Hans Rosling trained in statistics and medicine and spent years on the front lines of public health in Africa. Yet his greatest impact has come from his stunning renderings of the numbers that characterize the human condition.
His 2006 TED talk, in which he animated statistics to tell the story of socio-economic development, has been viewed over 3.8 million times and translated into dozens of languages. His subsequent talks have moved millions of people worldwide to see themselves and our planet in new ways by showing how our actions affect our health and wealth and one another across space and time.
When you meet Rosling, 63, you are struck by his energy and clarity. He has the quiet assurance of a sword swallower (which he is) but also of a man who is in the vanguard of a critically important activity: advancing the public understanding of science.
What does Rosling make of his statistical analysis of worldwide trends? "I am not an optimist," he says. "I'm a very serious possibilist. It's a new category where we take emotion apart and we just work analytically with the world." We can all, Rosling thinks, become healthy and wealthy. What a promising thought, so eloquently rendered with data.
Christakis is an internist and social scientist at Harvard University