BBC Four is airing a documentary series which reveals that statistics, far from being a cure for insomnia, is one of the most exciting topics on the planet. The Joy of Stats is both a playful romp through the realm of public data, and a somber look at how much we have yet to understand about our own global society. To guide their exploration of the power of numbersthe BBC grabbed the perfect presenter: Hans Rosling. A professor of international health in Sweden, Rosling has a long history of exploring the facts and figures that surround our changing world. In the short segment of the BBC series below, Rosling gives one of his most famous lectures with a new twist. Using 120,000+ bits of data and augmented reality, the exuberant professor takes us through the last 200 years of global history and its uneven growth of wealth and health. No one makes statistics sound quite as awe-inspiring as Rosling. Check out the video and see what I mean.
While this isn’t the first time that Rosling has given this lecture, this is the first time he’s used augmented reality technology. Pretty cool update, if you ask me, and fitting with Rosling’s approach to statistics. He has continually struggled to find new ways of presenting data that speaks to and engages the audience. His Gapminder site makes public data easily accessible, colorful, and meaningful to people who would otherwise ignore graphs as boring. In Rosling’s long history of amazing lectures (many of which can be found on YouTube) he has shown the importance of understanding the history of global changes if we want to plan for a better future.
Rosling’s review of the past 200 years leaves me rather optimistic about the years ahead. As he has outlined elsewhere, there are serious problems facing us in regards to exponential population growth and global health. Yet there are also solutions to humanity’s grand challenges of poverty, health, energy, etc. Demonstrations like this one could help broader audiences not only grasp the seriousness of the situation, but have hope that we can improve the world with out policies and technologies. As Rosling shows, the world is always changing and our beliefs must change with it. Perhaps colorful graphs and exciting lectures will help us reshape how we think of the world. At the very least they’ll change the way we think of statistics.
“I kid you not, statistics are now the sexiest subject on the planet” – Hans Rosling, 2010
The Joy of Stats will next air on Tuesday Dec 7th at 9pm on BBC Four. UK readers can access additional clips on the BBC Four website.