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“Hans Rosling was a storyteller; he turned statistics into a performing art.” reported Significance Magazine in their April 2017 issue. Hans died on February 7 at the age of 68 from pancreatic cancer passing away in his native Sweden. The field of statistics lost one of our best public educators or Edutainer as he called it.

Hans talked about statistics in a way that was informative, engaging and entertaining. The Royal Statistical Society president, David Speigelhalter remembered a talk Hans gave to the Medical Research Council before he became famous, “It was a small audience and Hans had his ‘health and wealth’ plot, showing the blobs moving along. He was building excitement, doing his sports commentator act, standing on a chair, waving his arms around, showing the inexorable rise in the health and wealth of nations, with no real difference between countries except some had a time lag. Even the blue dots of sub-Saharan Africa were catching up, and then in the 1990s some faltered and started to drop back again- this was the impact of the AIDS epidemic before antiretrovirals. The audience reaction was overwhelming. There were gasps. Some sobs. It was the most moving presentation I have seen in my whole professional life, and this was achieved through numbers alone.”

Hans was proud of his country. In one of his talks he shared that Sweden was one of the first in 1749 to begin collecting statistics for the state (where the word statistics is derived from.) Sweden wanted to know every marriage, birth and death in their population to confirm their status as an equal of Britain and France. At the time they thought they had a population of 20 million, but the statistics showed, to their shock, they were a country of 2 million. This was partly due to the lack of recognition on how many women died in childbirth and how many children died very young. Fifty years later Europe and Britain caught up with Sweden in keeping these types of statistics.

Rosling’s hosting of a BBC show, The Joy of Stats, brought him to the attention of the broader public. You can watch this show via the Gapminder website: bit.ly/2mORQOy. Gapminder is the company Hans and two other friends founded to, “share our vision of a fact-based worldview that everyone can understand.” The Gapminder website has many other talks by Hans including the numerous TED talks he did…bringing him and his message of approachable, understandable statistics to an international audience. All of the talks are informative, entertaining and statistical!  Hans was a shining light for statistics.

Jacque Paige, Executive Recruiter, Smith Hanley Associates, jpaige@smithhanley.com


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