5 ways to commemorate Hans Rosling

5 ways to commemorate Hans Rosling
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Photo: Baard Henriksen

Last week, the world lost a unique statistician, global health champion and communicator. Hans Rosling, professor of international health at Karolinska Institute and co-founder of Gapminder, fought ignorance with data, visualized through innovative graphics, Lego Bricks, cardboard boxes, apples or rolls of toilet paper. Newspapers and social media have been full of praise and tributes, re-sharing his eye-opening and mind-altering presentations. Rest in peace, they say. But the best way to commemorate Professor Rosling is not through silence, but to live by his rules. And to do so loudly.

We´ve had the privilege of knowing Professor Rosling and collaborating with him for many years. He was on top of our wish list as a keynote speaker for EAT Stockholm Food Forum. Rosling made complex knowledge both enjoyable and understandable. He valued engaging presentations of facts almost as much as the facts themselves. Unfortunately, promoting the communication of science is rarely appreciated in academic circles. This should be of increasing concern, especially in times of “alternative facts” and fake news. And this is why the best way to commemorate Professor Rosling is to walk his talk. Below are five steps to do just that.

1: The world is evolving – so should your perceptions

Rosling made us question our own assumptions of the world, and our basic understanding on where countries are in their development path. Terminology like “developed” and “developing countries” are outdated, and so are our prejudices. We should start asking more questions. Then find the answers in evidence-based facts, rather than fallacies.

2: Know the past, and you´ll believe in the future!

The greatest positive news stories rarely make the headlines. Like the fact that for the first time in history, the level of extreme poverty worldwide has dropped to below 10 percent. Rosling was a champion of those left behind. He also gave us reasons to be optimistic. Statistics show we are on the right track.

3: Knowledge can make politics great again

Policymaking based on misleading or blatantly wrong information is risky business. With populism on the rise as a dominating political force in many western countries, we must be vigilant and keep political leaders accountable for actions and statements, especially

for the factual grounds on which they build their political platform. Let us debate political alternatives. Not alternative facts.

4: Facts alone won´t change the world!

Rosling worked extremely hard to get every message right and make his performance appealing to his audience. It was because of all that hard work that he managed to make it look easy. Science alone doesn´t change anything unless it is shared and applied. In addition to new knowledge, we need new, engaging ways of sharing it. If you want to make yourself heard, start with making the audience want to listen!

5: Continue closing the gap

The Rosling family Foundation, Gapminder, was named after the “mind the gap” notices on the London Underground. The three co-founders Hans, Ola and Anna Rosling Rönnlund wanted to close the gap between what the statistics say and how we perceive the world.

Hans Rosling during EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2014

Hans Rosling during EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2014

Photo: Per Sollerman

Hans Rosling will be greatly missed by his family, friends, colleagues, and millions of fans and followers around the world. He leaves a gap himself. The best way to honour him is to continue spreading his message. The best way to do so is to live by his rules. In the end, our actions speak louder than words.

This article is co-written by Gunhild Stordalen & Usman Mustaq

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