The Cable

Hans Rosling, Who Dreamed of a ‘Fact-Based Worldview,’ Passes Away

His family vows they will never let that dream die.

rosling

“Having the data is not enough. I have to show it in ways people enjoy and understand.”

So said Hans Rosling, the Swedish physician, epidemiologist, and statistics expert who died on Tuesday at the age of 68 from pancreatic cancer. After roughly two decades studying hunger in Africa, he became a professor at the Karolinka Institute — a medically focused university in Sweden — and then the founder of data visualization site Gapminder. He was dedicated to bringing people facts in a way that seemed compelling and understandable to them.

In Feb. 2006, for example, he gave a presentation that used data to demonstrate that the concept of the “developing world” was one based on preconceived biases, not borne out of reality.

In 2010, he showed in just four minutes how lifespan and wealth had increased over the past 200 years — and how inequality between and within countries increased with it.

He was not overtly political, but did not shy away from issues that could be considered political when he was backed by facts. In 2015, he used data visualization to demonstrate that “Today, the European Union does everything it can to stop more than 99 percent of the Syrian refugees to apply for the asylum they are legally entitled to in EU countries.”

In a statement, his family said, “Hans is no longer alive, but he will always be with us and his dream of a fact-based worldview, we will never let die!”

Photo credit: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images for ReSource 2012

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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