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Chimpanzees smarter than undergraduates and college professors?

March 27, 2009 - 0 Comments

As part of our policy work, I regularly share with governments statistics, studies and other research that help to bring across the need to effect change in a country. Quite accidentally, I recently came across these two video clips featuring presentations by Dr Hans Rosling that blew my mind away about how such data can be presented. In the video, Dr Rosling compared and contrasted national statistics of different countries in a graphical and animated way which I thought brought across his points very well and was most effective in busting some of the commonly held myths about developing countries.Clip 1Clip 2Particularly relevant to our work is the last set of statistics that he showed on Internet penetration in Clip 1 (about 18 minutes into the 20-min clip). His graph showed a correlation between Internet penetration and GDP, and the steady growth of Internet penetration trending towards the flattening of differences between the developed and developing countries. He presented it quite briefly, but you get the idea of how this can be used to draw other conclusions from data presented this way.Why do I raise this?Governments today, particularly some of the emerging developing economies, are getting much more conscious about how they compare in various indicators with their peers and against the leading economies. This is a positive development as countries can see for themselves on an objective basis, how they may be making progress or falling behind, and realize the need to do more to catch up or to adjust their strategies to cope with changing trends. One such significant report was just released, the World Economic Forum’s Global IT Report 2008-2009 . This year’s report shows Nordic countries holding 5 of the top 10 positions, with the US (3rd), Singapore (4th), Switzerland (5th) and Canada (10th) taking the rest of the top accolades. It also shows China making the most significant improvement in ranking of 7 places, along with Taiwan, Vietnam and Japan moving up; but it also shows a number of Asian economies sliding behind, including Indonesia, Thailand, India, Philippines, Malaysia, South Korea and Hong Kong.When discussing such studies and the inevitable ups and downs of rankings, there is often some push back from skeptical officials who argue that the data is not accurate, not the most current, or they challenge the way the data is measured, calculated or collated. The point of such a comparison exercise though is more about the trends, and not necessarily about the absolute value of an indicator. For example, rather than debating about whether penetration is 60% or 70%, it is just as important to see how fast (or slow) the penetration rate has grown over the years, and how that growth compares with other countries measured on the same basis. Certainly, presenting such information through dry statistics and tables do not easily hold the attention of decision makers. This is where Dr Rosling’s way of presentation can make a big difference. Not only does it show how statistics can come alive to a lay person, it also visually brings across the point about the trends over time for all to see, thus conveying a perspective to governments and policy makers that they may not necessarily see before. Dr Rosling also makes a good point about the need to make publicly funded data available for research. With the right analytical tools, we can use the data to show the impact of certain policy choices over time. While causality may be hard to prove in such instances, evidence of a strong correlation can offer additional empirical support of the right policies governments should adopt in developing their ICT industry and national economies.Observe some of the points that Dr Rosling makes through his animated data:- Effect of opening trade and removing of trade barriers (9:30 min into Clip 1)- China’s initial focus on raising health standards under one leader, and then raising economic standards under a subsequent leader (11:30 into Clip 1; 3:45 into Clip 2)- Comparing South Korea and Brazil which started out with similar environments in the 1960s but accelerated at different speeds with different focus on health versus wealth (12:10 into Clip 1)- Wide diversity within Africa (13:00 into clip 1)- Asian, Arabic and LatAm countries today are more ahead in social (health, education, human resources) than in economic areas (5:00 into Clip 2)- Rapid rate of change in Japan compared with United States and Sweden (6:30 into Clip 2)- CO2 emission trends (9:00 into Clip 2)Find out more of Dr Rosling’s work here. Perhaps one of these days in the not too distant future, someone will pull out the results of the WEF reports and present fresh new perspectives with tools similar to what Dr Rosling is using.If you are still wondering about the relevance of the subject heading of this post, clearly you haven’t watched the clips!

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