development film

Hans Rosling on progress

The latest from Hans Rosling, pioneering Swedish statistician and passionate myth-buster. Our perception of the world has not kept up with reality, he argues, and demonstrates with his trademark moving graphs. By 2030, there could be no countries left with high child mortality and high birth rates.

For more imaginative statistical perspectives on the world’s biggest issues, see


  1. “It’s only by measuring that we can cross the river of myths”. Amen… I suppose… A compelling presentation. Reduced child mortality probably (and hopefully) is a progress indicator everyone can agree upon. Yet the problems have many dimensions, and statistics is a tool that mainly looks backward and has limited power of prediction, especially when changing general conditions push the development onto a different trajectory (i.e. I still see no way out of the fuel crisis in Uganda). Are we sure that women chose to have fewer children because of increased wealth? And what are cause and effect: fewer children = decreased mortality, or vice versa? Will it continue? Aside from it I tend to also look at the absolute numbers instead of only relative numbers. Often relative numbers go down while absolute numbers remain high or even go up because of a much larger population – this is the case when we look at percentage of people who live in poverty, compared to, say, 200 years ago, and absolute numbers. Percentage is lower, absolute numbers – i.e. the number of real people – much higher. There I have difficulties calling that clear progress.

    1. The link between wealth and numbers of children is disputed. Plenty of research suggests that people choose to have fewer children, and then see their income go up, rather than the other way round.

      Good point about absolute numbers, it’s easy to misread statistics that way.

  2. And thank you for pointing out Really fascinating! About the child mortality my long shot would indeed be that there is a negative correlation with the no. of children per family, i.e. fewer children = more resources (and hence better nutrition and care) per child. The CO2 presentation is interesting. When presented this way it very much looks like a very tight correlation between economic growth and CO2 emission, a distribution with a clear exponential feel to it, good old “hockey stick” looks.

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