Hans Rosling: The Man Who’s Making Data Cool

Science… A modern dictionary may define it as “an attempt to understand the world around us through observation of natural phenomenon.” Either we can try to define with daily usual words: “Something that everyone should care about and be interested in.” It does not matter how you define ‘science’ however you need to understand what it is saying. Fortunately, Sweden has someone who knows how to explain things with basic but remarkable ways. I invite you to meet Professor Hans Rosling.

When someone starts to talk about Swedish scientists and notable people, first name coming to minds is undoubtedly Alfred Nobel. With historic invention and more than 100-years-old price bearing his name, Nobel deserves all of attentions. However, I want to introduce someone else, Mr. Rosling, a medical doctor, academic, statistician and public speaker, one of my personal hero and my inspirer. Nowadays, he mostly practices statistician part of him and he is actually very famous in this area.

The concept of a “celebrity statistician” may sound as it should be – and should forever remain – an oxymoron. J But watching Professor Hans Rosling in full flow, commentating on a moving hologram that illustrates the health, wealth and population of 200 countries over 200 years in less than a minute, may change your mind.

The 67-year-old Swede reached his fame when Time Magazine named him among 100 Influential People in 2012. His videos and studies made him a phenomenon and now he is an Internet sensation. When I learnt that he also graduated from Uppsala University, my new home, I was more than happy, I was proud.

His passion to statistics is more than what you expect. He gives answers to people who think statistics is boring.

“Statistics is everywhere. Statistics take up four pages in most daily newspapers – stock values and sport [league tables]. People don’t find these boring at all, but they don’t think of them as ‘statistics’. If you support Manchester United or Arsenal, or if your stock falling means you can’t go on holiday, you are interested. It’s only boring if you get data you didn’t ask for, or if you don’t realize its link with the real world.”

It is obvious Mr. Rosling does not agree with Mark Twain who stated that statistics could easily manipulated to convince people to believe things that are not true. “There are three kinds of lies,” Twain wrote. “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

What Rosling does, in a nutshell, is to animate graphs. He uses his own software to show how things are changing/developing over a period. The most watched video of him puts every countries’ life expectancy into perspective and shows how the figures have changed over the last 65 years. The way he presents cases makes everything much more simple and watchable for all of us. Even Bill Gates once remarked that Mr. Rosling presentation about the effectiveness of healthcare projects in the developing world gave him a reason to donate billions of dollars to the issue.

The video below is just one of his remarkable and inspirational video collections. In the video, you may see him as a Jedi master of data while presenting the graph. You may take a look to other videos in which Mr. Rosling explains some messy situations around the world with simple graphs and well-written narrative. Enjoy!

Andaç Baran

Written by Andaç Baran

21 Dec 2015