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The Power of Data Visualization in Four Minutes

Want to understand the power of data visualization? Watch this video from Professor Hans Rosling, a professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, and founder of (a nonprofit foundation focused on promoting sustainable global development and achieving the initiatives of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals).

In just four minutes, Rosling tells 200 years of history for 200 countries. He accomplishes this fascinating journey through time by plotting life expectancy against income for every country since 1810 in life-sized graphs created with now Google-owned Trendalyzer software.

This four-minute video is from Rosling’s hour-long documentary “The Joy of Stats,” which pulls in 120,000 numbers to give a visualization of how most countries began in the “poor and sick” side of the scale. Just like a game recap on ESPN, Rosling gives the play-by-play of how historic events and science affected the rise and fall of countries over time.

While this may seem to be just a cool video, there’s a deeper story here – data visualization gives us a more concrete understanding of the world in which we live.

And, more than a few people took notice of this phenomenon – 3,124,762 of them at the time of this writing. This phenomenon is what Rosling elaborates on his hour-long documentary. He claims, “without statistics we are cast adrift on an ocean of confusion, but armed with stats we can take control of our live, hold out our rulers and see the world as it really is.”

Data Visualization – Generating Worldly Debates
One of the more interesting parts of this YouTube sensation is the commentary on the validity of the data and how it is measured. Rosling presents an optimistic view of development through scientific advancements and more widely available resources, while critics in the comments contest his data sources, measurement and the future predictions. It’s an interesting read.

Could Data Visualization Change the Scientific Method?
Rosling, who discovered a paralytic disease in rural Africa that stems from extreme malnutrition, also theorizes that we have so much data available in real-time that the scientific method is changing.

We’ll leave the validity of the scientific method debate to the scientists, but what we do understand is that data visualization is a key to unlocking stories and presenting information to the masses in an easy-to-digest format. And, if experts such as Rosling can bring new light to how we can aid developing countries and better mankind through data, the power of visualization just became worldly.

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Amanda Brandon
Spotfire Blogging Team

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