Brain scan: Making data dance – @HansRosling Visualizations

Brain scan: Making data dance | The Economist – This is an article and a companion greatest hits page about the work of Hans Rosling, who uses innovative approaches to visualizing data to inform people:

Instead of bar charts and histograms, Dr Rosling uses Lego bricks, IKEA boxes and data-visualisation software developed by his Gapminder Foundation to transform reams of economic and public-health data into gripping stories.

I checked out the software at, which is in Web-usable form as well as a downloadable version using Adobe AIR technology, and it’s very impressive.

There’s a section of the site, Gapminder labs, where there’s a nascent version of Gapminder USA, which compares US States to each other.

I think it would be interesting to tie this tool to the great data that comes from Susannah Fox ( @susannahfox ) and the Pew Internet & American Life Project. I am always trying to put together trend data from her work, and it’s sometimes easy, sometimes not so easy (here’s my last version, which was easy). Trends are important in what I do because people want to know if the things she is studying are fads (the default assumption) or not in deciding whether to invest in them to improve health. I wonder what Susannah thinks about this idea…

I would definitely be interested in seeing / using this tool for some of the things that I’m interested in , like health information technology adoption by patients, and use/access of health information online by patients and their doctors/nurses/care teams.

Here’s one of the videos of Dr. Rosling (@HansRosling) in action, see what you think:


I love Dr. Rosling's data visualizations… and I would love to apply them to HIT adoption by patients, as well as to health data itself, to make it more actionable for both patients and providers. Another person I admire in the field of data visualization is Edward Tufte:

I think some of the biggest challenges of our era are 1.) finding relevant information (via search, for example), and 2.) making sense of ever growing volumes of it. Rosling and Tufte are able to do that effectively–the rest of us should try to learn from them. As they have shown, that kind of skill is not just about using the latest tools, but thinking hard about how to identify, contextualize, and translate important points.

Brilliant Post, as per usual. I really loved the animation that Dr. Rosling showed for the relationship between smaller families and child mortality. It was a very dynamic talk. You are right I would love to see Susannah Fox stats in this format.

Ted, Lygeia,

You have no idea (or maybe you do) how much I'd love to have the budget to make Pew Internet's data really sing. The Pew Research Center is building a graphics department, which we have access to, but we compete with our sister projects. Check out some of their work:

Pew Hispanic's interactive map of where Latinos live in the U.S.

Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

Pew Social Trends: U.S. Migration Flows

Pew Internet publishes our data as quickly as we can is to free the data for use by other people. The best resource, if anyone wants to experiment, is the Excel spreadsheet which contains 10 years' worth of core survey questions, broken down by basic demographic groups:

Pew Internet's Usage Over Time

Dear Susannah,

If we didn't we now do! I could have guessed knowing you that this was the case. And I love "the spreadsheet" – I was tempted to send it a holiday card this year…..

So now I wonder how Dr. Rossling's group imports data into their system – they seem to have worldwide internet and cell usage, but the Pew data is (obviously) missing.

It sounds like you are open to someone outside of your organization making an inquiry to getting these specs from them and seeing if it's possible to reformat?

I would love to create (or see) animated presentations that highlight some of your most significant findings – the rise of mobile, social media, and internet use across the generations and populations. Would also be interesting to compare this with our international community, since in some cases it is now the United States that is the "developing" country.

There are some amazing stories waiting to be told,


Ted Eytan, MD