For years I have been using a way of creating fun but informative graphs which consist of little coloured bubbles jumping up and down a screen showing how increases in wealth have increased the amount of time people live in different parts of the world. When I was told to jump on a plane and go to Sweden for the day to interview a Sweedish Statistician , I was amazed to find I was interviewing the man behind the little coloured bubbles I had been using for so long.
I am not the only one fascinated by the bubbles or the man who invented them. Hans Rosling was voted one of the world’s top one hundred influential people by Time Magazine last year. He is professor of international health at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and he’s been an adviser for the World Health Organisation and UNICEF.
Rosling’s GapMinder website is used by analysts all over the world to understand how different data connect with eachother. The nerve centre of his operation is a very modest flat in a rather grey concrete part of Stockholm. The backroom of the flat works as a very sophisticated TV studio and he sometimes is filmed using an ordinary decorator’s roller to paint graphs on his office wall to create web videos to explain his view of what is happening in the world.
One of his most famous arguments is over the extent of population growth. With much talk recently of the concern of ever expanding population, Rolsing’s analysis implies that many have ignored some important facts.
At the global level, a massive demographic shift is happening. Fertility rates around the world have fallen and the number of children has stopped growing. It’s a silent but profound change.
Today almost one in ten people are over 60 years old. By 2050 it will be one in five.
Rosling says that “The most drastic change in demographics the last 40 years is the fall of fertility rate in the world form 5 down to almost 2 births per woman, but in spite of this, world population keeps growing and the main reason is the fill up of adults between 30-75 from the big birth groups the last 30 years at the same time as the number of children has stopped growing.”
In 1960 there were 3 billion people in the world. By 2008 there were 6.7 billion people in the world. By 2050 it’s expected there could be 9 billion people in the world. But at this point Rosling believes the population will stabilise. The reason that population, he believes, doesn’t inexribly rise, is that as healthcare gets better and child mortality falls, people don’t have as many children and therefore there is a kind of self-correcting mechanism which comes into play.
What’s so engaging about Rosling is that he understands the importance of academics and scientists lie not just in the work they do, but in their ability to explain it to others. Even if you disagree with his analysis it’s hard not to welcome a voice that people understand. He adds to the debate in this important area of world development.
In our programme he explains his view of what could happen with the use of polystyrene people and a 3D world map. His obvious fun with his subject isn’t an act – he is a genuinely engaging character and is much the same talking about fertility rates as he was when we went for a Chinese Buffet afterwards.
He is the best example of a man who knows that the power of knowledge and insight comes not just from the analysis itself – but from the ability of others to understand and act on it.