Gapminder Foundation – the beauty of statistics

The Gapminder Foundation was founded back in 2005 by Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Hans Rosling in Stockholm as a “non-profit venture – a modern ‘museum’ on the Internet – promoting sustainable global development and achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.”

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Its main project is Gapminder World – Wealth and Health of Nations that is based on an extensive UN database including over 430 indicators that cover unemployment, economic growth, natural disasters and many more. The example below illustrates Gapminder World with life expectancy and income (per capita) over the period 1950 to 2006 (latest version includes projection up to 2050).

The Dollar Street is another great feature. All people are assumed to live on this street where the poorest live to the left and the richest to the right (similar to a Hotteling linear version model). Selecting different parts of the street gives photo-panoramas from typical households at different income levels.

Don’t forget to check out Gapminder Labs for more.


Human errors and the monkey economy

Laurie Santos (Yale) examines the roots of human irrationality by having a closer look on how other primates behave. Her research examines monkeys under the light of prospect theory and risk aversion, and as it turns out both species seem to follow similar behavioral patterns.

Santos argues on a systematic tendency for certain types of mistakes-Laurie Santos: A monkey economy as irrational as ours.

Changing perspectives

A very enjoyable three-minute video with Derek Sivers about the implicit subconscious assumptions we make every day and changing perspectives.

He provides examples from Japan where the streets have no names, Chinese doctors that get paid only when you are healthy and counting music the west African way (i.e., 2,3,4,1).

On Japan topography –

[in Japan] they say, Well, streets don’t have names. Blocks have names. Just look at Google Maps here. There’s Block 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19. All of these blocks have names, and the streets are just the unnamed spaces in between the blocks.

Chinese doctors –

…sometimes we need to go to the opposite side of the world to realize assumptions we didn’t even know we had, and realize that the opposite of them may also be true. So, for example, there are doctors in China who believe that it’s their job to keep you healthy. So, any month you are healthy you pay them, and when you’re sick you don’t have to pay them because they failed at their job. They get rich when you’re healthy, not sick.

West African music –

In most music, we think of the ‘one’ as the downbeat, the beginning of the musical phrase: one, two, three, four. But in West African music, the ‘one’ is thought of as the end of the phrase, like the period at the end of a sentence. So, you can hear it not just in the phrasing, but the way they count off their music: two, three, four, one.

Confronting stereotypes

Binyavanga Wainaina is a Kenyan writer and founding editor of the literary journal Kwani? in Kenya. A couple of years ago one of his articles appeared in Granta and since then it continues to inspire and provoke the literary world.

The article was titled How Not to Write About Africa where he confronts outdated and dangerous Western stereotypes of African-ess.

After celebrity activists and aid workers, conservationists are Africa’s most important people. Do not offend them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or ‘conservation area’, and this is the only way you will get to interview the celebrity activist. Often a book cover with a heroic-looking conservationist on it works magic for sales. Anybody white, tanned and wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a conservationist, one who is preserving Africa’s rich heritage. When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do not ask how much money they make off their game. Never ask how much they pay their employees.

Thought provoking, inspirational and humbling.

The fact of the matter is that many writers tend to use clichés when writing on cultures they are least used to. Not bothering to make the distinction between one headgear and another, between one type of dance and the next.

Not willing to take the time and put the effort for such distinctions results in just bad writing, and this holds not only when writing for different cultures but genders too.