I remember about a year ago reading an Economist article on new ways of visualising data. At the time I thought it would be a fairly handy tool in the fight to cut through the bullshit, and bring information directly into the public domain in an accessible manner. A year or so on, and I have a few example to share.
This harks back to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”. The documentary made major strides forward in overturning the conventional wisdom that climate change was a myth. Much of the data used came from studies published in Science and Nature, which would not have otherwise reached such a wide audience. The visual representation and dissemination of data was a major contributor to the success of the production. Especially for those of us who are not mathematically minded, visulisation of data can bring it to life.
A quick precursor, before all the cries of “Torture numbers, and they’ll confess to anything” (Gregg Easterbrook). It is clear that statistics depend upon the questions that you ask, however this doesn’t necessarily render them obsolete. All it means is that special care must be taken to ensure that the data is 1) appropriate and 2) clearly defined and explained.
Here are a two of the better examples I have seen:
NewsMap gives a visual representation of the constantly changing GoogleNews aggregator. I will quote directly from the authors website for the explanation behind the algorithm: “A treemap visualization algorithm helps display the enormous amount of information gathered by the aggregator. Treemaps are traditionally space-constrained visualizations of information. Newsmap’s objective takes that goal a step further and provides a tool to divide information into quickly recognizable bands which, when presented together, reveal underlying patterns in news reporting across cultures and within news segments in constant change around the globe.” The real key and social utility of this website is that by revealing these underlying patterns, you can identify the emphasis of the ‘media eye’.
This visulisation charts data from the various official European databases (EUR-lex, PreLex & OEIL) in order to represent the growth of EU activity in specific policy areas. Each area is represented by a circle, and the growth of the circle represents the number of EU legislative acts in force, charted over time from 1950 to 2010.