The Joy of Stats

25-May-2011

A World of statistics! The Joy of Stats is a documentary that explores the world of statistics and the power they have in understanding the world around us. In this video, Professor Hans Rosling, who has become a sort of internet sensation for his informative and humorous web lectures, presents the film and opens our eyes to the complex but influential realm of numbers and statistics.

With his ‘magical hands’ he plays with little balls that represent countries and their struggle towards the achievement of a better quality of life (life expectancy + income per capita). We see how countries have developed throughout the years and how singular events, such as the Industrial Revolution or the Spanish Influenza, has changed the world for better or for worse. He goes further to demonstrate how quality of life might differ within the same country and gives the example of China, whose provinces can be either allocated in the “well-off” area of the axis or the underdeveloped one.

The question that remains is: how reliable is it? After all, statistics do not bleed… Well, this might be a good question for your students to answer and debate in the classroom. I can see a lot of options for lesson plans with this particular video. For instance, have a look at the development pattern to see that countries move to the “developed” area together rather than opposing each other on different sides. This might mean that the “win win” idea prevails rather than “you lose, I win”, as in a football game. Do your students agree with that? You might also question the reliability of these numbers and analyse how, for instance, the “logics of happiness” somehow contradict them, i.e., countries whose population, despite being poor, is nonetheless – or at least is what they say – happier than richer ones. Take a look, for example, at the high rate of suicide in Scandinavian countries (Professor Rosling is Swedish by the way). Anyway, I’m just trying to be the Devil’s Advocate here… But, why not get your students to try it too?

Pedro

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