A Tribute to Hans Rosling

Charlie Van Norman
2 min readNov 17, 2022

In 2007, a Swedish statistician gave a TED talk titled, “The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen” — it changed my life and how I view the world.

In our everyday news headlines we see horrible things. School shootings, mass murders from oppressive governments, countries invading one another, bombs being dropped for corporate profits .. the list goes on. We humans have a laundry list of baises that affect how we interact with the world (A topic for another day), and one of these is called Negativity Bias, which is why we pay more attention to bad news headlines (and why they sell more than good news headlines.)

The short version is that we’re programmed in our DNA to worry about potential threats (watch out for the potential lion in that bush!) because false positives (there was no lion) are not dangerous, whereas false negatives (What lion? Oops, now you’re lion food) are disastrous.

What Hans Rosling did was take the stats over a 200 year time period for every country in the world across a host of metrics, including infant mortality, literacy, crime, longevity, and wealth, and showed that *every single country on earth* is improving over a long timespan.

No matter your view on humanity, you cannot deny the statistics. Even if you take the stance that humans are irreparably evil, self serving, incompetent, or whatever (which might be true in many cases), on the whole, our world is improving despite any of these negative traits.

In other words, no matter how much evil humans do, the result of summing all human activity together is a net positive.

An advanced alien civilization watching Earth over any amount of time would see that we are indeed improving, and this trajectory is fairly consistent. Barring any existential event (such as a thermonuclear war), we should be set to continue improving and rising up.

So the next time you see headlines like Chinese government raping and killing Uygher people, United States interferes with nations worldwide for profit, Russia invades Ukraine bringing us to the brink of a new World War, I hope you will be able to take at least a little bit of solace that overall we are still improving. This is not to diminish the facts of our harsh reality today. Certainly, I have friends in Ukraine who are directly and enormously affected by the war, and this is causing me a great deal of stress even as an outsider.

These extremely negative events are real and powerful, no doubt about it. They’ll continue to keep me up at night, and I’ll continue to work as well as I can towards a better future. BUT, given these continuous negative events worldwide, it doesn’t mean the entire world is spiraling down the drain — and this is the magic of what Hans Rosling showed. Give us time, and we’ll continue to improve.

--

--