Hans Rosling
Rosling in 2016
Born(1948-07-27)27 July 1948
Uppsala, Sweden
Died7 February 2017(2017-02-07) (aged 68)
Uppsala, Sweden
Alma materUppsala University
St. John's Medical College
Known forVideo lectures on global health [3]
Agneta Thordeman
(m. 1972, died)
Children3 (including Ola Rosling)
AwardsThe World's 100 Most Influential People: 2012[1]
Grierson Awards - Best Science Documentary: 2011[2]
Honorary chieftainship - Liberia[3]
Scientific career
InstitutionsKarolinska Institutet
ThesisCassava, Cyanide, and Epidemic Spastic Paraparesis: A Study in Mozambique on Dietary Cyanide Exposure (1986)

Hans Rosling (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈhɑːns ˈrûːslɪŋ]; 27 July 1948 – 7 February 2017) was a Swedish physician, academic and public speaker. He was a professor of international health at Karolinska Institute[4] and was the co-founder and chairman of the Gapminder Foundation, which developed the Trendalyzer software system. He held presentations around the world, including several TED Talks[5] in which he promoted the use of data (and data visualization) to explore development issues.[6] His posthumously published book Factfulness, coauthored with his daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund and son Ola Rosling, became an international bestseller.[7]

Life and career

Rosling was born in Uppsala, Sweden, on 28 July 1948.[8] From 1967 to 1974, he studied statistics and medicine at Uppsala University, and in 1972 he studied public health at St. John's Medical College, Bangalore, India. He became a licensed physician in 1976 and from 1979 to 1981 he served as District Medical Officer in Nacala in northern Mozambique. In 1981, he began investigating an outbreak of konzo, a paralytic disease first described in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[9][10][11] His investigations earned him a Ph.D. at Uppsala University in 1986.[11] Rosling was dyslexic.[12][13]

Rosling presented the television documentary The Joy of Stats, which was broadcast in the United Kingdom by BBC Four in December 2010 and has been made available to 'catch up' on BBC iPlayer since.[14] He presented a documentary Don't Panic — The Truth about Population for the This World series using a Musion 3D projection display,[15] which appeared on BBC Two in the UK in November 2013.[16] In 2015 he presented the documentary Don't Panic: How to End Poverty in 15 Years, which was produced by Wingspan and aired on the BBC just ahead of the announcement of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.[17][18]

Rosling was a sword swallower, as demonstrated in the final moments of his second talk at the TED conference.[19] In 2009 he was listed as one of 100 leading global thinkers by Foreign Policy,[20] and in 2011 as one of 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company.[21] In 2011 he was elected member of the Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and in 2012 as member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences.[22] He was included in the Time 100 list of the world's 100 most influential people in 2012.[23]

Work in healthcare

Rosling spent two decades studying outbreaks of konzo, a paralytic disease, in remote rural areas across Africa and supervised more than ten PhD students.[24] His work with Julie Cliff, Johannes Mårtensson, Per Lundqvist, and Bo Sörbo found that outbreaks occur among hunger-stricken rural populations in Africa where a diet dominated by insufficiently processed cassava results in simultaneous malnutrition and high dietary cyanide intake.[11][25][26]

Rosling's research also concerned other links between economic development, agriculture, poverty and health.[27] He worked as full-time consultant to the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) on primary health care from 1984 to 1990 and then as their consultant on HIV until 1994, traveling often to Sida program countries. He was at this time based at the Maternal and Child Care Department (International) at Uppsala University. He was a health adviser to the World Health Organization, UNICEF and several aid agencies. In 1993 he was one of the initiators of Médecins Sans Frontières in Sweden.[28] At Karolinska Institutet he was head of the Division of International Health (IHCAR) from 2001 to 2007. As chairman of the Karolinska International Research and Training Committee (1998–2004), he started health research collaborations with universities in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. He started new courses on global health and co-authored a textbook on global health that promotes a fact-based worldview.[29]

Trendalyzer and Gapminder

(Left to right) Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Hans Rosling, and Ola Rosling discuss their book Factfulness in 2016.

Rosling's son, Ola Rosling, built the Trendalyzer software to animate data compiled by the UN and the World Bank that helped him explain the world with graphics.[9] Rosling co-founded the Gapminder Foundation together with his son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund to develop Trendalyzer to convert international statistics into moving, interactive graphics. The provocative presentations that have resulted have made him famous,[9] and his lectures using Gapminder graphics to visualize world development have won awards.[30] The interactive animations are freely available from the Foundation's website.

Hans Rosling narrates 'Why Boat Refugees Don't Fly! – Factpod 16'. A video about the European refugee/migrant crisis produced by the Gapminder Foundation

In March 2007, Google acquired the Trendalyzer software with the intention to scale it up and make it freely available for public statistics. In 2008, Google made available a Motion Chart Google Gadget and in 2009 the Public Data Explorer.[31]

Personal life and death

When he was 20, in 1968, doctors told Rosling that there was something wrong with his liver and as a consequence, he stopped drinking alcohol. Aged 29, with a young family, he had testicular cancer which was successfully treated. In 1989, he was diagnosed with hepatitis C. Over the years this progressed and he developed liver cirrhosis. At the beginning of 2013, he was in the early stages of liver failure. However, at the same time, new hepatitis C drugs were released and he went to Japan to buy the drugs needed to treat the infection. He expressed concerns in the media over the restricted use of the new drugs due to high costs, stating that it is a crime not to give every person with hepatitis C access to the drugs.[32][33][34]

Rosling was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2016, and died of the disease on 7 February 2017.[6][35]


Reception of Rosling's views

Rosling is commonly described as an optimist, though he personally rejected the label. In his posthumous book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think he wrote "The five global risks that concern me most are the risks of a global pandemic, financial collapse, world war, climate change, and extreme poverty."[43] In summary, he wrote, "People often call me an optimist, because I show them the enormous progress they didn't know about. That makes me angry. I'm not an optimist. That makes me sound naive. I'm a very serious "possibilist". That's something I made up. It means someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason, someone who constantly resists the overdramatic worldview. As a possibilist, I see all this progress, and it fills me with conviction and hope that further progress is possible. This is not optimistic. It is having a clear and reasonable idea about how things are. It is having a worldview that is constructive and useful."[43]

In his later years he advocated on behalf of refugees from Syria and partnered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in this effort.[44] In his last book he wrote repeatedly about the tragedy of the war in Syria saying: "The Syrian conflict will most likely prove to be the deadliest in the world since the Ethiopian-Eritrean war of 1998 to 2000."[43]

However, some experts consider Rosling's world-view excessively rose-tinted, or anti-environmental. For instance, in The One-Sided Worldview of Hans Rosling[45] Christian Berggren, a Swedish professor of industrial management, argues that Factfulness, "presents a highly biased sample of statistics as the true perspective on global development, avoids analysis of negative trends, and refrains from discussing difficult issues". Seeing Rosling as more optimist than "possibilist", Berggren remarks that, "Factfulness includes many graphs of 'bad things in decline' and 'good things on the rise' but not a single graph of 'bad things on the rise'." In 2013 in The Ecologist Robin Maynard reported Rosling as raging against the UN's population projections, and against some ecological objections to development: "I don't give a damn about polar bears! I can live without polar bears."[46]

Hence, Rosling has been criticized as being Pollyannaist about the global political situation in the face of tragedies such as the long-running conflict in Syria, among others.[9] His work on population growth has also been criticized by Paul R. Ehrlich, the U.S. biologist and Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University, and Anne H. Ehrlich, associate director of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, in an article, published online by the MAHB, titled "A Confused Statistician." The Ehrlichs also warn that, while some trends that Rosling cites may indeed be positive, there is the possibility of total collapse of those trends if social and political instabilities occur.[47]

Max Roser saw this differently, writing in his obituary for Rosling: "In portraits of Rosling, he was too often presented as an "optimist" that tells the world that things will turn out well. This is wrong. What Rosling did was to present the empirical evidence up to the present, and he showed that many vastly underestimate the progress that the world has made in improving living conditions globally. The majority of the world is better off now than at any point in history before. This was his positive message. But he never suggested that this should give anyone any reason to be complacent. He always used his fame to draw attention to the living conditions of the worst off and to denounce the lack of support they were receiving from the large group of people in the world that is living in unprecedented comfort. Hans Rosling's message was never that all is good; the enthusiasm for his work came from the fact that he was always convinced that a better world is possible if we care to work towards it."[48]

Selected publications

External videos
video icon The Best Stats You've Ever Seen[49]
video icon Hans Rosling: Religions and babies[50]
video icon How Not to Be Ignorant About the World[51] All from TED Talks


  1. ^ Christakis, Nicholas A. (18 April 2012). "Hans Rosling - The World's 100 Most Influential People: 2012 - TIME". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
  2. ^ "The Grierson Trust - Winners". www.griersontrust.org. Archived from the original on 5 November 2016. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
  3. ^ a b Maxmen, Amy (2016). "Three minutes with Hans Rosling will change your mind about the world". Nature. 540 (7633): 330–333. Bibcode:2016Natur.540..330M. doi:10.1038/540330a. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 27974780.
  4. ^ "Hans Rosling". Karolinska Institutet. Archived from the original on 12 August 2011. Professor of Public Health Science at the Department of Public Health Sciences since 1997
  5. ^ "Hans Rosling". Ted.com. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Sad to announce: Hans Rosling passed away this morning". Gapminder Foundation. 7 February 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  7. ^ "How a book offering a bright worldview became a surprise bestseller". Evening Standard. 2 July 2019. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  8. ^ Roberts, Sam (9 February 2017). "Hans Rosling, Swedish Doctor and Pop-Star Statistician, Dies at 68". The New York TImes. Retrieved 25 March 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d Maxmen, Amy (2016). "Three minutes with Hans Rosling will change your mind about the world". Nature. 540 (7633): 330–333. Bibcode:2016Natur.540..330M. doi:10.1038/540330a. PMID 27974780. S2CID 4384883.
  10. ^ Trolli, G (1938). "Paraplégie spastique épidémique,'Konzo'des indigènes du Kwango". Résumé des Observations Réunies, Au Kwango. Brussels.
  11. ^ a b c Howlett, W. P.; Brubaker, G. R.; Mlingi, N.; Rosling, H. (1990). "Konzo, an Epidemic Upper Motor Neuron Disease Studied in Tanzania". Brain. 113: 223–235. doi:10.1093/brain/113.1.223. PMID 2302534.
  12. ^ "Memories of Hans Rosling | Karolinska Institutet Nyheter". news.ki.se. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  13. ^ Rosling, Hans; Rönnlund, Anna Rosling; Rosling, Ola (3 April 2018). Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. Flatiron Books. ISBN 978-1-250-12381-7.
  14. ^ "The Joy of Stats". BBC Four. Archived from the original on 30 June 2009.
  15. ^ "BBC – Hans Rosling returns to BBC for series of programmes on population – Media Centre". Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  16. ^ "Don't Panic – The Truth About Population". BBC Two. Archived from the original on 30 June 2009. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  17. ^ "This World, Don't Panic – How to End Poverty in 15 Years". BBC iPlayer. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  18. ^ The Gapminder's website lists information on the empirical data and research used as the basis for the documentary "Don't Panic, How to End Poverty": http://www.gapminder.org/news/data-sources-dont-panic-end-poverty/ The sources used are World Bank data, Overseas Development Institute data, research results by Branko Milanovic, Our World in Data, and information from the Demographic and Health Surveys program. The research team included Hans Rosling, Max Roser, and Ola Rosling.
  19. ^ "Hans Rosling's new insights on poverty". TED Conferences. March 2007. Archived from the original on 30 June 2009. Retrieved 6 December 2009.
  20. ^ "Top 100 Global Thinkers 2009". Foreign Policy. December 2009. Archived from the original on 30 June 2009. Retrieved 16 May 2010.
  21. ^ "100 Most Creative in Business 2011". Fast Company. May 2011. Archived from the original on 30 June 2009. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
  22. ^ "Hans Rosling is 2014 Bartels World Affairs Fellow | Cornell Chronicle". www.news.cornell.edu. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  23. ^ a b "Hans Rosling: Data visionary and educator dies aged 68". BBC News. 7 February 2017.
  24. ^ "April 28: A Conversation with Global Health Expert Hans Rosling". globalnotes.hhh.umn.edu. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  25. ^ Cliff, J.; Martensson, J.; Lundquist, P.; Rosling, H.; Sorbo, B. (1985). "Association of high cyanide and low sulphur intake in cassava-induced spastic paraparesis". Lancet. 326 (8466): 1211–1213. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(85)90742-1. PMID 2866292. S2CID 206001945.
  26. ^ Harford, Tim (4 September 2019). "How do people learn to cook a poisonous plant safely?". BBC News. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  27. ^ Hans Rosling (2006). Global Health: An Introductory Textbook. Studentlitteratur AB, Sweden. ISBN 978-91-44-02198-0.
  28. ^ "Hans Rosling: 'No such thing as Swedish values' – The Local". Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  29. ^ Nathanson, Neal (2011). "BOOK REVIEW: A comparison of five introductory textbooks in global health" (PDF). Global Public Health. 6 (2): 210–219. doi:10.1080/17441692.2010.545360. S2CID 15313526. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 June 2011.
  30. ^ "Awards". Gapminder. Archived from the original on 30 June 2009.
  31. ^ "Public data explorer". April 2010. Retrieved 16 May 2010.
  32. ^ Hans Rosling om sin egen hepatit C-behandling – Nyhetsmorgon (TV4). 9 July 2014. Archived from the original on 19 December 2021 – via YouTube.
  33. ^ "Hans Rosling: läkare måste stå upp för sina hepatitpatienter".
  34. ^ "Nu kan hepatit C botas – men många får vänta". DN.SE. June 2014.
  35. ^ "Hans Rosling är död – DN.SE". DN.SE (in Swedish). 7 February 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  36. ^ Sarma, Amardeo (2017). "Hans Rosling Brought Data to Life, Showed Our Misconceptions about the World". Skeptical Inquirer. 41 (4): 9.
  37. ^ "Dr. Hans Rosling". The Gannon Award. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011.
  38. ^ "Hans Rosling föreläste och världen lyssnade". Karolinska Institutet Nyheter (in Swedish). Retrieved 18 May 2022.
  39. ^ "Hans Rosling, 2012 Humanitarian Award". Harvard Foundation. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  40. ^ "Hans Rosling one of four new honorary doctors at Faculty of Science and Technology – Uppsala University, Sweden". www.uu.se. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  41. ^ "2014 Medals and Awards". www.rgs.org. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  42. ^ "Sweden's Hans Rosling, Niger NGO Win 2017 UN Population Award | UNFPA - United Nations Population Fund". www.unfpa.org. Archived from the original on 7 July 2017. Retrieved 3 July 2017.
  43. ^ a b c Rosling, Hans. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.
  44. ^ ""There is devastating ignorance about the refugee situation" – Hans Rosling - UNHCR Northern Europe". UNHCR. 1 October 2015. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  45. ^ The review-article in Quillette is described as "an abridged version of a much longer paper, which can be found here.
  46. ^ Maynard, R., "People or Polar Bears?", The Ecologist, 30 August 2013.
  47. ^ Ehrlich, Anne H.; Ehrlich, Paul R. (12 November 2013). "A Confused Statistician". MAHB, the University of Technology Sydney, and the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  48. ^ BMJ (14 February 2017). "Seeing human lives in spreadsheets: The work of Hans Rosling (1948–2017)". The BMJ. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  49. ^ "The Best Stats You've Ever Seen". TED Talks. February 2006. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  50. ^ "Hans Rosling: Religions and babies". TED Talks. April 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  51. ^ "How Not to Be Ignorant About the World". TED Talks. February 2014. Retrieved 4 October 2015.