We recently came across a wonderful site called gapminder.org that we’ve just begun exploring. It’s the brain child of health policy expert Hans Rosling who explains the ‘Joys of Statistics’ as nobody else can. A frequent speaker at the annual TED conference, Rosling, has put together an hour long presentation on the basics of statistics, the history of discipline and most important, why they are so incredibly important in a world drowning in data. OK, I’m a bit of a geek, but if you were ever fascinated by those PBS specials in which Richard Feynman or Carl Sagan strolls through Piccadilly Circus musing on the topics such as parallel universes or ancient Babylonian astronomy (somehow tying them to the goings on in Piccadilly Circus) you’ll love this program. If you need to understand how to make sense of data, or want a new perspective on how to use it you should tune in as well.
Consider the humble ‘average’, in quotes here because there are at last three ‘averages’ people talk about, the mean, the median and the mode. Rosling gives an excellent example of one problem with averages. The average number of legs people have in Sweden is actually 1.999. While most people have two legs, some people have only one or none. No one has more than two. So? Most people, the VAST majority in fact are, like the children in Lake Wobegon, nearly all are above average. From here he goes on to a discussion of the importance of looking therefore at how data are distributed (something we’ve been talking about in this space for some time). But there is more. At minute 24, he starts on a discussion of statistical graphics which were first used by Florence Nightingale to describe preventable fatalities among British soldiers during the Crimean War.
This is just the tip of iceberg. There is a ton of excellent content and Rosling’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. If you have to read (or write) a report that will be filled with quantitative data think about going here first for inspiration.
Here’s Gosling’s 2006 TED Talk: