Making Data Work

By: Matt Ryan

When reading The Economist, I came across an article that put a lot of the issues we will deal with this semester into a bigger context. When wondering why we focus so heavily on coursework as undergraduates, this article clears things up a bit. When asking how we best can change our world, this article helps. This article addressed a specific thing we touched on for those of us who took Introduction to Global Health, but I think the take-away message is much more powerful than that. Here is the article, read for your pleasure:

http://www.economist.com/node/17663585?story_id=17663585

In the article, The Economist focuses on a revolutionary, and a hero (if we define the term as one who makes a heroically positive impact on our world), Hans Rosling. Mr. Rosling has made data “sexy”. With his innovative research and insight, he has made credible arguments to advocate for us to end world poverty, among other issues. Mr. Rosling has broken down these statistics from every conceivable angle. If one is just interested in statistics, check out the gapminder institution. Even if one thinks they are not interested in statistics, check out the gapminder institution. Mr. Rosling, unlike other researchers, understands that his research is most effective if at the fingertips of all people. Therefore, he has made his research free to the public. Within the article, however, the last point brought home what we are trying to do in this course, and what we ought to aim to do with our entire education and life.

With his final quote, Dr. Rosling said, “The people who create statistics are very often not the same kind of people needed to communicate them.” In other words, very often those who are most knowledgeable on a subject are not the most powerful advocates. As students at a Jesuit university, this is an important message. In the Ignatian tradition, Jesuit universities have sought to develop students of “conscience, competence, and compassion.” One cannot be an effective agent of change without knowing the issues; without being competent. On the other side, one cannot change injustices without being conscience and compassionate. Throughout his life, St. Ignatius, in pursuit of a more just world, educated himself on issues and then put this knowledge into action. This is exactly what Hans Rosling is doing, and this is what we have to challenge ourselves to do.

With the complexities of public health issues, we must constantly learn more about them. If we truly want to create a more just world, we must be competent on these issues. When speaking with legislators, one cannot be hesitant or ignorant about the specifics. Even if they have the best intentions, they will not change the policy. When speaking with physicians, one must have a solid grasp on the core medical sciences. When speaking with a community who just built a clean water source, one must be able to speak their language and to present information so that they understand it. Being an effective agent of change is not easy. I know that we all have the compassion to make this world better. I know that we all are conscientious about the issues plaguing our world. To ensure that the next generation finds a world better, however, we must do our best to know these issues inside and out. We must make the numbers dance, as Hans Rosling has done.

I think this is what makes public health so difficult. To analyze an issue from all angles, you quickly realize the multidisciplinary nature of these issues. One cannot assert what is best without understanding the psychology, sociology, history, policy, culture, among other numerous factors related to it. Mr. Rosling has found a way to take these issues and make them readable to the public. This is an example of competence being combined with conscience and compassion. Working hard to understand the world, stay up to date on issues, and constantly educate ourselves is a step to a more just world. It is public health.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Making Data Work

  1. Adriana Black

    I could not agree more, Matthew! Education is both the key to our successes and our failures. Without this foundation, any public health issue or any politics issue facing our world in general, will never be resolved. And true, no one vocalizes this more eloquently than Hans Rosling. Or hey, maybe you will take over his spot! Great article!

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