TEDSalon Berlin 2014

Hans and Ola Rosling: How not to be ignorant about the world

Filmed:

How much do you know about the world? Hans Rosling, with his famous charts of global population, health and income data (and an extra-extra-long pointer), demonstrates that you have a high statistical chance of being quite wrong about what you think you know. Play along with his audience quiz — then, from Hans’ son Ola, learn 4 ways to quickly get less ignorant.

- Global health expert; data visionary
In Hans Rosling’s hands, data sings. Global trends in health and economics come to vivid life. And the big picture of global development—with some surprisingly good news—snaps into sharp focus. Full bio

- Director of the Gapminder Foundation
Ola Rosling is the director and co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation. Previously, he was the Google Public Data product manager. Full bio

Hans Rosling: I'm going to ask you
00:12
three multiple choice questions.
00:15
Use this device. Use this device to answer.
00:16
The first question is, how did the number
00:20
of deaths per year
00:22
from natural disaster,
00:24
how did that change during the last century?
00:26
Did it more than double,
00:28
did it remain about the same in the world as a whole,
00:30
or did it decrease to less than half?
00:32
Please answer A, B or C.
00:35
I see lots of answers. This is much
faster than I do it at universities.
00:37
They are so slow. They keep
thinking, thinking, thinking.
00:41
Oh, very, very good.
00:44
And we go to the next question.
00:46
So how long did women 30 years old
00:48
in the world go to school:
00:51
seven years, five years or three years?
00:53
A, B or C? Please answer.
00:55
And we go to the next question.
01:02
In the last 20 years, how did the percentage
01:04
of people in the world
01:08
who live in extreme poverty change?
01:09
Extreme poverty — not having
enough food for the day.
01:12
Did it almost double,
01:14
did it remain more or less the same,
01:16
or did it halve?
01:18
A, B or C?
01:19
Now, answers.
01:23
You see,
01:26
deaths from natural disasters in the world,
01:28
you can see it from this graph here,
01:29
from 1900 to 2000.
01:31
In 1900, there was about half a million people
01:34
who died every year from natural disasters:
01:37
floods, earthquakes, volcanic
eruption, whatever, droughts.
01:39
And then, how did that change?
01:44
Gapminder asked the public in Sweden.
01:47
This is how they answered.
01:51
The Swedish public answered like this:
01:52
Fifty percent thought it had doubled,
01:54
38 percent said it's more or less the same,
01:56
12 said it had halved.
01:58
This is the best data from the disaster researchers,
02:00
and it goes up and down,
02:03
and it goes to the Second World War,
02:06
and after that it starts to fall and it keeps falling
02:08
and it's down to much less than half.
02:12
The world has been much, much more capable
02:14
as the decades go by
02:16
to protect people from this, you know.
02:18
So only 12 percent of the Swedes know this.
02:20
So I went to the zoo and I asked the chimps.
02:23
(Laughter) (Applause)
02:26
The chimps don't watch the evening news,
02:39
so the chimps,
02:43
they choose by random, so the
Swedes answer worse than random.
02:44
Now how did you do?
02:48
That's you.
02:51
You were beaten by the chimps.
02:54
(Laughter)
02:56
But it was close.
02:58
You were three times better than the Swedes,
03:01
but that's not enough.
03:05
You shouldn't compare yourself to Swedes.
03:06
You must have higher ambitions in the world.
03:08
Let's look at the next answer here: women in school.
03:12
Here, you can see men went eight years.
03:15
How long did women go to school?
03:17
Well, we asked the Swedes like this,
03:19
and that gives you a hint, doesn't it?
03:22
The right answer is probably the one
03:24
the fewest Swedes picked, isn't it?
03:26
(Laughter)
03:29
Let's see, let's see. Here we come.
03:31
Yes, yes, yes, women have almost caught up.
03:33
This is the U.S. public.
03:38
And this is you. Here you come.
03:41
Ooh.
03:45
Well, congratulations, you're
twice as good as the Swedes,
03:49
but you don't need me —
03:51
So how come? I think it's like this,
03:53
that everyone is aware that there are countries
03:58
and there are areas
04:01
where girls have great difficulties.
04:02
They are stopped when they go to school,
04:04
and it's disgusting.
04:06
But in the majority of the world,
04:08
where most people in the world live,
04:10
most countries, girls today go to school
04:11
as long as boys, more or less.
04:14
That doesn't mean that gender equity is achieved,
04:17
not at all.
04:19
They still are confined to terrible, terrible limitations,
04:21
but schooling is there in the world today.
04:26
Now, we miss the majority.
04:28
When you answer, you answer
according to the worst places,
04:32
and there you are right, but you miss the majority.
04:35
What about poverty?
04:38
Well, it's very clear that poverty here
04:40
was almost halved,
04:42
and in U.S., when we asked the public,
04:44
only five percent got it right.
04:46
And you?
04:50
Ah, you almost made it to the chimps.
04:53
(Laughter) (Applause)
04:57
That little, just a few of you!
04:59
There must be preconceived ideas, you know.
05:05
And many in the rich countries,
05:08
they think that oh, we can never end extreme poverty.
05:10
Of course they think so,
05:14
because they don't even know what has happened.
05:15
The first thing to think about the future
05:18
is to know about the present.
05:21
These questions were a few of the first ones
05:23
in the pilot phase of the Ignorance Project
05:26
in Gapminder Foundation that we run,
05:29
and it was started, this project, last year
05:32
by my boss, and also my son, Ola Rosling. (Laughter)
05:35
He's cofounder and director,
05:39
and he wanted, Ola told me
05:41
we have to be more systematic
05:43
when we fight devastating ignorance.
05:45
So already the pilots reveal this,
05:47
that so many in the public score worse than random,
05:49
so we have to think about preconceived ideas,
05:52
and one of the main preconceived ideas
05:54
is about world income distribution.
05:57
Look here. This is how it was in 1975.
05:58
It's the number of people on each income,
06:02
from one dollar a day —
06:05
(Applause)
06:08
See, there was one hump here,
06:11
around one dollar a day,
06:13
and then there was one hump here
06:15
somewhere between 10 and 100 dollars.
06:16
The world was two groups.
06:18
It was a camel world, like a camel with two humps,
06:20
the poor ones and the rich ones,
06:24
and there were fewer in between.
06:26
But look how this has changed:
06:27
As I go forward, what has changed,
06:29
the world population has grown,
06:31
and the humps start to merge.
06:33
The lower humps merged with the upper hump,
06:36
and the camel dies and we have a dromedary world
06:38
with one hump only.
06:41
The percent in poverty has decreased.
06:44
Still it's appalling
06:46
that so many remain in extreme poverty.
06:47
We still have this group, almost a billion, over there,
06:50
but that can be ended now.
06:53
The challenge we have now
06:57
is to get away from that,
understand where the majority is,
06:59
and that is very clearly shown in this question.
07:02
We asked, what is the percentage of the world's
07:05
one-year-old children who have got those
07:07
basic vaccines against measles and other things
07:09
that we have had for many years:
07:11
20, 50 or 80 percent?
07:13
Now, this is what the U.S.
public and the Swedish answered.
07:15
Look at the Swedish result:
07:19
you know what the right answer is.
07:20
(Laughter)
07:22
Who the heck is a professor of
global health in that country?
07:26
Well, it's me. It's me.
07:29
(Laughter)
07:31
It's very difficult, this. It's very difficult.
07:33
(Applause)
07:35
However, Ola's approach
07:38
to really measure what we know made headlines,
07:42
and CNN published these results on their web
07:45
and they had the questions there, millions answered,
07:48
and I think there were about 2,000 comments,
07:50
and this was one of the comments.
07:54
"I bet no member of the media
passed the test," he said.
07:56
So Ola told me, "Take these devices.
08:00
You are invited to media conferences.
08:02
Give it to them and measure what the media know."
08:04
And ladies and gentlemen,
08:06
for the first time, the informal results
08:08
from a conference with U.S. media.
08:11
And then, lately, from the European Union media.
08:15
(Laughter)
08:20
You see, the problem is not that people
08:21
don't read and listen to the media.
08:23
The problem is that the
media doesn't know themselves.
08:25
What shall we do about this, Ola?
08:29
Do we have any ideas?
08:31
(Applause)
08:32
Ola Rosling: Yes, I have an idea, but first,
08:44
I'm so sorry that you were beaten by the chimps.
08:47
Fortunately, I will be able to comfort you
08:51
by showing why it was not your fault, actually.
08:54
Then, I will equip you with some tricks
08:58
for beating the chimps in the future.
09:00
That's basically what I will do.
09:02
But first, let's look at why are we so ignorant,
09:05
and it all starts in this place.
09:07
It's Hudiksvall. It's a city in northern Sweden.
09:09
It's a neighborhood where I grew up,
09:13
and it's a neighborhood with a large problem.
09:17
Actually, it has exactly the same problem
09:20
which existed in all the neighborhoods
09:22
where you grew up as well.
09:25
It was not representative. Okay?
09:26
It gave me a very biased view
09:29
of how life is on this planet.
09:32
So this is the first piece of the ignorance puzzle.
09:34
We have a personal bias.
09:37
We have all different experiences
09:38
from communities and people we meet,
09:40
and on top of this, we start school,
09:42
and we add the next problem.
09:45
Well, I like schools,
09:47
but teachers tend to teach outdated worldviews,
09:48
because they learned something
when they went to school,
09:53
and now they describe this world to the students
09:56
without any bad intentions,
09:58
and those books, of course, that are printed
10:00
are outdated in a world that changes.
10:03
And there is really no practice
10:06
to keep the teaching material up to date.
10:07
So that's what we are focusing on.
10:10
So we have these outdated facts
10:12
added on top of our personal bias.
10:14
What happens next is news, okay?
10:17
An excellent journalist knows how to pick
10:19
the story that will make headlines,
10:22
and people will read it because it's sensational.
10:24
Unusual events are more interesting, no?
10:27
And they are exaggerated,
10:30
and especially things we're afraid of.
10:32
A shark attack on a Swedish person
10:36
will get headlines for weeks in Sweden.
10:38
So these three skewed sources of information
10:42
were really hard to get away from.
10:46
They kind of bombard us
10:49
and equip our mind with a lot of strange ideas,
10:50
and on top of it we put the very thing
10:54
that makes us humans, our human intuition.
10:57
It was good in evolution.
11:02
It helped us generalize
11:04
and jump to conclusions very, very fast.
11:06
It helped us exaggerate what we were afraid of,
11:08
and we seek causality where there is none,
11:12
and we then get an illusion of confidence
11:15
where we believe that we are the best car drivers,
11:20
above the average.
11:23
Everybody answered that question,
11:25
"Yeah, I drive cars better."
11:26
Okay, this was good evolutionarily,
11:27
but now when it comes to the worldview,
11:30
it is the exact reason why it's upside down.
11:32
The trends that are increasing are instead falling,
11:34
and the other way around,
11:37
and in this case, the chimps
use our intuition against us,
11:39
and it becomes our weakness instead of our strength.
11:43
It was supposed to be our strength, wasn't it?
11:46
So how do we solve such problems?
11:49
First, we need to measure it,
11:51
and then we need to cure it.
11:53
So by measuring it we can understand
11:54
what is the pattern of ignorance.
11:57
We started the pilot last year,
11:59
and now we're pretty sure that we will encounter
12:01
a lot of ignorance across the whole world,
12:03
and the idea is really to
12:07
scale it up to all domains
12:10
or dimensions of global development,
12:12
such as climate, endangered species, human rights,
12:15
gender equality, energy, finance.
12:19
All different sectors have facts,
12:22
and there are organizations trying to spread
12:25
awareness about these facts.
12:27
So I've started actually contacting some of them,
12:28
like WWF and Amnesty International and UNICEF,
12:32
and asking them, what are your favorite facts
12:36
which you think the public doesn't know?
12:38
Okay, I gather those facts.
12:40
Imagine a long list with, say, 250 facts.
12:42
And then we poll the public
12:45
and see where they score worst.
12:46
So we get a shorter list
12:48
with the terrible results,
12:50
like some few examples from Hans,
12:51
and we have no problem finding these kinds
12:53
of terrible results.
12:55
Okay, this little shortlist, what
are we going to do with it?
12:56
Well, we turn it into a knowledge certificate,
12:59
a global knowledge certificate,
13:03
which you can use, if you're a large organization,
13:05
a school, a university, or maybe a news agency,
13:08
to certify yourself as globally knowledgeable.
13:12
Basically meaning, we don't hire people
13:16
who score like chimpanzees.
13:19
Of course you shouldn't.
13:21
So maybe 10 years from now,
13:23
if this project succeeds,
13:25
you will be sitting in an interview
13:27
having to fill out this crazy global knowledge.
13:30
So now we come to the practical tricks.
13:34
How are you going to succeed?
13:37
There is, of course, one way,
13:39
which is to sit down late nights
13:43
and learn all the facts by heart
13:44
by reading all these reports.
13:47
That will never happen, actually.
13:48
Not even Hans thinks that's going to happen.
13:50
People don't have that time.
13:53
People like shortcuts, and here are the shortcuts.
13:54
We need to turn our intuition into strength again.
13:58
We need to be able to generalize.
14:01
So now I'm going to show you some tricks
14:02
where the misconceptions are turned around
14:04
into rules of thumb.
14:07
Let's start with the first misconception.
14:10
This is very widespread.
14:12
Everything is getting worse.
14:14
You heard it. You thought it yourself.
14:15
The other way to think is, most things improve.
14:19
So you're sitting with a question in front of you
14:22
and you're unsure. You should guess "improve."
14:24
Okay? Don't go for the worse.
14:27
That will help you score better on our tests.
14:30
(Applause)
14:32
That was the first one.
14:34
There are rich and poor
14:38
and the gap is increasing.
14:40
It's a terrible inequality.
14:41
Yeah, it's an unequal world,
14:43
but when you look at the data, it's one hump.
14:45
Okay? If you feel unsure,
14:47
go for "the most people are in the middle."
14:49
That's going to help you get the answer right.
14:52
Now, the next preconceived idea is
14:54
first countries and people need to be very, very rich
14:58
to get the social development
15:01
like girls in school and be ready for natural disasters.
15:04
No, no, no. That's wrong.
15:07
Look: that huge hump in the middle
15:09
already have girls in school.
15:11
So if you are unsure, go for the
15:13
"the majority already have this,"
15:16
like electricity and girls in
school, these kinds of things.
15:17
They're only rules of thumb,
15:20
so of course they don't apply to everything,
15:22
but this is how you can generalize.
15:25
Let's look at the last one.
15:26
If something, yes, this is a good one,
15:28
sharks are dangerous.
15:32
No — well, yes, but they are not so important
15:34
in the global statistics, that is what I'm saying.
15:38
I actually, I'm very afraid of sharks.
15:41
So as soon as I see a question
about things I'm afraid of,
15:44
which might be earthquakes, other religions,
15:46
maybe I'm afraid of terrorists or sharks,
15:49
anything that makes me feel,
15:52
assume you're going to exaggerate the problem.
15:54
That's a rule of thumb.
15:56
Of course there are dangerous
things that are also great.
15:58
Sharks kill very, very few.
That's how you should think.
16:00
With these four rules of thumb,
16:04
you could probably answer better than the chimps,
16:07
because the chimps cannot do this.
16:11
They cannot generalize these kinds of rules.
16:13
And hopefully we can turn your world around
16:15
and we're going to beat the chimps. Okay?
16:19
(Applause)
16:22
That's a systematic approach.
16:31
Now the question, is this important?
16:33
Yeah, it's important to understand poverty,
16:35
extreme poverty and how to fight it,
16:38
and how to bring girls in school.
16:41
When we realize that actually it's
succeeding, we can understand it.
16:43
But is it important for everyone else
16:48
who cares about the rich end of this scale?
16:49
I would say yes, extremely important,
16:52
for the same reason.
16:54
If you have a fact-based worldview of today,
16:55
you might have a chance to understand
16:59
what's coming next in the future.
17:00
We're going back to these two humps in 1975.
17:02
That's when I was born,
17:04
and I selected the West.
17:06
That's the current EU countries and North America.
17:09
Let's now see how the rest and the West compares
17:13
in terms of how rich you are.
17:16
These are the people who can afford
17:18
to fly abroad with an airplane for a vacation.
17:21
In 1975, only 30 percent of them lived
17:24
outside EU and North America.
17:28
But this has changed, okay?
17:30
So first, let's look at the change up till today, 2014.
17:33
Today it's 50/50.
17:38
The Western domination is over, as of today.
17:39
That's nice. So what's going to happen next?
17:43
Do you see the big hump? Did you see how it moved?
17:45
I did a little experiment. I went to the IMF,
International Monetary Fund, website.
17:48
They have a forecast for the next
five years of GDP per capita.
17:54
So I can use that to go five years into the future,
17:58
assuming the income inequality
of each country is the same.
18:01
I did that, but I went even further.
18:05
I used those five years for the next 20 years
18:07
with the same speed, just as an
experiment what might actually happen.
18:10
Let's move into the future.
18:15
In 2020, it's 57 percent in the rest.
18:16
In 2025, 63 percent.
18:22
2030, 68. And in 2035, the West is
outnumbered in the rich consumer market.
18:25
These are just projections of
GDP per capita into the future.
18:34
Seventy-three percent of the rich consumers
18:37
are going to live outside North America and Europe.
18:40
So yes, I think it's a good idea for
a company to use this certificate
18:43
to make sure to make fact-
based decisions in the future.
18:47
Thank you very much.
18:51
(Applause)
18:52
Bruno Giussani: Hans and Ola Rosling!
19:00

▲Back to top

About the Speakers:

Hans Rosling - Global health expert; data visionary
In Hans Rosling’s hands, data sings. Global trends in health and economics come to vivid life. And the big picture of global development—with some surprisingly good news—snaps into sharp focus.

Why you should listen

Even the most worldly and well-traveled among us will have their perspectives shifted by Hans Rosling. A professor of global health at Sweden's Karolinska Institute, his current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world, which (he points out) is no longer worlds away from the West. In fact, most of the Third World is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the west did.

What sets Rosling apart isn't just his apt observations of broad social and economic trends, but the stunning way he presents them. Guaranteed: You've never seen data presented like this. By any logic, a presentation that tracks global health and poverty trends should be, in a word: boring. But in Rosling's hands, data sings. Trends come to life. And the big picture — usually hazy at best — snaps into sharp focus.

Rosling's presentations are grounded in solid statistics (often drawn from United Nations data), illustrated by the visualization software he developed. The animations transform development statistics into moving bubbles and flowing curves that make global trends clear, intuitive and even playful. During his legendary presentations, Rosling takes this one step farther, narrating the animations with a sportscaster's flair.

Rosling developed the breakthrough software behind his visualizations through his nonprofit Gapminder, founded with his son and daughter-in-law. The free software — which can be loaded with any data — was purchased by Google in March 2007. (Rosling met the Google founders at TED.)

Rosling began his wide-ranging career as a physician, spending many years in rural Africa tracking a rare paralytic disease (which he named konzo) and discovering its cause: hunger and badly processed cassava. He co-founded Médecins sans Frontièrs (Doctors without Borders) Sweden, wrote a textbook on global health, and as a professor at the Karolinska Institut in Stockholm initiated key international research collaborations. He's also personally argued with many heads of state, including Fidel Castro.

As if all this weren't enough, the irrepressible Rosling is also an accomplished sword-swallower — a skill he demonstrated at TED2007.


More profile about the speaker
Hans Rosling | Speaker | TED.com
Ola Rosling - Director of the Gapminder Foundation
Ola Rosling is the director and co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation. Previously, he was the Google Public Data product manager.

Why you should listen
To fight devastating ignorance, we have to be more systematic about spreading facts that matter. In this talk with Hans Rosling, Ola teaches 4 ways to quickly learn more about the world of facts.
More profile about the speaker
Ola Rosling | Speaker | TED.com