I was sad to learn that Hans Rosling, who's been called 'the Jedi Master of data visualization', died yesterday of cancer at the relatively young age of 68. He had a profound impact on the way we see ourselves and our world, far outside the boundaries of his normally esoteric discipline. The Telegraph reports:
A professor of global health at Sweden's Karolinska Institute, Professor Rosling decided to "drop out" in 2007 to devote his time to Gapminder, which allows users to create their own data visualisations.
He co-founded the foundation with his son Ola Rosling and daughter-in-law Anna Ronlund in 2005.
The Swede rose to fame in 2006 after showcasing his unique approach at a conference organised by TED, the forum for new ideas.
Professor Rosling staged a 20-minute presentation that was so original and unforgettable that he was forced to pause his lecture and wait for a round of applause or a roar of laughter to die down. He has since garnered a reputation as the “man in whose hands data sings”.
Bill Gates paid tribute to Professor Rosling on Twitter.
"A great friend, educator and true inspiration for our work. Melinda and I are saddened by the loss of Hans Rosling," said the philanthropist, who has said one of the main reasons behind his decision to donate billions of dollars to healthcare projects in the developing world was down to a Rosling presentation on the issue.
There's more at the link.
I admired Prof. Rosling for years. He did the world a great service by teaching us to regard statistics and data as time-oriented rather than fixed and static. Their change over time, represented graphically in appropriate ways, showed trends in the world that might otherwise be obscured by the raw numbers. To illustrate, here's a brief presentation he made as part of a BBC production. It's titled "200 countries, 200 years, 4 minutes - The Joy of Stats". I strongly recommend watching it in full-screen mode, to get the full impact of what he's demonstrating.
For a more detailed version, see his 2006 TED presentation, as well as his many other videos on YouTube.
Academics who can engage the man in the street, and excite him with a new perspective on our lived reality, are few and far between. Prof. Rosling will be greatly missed. I hope his son and daughter-in-law, and others who were inspired by him, will continue his good work.