Hans Rosling: Passing of a Legend
This evening I found out about the passing of one of the most charismatic science communicators I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing my entire life. Hans Rosling, Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institute in Sweden and internationally renowned science communicator passed away today, aged 68.
I first came across Hans Rosling about 8 years ago whist watching his world famous TED talks. Rosling’s charisma with data visualisation especially caught my eye and truth be told, as a science geek, I was hooked. He and his sideline in long pointy sticks effortlessly communicated scientific and analytical ideas to mass audiences, across geographical boundaries, sometimes sharing platforms with some of the world’s richest and most powerful people in the drive for a common good. The Joy of Stats gave Professor Rosling his own BBC Four show in 2010.
As someone who has spent a long time trying, and often failing, to communicate analytical ideas to audiences, I was in awe of professor Rosling’s achievements in that regard. For years since, I’ve been unashamedly signposting people to his material when in debates, to allow them a point of clear and digestible reference.
“Being a statistician, you don’t like telling your profession at dinner parties, But really, statisticians shouldn’t be shy because everyone wants to know what’s going on…Statistics tells us whether the things we think and believe in are actually true.” — Prof. Hans Rosling, The Joy of Stats
Rosling initially graduated in medicine but was himself an award winning statistician, speaker and debater and achieved the accolade of Illis Quorum, Sweden’s highest civilian honour. Together with his son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna, Rosling founded the Gapminder institute, a not-for-profit organisation that aspires to counter misconceptions about international global development. His work with Ola on Trendalyzer earned them attention from Google, who bought the software asset in 2007.
Professor Rosling battled infection and disease all his life, before being diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer last year. Rosling’s personality and skill lifted and dusted off the baton from the floor where it lay since Carl Sagan’s passing a decade and a half before. For me and many other like me, who look back through our history and rarely see the seminal storytellers, who garnish as tough a subject as statistics, with an iridescent glow. The ones who believe that science is free, accessible and inclusive, the communicators of some of the hardest material known to the human race. Needless to say, the shoes that covered the feet of Professor Rosling and his long pointy stick will be hard to fill.
On behalf of myself and my company, I offer sincerest condolences. My thoughts go out to his family and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the entire cohort of professional, academic and amateur science offer our condolences and our sincerest thanks. For all the work he’s done, for the foundations he’s built, for the openness he fostered. It feels like Hans Rosling passed too early, at a time that perhaps the world needed him the most. His loss, is humanity’s loss.
må han vila i frid.