Hans Rosling is one of many academic to have become a minor celebrity following his renown TED presentations. Those presentations demonstrate Roslings wonderful facilty for making simple sense of very large datasets through dynamic visualisation over time. While he is most renown for the Gapminder foundation which he founded with his son and daughter in-law Rosling is an accomplished medical and public health researcher with substantial experience in public health management in the developing world. The Gap Minder foundation aims to ‘unveil the beauty of statistics for a facts-based world view’ and describes itself as ‘a non-profit venture – a modern “museum” on the Internet – promoting sustainable global development and achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals’. Following the development of the ‘Trendalzyer’ software upon which Gap minder site is based and its sale to Google the emphasis for the foundation appears to be on the production and exploration of statistic that is enabled by the software and facilitating the use of the software in both research and educational contexts.
Rosling is Professor of International Health in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the Karolinska Institute – the highest ranked university in Clinical Medicine and Pharmacy in Europe – and eighth in the world. He has been a health adviser for the World Health Organisation and UNICEF and was involved with the starting a division of Medecins Sans Frontieres in Sweden. He served for three years as a District Medical Officer in the Mozambique.
Roslings most recent TED presentation used the Gapminder software to provide a stark demonstration of the link between population growth and improved infant mortality rates and standards of living. The graphic generated by the software shows the dynamic by which population growth subsides as infant mortality improves – a somewhat counter intuitive argument and suggested model for sustainable development. While the Trendalyzer visualisation is a key element in Rosling’s presentation the bulk of his time on stage is spent demonstrating the complex of affects of health and wealth on population using plastic Ikea tubs to represent population in first, developing and third worlds and a pair of thongs, a model bike, car, and airplane signifying standards of living. This is a man completely in command of the statistics and an extraordinary communicator – to some extent the Gapminder/Trendalzyer software is a manifestation of that command rather than its simple instrument. There is perhaps a lesson for developers and designer here as we move into an era of we development that focuses on the production, exploration, and manipulation/visualisation/mediation of large datasets.