This month the articles I’d like to draw your attention to are all great examples of the use of visualisation techniques to communicate, or to obscure information. To my mind, these are all topical (and even potentially contentious) issues, so it’s fascinating to see quality visualisations on these interesting themes.
Why data visualisation …
My topic is inspired by an interesting blog entry that I read at the beginning of the month. It’s a reflection on why we do data visualisation, by Enrico Bertini from the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. He comes up with four key reasons:
1. To help scientists and researchers do great things with data
2. To increase people’s awareness and understanding of complex issues that matter
3. To provide pleasurable experiences
4. To increase data literacy
… all of which I’d agree with. As a researcher using data visualisation techniques to help present the stories that I’ve found in data or to make it easier for the owners of the data I’m using to explore it themselves, I’d say that (1) is vital for my own initial insight gathering, (2) and (4) for supporting my clients and (3) makes the whole activity pleasurable for me and, hopefully, for the people I’m working with and for.
The importance of vaccinations
There has been an intriguing chart type (Wall Street Journal) doing the rounds within the online data visualisation community in February. It shows how significant the introduction of vaccines were in preventing contraction of potentially fatal diseases.
There is an interesting position (which I read first from Andy Kirk) that the visual style, although powerful, isn’t actually the exciting part about this visualisation. Actually, the data is so exciting that almost any visualisation technique would have created an impact.
The Guardian made a lovely interactive visualisation on a similar theme, showing how reduction in vaccination rate will result in an increase in infection rate across a population.
Increasing global temperatures
Bloomberg have published an animated chart showing the Earth’s temperature month by month and year by year over the previous 135 years. It very clearly shows that there has been an increase over that whole time and is easily the most impactful visual on this topic that I’ve ever seen.
In the last few months I’ve seen an increasing number of documentaries and published articles about the top “1%”, the people who earn the most money. This next chart, created by Quoctrung Bui of Planet Money, surprised me. Even aware of how skewed the global economy is towards the richest of the rich, I had no idea how sustained the increase in the financial divide has been.
According to the chart, whilst incomes across the lower income population increased consistently through the middle of the 20th century, in the past 20 years only the top 1% have been seeing salary increases.
Ways to use data visualisation
My last selection this month is a fascinating research piece, again by Enrico Bertini, following an experiment into how adjusting details on a chart can affect how the reader interprets the information presented. Several fairly commonly used techniques are shown to be deceptive to the reader, with many mis-interpreting the data because of the way it has been presented. Well worth a read if you’re interested in how NOT to do it.