Hans Rosling, who passed away earlier this month, made numbers tell significant stories about the world. A self-proclaimed “edutainer” — educator and entertainer — Professor Rosling championed a worldview based on facts. He had a genius for revealing large patterns in human development by making people see the data on population, inequality, and global education and health. He leaves to teachers resources on numbers, facts, and large patterns that can continue to help us in our classrooms — and also leaves us, in less practical terms, the inspiration of his love of knowledge.
Hans Rosling: some resources
For Theory of Knowledge, this Swedish doctor, researcher, statistician, and professor of global health (Sweden’s Karolinska Institute) continues to be a terrific resource for mathematics applied to the world, for measurement of variables and correlation between them across space and time, for statistics and visualization of ideas, and for assumptions about the world that can be (and should be) tested against fact. In his work, he insists that beliefs about the world can be biased, outdated or otherwise inaccurate, and that it is important to ground beliefs on facts, on data.
For the classroom, we still have access to Gapminder, with its website visualizations that can be searched and played. As the “About” page explains,
“Gapminder is an independent Swedish foundation with no political, religious or economic affiliations. Gapminder is a fact tank, not a think tank. Gapminder fights devastating misconceptions about global development. Gapminder produces free teaching resources making the world understandable based on reliable statistics. Gapminder promotes a fact-based worldview everyone can understand.”
Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Hans Rosling’s children, direct Gapminder and will continue their work.
We also have access to Hans Rosling through his talks on video.
The following 20 minute TED talk “The best stats you’ve ever seen”, for instance, was filmed in 2006 but it still makes its point – and if you want to extend the examples to the present, you can update them on the new bubble chart on the Gapminder website. It’s on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVimVzgtD6w
More up-to-date (2014) is the following 20-minute TED video, How Not to Be Ignorant about the World. It is funnier, too, as Hans Rosling jokes with his audience. It’s on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm5xF-UYgdg
Hans Rosling: an inspiration
Not only is Hans Rosling still a good speaker (on video) for TOK, but he can continue to convey to us all his love of knowledge and insistence on its importance in the real world. He is described in Future Crunch as “someone who understood that the stories we tell ourselves really matter. His message was that the world is getting better, but that we need to understand the data if we want to help those being left behind.”
The Crunch picks out the following interview (on youtube, subtitled in English) as its favourite for capturing Rosling’s attitudes: “Don’t use media if you want to understand the world” on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzRujm9WbQI
Hans Rosling: superstar of knowledge
I want to end today by passing comments over to three tributes to Rosling made by people who knew him and understood his contributions to knowledge. As we draw a distinction in TOK between “personal knowledge” and “shared knowledge”, we might want to pause a moment and cheer for someone whose own personal pursuit added in such positive ways to what we all share, not just in presenting data comprehensibly but in conveying its significance. I’ve left the final words, as you will see, to Ann Linstrom below: “No one can take your place, but we can all play our part in creating a fact-based understanding of the world that will help us make the right decisions for our future.”
Zuzana Hucki, “Five important lessons we can learn from statistician Hans Rosling”, Phys.org. February 13, 2017.
“Rosling was not only a statistician but also an exciting storyteller. He would not only express his opinion, he made numbers and figures tell the stories. … he didn’t present long boring lists. Instead he showed bubbles of data which represented different countries of different sizes, and different colours were different continents. As he popped those bubbles he also popped the audience’s preconceived ideas about the world.” (https://phys.org/news/2017-02-important-lessons-statistician-hans-rosling.html)
The Crunch #31, Future Crunch. February, 2017.
“… Professor Rosling also understood human nature. He realised good data wasn’t enough; you have to show it in ways that people enjoy and understand. Millions of people had access to the same datasets he did. Rosling’s genius was in realising the powerful message they contained would only make sense to the wider public if he could give that data a bit of soul….
“This was someone who understood that the stories we tell ourselves really matter. His message was that the world is getting better, but that we need to understand the data if we want to help those being left behind.” (http://us8.campaign-archive1.com/?u=6321feeb3ffd42b0e44a01616&id=ab370299eb&e=902c91567c)
Ann Lindstrand, “Hans Rosling, “a kind and constantly curious genius”, The Guardian, February 10, 2017.
“Hans Rosling was a kind and constantly curious genius. He was truly committed to the poorest people in this world, passionate about statistics and dedicated to communicating a fact-based worldview. His knowledge, virtuosity and humour infused his unique data visualisations with a life of their own, encouraging people around the world to engage with facts about population, global health and inequality that might otherwise have passed them by…..
“Hans was discouraged sometimes. “I teach the same thing over decades and ignorance is still there,” he would occasionally lament.
“But Hans, you moved so many of us. No one can take your place, but we can all play our part in creating a fact-based understanding of the world that will help us make the right decisions for our future.” (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/feb/10/hans-rosling-remembered-a-kind-and-constantly-curious-genius-ann-lindstrand)