Hans Rosling and Gapminder: Unraveling the Joy of Stats!

Hans Rosling: Information Wizard

If you thought Al Gore was a data-happy geek, you should see Hans Rosling in action.

The Swedish medical researcher has a way with numbers. He brings heavy and dreary statistics into life using a combination of animated graphics and equally animated presentations. With the drama and urgency of a sportscaster, he uses a new presentation tool called Gapminder to debunk various myths about world – economic development, disparities and how well (or poorly) we share our planet’s resources.

Hans Rosling is Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institutet (which awards the Nobel Prize in medicine), but it’s his other role – as Director of the Gapminder Foundation – that he plays ‘statistics guru’ to the whole world. If you’re perplexed by lots of numbers, he’s the man who can make sense of it all.

In some ways, Rosling and Gapminder present in live action – and on video – what the Atlas of the Real World attempted to do in 2D maps: show the world as it is, with little or no distortion or misconceptions. That effort, published in late 2008, uses software to depict the nations of the world, not by their physical size, but by their demographic importance on a range of subjects.

I’ve watched a number of Rosling talks on video online. He makes no attempt to conceal his Scandinavian accent, and his English grammar is not always perfect. But it doesn’t matter: the guy has such mastery over his ideas and statistics, and a great stage presence too. He’s profound and funny at the same time, without being condescending that most experts and especially professors are.

Here’s an example of Rosling at his best: recorded in February 2006 in Monterrey, California:

No more boring data: TEDTalks

Rosling’s quest to use numbers to shatter stereotypes of rich and poor countries has brought him global prominence. He was one of the world’s “100 most important global thinkers” of 2009, according to Foreign Policy Magazine.

Look, no magic here!

Rosling was honored at #96 on the list for “boggling our minds with paradigm-shattering data“. The list is topped by (1) Ben Bernanke, the chairman of US Federal Reserve for his actions to turn the US depression and (2) President Barack Obama for “for reimagining America’s role in the world.”

Foreign Policy noted: “Rosling is well known for his energetic lectures, in which he narrates mind-blowing statistics on development and public health — as they literally move across a screen. Imagine x-y axes filled with data points, each representing a country. As time passes, the dots move, realigning to show changes in child mortality, percentage of paved roads, unemployment rates, or pretty much any other metric you can imagine.”

Here are some more examples of Rosling magic:

200 years that changed the world (with Hans Rosling)

For the first time, Gapminder can now visualize change in life expectancy and income per person over the last two centuries. In this Gapminder video, Hans Rosling shows you how all the countries of the world have developed since 1809 – 200 years ago.

Hans Rosling on HIV: New facts and stunning data visuals

Hans Rosling unveils new data visuals that untangle the complex risk factors of one of the world’s deadliest (and most misunderstood) diseases: HIV. He argues that preventing transmissions — not drug treatments — is the key to ending the epidemic.

Hans Rosling: Asia’s rise — how and when

This is one of the funniest Rosling talks I’ve watched online so far. Speaking at TEDIndia in November 2009, Rosling recalled how he was a young guest student in India when he first realized that Asia had all the capacities to reclaim its place as the world’s dominant economic force. He graphs global economic growth since 1858 and predicts the exact date that India and China will outstrip the US.

Note:
Rosling and Gapminder developed the Trendalyzer software that converts international statistics into moving, interactive and enjoyable graphics. The aim is to promote a fact-based world view through increased use and understanding of freely accessible public statistics. His lectures using Gapminder graphics to visualise world development have won awards by being humorous yet deadly serious. The interactive animations are freely available from the Foundation’s website. In March 2007 Google acquired the Trendalyzer software with the intention to scale it up and make it freely available for public statistics. Google has since made available as Motion Chart, a Google Gadget.

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Untold story behind the story: “Barack Obama: People’s President”

A film to reveal what the old media didn't show...

A film to reveal what the old media didn't show...

When Barack Obama and his running made Joe Biden won the US Presidential Election held on 4 November 2008, they not only beat the Republican duo McCain-Palin but also a host of other also-rans. It’s too soon to tell, but that date might also mark the beginning of the end for the old media, also called the mediasaurus, who have been dominating the public’s access to news, information and commentary for over a century.

But how did it all happen? Who can tell us the real story as it happened, and why, without filters and biases so rampant among the mediasaurus?

On this blog, we have watched with deep interest and some fascination the rise of Barack Obama from relative obscurity to become the President of the United States. On 6 November 2008, soon after the election results were confirmed, we noted how Obama had just been elected ‘President of the New Media world’. I explained: “Obama’s rise has epitomised change in many ways. Among other things, he is the first elected leader of a major democracy who shows understanding and mastery over the New Media World, which is radically different from the old media order.”

On 20 January 2009, when he was inaugurated, we wrote: “For four or eight years, Obama’s every move, word and gesture will be captured, dissected and debated to exhaustion by admirers and detractors alike. And his administration will be under scrutiny by thousands of citizen journalists who don’t share much except the digital platforms and social networks on which they post their impressions. Welcome to the New Media Presidency. The hard work – and real fun – begin now!”

And now, one of the world’s leading new media activists, Danny Schechter, is about to release a new documentary on how the Obama campaign rode the new media wave to the White House — and more importantly, how the same new media can help the American public to keep Obama Administration accountable.

The film “Barack Obama, People’s President”, (slated for DVD release later this month by ChoiceMedia.net), documents the online and on the ground techniques that were used to win the highest office in the land.

As the film’s advance promo blurb says: The one story that most TV outlets didn’t tell in the 2008 election was the most important one -how did a young and relatively unknown candidate become President? If you voted for Barack Obama or not, this is a story you will want to know because it shows how the face of presidential politics changed forever. Barack Obama used techniques never seen before in a nationwide election — his grassroots mobilization and use of the internet was unprecedented, inspiring and effective. You have seen the rest of the coverage — now see the real story.

The film goes inside the official and unofficial campaign to show how Barack Obama was turned into a political brand to appeal to young first time voters. It shows how social networking on the internet — blogs, Facebook, texting and other techniques — were used carry the message to the masses and to raise tens of millions of dollars for the campaign. Popular online videos such as “Obama Girl”, along with those created by regular yet passionate supporters to engage their own communities, became one of the most important tools in the campaign’s success.

Watch the trailer of “Barack Obama, People’s President” directed by Danny Schechter:

Emmy award winning film-maker Danny Schechter, who is also blogger-in-chief at MediaChannel.org that keeps a critical eye on the media, just wrote this explaining why he made this film:

“It is hard to remember that two years earlier Obama was barely known, registering on the radar screen for just 10% of voters. He was also hardly a brand name as a first term Senator who spent more time in state politics in Illinois than on the national stage. Moreover, he was young and a man of color — not qualities that usually prevail in a presidential arena which tends to draw far older, far whiter, and far more centrist candidates. The thought that he would beat frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the primaries was, quite frankly, unthinkable to most of the elite.

“And yet he prevailed, as he used a phrase appropriated from labor organizer and Latino legend Caesar Chavez. Obama turned the farm workers Spanish language slogan “Si Se Puede” into “Yes We Can.” Rather than focus on specific political issues, he built a campaign on the promise of “Hope.” Rather than just rely on traditional fundraising — although by the end, he was plush with it — he reached out over the internet for smaller donations from millions of donors.

Perils of the New Media Generation...

Perils of the New Media Generation...

“Few in the major media gave him a chance, but he was not discouraged because he had created his own grassroots media operation using sophisticated organizing and social networking techniques to build a bottom-up movement, not the usual top-down apparatus. While his campaign ran the show, he encouraged independent initiatives including citizen-generated media, music videos, personalized websites, twittering and texting, etc..

“This is the new direction our politics has taken. It is a story that may be somewhat threatening to old media – and older activists – who prefer a one to many approach to communication, as opposed to forging a more interactive empowering platform. There is no question that young people — especially those mobilized by Obama — prefer online media and that choice is making it harder and harder for traditional outlets to sustain their influence and, in some cases, even their organizations. Old media may be on the way out.

“This is why our film is, in my mind, so important, not just as a record of how Obama won and what happened in 2008, but in what will happen, can happen, and is happening in the future. This is why I believe its critical for Americans to see it — and others in the world as well — to recognize how Obama represents more than just another politician, but a whole new approach to politics. That old adage is worth remembering: “It’s not the ship that makes the wave, it’s the motion of the ocean.”

“Obama, for all his shortcomings, which are becoming more obvious by the day, has pioneered the way change must be won — not by people on the top, but by all of us. It remains for “us” to hold him accountable. We live in a culture of amnesia – it is important to learn the lessons of the recent past.”

Read the full comment: New Film Tells Unreported Story of Obama’s Election on MediaChannel.org

Barack Obama: President of the New Media World – and watch out for those citizen journalists!

His own brand...

His own brand...

Inauguration Day is finally here! Today, 20 January 2009, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.

Obama campaigned – and won – on the core promise of change. And even before he moved into the White House, he achieved many firsts. Among them was being the first American leader to understand the power of new media and to use it effectively to harness both campaign contributions and, eventually, votes.

On 6 November 2008, soon after the election results were confirmed, we noted how Obama had just been elected ‘President of the New Media world’. I explained: “Obama’s rise has epitomised change in many ways. Among other things, he is the first elected leader of a major democracy who shows understanding and mastery over the New Media World, which is radically different from the old media order.”

Of course, others had different takes on the same outcome. One of the funniest was by The Onion, which proclaimed: Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job.’ It read, in part: “African-American man Barack Obama, 47, was given the least-desirable job in the entire country Tuesday when he was elected president of the United States of America. In his new high-stress, low-reward position, Obama will be charged with such tasks as completely overhauling the nation’s broken-down economy, repairing the crumbling infrastructure, and generally having to please more than 300 million Americans and cater to their every whim on a daily basis.”

The sheer magnitude of Obama’s challenges has become clearer in the weeks following the historic election. While the economy will certainly dominate his agenda, he will also have to live up to the many expectations of hope that his campaign sparked off in hundreds of millions of people — and not just in the United States.

How will the ‘President of the New Media world’ remain engaged with the millions of conversations taking place 24/7 on the web and through mobile devices? Is this realistically possible given his roles as the chief executive of beleaguered America, Inc., and commander-in-chief of the world’s only superpower?

Already, there is much interest whether security concerns and legal requirements will allow Obama to keep using his BlackBerry, to which he admits being addicted. “I’m still clinging to my BlackBerry,” Obama said only a few days ago in an interview with The New York Times. “They’re going to pry it out of my hands.”

The new face of Hope

The new face of Hope

More to the point, how long will the mainstream media’s honeymoon with the new President last? And how will citizen journalists, many of who cheerled Obama in his long and arduous campaign, now relate to their man in Washington DC? Can the Obama Administration strike deals with citizen journalists as every administration has done with the mainstream media over the decades? Outside the strict security cocoon of the White House, will this presidency ever be able to have any moments ‘off the record’ with every digitally connected person being a potential citizen journalist?

Remember how his comments about “bitter” small-town Americans clinging to their guns and religion — uttered at a ticket-only and supposedly no-media San Francisco fund-raiser during the campaign — came to be publicised? And that, too, by a pro-Obama blogger writing on the openly pro-Democratic blogger site Huffington Post!

Then there’s the power of moving images moving around online as broadband rolls out across the planet, and speeds improve to support real time video-watching. The day Americans went to the polls to elect Obama, we recalled the hugely popular Obama Girl (‘I got a crush on Obama’) – an internet viral video, first posted on YouTube in June 2007 – and asked Can this little video change history? We had our answer within 24 hours.

While Obama Girl was a well-edited, slick campaign-boosting video released online, the thousands of citizen-filmed videos being posted online are not. And yet, in that no-frills mode, some bring out public interest concerns that have implications for public policy debates and/or law enforcement.

A current example is the sad case of Oscar Grant, a young, unarmed black man who was fatally shot by police officers while laying face-down on a BART subway platform in Oakland, California, on 31 December 2008. Several citizens filmed the incident on their mobile phones. Three separate videos, circulating online at a rapid pace, show various angles and stages of the incident. See one of them here. These have already put the spotlight on police conduct and may influence the judicial process.

President Obama arrives at the White House to lead the executive of a nation that is unlike any his predecessors faced. His inauguration will be the most digitised, but that’s only the beginning. For four or eight years, Obama’s every move, word and gesture will be captured, dissected and debated to exhaustion by admirers and detractors alike. And his administration will be under scrutiny by thousands of citizen journalists who don’t share much except the digital platforms and social networks on which they post their impressions.

Welcome to the New Media Presidency. The hard work – and real fun – begin now!

Watch this cyberspace…

Barack Obama: Just elected President of the New Media world

President Obama and the call at 3 am...

President Obama and the call at 3 am...


“Congratulations for restoring sanity and intelligence to Washington…and giving the world its first President. Real hard work begins now. Look after him!”

This was my brief message to American friends soon after they elected Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America.

It was entirely appropriate that I sent this message via mobile phone text (SMS). For Obama’s trail-blazing campaign to the White House used the new media innovatively while also using the old media (such as broadcast television) in a complementary manner.

Obama’s rise has epitomised change in many ways. Among other things, he is the first elected leader of a major democracy who shows understanding and mastery over the New Media World, which is radically different from the old media order.

As AFP reported in a story titled ‘Obama surfs the web to the White House‘: “Social networks and Twitter messages may have helped but analysts agree it was the Democrat’s impressive online organization and Internet fund-raising that fueled his victory over Republican John McCain in Tuesday’s election.”

It quoted Julie Germany, director of George Washington University’s Institute for Politics Democracy & the Internet, as saying: “No one’s going to say Obama won the election because of the Internet but he wouldn’t have been able to win without it. From the very beginning the Obama campaign used the Internet as a tool to organize all of its efforts online and offline. It was like the central nervous system of the campaign.”

Both Obama and McCain campaigns had slick websites and TV campaigns. But additionally, Obama inspired thousands of web-savvy volunteers to extend his message way beyond the official outreach. Doing so risked diluting the campaign or losing tight control, but that gamble paid off.

Al Gore, US vice president from 1992 to 2000, also understood the potential of new media, especially the transformative nature of the Internet. But at the time he was in office, the new media tools were not being used by sufficiently large numbers of people for it to make a difference in political campaigning or citizen engagement.

Both the timing and technologies favoured Obama, who successfully tapped into Digital Natives — those relatively younger people who have grown up with digital technology such as computers, the Internet, mobile phones and MP3. (In contrast, Digital Immigrants are those individual who grew up without digital technology and adopted it later.)

But as many commentators are pointing out, the real fight has just begun. It remains to be seen how Obama and his team use New Media tools, platforms and potential to deliver the promise of change.

Meanwhile, my own favourite cartoon of Obama election is the one above – and funnily enough, it concerns a piece of old technology: the good old fixed phone. If you recall, in long-drawn campaign for Obama to secure Democratic Party nomination, his rival Hillary Clinton ran this TV commercial which peddled her credentials for being familiar with the corridors of power.

It’s 3 AM and your children are safe and asleep. But there’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing.
Something’s happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call…


Hillary’s original ad:

Obama’s official response:

There were various unofficial spoofs created by Digital Natives who love to play with new media tools. Just run a search for ‘3 am’ or ‘red phone’ on YouTube and you can watch many of these online!

By the way, isn’t it time that the old-fashioned Red Phone in the White House – the American President’s Hotline to save the world – was replaced with a more modern looking instrument? One more thing for the New Media President Obama…

Obama Girl: Can this little video change history?

Is this the face that launches a revolution?

Is this the face that launches a revolution?

November 4 is already here in Asia – and the day will dawn a few hours later in the United States. Today is the day Americans go to the polls to choose their next President.

In less than 48 hours, we’ll know who the winner is. All the polls of US voters suggest that it would be Senator Barack Obama. Surveys in different parts of the world also indicate how so many people expect him to win. And I certainly want him to win!

But after what happened with the 2000 US Presidential Election, I hesitate to draw any conclusions.

Whatever the outcome of today’s election, one thing is for sure: a little campaign video by a relatively little known actress and model changed the face of Campaign 2008.

“I Got a Crush… on Obama”
is an internet viral video, first posted on YouTube in June 2007 featuring a young woman seductively singing of her love for Illinois Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Produced by BarelyPolitical.com, a website for funny political videos, it featured actress and model Amber Lee Ettinger who lip-synched the song which was actually sung by Leah Kauffman (of “My Box in a Box” fame).

This video was named biggest web video of 2007 by People magazine…the AP…Newsweek…and AOL. It certainly helped to project Obama as a cool and hip candidate.

As we wait for democracy to take its course, here’s that history-making viral video, which has been watched on YouTube more than 10 million times…and counting:

These are the principal credits:
Created by: Ben Relles
Starring: Amber Lee Ettinger
Vocals: Leah Kauffman
Music Producer: Rick Friedrich
Directed by: Larry Strong and Kevin Arbouet.

Visit Obama Girl’s blog

And finally, if any of you feel anything at all for the incumbent who is about to be relegated to the dustbin of history, here’s a wicked video from the same creators called: Lil’ Bush Girl…Meet Obama Girl
(Caution: it’s not for the prim and proper, but then readers of this blog aren’t!).

‘War for the Whitehouse’: Obama, McCain and The Onion

Onion News Network - for news you can't afford to miss

Onion News Network - for news you can't afford to miss

The American presidential election race is entering its last lap. And the world watches the campaign trail with baited breath.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama enjoys more international support than his Republican rival John McCain, as most people outside the US prefer the Democrat leader to become next US president, according to a BBC poll in September 2008. Most of the people questioned in the global poll conducted by international polling institute GlobeScan believe that US relations with the rest of the world would improve under the presidentship of Obama.

While so much of American and international news media time is being spent on covering the campaign and various opinion polls, some comic relief comes from The Onion – that wickedly funny and innovative website which now produces a steady stream of videos spoofing the news media’s worse excesses.

The Onion calls it the ‘War for the White House’ and has set up its ‘election analysis bunker’ from where its intrepid reporters are bringing us news that you – and major news organisations – have somehow managed to miss. They call is Onion News Network, ONN for short.

They’ve been doing it for the better part of a year, and here are some of my favourites from The Onion YouTube channel:

Caution: There’s a slight bias towards Senator Obama in some of these news reports, but then, he’s been the liberal media’s darling for much of this campaign year.

October 2008: McCain Left On Campaign Bus Overnight
Campaign officials downplayed the incident, saying the senator was fine as soon as he was fed and taken to the bathroom.

October 2008: Gifted Youngster Sells Cookies To Buy Attack Ad
In this installment of Beyond The Facts, a precocious 8-year-old girl participates in grown-up politics by spreading smears and lies.

September 2008: McCains Economic Plan: ‘Everyone Marry A Beer Heiress’
McCain pointed to his personal success in marrying a wealthy beer heiress to prove how the plan could benefit every American.

September 2008: Obama Runs Constructive Criticism Ad On McCain
In response to Republican attacks, Barack Obama unleashed a series of slightly negative ads that gently point out how McCain could be doing a better job.

August 2008: Portrayal Of Obama As Snob Hailed As Step Forward For Blacks
Overjoyed civil rights leaders say that Barack Obama has paved the way for future black politicians to be smeared as country club snobs.

March 2008: Poll: Bullshit Is Most Important Issue For 2008 Voters
For a majority of likely voters, meaningless bullshit will be the most important factor in deciding who they will vote for in 2008.

January 2008: The Onion: More Candidates Court Fat Vote
Presidential candidates are reaching out to fat voters on the campaign trail by eating large amounts of fattening food.

See all election videos of ONN

ONN’s self-introduction says its “style of hard-hitting, on-the-ground coverage of live news events has become a standard in the news industry. The network can be viewed in 92.2 million U.S. households and more than 500,000 American prison cells, making it the most-watched cable network in the world. It can currently be seen in 312 countries, with broadcasts in 52 different languages“.

Wow!

The Onion - The Nation's finest news source...

The Onion - The Nation's finest news source...

From Chris Rock to Barack Obama: Will electoral life imitate Hollywood art?

Barack Obama is finally confirmed as the Democratic Party’s candidate for President.

This week, while the Democratic Party convention was underway on the other side of the planet, I re-watched the 2003 Chris Rock movie Head of State – and realised how prescient it has been – in some respects.

For those who don’t know the movie, classified as a comedy, here’s the summary from Internet Movie Database: Mays Gilliam, a Washington D.C. neighborhood Alderman, is about to be red-lined out of his job. But after the untimely death of the party frontrunner, Gilliam is plucked from obscurity, and thrust into the limelight as his party’s nominee — for President of the United States. Read full summary and other trivia on IMDB.

Well, other men have gone from the log cabin to the White House, but there’s a significant difference: Mays Gilliam is black, socially underprivileged and broke. In the movie, he becomes the first black man to be nominated for President by a major party (the story isn’t explicit as to which party). Starting as the absolute underdog, and running against a serving, two-term vice president (middle-aged white male, a war hero and a cousin of Sharon Stone to boot), he works his way through a rocky campaign.

The odds slowly improve as Mays speaks his mind and talks truth to power — a refreshing change from the smooth-talking politicians rendering silky words written by their spin doctors. Mays goes on to become President. That wasn’t quite in the plan of Washington power brokers who nominated him – they had other, less noble, intentions. But once unleashed, there was no stopping Mays Gilliam, a self-styled young man who knows how the other half lives.

Someone has helpfully posted an extract from the movie on YouTube. This is the TV debate that Mays has with incumbent Brian Lewis:

Chris Rock, who wrote, directed and starred in the movie, says he got the idea from the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale, who chose Geraldine Ferraro — a woman — as his running mate. The Democrats knew they had little chance of defeating incumbent Ronald Reagan, but Ferraro’s nomination allowed them to gain female voters, contributing to the eventual 1992 election of Bill Clinton.

This plot line becomes very intriguing with Republican contender John McCain just picking the little known Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate for vice president.

The parallels between Head of State and Barack Obama can only stretch so far. Illinois Senator Obama is not exactly from an underprivileged background, and his education and credentials are much greater than Mays Gilliams’.
And there are some who never tire of reminding us that Obama is not even fully black.

But where life does imitate art is in how the Washington establishment conspires to keep a young, charismatic black man from ascending to the highest elected office. In the movie, deep rooted political party divisions are crossed as power brokers look for desperate measures to stop Mays Gilliam from marching to the White House.

Now why does that sound vaguely familiar with Obama’s own courageous and remarkable journey so far?

At one point in the movie, when things aren’t going well in his campaign, Mays is asked if he wants to quit. His answer: he can’t afford to quit. He’s not just running for himself, but for all black people. “If I quit now, there won’t be another black candidate for 50 years.”

Head of State may have been made made in 2003 as a comedy, but the US political landscape has changed much in the past five years. Suddenly, the scenario is not comic anymore…

Whatever the eventual outcome, the next few weeks in the run up to the Nov 4 US Presidential Election are going to be very interesting.

Will electoral life imitate Hollywood art? Watch this space….

Read my July 2008 post: Perhaps they don’t know that Barack means a blessing…

NPR asked in January 2008: Has Hollywood paved the way for Obama?