Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Hans Rosling's Powerful Message: A Fact-Based Worldview

Hans Rosling was an incredible data scientist; a storyteller that brought data to the people.

His project, Gapminder, announced his tragic passing on February 7, 2017. I urge readers to consider donating to their cause.

Last night I watched one of his most famous Ted Talks, a stirring presentation on the power of data.

If you have 20 minutes. Prepare to sit back and have your worldview challenged. For just a minute and 25 seconds of your life, watch the short clip above.

Data and facts have always been important to acting with compassion in a cold-hearted world. I love watching him enthusiastically argue that more and better data can result in a better world with better outcomes. His was the conviction of someone who worked hard to discern the truth and present that truth to the public openly.

Watching his presentation, I found myself moved by what was obviously years of hard work and analysis. At the end of the Ted Talk, he implores the data community to make their data available and share their insights with the world.

There is a large and growing community of avid data scientists out there. Tools such as Gapminder, D3.js, and (of course) Tableau Public allow people to find and share insights. Data literacy is an essential skill that more people are learning to develop. The rise of infographics and potent data journalism deliver stories in a few words and helpful graphics.

At its core, data visualization and literacy are just another form of communication. And I was struck by the simplicity with which Hans Rosling was able to make data come alive with just a scatterplot and an area chart.

It reminded me that we are often stuck pursuing the shiny new thing--artificial intelligence, natural language processing, automated analysis--but often fail to pause and simply put in the hard work of analyzing what is already before us. And finally, that we forget to share those insights with the world.

The data Hans shows is freely available. The visualizations are simple and common. There is still a ton of insight to be found in everyday data if we only roll up our sleeves and make the time to find the nuances.

Good data science is objective in its collection and analysis, deeply passionate and meaningful in its application, never reversed.