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'Edutainer' Hans Rosling, Who Taught Us About The World, Has Died

Hans Rosling gives a presentation on global population at a conference in Oxford, England, in 2012.
Matthew Lloyd
Getty Images for ReSource 2012/Getty Images
Hans Rosling gives a presentation on global population at a conference in Oxford, England, in 2012.

He called himself an "edutainer."

He had a knack for explaining difficult concepts — global inequality, climate change, disease and poverty. He used maps, humor and props like storage boxes and colored stones to tell the story of our world and to advocate for the poor: "Health cannot be bought at the supermarket. You have to invest in health."

Hans Rosling, the medical doctor, professor of international health and statistician who found joy in hard facts, died on Tuesday from pancreatic cancer in Uppsala, Sweden, surrounded by family. He was 68.

Rosling had a colorful way of teaching. "I can show you! Let me show you the world," he said in an interview with The Guardian in 2013, using stacks of Lego-like bricks to show the narrowing gap between the world's rich and poor.

I had the privilege of seeing Rosling in person at a conference in Dar es Salaam in 2013. He gave an abridged version of the famous TED Talk he gave in 2006, which painted a positive view of development. He showed us that life is getting better for more people, if we only bothered to look at the numbers.

"Data is often better than you think," he said in that TED Talk.

In front of his PowerPoint presentation projected on the wall, he jumped and pointed from data point to data point, excited and breathless, like a tornado.

His enthusiasm was infectious. The room was filled with global health bureaucrats and government workers who had probably seen it all — but he had captured their attention completely. And mine, too.

Rosling, the co-founder of the Gapminder Institute, a global development "fact tank" in Sweden, definitely made statistics entertaining — but above all, he educated the world about itself. Here's a collection of some of his most popular video presentations.

The best stats you've ever seen

200 countries, 200 years, 4 minutes

Global population growth, box by box

Where are the Syrian refugees?

Why did Ebola spread in West Africa?

Hans Rosling and the magic washing machine

What's your favorite Hans Rosling video? Share with us on Twitter at @NPRGoatsandSoda.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Malaka Gharib is the deputy editor and digital strategist on NPR's global health and development team. She covers topics such as the refugee crisis, gender equality and women's health. Her work as part of NPR's reporting teams has been recognized with two Gracie Awards: in 2019 for How To Raise A Human, a series on global parenting, and in 2015 for #15Girls, a series that profiled teen girls around the world.