Hans Rosling: farewell to the rock star of statistics

Hans Rosling will be fondly remembered for making statistics on the state of the world accessible to the masses.


Hans Rosling: delivering stats in the style of a sports commentator
(Image credit: 2012 Getty Images)

The world is in better shape than you think. This was the message that Hans Rosling, who has died aged 68, spent much of his life promoting, says Kate Allen in the Financial Times. He was "the closest thing statisticians had to a rock star".

In 2005, Rosling set up the Gapminder Foundation in Stockholm with his son, Ola, and daughter-in-law, Anna Ronlund, to promote a greater understanding of global development through statistics. He aimed to be an educator and he developed the software for the data animations that made him famous. In 2007 Google bought the software and Rosling left his job as professor of global health at Sweden's Karolinska Institute to dedicate his time to spreading the word.

His breakthrough came in 2006 when he gave a lecture at a Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference. The TED talk, as it is more commonly known, was called "The best statistics you've never seen". Rosling "used animated bubble charts to show how developing countries were catching up in development indicators with the West, presenting in the style of a sports commentator", says the BBC. His talk has been viewed more than 11 million times online.

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Rosling, "the statistician more likely to illustrate an idea with a few multi-coloured Lego bricks than a PowerPoint, has been described as everything from a data guru to a Jedi master of data visualisation", says Karen McVeigh in The Guardian. But he came to regret that the fame that had brought him to the attention of so many had started to cloud his most important message.

"I have no impact on knowledge," he told The Guardian in 2013. "I have only had an impact on fame and doing funny things." Judging by the tributes that have poured in, including from former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, and Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation, millions would beg to differ.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

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