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Speak of the Week: Dr. Hans Rosling

Speak of the Week: Dr. Hans Rosling

“Fame is easy to acquire; impact is much more difficult.”

Hans Rosling, the Swedish doctor and rock-star statistician, might be forgiven for speaking these words in an interview in 2013, dismissing, with his trademark humility, the impression his work was making – and continues to make – around the world.

Having burst into the international spotlight in 2006 with his first TED Talk, The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen, Rosling brought his passion for data to life in a way that lay people could not only understand, but could make sense of.

Described as everything from a “funky philosopher” to a “Jedi master of data visualisation”, Rosling’s TED Talks, documentaries, and other presentations are anchored by factual statistics and illustrated with visual software he personally developed to make complex figures not only understandable, but absolutely mesmerizing. His his charts of floating bubbles and graceful curves and then accompanied with a narrative ability perhaps only akin to Richard Attenborough when describing a lion ambushing a zebra.

Believing in American Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s maxim that “everyone is entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts,” Rosling’s presentations challenge preconceived notions of global development, debunking myths about the third world, over-population, and the trajectory of humanity in doing so.

As he told The Economist in 2010, “I produce a road map for the modern world. Where people want to drive is up to them. But I have the idea that if they have a proper road map and know what the global realities are, they’ll make better decisions.”

Rosling, who began his career as a physician, and who later co-founded Médecins sans Frontièrs in Sweden (among dozens of other accomplishments), passed away in February from pancreatic cancer. He was 68.

For inspiring people to understand the world as it is, and for the hope of a bright future he imparted to millions, we chose to posthumously honour Dr. Hans Rosling as our Speak of the Week.