Friday, September 07, 2007

Why are lectures at school not like this?

I saw this video in class yesterday and found it to be quite interesting. It's 20 minutes long, but watch it if you have the time, because the way the information is presented and visualized is really quite powerful. It's called Hans Rosling debunks third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen, and it's about the idea of third world development and how we need to 'help' people, and about how the idea of third world poverty is perhaps no longer supported by UN and census data, and should be rethought.

It raises a few key points. First that we aren't doing people justice by lumping entire continents or regions together. What we think of as "Africa" has some of the richest people in the world as well as some of the poorest, but that overall, things seem to be improving there, just as they are everywhere else. Development and aid should be attempted at a more regional scale and directed at the people who really do need it.

Another thing he does is look at the effect of health programs vs. economic development programs on economies, and found that in many cases, the best way to move an economy forward is to have healthy citizens first, and let wealth follow. This was most obvious in countries most affected by AIDS, which has thrown their economies into tailspins, but also in China, where a focus on improving health came before a huge burst in economic growth, and in one of the countries in the Middle East (I can't remember which) where they had all the money in the world, and yet a crappy life expectancy.

The other thing I liked about his presentation was that he stressed the value of making information public and putting it in a format that is easier for regular people to understand. Our taxes funded the collection of this information, so we should be able to see it, and making it public would help entrepaneurs and humanitarian organizations to spend their money more wisely and to more effect.

I do have some criticism though. I would be interested to know if any of the per capita income amounts have been controlled for inflation. I don't know if they have been and it was never mentioned. But if your annual income has risen, it will do you no good if the cost of living has risen faster. So if inflation has been left out of these stats completely, they may look a lot more impressive than they actually are.

The other thing is that I would have liked to have seen is environmental indicators plotted out on these graphs. How much has this economic growth affected the environment, how much is growth linked to the environment, and what is the effect of the environment on human health? As far as I'm concerned, the three can not be separated.

While watching the world's population bubbles bob to the top fills me with a lot of optimism that people are living longer and healthier, it's also pretty scary. There's just not enough resources out there for everyone to have a North American lifestyle, and it's our choice as to whether we want to make changes to the way we live, set a good example and make new, energy efficient technologies available to the developing world at a low cost. We've made a lot of mistakes and it doesn't look like we can afford to let them do the same.

Anyways, that's pretty much what I got out of it. That and one more question:

Why can't lectures at school be like this?