The Torch of Progress

The Torch of Progress, Ep. 4 with Dr. Max Roser

Ashley Yates
Join us for Episode 4 of The Torch of Progress with Dr. Max Roser. We’ll be talking about Our World in Data, global development and its relation to progress studies, and what people get wrong when looking at the data about global progress.

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Podcast – The Torch of Progress, Ep. 4 with Dr. Max Roser, available on Apple Podcasts

Transcript – The Torch of Progress, Ep. 4 with Dr. Max Roser

In This Episode We Discuss:

  • (0:25) Introductions – Progress Studies, a 6 week course covering the history of technology and global living standards
  • (1:20) Speaker Series – upcoming: Deirdre McCloskey, Joel Mokyr, Noor Siddiqui, Anton Howes, and Danica Remy
  • (2:54) Jason Crawford and Max Roser introductions
  • (4:20) What is “global development”?
  • (5:52) Introduce Our World In Data – ourworldindata.org
  • (8:15) You once said that—before coronavirus—Our World in Data had a reputation as “the good news guys”. What does that mean and where did it come from?
  • (10:55) Did we just get lucky in the last 4 or 5 decades that we had all this progress instead of more global catastrophe?
  • (12:22) Chart of how happy people report they are vs how happy they estimate their average countryman is. Basically everybody thinks their country is less happy than it is. Personal optimism vs. social pessimism
  • (13:40) To what extent is the source of overpessimism a “data problem” and to what extent is it a mindset or philosophical problem—the wrong framework? And what’s the relationship between the two?
  • (16:50) How do you integrate both data and narrative in your research and in writing. Our World in Data does this really well. How do you put those two together without one driving too much?
  • (19: 15) What do you most wish you could get good numbers about that he can’t currently?
  • (25:15) What data has surprised you most since he started doing this?
  • (27:23) Have you been surprised enough to be able to predict where more surprises might be, if he dug into that data?
  • (31:25) Relationship of air pollution to cognitive effects – what does the data point to?
  • (34:15) What is the right way to use data to understand the covid pandemic? What are other people doing wrong in how they interpret and present covid data?
  • (40:00) What advice commonly given to high schoolers is commonly wrong?


  • (42:42) What has been the hardest thing when it comes to collecting data and taking conclusions from the data?
  • (45:20) Do you think that education systems (e.g. high school) don’t focus enough on using statistics and data to interpret history? If so, why, and what should people do about it?
  • (48:20) You mentioned earlier, coal kills more people than nuclear power – but doesn’t make for good news. How would you fix news/the media?
  • (50:30) What is your favorite example of a thing that intuitively feels right, but turn out to be wrong when you look at the data?
  • (53:15) Do you think that data can lull us into a sense of false security? Although poverty has decreased over the years, we should still work to eradicate it, but knowing about the decrease could decrease enthusiasm for change and progress, as people will settle for insufficient improvement once some change is made?
  • (57:27) Is the data on global progress often surprising for other people to see? Why is it that they are surprised? Is it flawed education? The media?
  • (59:40) Follow Max on twitter @maxcroser, @ourworldindata, ourworldindata.org
  • (1:01) Matt Bateman on PSYS Course
    • 6 week online summer course:
    • 10 major topics – Development of electricity, transportation, clothing, textiles, food
    • Readings + 1 hour of discussion every day
      • Historical and engineering oriented
    • Cohorts are about 10 students each and start every other week
    • Send questions to mbateman@tohigherground.com

About Dr. Max Roser:

Dr. Roser is a researcher at the University of Oxford and founder and editor of Our World in Data. At Oxford, he is the Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Global Development. Together with his team, he studies the history and future of living conditions around the world. His research focuses on large global problems and in the past years, he has published work on poverty, global health, infectious diseases, hunger, violence, humanity’s impact on the environment, and inequality.

In 2011, he founded OurWorldInData.org, an open-access and open-source online publication that presents the data and research necessary to make progress against these. The publication is read by several million readers every month, it is used by policymakers, and it is cited more than a thousand times every year by both academic publications and in the popular media. It is a long-term project that he is continuously working on.

His work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Science, Nature, The BBC, The Financial Times, and many other publications. More media coverage of his work can be found here – https://ourworldindata.org/coverage.

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