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The Joy of Statistics

Earlier today the BBC broadcast an hour-long documentary on data mashups and visualisations called The Joy of Stats. It is a fascinating exploration into the power of statistics to change our understanding of the world.

The  programme was presented by Hans Rosling, Professor of International  Health at Karolinska Institute and Director of the Gapminder Foundation.  Rosling’s came to worldwide attention with a seminal TED talk in which he used a tool called Gapminder to debunks myths about the so-called “developing world.” Through this  tool he visualised huge quantities of public data to reveal the  story of the world’s past, present and future development.

The  clip below highlights some of the beautiful computer generated graphics  used to demonstrate the importance of data and data visualization.  Rosling tells  the story of the world in 200 countries over 200 years using 120,000  numbers – in just four minutes. He plots life expectancy against income  for every country since 1810, and shows how the world we live in is  radically different from what most of us imagine.

The film also explores cutting-edge examples of statistics in action  today. In one such scenario the city of San Francisco has created a new app that mashes up police department data with  the city’s street map to show what crime is being reported street by  street, house by house, in near real-time. The application is freely  available to all citizens and reveals stark hidden patterns in crime  activity.

The BBC exclaims the message of the film as “without statistics we are cast adrift on an ocean of  confusion, but armed with stats we can take control of our lives, hold  our rulers to account and see the world as it really is”.

The conclusion is that the increasing speed at which we can collect and analyse huge quantities of  data is changing our scientific methods and bringing about new areas of exploration previously not possible with traditional analytical tools.

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