Our World in Data

How would you like to be good at predicting the future? I mean, ever since we consulted Oracles in ancient Greece we’ve wanted to know what’s going to happen. Pinker, in Enlightenment Now, tells us about research into what makes people good at predicting, that identified “superforecasters”. These are people who are better than “professional intelligence officers with access to classified information” and “not too far from the theoretical maximum” when it comes to predicting the likelihood of future events.

It turns out that superforecasters do well because they rely on the facts that they do have at hand. They follow a particular method in arriving at a prediction – starting with what they know about events that have occurred, and then looking at what might have changed and nudging their probability estimates up or down in response. They are not even particularly clever people, although they are “highly numerate” and comfortable “thinking in guesstimates”.

If you want to join their ranks, today’s fine learning tool is going to prove invaluable, both as a tool to hone your own numeracy and to supply you with base facts from which to start your estimates.

I highly recommend this particular fine learning tool, and yet it’s hard to tell you just what you will learn from it, because it covers such a wide range of topics.

Our World in Data describes itself as “a non-profit website that brings together the data and research on the powerful, long-run trends reshaping our world”.

It’s a labour of love that takes the best data available on topics of interest that range from population growth and literacy rates to the impact of micro-nutrients on health and the global cost of cigarettes. They then put the data into beautiful interactive graphs and support them with easy to follow blog posts that explain both how the graphs are to be interpreted and what the data is saying about the subject.

Some of the interesting things I learned (just this morning) from Our World in Data include that, as recently as 1800 only 12% of people on the planet were literate, while in 2015, 86% were literate; Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of preventable brain damage in childhood; and Ireland is the most expensive country in the world to buy cigarettes.

The site uses beautiful interactive visualisations to discuss the state of the world and how it is changing and it uses scientific literature to explain the changes observed in the data. If that sounds scary, it isn’t because each “lesson” is contained in an easy-to-digest blog post.

What I love about this website is that it is based on data and quite a lot of effort goes into making sure that it’s the best data available. Data is sourced from specialised institutes, research papers and international institutions or statistical agencies. Each visualisation comes with details about what data was used and how it was used. What this means is that in addition to what the site tells you about the world, it also teaches you statistical concepts and improves your general numeracy in the process. It serves a little meta-learning on the side. Which is what the finest learning tools ought to do.

Description A source of information about major world trends backed by data and research and nicely interpreted to make it easy to understand
Subject Major world trends, data use and visualization
Location https://ourworldindata.org/
Appropriate for Anyone who wants to be well informed about the state of the world and wants to improve their numeracy
Usability The blog format makes it easy to understand each topic. There are graphs which may be a bit hard to understand if you are not used to interpreting data presented in this way. It is, however, a good way to learn more about data presentation and graphs.
Craftsmanship Lovely! A lot of thought has gone into the visualisations as well as the text so that the topics are accessible and give one the opportunity to learn new visualization techniques. The web site is clean and simple to navigate.
Effectiveness The site is widely used. It has a nice interactive map showing how many people from each country used the site in the past year; on average, it’s more than a million people a month. This, by itself, doesn’t mean its good, but the people who use the site include students and school children, journalists, teachers, researchers and policymakers, looking for the data and research to inform their work. So that means that a lot of thinking people rely on the site for information. This link takes you to citations and references https://ourworldindata.org/coverage.
Cost This site is free to use and you can even use the data and the visualisations for free.

What I love about this web site is that it presents information that is as close as we have to “factual” and thus encourages us to stop speculating, or making assumptions about the state of the world based on our own experiences or the state of the particular corners of the world we are familiar with. By being able to get a more global view of the state of things we can become better informed, and clearer about what is really going on. It’s a great tool for honing your forecasting skills, challenging your own assumptions and for settling arguments over dinner.

Our World in Data has a special section to track the Sustainable Development Goals https://sdg-tracker.org/ which is a good way to keep an eye on some of the biggest priorities for the human race and the planet. It also has a special Teaching Hub with resources for teachers https://ourworldindata.org/teaching.

A truly Fine Learning Tool and one well worth exploring.


(Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay.)

Learn to meditate with Insight Timer

Meditation is widely recognised as a tool for calming the mind and reducing stress, improving performance, personal growth, spiritual insight and even for healing the body. But the wide range of different meditation practices can be confusing and it can be difficult to know where to start to learn more.

logo-bell-nameInsight Timer (https://insighttimer.com/) is a meditation app that offers talks about meditation, guided meditations, a meditation timer and a community of meditators to help your practice.

The teachers on Insight Timer come from a very wide range of traditions including religious, secular and scientific. Apparently meditation is worth pursuing, no matter from which philosophical stance you approach it. This means that you are likely to be able to find teachers on Insight Timer that resonate with your own world view, no matter what that is.

Short description Insight timer is a set of tools to support meditation. It offers guided and timed meditations on a variety of topics and based on a wide variety of philosophies. It also offers audio lessons from meditation teachers. It tracks and reports on your meditation practice. There are groups that you can join to share message-based interactions with other group members. The app provides talks in 25 languages.
Subject All forms of meditation and meditation practice.
Location It’s available in both iOS and Android versions, and the web version is at https://insighttimer.com/
Appropriate for Beginner meditators who want to learn more and have guidance in establishing a regular meditation practice.

Experienced meditators who want to use guided meditations or the timing function for their meditation practice.

People who appreciate the opportunity to interact with others about meditation.

People who are curious about meditation and want to learn more or try it out.

Usability The app is easy to use. When searching for guided meditations or talks about meditation, you can filter by how long you have, by teacher, by specific benefits or by philosophical stance. When setting up a timed meditation you can select how long it should be, what ambient sounds you want, whether you want interval reminders and what signal you would like to end the meditation. There are no annoying popups or adverts, making for a genuinely peaceful and supportive experience.
Craftsmanship The app is simply and beautifully designed with lovely images and the interaction is a real pleasure to use. In using it for about six months I have encountered no bugs, so it seems a very stable product.

The experience depends to some extent on the individual teacher and, while I have encountered some that have irritated me, on the whole I’ve been impressed with the quality of the talks and the guided meditations. There are more than 1600 teachers to choose from so it’s not difficult to find someone who resonates with you. There are more than 7000 guided meditations and talks at present.

Effectiveness The app helps to keep you meditating regularly, and shows you patterns in when you skip meditations, so that’s useful. Having this as a mobile app means that it’s easy to meditate even when your normal routine is upset as you just need a phone, network and headphones to meditate anywhere. You do need a network though, unless you want to pay for the offline mode.

I could not find any independent research into the effectiveness of the app, but there are many positive reviews online. More than 2.3 million people use Insight Timer, and at any one time around 6000 people are meditating using Insight Timer.

Cost Insight timer is free with all the features described above. They have recently introduced an offline mode which enables you to download meditations to your device and listen to them offline for $41.99 per month. Other paid features are planned.

Overall this is a great app which will get you started with meditation and make it easy for you to keep to a regular meditation practice. I think it’s a worthy addition to our collection of Fine Learning Tools because it not only teaches you to meditate, but meditation itself then becomes a great tool for your own on-going learning.

One of the coolest features is a world map that shows you where everyone who is currently meditating is located. There is something heart-warming about knowing that you are part of a large and growing community all seeking a better way to live and seeing this pictured on a global scale is a great positive message.

meditating Jan 2018