Oct 6, 2006

Google GapMinder - Wow!

I recently read a blog posting by Simon Chapman called simply Google Gapminder Beta 2. The google application it references, Gapminder, is absolutely fascinating. It is an AJAX style web animation of global human population statistics that are most incredible to observe.

The original Gapminder data with visualization tools and presentations is available at http://www.gapminder.org, but I spent more time running the google animations, and here are a few points I found interesting:

  • phone versus internetAnimating phone use versus internet use shows a slow increase of phone use over the last 30 years, with high use countries remaining high, and not much shuffling, and then over the last 15 years internet use races to catch up with phone use, mostly reaching it, with individual countries increasing internet use in growth spurts. Now, in most cases, internet use and phone use are highly correlated, or even matching. In the late 90's, not surprisingly the Scandinavian countries, Sweden, Norway and Finland lead the pack, with the US close on their heels (and the rest of Europe and richer SE Asia a little further back), but over the last 10 years, possibly drive by internet use, the phone use seems to have sped up, with the global distribution narrowing, and all of the wealthier countries crowding up in the maximum penetration area.
  • life expectancy versus incomeAnimating income versus life expectancy is even more amazing. For the first 15 years there is reasonable global correlation, with low income countries having low life expectancy, but in the last 15 years most of Africa has veered severely off that correlation line. Consider Botswana in 1990, with the highest income of continental Africa, sitting right up there with the better off third world countries in Asia and South America, on both income and longevity. Then over the last 15 years, while income continues to increase, the life expectancy drops from 65 to 35 years. This was the most dramatic impact of AIDS I had ever seen. We do not feel this in Europe, but certainly it is horrific in Africa. Both my brothers are doctors in South Africa, where life expectancy dropped from 63 to 45 since 1992. They have often described the severe impact of AIDS on their work, and like most doctors in South Africa are frustrated by the authorities apparent lack of interest in helping the situation.
  • On the same life-expectancy animation above, you can see Rwanda hanging around the 45 year mark in the early and mid-80's, but in the late 80's it dramatically drops, to an incredible minimum of 24 years in 1992 due to the civil war (read 'genocide'). This atrocity was so horrific it makes Bosnia look mild, but being in deepest, darkest Africa did not generate the same media coverage as the European conflict did. Since that date, the life expectancy has come back up to 44, but income has slightly reduced (with a big drop in the mid-90's from which it has partly recovered). Africa is surely full of the most amazing, but unfortunately horrific patterns on this gapminder plot.
  • contraception versus childrenPlotting female contraceptive use versus children per woman is also interesting. Not surprisingly there is a strong correlation, with high contraceptive use linked to fewer children. China sits in a strong position, with a very high level of contraceptive use, peaking at 90% in the mid-90's (and slightly less than 2 children), and most of Africa sits at the other end of the scale, generally below 20% and around 6 children (South Africa is unusual at 56% and 3 children, but still on the correlation curve). One fascinating anomaly is Russia, remaining consistently below the curve, with surprisingly few children considering the low use of contraception. One wonders if there is a cultural aversion to admitting contraceptive use, or perhaps just a low incidence of sex?

Wow! I could spend hours poring over this incredible mine of information. But I better save the rest for another day :-)