the joy of stats

The Joy of Stats has been on my to watch list for a couple of weeks. It's a 60-minute program with Hans Rosling, an animated and passionate Swedish global health professor, founder of Gapminder, and one of my favorite data storytellers.

In the segment, Rosling shares his obsession with stats. It includes clips from some of his lectures and TED talks. The stats overview was fairly basic (averages, variance, distributions, correlations), but the hour was entertaining and fact-filled. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Crimespotting by Stamen Design for showing the relationship between topography and crime: it's making citizens more powerful by arming them with information so they can hold officials more accountable.
  • Florence Nightingale's polar area graph for showing the magnitude of deaths from preventable diseases contracted in the hospital, which led to a revolution in hospital hygiene.
  • David McCandless' Billion Pound-O-Gram for understanding the relative sizes of the really big numbers reported by the news and government.
  • Jonathan Harris & Sep Kamvar's We Feel Fine project (an "exploration of human emotion on a global scale") for uncovering trends in how people are feeling.

Though I found it a little overly glitzy at points, Hans Rosling was entertaining as always and I found myself glued to my computer throughout to see what he would do or talk about next.

Why are these sessions so good? In addition to the creative use of data visuals to support his claims, Rosling's enthusiasm as he tells stories with data is both entertaining and contagious. Makes you wish you had visuals in real space, right? (Ok, that part might have been a little over the top.)

Side note: my personal opinion is that motion graphics (like the bubble charts used in many of the talks, which can be created via a gadget in Google Spreadsheets known as Motion Charts) need to have somebody there to talk through them and help the audience understand what to pay attention to for them to be effective. Hans Rosling is masterful at this.

"If the story in the numbers is told by a beautiful and clever image, then everyone understands." - Hans Rosling, The Joy of Stats