Four TED Talks that Anyone Working With Data Should Watch

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The era of big data is upon us, and it’s bringing us surprising insights. Remember the Icelandic volcano eruption that grounded flights a few years ago? Data shows us that the volcano emitted 150,000 tons of carbon dioxide while the grounded airplanes would have emitted more than twice that much had they flown. This particular insight was discussed in a TED Talk, one of four that anyone working with data should watch.

The Beauty of Data Visualization by David McCandless

David McCandless describes the Icelandic volcanic eruption along with other data-driven facts beautifully in a 2010 TED Talk about data visualization. McCandless explains that data visualization can help to overcome information overload. By visualizing information, it becomes possible to “… see the patterns and connections that matter and then designing that information so it makes more sense, or it tells a story, or allows us to focus only on the information that’s important.” Plus, he said, it can “look really cool.” To illustrate his point that data visualization is beautiful, indeed, he presented several gorgeous data visualizations.

What Do We Do With All This Big Data? by Susan Etlinger

This Ted Talk was filmed in September 2014. Susan Etlinger presents the notion that data that makes you feel comfortable or successful is likely wrongly interpreted. She says it’s hard to move from counting things to understanding them, and that in order to understand data, we must ask hard questions. She wraps up the talk by saying that we have to treat critical thinking with respect, be inspired by some of the examples she presented, and, “like superheroes” use our powers for good.

The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen by Hans Rosling 

Starting with a story about quizzing some of the top undergrad students in Sweden on their knowledge of global health and determining that they knew less about it statistically than chimpanzees did, Hans Rosling takes viewers on a visual, stat based journey around the world and through time. Rosling’s data challenges preconceived notions and will likely leave you feeling hopeful about the future.

Why Smart Statistics are the Key to Fighting Crime by Anne Milgram

Anne Milgram, attorney general of New Jersey, presents an inspirational talk about how data analytics and statistical analysis can be used to fight crime in the United States. After talking office, Milgram discovered that the local police department relied more on Post-it notes to fight crime than it did data. Meanwhile, the Oakland A’s was using smart data to pick players that would help them win games. Why couldn’t the criminal justice system use data to improve public safety? End result: a universal risk assessment tool that presents crime data in a meaningful way.

Each of these TED Talks runs about 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside an hour or so this weekend to watch each one. Prepare to get inspired about data!