The Joy of Stats

Last night, I discovered the wonderful Professor Hans Rosling (@HansRosling), completely by mistake. I must have had the telly on idly in the background whilst I was working, and then The Joy of Stats came on. Gradually, I was pulled away from my desk and towards the sofa. I set the telly to record – The Joy of Stats really DID make stats a joy.

I have never really had much academic exposure to statistics before now, but as I get myself smothered in the world of psychology, I find myself surrounded by numbers. A few weeks ago it was correlations between personality traits and tendency to plan (or not – procrastinators!), and at the moment I’m researching the belief bias effect. All of this NEEDS stats to work – I can’t support any hypothesis without statistical significance.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people have a mental block when it comes to numbers, especially stats, which is traditionally viewed as being horribly dry. Step in Prof. Rosling.

In this one hour documentary, he had me thoroughly gripped with – dare I say – excitement about stats (and not just because his Swedish accent is really fun!).

The key to making stats exciting and realistically useful (for everyone aside from hardcore statisticians) is application and visualisation. You may not know this, but Florence Nightingale was an enthusiastic statistician (her first “stats” work she produced aged 9). Below is one of her most famous statistical diagrams, showing causes of death for soldiers in the Crimean war. The blue wedges are deaths caused by preventable infections, the red wedges are deaths from war wounds and black wedges deaths from other causes. The visualisation is pretty compelling, really.

We are all bombarded by stats every day, especially in the news. And it’s obvious that certain stats are more clear when presented graphically.

Plus, with emerging technologies, we can have MOVING stats! Really good fun. As a final illustration of how compelling stats can be, watch this clip of Rosling from the documentary. Maybe that will convince you to watch the full 60 mins.





Image credits:,


5 thoughts on “The Joy of Stats

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review « Unravelled

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