‘Let the dataset change your mindset’

I revisited David McCandless’ excellent TED talk today. As is standard, the second or third viewing always reveal more and provides a deeper understanding – such was the case today.

This talk links with a recent post around the digitisation of analogue data which also touched on the power of visualizing numbers. McCandless discusses a common phrase which states that “data is the new oil”. I think this refers to the recent obsession with ‘predictive analytics’. This is the interpretation of met-data to form marketing strategy, product placement and to predict consumption habits.

He prefers to change the cliché to read ‘Data is the new soil’. Being an outwardly positive and creative man, he prefers to see the glut of data and our ability to ‘scrape’, digitize and present it visually as very fertile ground. At points he talks of his infographics as being like flowers that arise from this productive earth.

Like the post on the beauty of maths he argues that sense perception and the process of interacting with visual representations of statistics provides us with an essentially different way of engaging with numbers.  Visualisations he says, help us to see isolated and absolute statistical numbers in context and in proportion to other datasets that we might have a better grasp of. Effective visuals help us to make connections that we would otherwise be unable to make and even help us to build a more emotional and conceptual understanding of numbers and their underlying reality.

He asserts that the strength of presenting data visually helps us to use both the language of the eye and the language of the mind simultaneously.

I really recommend you watch this

Hans Rosling

McCandless talks of his ‘guru’ – Hans Rosling. See him illustrating how much insight visualzing and animating data can give us below.

This other video from Rosling is a fantastic statistical animation of the worlds wealth and health plotted from 1810 to 2010. Fascinating – especially when he shows the dangers of using averaged figures to describe big countries like China. He look at the current state of play for China, but then begins to separate the richest and healthiest provinces from the poorest and unhealthiest, and in one swoop shows a key weakness in some info-graphics.

Key questions ….

  • The talk explains what info-graphics do what do you think they undo?
  • How might such visual representations of data hide us from truth?
  • McCandless talks about the faster ‘bandwidth’ of sight sense perception. What does he mean by this and what implications does this have for the study of Maths?
  • Are the info-graphics of McCandless Art?

More resources …

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