Public Health: Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years in 4 Minutes

Posted by on Apr 4, 2012 in Reference | No Comments

Hans Rosling is best (publicly) known for using statistics to explain trends in worldwide health care as well as in other affairs. It’s not so surprising to read that he studied medicine and statistics simultaneously and spent two decades studying outbreaks of disease in remote areas across Africa. In the video, he presents the vast amount of information he has uncovered for many years through an excellent data visualization tool, which lets the general public to quickly grasp new findings within 4 minutes.

During his speech, people become amazed by the fact that we can still see the key trends when there is so much going on at the same time (look at all the moving data bubbles). This is probably one of the best examples that prove the power of data visualization. I was thinking about a couple of reasons why it works:

Firstly, human perception has superior ability when it comes to processing visual stimuli. For instance, it’s very hard to differentiate 6 different sounds at the same time for average people, but it’s easy to recognize 6 different elements when seeing them together. People are able to capture the essence of the story through Rosling’s data visualization tool even though a vast amount of data sets are also visible.

Furthermore, the data visualization interface is very well-designed. Despite the complexity and the amount of data, all the elements are simple, and most of all, there is no 3D elements that require extra effort for processing. If he was using a fancy 3D coordinate system to add more info, then viewers would be very confused. Instead, what he used to add variable “time” to the graph is a timeline which results in an image sequence, or animation. The elements in the graph are moving according to the change over time, and the audience intuitively can see Rosling’s significant findings in the healthcare trend. Considering the fact that people can see relative motion with great sensitivity (Colin Ware, Information Visualization: Perception for Design, 2nd edition, page 219), Rosling’s project has shown an excellent method of using motion when displaying patterns in data.

Rosling’s works suggests how well-designed data visualizations tools can help researchers present their work effectively, and moreover, how good visualization can persuade us to see the world through facts instead of conventions.

Rosling is also a co-founder of GapMinder, and his research continuously focuses on links between economic development, agriculture, poverty and health in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

PS. I personally think he is also a very good public speaker with English as his second language. His swedish accent adds extra charisma to his infectiously passionate and humorous speech.

More video:
Hans Rosling at TED:

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