Ana Escalante

Hans Rosling: “Debunking Third World Myths Through Data”

A good friend directed me to the Hans Rosling’s TED talk. I found this video particularly interesting because the way Rosling presents data is very dynamic and viewer-friendly. The animated visualization of data makes it is easier to draw conclusions and see trends. That said, I want to question Rosling’s assertion about “myths” in these data. In reality, data can not only lead to myths, but can also debunk them or help correct other misconceptions of reality in so-called “third world countries.”

Rosling’s main argument is that data should be made more accessible. With more accessible data, it will be easier to draw appropriate conclusions and create change. Today, with the Internet, data are becoming more accessible than ever before. For example, the United Nations had just opened up a lot of its databases. So I?m not sure that accessibility is really the issue.

Rosling also contends that, based on data, we can use design tools to show important trends and patterns happening in third world countries. For example, his Gapminder software “animates” data by creating a movable features. It’s a very dynamic way of looking at information and drawing conclusions, and I salute him for it. I won?t disagree that we need tools like Gapminder to help us display data in a more intuitive, dynamic fashion.While Rosling’s arguments are compelling, statistics can always be used in favor of one’s point. In economics, we can always alter the variables to prove our point, but that is exactly where the quality of the research (and researcher) comes into place. Although Gapminder is really helpful, “myth busting” is not just about the tools you use to show the data. And it is not about the accessibility of the data. Rather, myth busting is about the researcher.

With access to new sources such as the UN’s databases and tools like Gapminder, it will be easier than ever before to conduct research. But all that means is that we?ll be able to see more clearly just how important good, rigorous, peer-reviewed research really is when it comes to using data to prove a point.