Sunday, March 2, 2014

Presentations at Tapestry and CAR2014: Data, patternicity, and biases

This past few days have been busy and fun. On Wednesday I gave a keynote presentation at the Tapestry conference. On Thursday I spoke at the Investigative Reporters and Editors meeting (CAR2014.) In both talks I discussed some topics that concern me quite a bit:

• The rise of activism and P.R. (they are expressions of the same phenomenon) in visualization and in communication in general. Nothing against people having opinions and agendas —is it possible not to have them?— but I feel that some designers and journalists seem to be too willing to surrender to their biases rather than working hard to curb them.

• These communicators usually argue that being transparent about their motives and goals is enough. Well, it's not. Writing about journalism, Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis have suggested that transparency is the new objectivity. I disagree. Transparency is necessary to gain credibility, but it's not sufficient, and this is valid for non-journalistic infographics and visualization, too. The old notion of 'objectivity' in journalism was simplistic and unworkable, but that doesn't mean that we should rush to drop the ideal outright.

• Something that I mentioned at CAR2014: Opinions that may lead you to cherry-pick data are not the main risk. Unconscious cognitive biases are even more dangerous. I mentioned Michael Shermer's patternicity. The more I learn about patternicity and cognitive biases, the more worried I grow about our lack of understanding of them. They are not explained in schools of design, as far as I know. They certainly aren't studied seriously and systematically in journalism schools. That's a huge issue.

Anyway, here are the slides and notes from my talk at Tapestry. It was recorded, but the video is not available yet. The structure of the talk matches the table of contents of the book that I am writing at the moment. You can see this as a short summary of it, I guess.

And here you have the slides for my talk at CAR2014. I didn't write notes for this one —I changed the whole presentation the night before!— although if you read the summaries at Storify you'll get a good idea of what I said: Storify 1 and storify 2.

(UPDATE: Audio of my presentation.)