Hans Rosling, who died this week aged 68 a year after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, had a virtuosity and flair that brought statistics to life
Archive for February 14th, 2017
Hans Rosling: ‘A kind and constantly curious genius’
Hans Rosling was a kind and constantly curious genius. He was truly committed to the poorest people in this world, passionate about statistics and dedicated to communicating a fact-based worldview. His knowledge, virtuosity and humour infused his unique data visualisations with a life of their own, encouraging people around the world to engage with facts about population, global health and inequality that might otherwise have passed them by.
I first met him in his messy, overloaded office at Uppsala University in Sweden, where he was associate professor of internal medicine, in 1992. He showed me his now famous bubble graph on world statistics on handwritten overheads, and from that moment on he constantly provoked me to think and to become better.
Hans was born in Uppsala on 27 July 1948, and the city – about 43 miles north of Stockholm – loomed large in his life. He attended medical school at Uppsala University, graduating in 1974, and lectured there on international health from 1983 to 1996.
Along the way, he touched countless young lives. Fashion, food or sleep, he couldn’t care less about. The man who became famous as an “edutainer” on stage was just as mind-blowing, intense and inspiring in private discussions or in the classroom. He never accepted dogma, and had a boundless capacity to come up with new ideas.
Hans was my mentor in public health, in research and in life. He believed in people and gave me the confidence to do what I thought impossible. He was a professor who understood how to make others grow, and he sparked energy and a willingness to effect change in numerous young people in so many places around the world. Once you became his friend, he was always there for you.
We worked together for many years, organising courses in public health in India, Tanzania and Vietnam and collaborating on a textbook on global health. One paragraph in the book took weeks of conversations to agree upon, and it sometimes drove me crazy. But during our travels he never stopped educating me or anyone else who was interested, regardless of that person’s status or background.
To Hans, it didn’t matter if you were Bill Gates, a first-year medical student or a traditional birth attendant in a village in Tanzania – as long as you really listened and tried to understand. By the same token, he listened to others and liked to be challenged himself.
That appetite for challenge took Hans around the world. After graduating from Uppsala University in statistics and medicine in 1974 – by which time had already spent a year studying public health at St John’s Medical College in Bangalore, India – he worked as a doctor in northern Mozambique from 1979 to 1981.
He subsequently began investigating the cause of a rare paralytic disease affecting people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His research on the subject, which continued across Africa and led to the disease being named “konzo” – or “tired legs” in the Bantu language Yaka – earned him a PhD from Uppsala University in 1986.
Honesty came naturally to Hans. He once said to me: “To succeed, remember to always pay taxes and make no tricks with money.” No one worked for free around Hans, because he made sure everyone had a salary. His loyalty to his friends and family was strong. Agneta, his wife, who travelled to Mozambique with him when they were a young and idealistic couple, started as a midwife, became a psychiatrist, did her PhD and became head of clinic, encouraged by Hans. They married in 1972, when he was 24; he would later find statistical mileage even in those bare details.
Ola, Anna and Magnus, his three children, were very close to him, but sometimes I wondered how his family could stand all his travels and his impossible work pace. Hans always worked. I think it was compensated by his absolute attention when he was present in front of you, full of warmth and with a great sense of humour.
In 1997, he became professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute; in 2005, still pursuing his dream of a fact-based global outlook, and determined to “fight devastating misconceptions about global development”, he co-founded the Gapminder Foundation together with his son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund.
Within two years, Google paid an undisclosed amount for the Trendalyzer software behind the bouncing bubbles and animated statistics that, through his Ted talks and TV documentaries such as The Joy of Stats and Don’t Panic – the Truth about Population, propelled him into the global spotlight.
When Hans became famous, he would sometimes laugh about it like an excited boy. Yet fame never changed his way of being. He just truly loved being on stage. I think what he enjoyed most about the elevation of his status was the access it gave him to influential people. That meant he could make things happen.
One example of this occurred during the Ebola epidemic, when he mobilised funds and established an Ebola course for international aid workers. He gave an epic speech at the Medical Association on the importance of acting quickly against Ebola that left all 400 people present ready to leave the next day to help.
One of his last missions involved assisting the ministry of health in Liberia during the Ebola epidemic. He really enjoyed working cheek by jowl in a small office with his Liberian colleagues, passionately charting, analysing and acting to stop the epidemic.
Hans was discouraged sometimes. “I teach the same thing over decades and ignorance is still there,” he would occasionally lament.
But Hans, you moved so many of us. No one can take your place, but we can all play our part in creating a fact-based understanding of the world that will help us make the right decisions for our future.
Statement of Coretta Scott King
on the Nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III for the United States District Court Southern District of Alabama
Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, was trying to read the letter of Coretta Scott King aloud in the Senate chamber when her fellow senators, accusing her of violating a rule that forbids one senator from demeaning another, invoked a law, forcing her to stop.
The statement consists of two parts: a cover letter addressed to Mr. Thurmond, which Ms. Warren did not read aloud, and the statement, part of which Ms. Warren read on the Senate floor. She later read it in full on Facebook Live, uninterrupted. By Wednesday afternoon, her video had been viewed more than seven million times.
Dear Senator Thurmond:
I write to express my sincere opposition to the confirmation of Jefferson B. Sessions as a federal district court judge for the Southern District of Alabama. My professional and personal roots in Alabama are deep and lasting.
Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts.
Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.
For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.
I regret that a long-standing commitment prevents me from appearing in person to testify against this nominee. However, I have attached a copy of my statement opposing Mr. Sessions’ confirmation and I request that my statement as well as this letter ‘be made a part of the’ hearing record.
I do sincerely urge you to oppose the confirmation of Mr. Sessions.
Coretta Scott King
Thursday, March 13, 1986
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee: Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to express my strong opposition to the nomination of Jefferson Sessions for a federal district judgeship for the Southern District of Alabama. My longstanding commitment which I shared with my husband, Martin, to protect and enhance the rights of Black Americans, rights which include equal access to the democratic process, compels me to testify today.
Civil rights leaders, including my husband and Albert Turner, have fought long and hard to achieve free and unfettered access to the ballot box. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge. This simply cannot be allowed to happen. Mr. Sessions’ conduct as U.S. Attorney, from his politically motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge.
The Voting Rights Act was, and still is, vitally important to the future of democracy in the United States. I was privileged to join Martin and many others during the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights in 1965. Martin was particularly impressed by the determination to get the franchise of blacks in Selma and neighboring Perry County. As he wrote, “Certainly no community in the history of the Negro struggle has responded with the enthusiasm of Selma and her neighboring town of Marion. Where Birmingham depended largely upon students and unemployed adults (to participate in non-violent protest of the denial of the franchise), Selma has involved fully 10 percent of the Negro population in active demonstrations, and at least half the Negro population of Marion was arrested on one day.” Martin was referring of course to a group that included the defendants recently prosecuted for assisting elderly and illiterate blacks to exercise that franchise. ln fact, Martin anticipated from the depth of their commitment twenty years ago, that a united political organization would remain in Perry County long after the other marchers had left. This organization, the Perry County Civic League, started by Mr. Turner, Mr. Hogue, and others as Martin predicted, continued “to direct the drive for votes and other rights.” In the years since the Voting Rights Act was passed, Black Americans in Marion, Selma and elsewhere have made important strides in their struggle to participate actively in the electoral process. The number of Blacks registered to vote in key Southern states has doubled since 1965. This would not have been possible without the Voting Rights Act.
However, Blacks still fall far short of having equal participation in the electoral process. Particularly in the South, efforts continue to be made to deny Blacks access to the polls, even where Blacks constitute the majority of the voters. It has been a long up-hill struggle to keep alive the vital legislation that protects the most fundamental right to vote. A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws, and thus, to the exercise of those rights by Black people should not be elevated to the federal bench.
The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods. Twenty years ago, when we marched from Selma to Montgomery, the fear of voting was real, as the broken bones and bloody heads in Selma and Marion bore witness. As my husband wrote at the time, “it was not just a sick imagination that conjured up the vision of a public official, sworn to uphold the law, who forced an inhuman march upon hundreds of Negro children; who ordered the Rev. James Bevel to be chained to his sickbed; who clubbed a Negro woman registrant, and who callously inflicted repeated brutalities and indignities upon nonviolent Negroes peacefully petitioning for their constitutional right to vote.”
Free exercise of voting rights is so fundamental to American democracy that we can not tolerate any form of infringement of those rights. Of all the groups who have been disenfranchised in our nation’s history, none has struggled longer or suffered more in the attempt to win the vote than Black citizens. No group has had access to the ballot box denied so persistently and intently. Over the past century, a broad array of schemes have been used in attempts to block the Black vote. The range of techniques developed with the purpose of repressing black voting rights run the gamut from the — straightforward application of brutality against black citizens who tried to vote to such legalized frauds as “grandfather clause” exclusions and rigged literacy tests.
The actions taken by Mr. Sessions in regard to the 1984 voting fraud prosecutions represent just one more technique used to intimidate Black voters and thus deny them this most precious franchise. The investigations into the absentee voting process were conducted only in the Black Belt counties where blacks had finally achieved political power in the local government. Whites had been using the absentee process to their advantage for years, without incident. Then, when Blacks realizing its strength, began to use it with success, criminal investigations were begun.
In these investigations, Mr. Sessions, as U.S. Attorney, exhibited an eagerness to bring to trial and convict three leaders of the Perry County Civic League including Albert Turner despite evidence clearly demonstrating their innocence of any wrongdoing. Furthermore, in initiating the case, Mr. Sessions ignored allegations of similar behavior by whites, choosing instead to chill the exercise of the franchise by blacks by his misguided investigation. In fact, Mr. Sessions sought to punish older black civil rights activists, advisors and colleagues of my husband, who had been key figures in the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. These were persons who, realizing the potential of the absentee vote among Blacks, had learned to use the process within the bounds of legality and had taught others to do the same. The only sin they committed was being too successful in gaining votes.
The scope and character of the investigations conducted by Mr. Sessions also warrant grave concern. Witnesses were selectively chosen in accordance with the favorability of their testimony to the government’s case. Also, the prosecution illegally withheld from the defense critical statements made by witnesses. Witnesses who did testify were pressured and intimidated into submitting the “correct” testimony. Many elderly blacks were visited multiple times by the FBI who then hauled them over 180 miles by bus to a grand jury in Mobile when they could more easily have testified at a grand jury twenty miles away in Selma. These voters, and others, have announced they are now never going to vote again.
I urge you to consider carefully Mr. Sessions’ conduct in these matters. Such a review, I believe, raises serious questions about his commitment to the protection of the voting rights of all American citizens and consequently his fair and unbiased judgment regarding this fundamental right. When the circumstances and facts surrounding the indictments of Al Turner, his wife, Evelyn, and Spencer Hogue are analyzed, it becomes clear that the motivation was political, and the result frightening — the wide-scale chill of the exercise of the ballot for blacks, who suffered so much to receive that right in the first place. Therefore, it is my strongly-held view that the appointment of Jefferson Sessions to the federal bench would irreparably damage the work of my husband, Al Turner, and countless others who risked their lives and freedom over the past twenty years to ensure equal participation in our democratic system.
The exercise of the franchise is an essential means by which our citizens ensure that those who are governing will be responsible. My husband called it the number one civil right. The denial of access to the ballot box ultimately results in the denial of other fundamental rights. For, it ‘ is only when the poor and disadvantaged are empowered that they are able to participate actively in the solutions to their own problems.
We still have a long way to go before we can say that minorities no longer need be concerned about discrimination at the polls. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans are grossly underrepresented at every level of government in America. If we are going to make our timeless dream of justice through democracy a reality, we must take every possible step to ensure that the spirit and intent of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution is honored.
The federal courts hold a unique position in our constitutional system, ensuring that minorities and other citizens without political power have a forum in which to vindicate their rights. Because of his unique role, it is essential that the people selected to be federal judges respect the basic tenets of our legal system: respect for individual rights and a commitment to equal justice for all. The integrity of the Courts, and thus the rights they protect, can only be maintained if citizens feel confident that those selected as federal judges will be able to judge with fairness others holding differing views.
I do not believe Jefferson Sessions possesses the requisite judgment, competence, and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court. Based on his record, I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband’s dream that he envisioned over twenty years ago. I therefore urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to deny his confirmation.
I thank you for allowing me to share my views.
An earlier version of this article mischaracterized a part of Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter. She wrote, “Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts,” not “should be elevated.”
Notes and comments on FB and Twitter. Part 19
Born Free? Learn to retain your freedom and how to go about it?
Comment font-ils pour avilir les ames et leurs esprits de ces nouveaux recruts qui n’ont pas experimentes le meurtre?
They had good intentions: They could no longer vote laws that smacked of socialism. They liked to be re-elected by the elite classes
Large families are mostly the prerogative of the poorer classes. Public schools must have public dwelling attached to them.
If you want to learn to be concise: Try Tweeter
The Duke is Not in doing business: You pay $1,000 to meet with him.
You read enough of what your precious time allowed you. Did You read the title and the summary cover?
Obama was awarded Peace Nobel for his “good intentions to peace”. Wars are worse after 8 years. Time to revert to facts on the ground. Not likely to do same mistake with Donald Trump
On regurgite ce qu’on a retenu de notre enfance, et on y tricotte des histoires malsains, qui n’ont rien a voir avec notre enfance de brute et mal elevée. Est-ce ca devenir adulte? Toutes ces guerres et violence
C’est la parole ecrite ou oralement repetée qui ne doit jamais mourir. Le papier peut deperire si le contenu en vaut la peine de le re-copier, en appliquant un esprit nouveau.
L’immigrant: “J’en ai assez qu’on me dise que je ne suis pas digne, que peut etre je comprendrais plus tard. La plupart des citoyens ne comprennent pas grand chose, et poutant, on ne leur dit pas qu’ils ne sont pas dignes”
We all get upset, angry and we shout. So what? Getting upset and quitting is a generalized flawed sense of pride.
All human-made calamities are consequences of most of us claiming to know more than the others’, of what is right and what is wrong. We transcend our ignorance, our flawed sense of pride, our deep intelligence of our limitations and capabilities in order to fool the others’
A woman crossed the line and planted herself in front of me. I said: was I Not first? She said: So what? I’m in a hurry. I said: My right is more in a hurry to become the rule of the game
It pays to keep transparent accounting and fair mentality in every institution. A little effort can go a long way.
Wars on drugs and terror brought in more of them. Let’s have an open war on jobs and money for a change.