Hans Rosling Had a Way of Showing the Meaning In Data. We’ll Miss Him.
An affectionate sendoff for popular beloved global-health statistician Hans Rosling.
The world is going to miss Hans Rosling, the preternaturally entertaining Swedish statistician who died in February 2017. The man had a brilliant way of bringing dry statistics down to our level and helping us see the meaning behind them. He taught global health at Karolinska Institutet in Solna, Sweden, and gave a series of memorable TED talks.
Rosling was also one of the founders of Gapminder, an incredible “fact-tank” — as opposed to “think tank” — whose mission is supplanting the wealth of disinformation floating around out there with actual, data-backed facts. It’s eye-opening and a ton of fun if you like knowing things. Much like Rosling himself.
As a tribute to Rosling, here are some of the big truths he told in data.
1) The entire world is moving towards health and wealth.
Watch this. It shows how overall, though plenty of troubling disparities remain, the world has moved toward health and wealth in the last 200 years. And it’s a great example of how Rosling makes statistics so much fun and easy to understand.
2) There’s a connection between child survival rates and a strong economy.
Survival rates and a strong economy go hand-in-hand, though, as Rosling says, “It seems you can move much faster if you’re healthy first than if you’re wealthy first.” He notes that a decrease in Asian family size was followed by the area’s economic boom, and asserts further that wealth without an investment in health apparently can’t even last.
3) Family planning never happens until there’s a reasonable expectation that each child will survive.
Historically, it’s always required certainty that one’s children will survive before parents feel confident enough to stop having “spares.” Couples can only stop at their desired family size when there’s a reasonable expectation everyone is here to stay. Rosling shows how this has worked in the past, in his explanation of why the world population is pretty guaranteed to hit 11 billion and stay there for a while.
4) There’s a connection between poverty, survival rates, and family size.
Families grow in size when their children are likely to die in poverty. The reason? Couples feel the need to have a lot of kids just to ensure they have a family.
5) As a result of ongoing poverty, the population of Africa is expanding brutally.
While Asia’s population is leveling out as health increases and economies there thrive, the situation in Africa remains precarious. Ongoing poverty resulting from a range of factors keeps communities poor, child survival rates low, and families large.
6) International aid is the most practical way to control world population and promote well-being, and we’re making progress.
When international aid helps ensure that more kids survive, families eventually shrink in size, and economies expand, as the data shows over and over again. And there’s good news.
What do we see from watching birds move across the country?
- A total of eight billion birds migrate across the U.S. in the fall.
- The birds who migrate to the tropics fair better than the birds who winter in the U.S.
- Conservationists can arguably use these numbers to encourage the development of better habitats in the U.S., especially if temperatures begin to vary in the south.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
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