To understand the world we numbers, and lots of them. Yet read a newspaper or website and try to find a story which provides even a hint of quantitative understanding. Your search will not bear much fruit. One of the reasons is the lack of statistical literacy, which as Steven Pinker has pointed out is a probable reason why many think things which are now worse than they were when they are in fact demonstrably better. Statistics can often show our beliefs are fundamentally wrong. Is crime going up and down? Well, the easy way to find this out is to get some data and see how crime rates have changed over time. Easy to do, but ask how often pronouncements are made in public without even a consideration of confronting the claims with data.
Which takes me to the purpose of this post: Gapminder. To get a flavour for how useful the site is watch this video of its founder Hans Rosling showing the incredible improvements in life expectancy over the last 200 years:
A few of my favourites from the site: the relationship between infant mortality and birth rate and the decline of both, the relationship between urbanisation and life expectancy, the relationship between energy use and per capita CO2 emissions (and the huge global disparities) .
And perhaps you may want to check if David Attenbourgh’s remarks about Ethiopia were correct – “Too many people there. They can’t support themselves — and it’s not an inhuman thing to say. It’s the case.” – well Gapminder is a good place to start.