Statisticians don't usually climb the ranks of YouTube too often, so Swedish health researcher Hans Rosling must be tickled that his four-minute discourse on a century of trends in world income and health is about to crack two million views. Well, Justin Bieber needn't be worried just yet, but the good doctor's rosy vision of a world growing ever richer and healthier is a upbeat note on which to end an otherwise gloomy and frustrating 2010.
Of course, Rosling had some help. Bill Gates himself tweeted a suggestion the other day that the video is four minutes well spent.
Rosling is a founder of the Gapminder Foundation, which developed a Trendalyzer program that puts statistics into motion in ways that illuminate trends, deepen our understanding of the tectonic shifts of history, and are really freakin' cool. He is a TED conference lecturer who is famous for having demonstrated his prowess as a sword swallower during his 2007 presentation.
But he is especially good at demonstrating how animation makes statistics more accessible and even more revealing.
In this clip, part of a BBC series The Joy of Stats, Rosling shows how changes in income in 200 countries over 200 years, using 120,000 numbers, shows an upbeat progression from poverty and poor health shared across much of the globe in the early 1800s to a more "converged" earth where the nations are clustered more closely in the middle of the health/wealth matrix and headed in the right direction, by Rosling's lights.
Debatable? Sure. Had he teased out the disparity of wealth over the last two decades just here in the U.S., the averages would dissolve into something more complex and deeply troubling. No doubt political ideologues could chalk up Rosling's vision of upward mobility variously. Classic liberals could attribute the gains to increasingly interdependent business and government partnerships in an industrialized era - managed capitalism. Conservatives might see the growth as a testament to capitalism pure and simple.
But it is the season for fairy tales and rosy visions of the future. Yes Virginia, there is a statistically demonstrable trendline suggesting overall improvement and growing equality of wealth and health.
Happy Holidays. We will be back after New Year.