That means that even I, whose right brain dwarfs my left, can understand this man, even though he revels, rolls and burrows in huge piles of numbers, those great heaping mounds of information usually shoveled into the appendices of dreary government reports, where it languishes, unread, unused, unintelligible to all but the left-brained. Not only is that unfortunate, says Rosling, it could be disastrous. Why? Because not reading or misperceiving numbers leaves us ignorant, or, dare I say it, stupid in our assessments of what is happening in the world and why. If we don't look at the data, we miss huge changes says Rosling. Such as? Well, the vast alteration in the social fabric of the world, for example, as demonstrated by his 2006 lecture, "Debunking the Myth of the Third World."
To save us all from data illiteracy, Rosling and his colleagues invented the Trendalyzer in 1998. It's a terrific display engine that allows you to plug in an X-axis and a Y-axis and a bunch of elements with different values and then "play" them over time to see change in the two chosen areas of investigation--say, fertility rate (number of children per woman) and life expectancy. Running the numbers for all the countries of the world from 1950 (or whenever they began keeping good statistics) until 2003, quickly explodes the myth that large families and short lives still define the large swath of countries we once knew as the "Third World." Rosling did just this in 2006 at the TED conference, an annual gathering of thinkers, innovators, inventors and more in Monterey, Calif.
Mostly, Rosling uses his animations to deliver counterintuitive insights and to play the contrarian. He wants us to stop lumping Latin American countries in with African and Asian as the Third or developing world. Instead, he would have us tease out country by country and region by region to discover how different they are and, most of all, why.
For example, he says, "Africa has not done bad. In 50 years they have gone from a pre-medieval situation to a very decent 100-years-ago Europe. I would say that sub-Saharan Africa has done best in the world in the last 50 years because we don't consider where they came from. It's this stupid concept of developing countries." Let the animations pique your curiosity, Rosling suggests, and the journey for explanations will enrich us all. "I have a neighbor who knows 200 types of wine. . . but my neighbor only knows two types of countries, industrialized and developing, and I know 200." His message is that with a deeper understanding of real trends we will discover that "the seemingly impossible is possible." Whatever you do, watch all the way through to the end for proof!