Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • It might sound like a random pairing,

  • like Marie Curie on Wikileaks, or Charles Dickens on twerking.

  • But it isn't.

  • We know her as a nurse, the lady with the lamp,

  • gliding through blood-soaked army hospitals.

  • But maybe we should call her the lady with the bar chart,

  • because she was at least as illuminating

  • in the world of statistics.

  • So, what would she think of big data?

  • Florence loved statistics.

  • She said she found them "more enlivening than a novel".

  • And a friend said, "However exhausted Florence might be,

  • the sight of long columns of figures was perfectly reviving to her."

  • For Florence, statistics were God's work.

  • She said, "To understand God's thoughts

  • we must study statistics, for these are the measure of his purpose."

  • So, although she's famous now as a nurse,

  • she actually trained first as a statistician.

  • It wasn't until the beginning of the 1840s -

  • when she was in her early twenties

  • and saw hunger and unemployment all around her -

  • that she became a nurse.

  • She'd combined her nursing and statistics

  • to become an experienced hospital manager,

  • just in time for the Crimean War.

  • At the time, nurses were seen as ignorant and lower class.

  • But Florence changed that.

  • Florence volunteered to lead a team of nurses in the war.

  • Before she arrived, the military hospitals didn't even bother

  • to record many of the deaths.

  • Florence collected data about everything,

  • so she could show that changes in diet and sanitation

  • had brought the hospital's death rate down from 42% to just 2%.

  • It's only when you gather data methodically that patterns emerge.

  • Things that were hidden suddenly become clear.

  • That might sound obvious now, but it wasn't back then.

  • Florence's work made a huge impact

  • and laid the groundwork for things we now take for granted -

  • like being able to compare hospitals' performance,

  • or just the fact that hospitals are clean.

  • Florence showed what could be achieved by following the evidence,

  • instead of gut instinct, prejudice or tradition.

  • Another little-known side of Florence is her talent for infographics.

  • She turned data into pictures,

  • making it impossible for MPs and civil servants to ignore.

  • So, she would love the data journalism we have today.

  • She would love the way big data makes all this possible.

  • But she'd hate some of the ways that data are abused.

  • She knew that people can game the system

  • to make their performance indicators look better.

  • So, when you hear of hospitals fiddling operation waiting times,

  • think of Florence.

  • And I think she'd be appalled at using data to target adverts

  • and manipulate people on social media.

  • This would not be God's work.

  • Although largely confined to her room for over half a century,

  • she worked tirelessly behind the scenes in coordinating campaigns,

  • and she always had a careful media strategy.

  • So, I think she might like other aspects of social media.

  • She'd enjoy the opportunity to communicate on a grand scale,

  • with ideas going viral

  • and so many people being able to take part in the debate.

  • Her compassion brought her fame.

  • And she used that fame ruthlessly, along with her incredible intellect,

  • to save lives on an unprecedented scale.

  • If she were alive now, she'd challenge us to do the same.

  • To look at how we can use the vast amount of data now available

  • to save lives.

  • To make the world a better place.

  • To shine a little more light on us all.

It might sound like a random pairing,

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 florence data big data nurse god work fame

What would Florence Nightingale make of big data? | BBC Ideas

  • 13 1
    Summer posted on 2020/08/05
Video vocabulary