Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Visualization's mythmaking problem

Graphic by H.W. Acland
My second long-form article about visualization and infographics has just been published by Peachpit. Its title is Heroes of Visualization: John Snow, H.W. Acland, and the Mythmaking Problem. I cover a lot of (mostly historical) ground in it, and I also discuss the short movie about Snow, but its key message is in the last few paragraphs:

"We respect our sacred cows too much and, as a consequence, we are largely dependent on arguments from authority. If you feel that this is a warning against those who write extensively about these topics—that includes myself—you are right. It is worrying that written thoughts are often taken as immutable truths, and not as provisional entities that must be subjected to reason and testing.

(...) We immortalize the Snows of this world and condemn the Aclands to oblivion. Perhaps we shouldn't. We know too little about the hard-working losers who struggled mightily and mightily failed. Adopting a mythical stance is like looking at mountains that peer through high clouds while flying on a plane and assuming that their peaks are all that exist. Snow, Nightingale, Playfair, and other patron saints of visualization are those peaks. The anonymous, failed, neglected Aclands are the slopes. They are silently waiting to be explored."

I hope that you'll like it. You can read the first one, Emotional Data Visualization, here.

On a side note, a week and a half from now I will be in NYC to teach my new workshop. On Monday 10th, the day before the workshop begins, we'll be speaking at the Data Visualization New York monthly meeting. The event begins at 6.30 p.m. and attendance is free. See you there!