How Not to Be Ignorant about the World: The Most Influential Man You've Never Heard Of

Hans Rosling was a physician and statistics superstar who advised world leaders and tech tycoons.

Numbers bombard us constantly and few can really grasp their significance and weight when we start talking about matters in millions and billions. Swedish Professor Hans Rosling became famous for taking giant, unwieldy data sets and making them emotionally and intellectually relevant. He was as close as we’d had to a statistics superstar (perhaps until this election cycle’s breakout stat guru Nate Silver). Very sadly, Rosling passed away recently, in February 2017.


A frequent TED speaker, Rolling has been listed numerous times as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by magazines such as Time. What he communicates has been so crucial in matters of public health that he’s been consulted by world leaders and famous execs like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Melinda Gates offered this praise for his consultations with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

“To have Hans Rosling as a teacher is one of the biggest honours in the world.”

Rosling’s background was in medicine. He was a physician and epidemiologist, working from 1970s to '90s in Africa, where he studied epidemics like the paralyzing konzo as well as the effects of poverty on the creation of diseases. 

“Extreme poverty produces diseases. Evil forces hide there,” says Rosling. “It is where Ebola starts. It’s where Boko Haram hides girls. It’s where konzo occurs.”

He also investigated a “cassava” outbreak in Cuba, meeting Fidel Castro in 1992. 

“Then, two men walk in with guns, and in comes Fidel Castro,” he remembers. “My first surprise was that he was so kind, like Father Christmas. He didn’t have the attitude you might expect from a dictator.”

But it was Rosling’s gift for communicating data that has perhaps been his most wide-reaching contribution. He specialized in unique, very accessible presentations of hard-to-grasp macro-level sets of data on key topics like health and poverty. This work led to the creation of his non-profit Gapminder Foundation which developed “moving-bubble” stat-presentation software Trendalyzer, eventually acquired by Google in 2007. 

Check out Hans Rosling’s great video for BBC where he shows how the health and economic status of 200 countries changed dramatically in the last 200 years: 

Centering his work on the elimination of global poverty, Rosling thought it was entirely possible to achieve that objective, as proportionally the numbers living in extreme poverty have been declining by more than half in the past 25 years. For his somewhat positive and can-do attitude on this and other issues, he has been criticized for minimizing the scope of certain tragedies. But he saw his mission in communicating how problems can be solved, so showing progress and possibilities is a key tactic towards that. 

Here’s an interesting TED talk by Roslling on how religions affect birth rates:

Cover photo: Hans Rosling, Statistician & Founder of Gapminder speaks about the impact of growing global population on resources at the ReSource 2012 conference on July 12, 2012 in Oxford, England.(Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Brain study finds circuits that may help you keep your cool

Research by neuroscientists at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory helps explain how the brain regulates arousal.

Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP/ Getty Images
Mind & Brain

MIT News

The big day has come: You are taking your road test to get your driver's license. As you start your mom's car with a stern-faced evaluator in the passenger seat, you know you'll need to be alert but not so excited that you make mistakes. Even if you are simultaneously sleep-deprived and full of nervous energy, you need your brain to moderate your level of arousal so that you do your best.

Keep reading Show less

34 years ago, a KGB defector chillingly predicted modern America

A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
  • The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
  • According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
Keep reading Show less