Meet Max Roser, and Our World in Data

Of course, you may not know who Paul Graham is. Visit his website, click on essays, and say goodbye to your calendar for the next couple of weeks.

But that’s not today’s blogpost. Today we answer the question, who is Max Roser? And what is Our World in Data?

Here is Max Roser’s introduction of himself from a Reddit AMA (Ask me Anything) he had done a while back:

“Hi Reddit! My name is Max Roser. I visualize global development data on, a free online publication on how living conditions around the world are changing.

Now I am working with a great team and we want to cover global development as broadly as we can to show how our world is changing. Our World in Data now includes data and research on global health, violence, poverty, inequality, economic growth, environmental changes, food and agriculture, energy, technological change, education and more specific topics.

While much of the news is focussing on what happened yesterday or even what is currently “breaking news”, I think that many of the very important changes, which fundamentally reshaped the world that we are living in, happen very slowly and persistently over the course of decades or centuries. On ‘Our World in Data’ we don’t report the ‘breaking news’ and instead zoom out to show the slow trends that dramatically change our world.

Other than that I am a researcher – mostly focusing on inequality and poverty – at the University of Oxford.”

And Our World in Data? Check out their About page.

But better still, consider this extract:

“Why have we made it our mission to publish the “research and data to make progress against the world’s largest problems”?

At the heart of it is a simple truth. When we look around us, it is clear that the world faces many very large problems: 

  • Every year 300,000 women die from pregnancy-related causes, this means that on any average day 830 mothers die
  • The majority of the world – 65% – lives on less than $10 per day.
    And almost 10% live in ‘extreme poverty’, they live on less than $1.90 per day. 
  • The world deforested 47 million hectares of forest in the last decade, that’s an area the size of Sweden.
  • 60 million children of primary school age are not in school.
  • Almost a quarter of the world population – 23% – live in autocratic regimes.
  • 14% of the world’s adults do not know how to read and write.
  • And 3.7% of all children die before they are five years old. This means that 5.2 million children every year and on any average day the world sees 14,200 child deaths.

This is a list of terrifying problems. And as we don’t hear much that would tell us otherwise, it is easy to be convinced that we can’t do anything about them. Even in the extensive 24/7 news cycles we hear little that suggests it would be possible to make progress against these problems. The same is true for our education — questions like how to end hunger, child mortality, or deforestation are rarely part of the curriculum. 

As a consequence it is not surprising that many have the view that it is impossible to change the world for the better. For many large problems the majority in fact believes that they are getting worse.

This however, is not the case. We know that it is possible to make progress against these large problems, because we have already done so.”

How do we know that we have already done so? Take a look at this one chart:

Click on that little toggle next to the world “Relative” in the chart, and the chart becomes even better. Here’s a simple way to think about it: Max Roser is a person who wants to help you understand two things:

  1. Take the glass half full view, because the world is genuinely becoming better over time.
  2. But don’t for a single moment forget the fact that the world needs to become a lot better, and for that to happen, we need to move faster.

Or, in much more eloquent terms:

Because our hopes and efforts for building a better future are inextricably linked to our understanding of the past, it is important to study and communicate the global development up to now. Studying our world in data, and understanding how we overcame challenges that seemed insurmountable at the time, should give us both confidence and guidance to tackle the problems we are currently facing. Living conditions can be improved, we know from the past that they already have been.
For each of the problems we face today we need to also address the difficult question of whether and how we can make progress in the years ahead.

Here is his website, here is his Oxford Martin school page, and here is a wonderful place to get started if this is your first time on the website Our World in Data.

But if you are a student of economics (and who isn’t, eh?), spend more time on Our World in Data, and help other people find out about the website. A genuine treasure of our times.