle of a distribution, not a binary of rich and poor.
3. Assume social development precedes becoming wealthy. (Don’t assume that a population must be rich before meeting basic social needs.)
4. Assume you are exaggerating the threat if the topic is something about which you personally have great fear.
Additionally, Hans, Ola, and others have been working to build the Gapminder website to provide you with data that can be presented in meaningful ways. But one of the most important contributions the Roslings have made is their collection of entertaining and informative videos. In this post I am including every video I can find with a brief annotation. (I'll add more as I find any.) Many of the videos overlap or cover similar data but they are all well worth viewing. So here is your resource for becoming smarter than a chimp. Don't say I never gave you anything.
(This link also has links to most of these videos including some shorts not listed here: Gapminder Video)
Hans Rosling's 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes (2010)
If you are just getting acquainted with Rosling, I'd begin here. This 4 minute presentation gives you a quick sense of what he is talking about.
Hans and Ola Rosling: How not to be ignorant about the world. TED June 2014
This is the second video to watch. The front half is Hans making his case that the world is improving and the back half is Ola explaining, as I recounted above, why are so disinclined to see positive change.
Hans Rosling: The magic washing machine. TED December 2010
This is the third one to watch. This one of my favorites. While fully embracing the concern about environmental impacts of economic growth, Rosling shows the importance of economic growth through the story of the washing machine.
THE REST ARE IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER
Hans Rosling: The best stats you've ever seen. TED February 2006
The TED presentation that kicked it all off. He focuses on the positive changes underway in world and points to his efforts to liberate, integrate, and animate data, and to find ways to present data the public finds understandable.
Hans Rosling: New Insights on Poverty. TED March 2007
Rosling shows that social development tends to precede economic development. He addresses the issue that unfortunately to date, economic development has always been based on fossil fuels. Higher yields, technology, and markets are key to ending poverty but there are more dimensions that need our attention like human rights, environment, governance, economic growth, education, health, and culture. The ending has a great surprise!
Human Rights and Democracy Statistics- Gapminder c. 2008
Rosling describes why human rights are so hard describe and evaluate.
Yes they can! - Gapminder c. 2008
Rosling explains that poor nations will one day become prosperous and we should welcome that.
Poor Beats Rich in MDG Race - Gapminder c. 2008
Rosling shows that countries that have developed from poverty to well-being have done so at far faster rates that Western nations did. Poor countries today can make the transition much quicker because of what previous countries have learned.
What stops population growth? - Gapminder c. 2008
The key to ending population is small families, and the key to small families is childhood survival.
Hans Rosling: Insights on HIV, in stunning data visuals. TED February 2009
Uses Gapminder data to show nuances in how AIDS has spread and what it takes to defeat it.
Hans Rosling: Let my dataset change your mindset. TED June 2009
This is the third video should watch. Rosling deconstructs the dichotomy of wealthy and developing nations, and challenges the idea of thinking in sweeping terms like "Africa."
The Joy of Stats with Professor Hans Rosling - Gapminder c. 2010
Rosling shows how making data available and animating is empowering people to make better decisions, sometimes without really realizing they are using statistics.
Hans Rosling: Asia's rise -- how and when. TED Nov 2009
Rosling forecasts when China and India catches up with the USA and UK.
Hans Rosling: Global population growth, box by box. TED June 2010
Rosling says that child survival is the new green. This video explains why.
Hans Rosling: The good news of the decade? We're winning the war against child mortality. TED September 2010
Rosling breaks down the remarkable trends in child mortality. Education of women accounts for at least 50% of the drop.
Hans Rosling: Religions and babies. TED April 2012
Religion is not a factor in family size. No significant difference between Islamic and Christian countries when it comes to births per woman. The defining difference is economic well-being.
DON'T PANIC — Hans Rosling showing the facts about population. BBC November 2013
A one hour investigation into the dynamics of population growth using stories about real live families interspersed with Rosling's entertaining presentation of data.
Don't Panic - How to End Poverty in 15 Years. BBC September 2015
No embed is available.
Here is a link to a series of short videos on how to use development data visually.