The UN lays into finance, speculation and the IMF: UNCTAD's Trade and Development Report 2009

September 18, 2009

China rising; a dirty development mechanism; this week's G20 summit; the Indian drought and why climate change will ruin your beer: links I liked

September 18, 2009

Is this guy the world's best lecturer on development?

September 18, 2009
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I’m conscious that this blog has been somewhat heavy going this week, so here’s a reward to anyone who got through to Friday (especially for any saddoes like me who end up watching youtube at the weekend).

Hans Rosling is a youtube phenomenon, a Swedish economist whose lectures on data and development have deservedly become legendary. He specializes in showing the evolution of the world’s countries with whizzy graphics and witty commentary, and the good news is that there is a website, gapminder.com, that makes his work available to all. You can either use his database, show some of his issue-specific videos (I recommend a great 4 minute overview of urbanization), or even construct your own graphics.

I recommend spending some time learning to use this – I’m a technological Neanderthal, and even I have used the timeline of life expectancy v GDP per capita in a lecture without mishap. Our powerpoints will never be the same again.

You can (and probably should) ask questions about the content – as he bases everything on data, problems arise with less measurable issues like rights (although he does at least talk about them). But that feels a bit beside the point – really you should just sit back and enjoy the show.

He may look like a classic tweedy data-nerd, but he’s a real showman. The most extraordinary lecture I have ever seen ended with him performing an on-stage sword swallowing act. (Note, it’s a 19 minute talk, including sword swallowing, so you’ll need to allow the time). All other occasional speakers on development take note of just how far this raises the bar – I have already signed up for beginner’s glasses in fire eating and escapology……

3 comments

  1. Hi Duncan,
    I am regular reader of your blog, I’ve just started reading your last book, and I was wondering how do you compare your approach to Rosling’s one. (and I’m not talking about sword swallowing.. 😉 )

    I mean: what do you think about Rosling attitude?

    Because of his tendency to focus on the convergence between developed and developing countries in a lot of indicators he’s sometimes accused to let people believe that everything is going in the best possible way (“Africe has not done bad”, maybe one of his most famous assertions).

    I personally don’t share these accusations (even if I have to admit that I haven’t such a deep knowledge of his work), but anyway I think that they somehow may be appropriate, sometimes at least.

    For what I have understood (also here I have to admit that I am not aware of 100% your work, even if as a former NGO guy myself I am an avid reader of Oxfam policy papers) most of your research focuses on highlighting inequalities and in finding ways to overcome them.

    Thank you for your attention and for your work,

    Stefano

  2. That was incredible. Those graphs are amazing.

    As for whether he is the world’s best lecturer on development… I’d be reluctant for him to unseat Steve Wiggins in my estimation, who in 20+ years at University of Reading in the UK seemingly lectured to most of the staff now working in ministries of agriculture in Africa. I exaggerate, but he was very dedicated to the art of lecturing and very entertaining.

    Turns out Duncan knows him too:
    http://www.odi.org.uk/resources/details.asp?id=1028&title=policy-agenda-agriculture-need-radical-revision

  3. Rosling does address the accusation that he is too optimistic, talking about the threat of climate change. In general I think he provides a good historical counterargument to what can sometimes be a very negative message from NGOs – because we always focus on what remains to be done (and leave countries like South Korea or Botswana that become successful), our message and thinking can become distorted. We need to recognize that the last 60 years has in many ways been a golden age for development, one that is now under threat.
    As I said in the blog, I also think that Rosling’s focus on measurable data also distorts the picture, giving insufficient attention to issues such as rights, exclusion, power and anxiety – all crucial aspects of living in poverty.
    But I still think he’s great!

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