Saturday, January 31, 2015

Infographics, visualization, and multimedia at Fusion

Yesterday my students and I had the first meeting of the semester with the interactive teams at Noticias Univisión and Fusion. The University of Miami has a partnership with those organizations, so we drop by once a month to learn about their work. We also collaborate on projects sometimes.

The Fusion folks showed us their new website, which collects several behind-the-scenes articles about the techniques and tools they employ in their infographics, visualizations, and multimedia documentaries. My personal favorites are ‘A Losing Battle’ and ‘The Bobblehead Effect.’ I love the 3D animation on that one.

The articles are an excellent resource for classes, as they give you a glimpse of how things really work in a newsroom. I'm planning to use them a lot, particularly with the graduate students coming next Fall for the data and visualization program. They'll be inspired, I believe, and realize that charts and maps are just a portion of a much larger picture.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

NASA's Science Visualization Studio

Thanks to Wired I've discovered that NASA has a Science Visualization Studio. The work of this group is really nice, and quite varied; it includes geospatial visualization, narrated infographics, etc. I just wished they stopped using the ugly and ineffective rainbow color palette (here's why)!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An old interview with Charles M. Blow

If you read The New York Times regularly, you've surely have seen Charles M. Blow's weekly columns. You may have even heard about his memoir, Fire Shut Up In My Bones —a great book, I must say.

What many of you perhaps don't know, though, is that before becoming a successful opinion writer in 2008, Blow was director of infographics at the NYT and at National Geographic magazine. I was reminded of it recently, while browsing over my Malofiej awards book collection. Book 12 includes an interview with Blow conducted by Nigel Holmes a decade ago.

I asked the Malofiej friends for permission to reproduce it here. See all pages below. Then, click on any of them to enlarge it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Off-topic: Leon Wieseltier

If I had to choose just one popular non fiction writer whose work I find infuriating, that's Leon Wieseltier, who has appeared in this website more than once. After he left The New Republic, he was hired by The Atlantic magazine, and it seems that we'll also have to endure him in The New York Times.

Yesterday, his essay 'Among the Disrupted' appeared in the NYT's Book Review, and it's terrible. It's not very often that you find such a shameless series of straw man fallacies and gross simplifications (science opposed to the humanities? I guess that he's proposing that we go back to the times of the scholastics, right?) wrapped up in such a florid and utterly vapid style. I'll let you enjoy it before taking a look at some quick thoughts that I shared on Twitter while I was reading it. Notice point 13 and the final tweet, in particular, which I'm reproducing:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Visualizing the songs of humpback whales

I'm spending all day preparing for classes today, so discovering this fascinating article by David Rothenberg and Mike Deal has been a relief. It describes how the the sound patterns of humpback whales were transformed into wavy visual shapes which reflect the highs and lows of each short sound bite. The authors share their own visualizations and motion graphic, but don't miss the beautiful historical sonograms and this old cover of Science magazine that they also showcase.

(h/t Washington Post's Know More)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Deny this, says Bloomberg

2014 has just been declared the hottest year on record, another piece of the overwhelming evidence corroborating climate change. It's also another reason to believe that having wingnuts overseeing NOAA or NASA (see here) is insane, and that caring about our impact on the environment should be high in any political agenda. But I digress. I was about to recommend that you take a look at this visualization by Bloomberg's Tom Randall and Blacki Migliozzi. The combination of animation and interaction is quite effective here. As the authors themselves defiantly suggest: Deny this.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

El Financiero's visualizations

Óscar Santiago, art director at El Financiero, in México DF, has sent me several of the visualizations that his team of designers and journalists is producing. I particularly liked this scatter plot of the relationship between average property size and price. Use the filters on top and on the right to select any area you're interested in. And the interactive 3D globe on this one is quite cool, too.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Surging Seas

Thanks to Rich Beckman I've discovered Surging Seas, an interactive tool by Climate Central and Stamen. Living in Miami, the first thing I did was to play with this part of the project, and discover that our house would be threatened if sea level rises around 4-6 feet. Notice that you can explore plenty of states and cities, and overlay variables such as income, population density, etc., and download data sets. Impressive.

They are many, but we are legion

They are many, and they cause pain and grief. But we can be legion. That's why I'm publishing the images below, and encourage you to do the same, no matter what you think of them, no matter how offensive you think they are. To care about visual communication, we need to care for freedom of expression first. If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. Ideas aren't respectable. People are. Bravo, imam, for supporting this cornerstone of open societies. And shame on you, publications like BBC news, who publish the video of the gunmen but censor the cartoons You offend us.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Visualization workshops in Mexico and the Netherlands

This Spring semester I'll be doing my regular visualization short courses in Mexico DF (2-day course) and in Utrecht, the Netherlands (1-day course.) In both cases I'll be introducing plenty of new material, anticipating contents from my 2016 book, The Truthful Art, besides covering visualization and communication design principles, as usual.

More information about the course in the Netherlands, on March 11.

Read more about the course in Mexico, on April 17 and 18. Register here (there's a mistake in this page; remember that the dates are the April ones.)

Note: If you're planning to attend and you want a (polite, I promise) critique of your visualizations/infographics, don't hesitate to contact me to send me examples. I may even make a quick redesign, and incorporate it to my slides.

See the complete schedule of events.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New book about visualization: New Challenges for Data Design

In a few weeks Springer will launch New Challenges for Data Design, a book edited by David Bihanic. I wrote a short chapter about misleading graphics for it. The list of other contributors is impressive.

The price of the book is to put it mildly, ahem... quite steep, so before you decide if you want to add it to your shelves, I'd suggest you take a look at the preface and chapter 2, which are available for free.

You can read more about the book here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

This. Is. Not. An. Infographic

No matter what some people claim.

This is what the word “infographic” used (ought) to mean.

Quote source.

My favorite books in 2014

IMPORTANT: All links below are "affiliate" links to That means that I'm paid a small amount of money for the books you buy after clicking on them. I don't get any cash directly from Amazon, though, but gift cards that I use to buy more books. The average monthly payment I got last year was $75.

Last year it was a book about Humanism. This year it's one about cognitive biases, dissonance and motivated reasoning. Will Storr's The Unpersuadables: Adventures With the Enemies of Science is the best book I read in 2014 (see complete list.)

I know, there are many, many books about biases and mindbugs in the market I've read quite a few of them, actually but this one stands out because of how humane it is. Storr does make fun of silly beliefs, but then acknowledges that all of us fall victim to them all the time, no matter how hard we try not to. He also talks about the dangers of storytelling. I'm sharing some of my favorite passages at the bottom of this post.

Other 2014 highlights in no particular order:

Statistics Unplugged, by Sally Caldwell. A post about it.

Design and Truth, by Robert Grudin.

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, by Jordan Ellenberg. Mentioned here.

Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking), by Christian Rudder. Some notes.

Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away, by Rebecca Goldstein.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull.

Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic, by Matthew Stewart.

The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning, by Marcelo Gleiser.

Who Rules in Science: An Opinionated Guide to the Wars, by James Robert Brown.

Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us, and Them, by Joshua Greene. A post about it.

The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day, by David J. Hand.

33: Understanding Change & the Change in Understanding, by Richard Saul Wurman.

Continue reading to see some passages from The Unpersuadables.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Some more details about or new visualization offering

A week and a half ago I published an article in PBS' Educationshift about our new graduate offering in data and visualization. It includes much more information about it than my original post did. It also offers a glimpse of how challenging —but ultimately rewarding— making multidisciplinary initiatives work can be, although I'll spare you the gory details. I'll just say that sometimes you feel tempted to quote the classics.

Education shift has also included the new track in its Reasons for Optimism for the Future of Journalism Education article.

Mapping TED talks

This may be old news for many of you, but I've just watched this TED talk by Eric Berlow and Sean Gourley in which they analyze and visualize TED talks (that's very meta, isn't it)? I am posting a comment here because I like how they animated the data, particularly the transitions between network visualizations and bubble plots and maps.

Not surprisingly, being a TED talk, it is a bit too short and vague. It'd be great to learn more about the algorithms that they applied to analyze the content of the talks and their “mathematical structure.” I am curious.

(h/t Fernando Fiestas)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

LA Times' 2014 in graphics

Just a short post to recommend the LA Times' gallery of infographics and data visualizations published during 2014. There's quite a lot of visual goodness in it. As I said yesterday, there are so many nice graphics being done nowadays that it's easy to overlook most of them. It's also too easy to focus just on the usual suspects —NYT, National Geographic, etc.— and miss the colorful variety of the news visualization landscape.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

NPR's College Majors visualization: A critique

There's so much good visualization being published nowadays that it's easy to miss most of it. Thanks to the World Bank's Visualization Tumblr I have discovered this simple but deep interactive stacked area chart by NPR. I love it.

Stacked area charts work well as overviews, and to make sure that readers understand that you're showing parts of a whole. But they're not great at all if what you need to see is the variation of each single segment, as its baseline shifts depending on how thick or thin the color ribbons below it are. Therefore, what the NPR folks did was to let you click on any portion to see it isolated and with a 0-baseline, a strategy also used in this NYT's classic. Nice.

Just to be picky, I'd like to suggest a few tweaks:

• Better organization. It's not clear why Chemistry and Communications are in the same group (blue), or why Economics and Business aren't side by side. Clustering the majors into larger categories —Physical Sciences, Biomedical Sciences, Social Sciences, Humanities, etc.— would make the graphic clearer.

• Animated transitions.

• An option to compare two or more majors, at the end.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Adventures in the margin of error

El País has published a series of charts showing the percent of people in Catalonia who are either in favor or against the independence from Spain.

The headline of the story (English) where the graphic is shown claims that there are more Catalans saying ‘no’ to the independence than ‘yes’.

Not quite. That headline is wrong.

Why? Well, if you read the English summary of the survey used by El País, you will notice that the sampling error is +/- 2.95. The real values in the pie chart could be, therefore, almost 3 percentage points larger or smaller. In fact, right now there may be more people who want the independence than people who reject that possibility! The ‘yes’ can be as low as 41.55% or as high as 47.45%.* If we take error into account, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are practically tied.

(*I've been reminded by Ben Jones that a more detailed explanation may be necessary: In reality, it is more probable that the real values are closer to the ones shown in the chart than they are as high or low as the boundaries of the confidence interval. However, remember that the difference here is just 0.8. See this article. As it is explained in the middle of it, the closer the two values are to a 50/50 split, which is the case here, the larger the error is.)

What could El País have done with its headline? Perhaps it could have highlighted the comparison with previous surveys discussed in the story. The ‘yes’ option has experienced a noticeable drop larger than the sampling error from 49.4% to the current 44.5%. That's news. It could have been a good headline: The ‘yes’ was clearly leading a while ago, but has become much less popular.

Lesson: When using stats, always mention the sample size, the margin of error, and the level of confidence. Otherwise, your numbers will be meaningless.

UPDATE 1 (December 20) Ramón Martínez has shared a graphic he's just made:

UPDATE 2 (December 20) It seems that no editor at El País wants to use mathematics. They have the same headline in today's first page of the print edition.

UPDATE3 (December 21) A reader has pointed out that in the story published the day after I wrote this post, which criticizes an earlier one, El País did mention the sampling error. See screenshot at the bottom. It says that it's “a relevant factor because of how close the figures are.” Indeed! This makes matters even worse. Many, many people only read headlines and ledes. That's why so important that they are accurate to the extreme.

UPDATE 4 (December 26) Why accurate headlines matter.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The attack of the infographics clones

The folks at El País have sent me another case of infographics cloning. The first image below is what El País published on June 2, 2009. The second one, by Le Figaro, appeared on June 3. Apparently, El País was credited as a “source” in the inside pages of Le Figaro. As I wrote a while ago, that's enough for me if anyone wants to copy my own graphics (I think that originality is a bit of a myth,) but this is too extreme, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Nieman Lab's Predictions for 2015

The Nieman Lab has launched the 2015 edition of its Predictions for Journalism series. I was invited to participate, but I'm not very good at predicting anything. I'm much better at expressing wishes, so here's what I had to say. Don't miss the other contributions, as they are great. I particularly liked Jacob Harris', un bullshit data, and Richard Tofel's.