Sunday, January 24, 2010

Game-Changing Graphics

Those of you who know me know that I love data visualization done well. I am always looking for, and hopefully finding, graphics that clarify or that bring a new perspective to data. Tables of numbers are rarely helpful. An appropriate graph or visual, on the other hand, leads everyone to the classic indicator of epiphany ... "Hummm, now that's interesting ..."
These are some that I consider the game changers ...

Below the fold so the graphics don't kill one-time visitors:

Snow's map of Soho, locating the source of one of the cholera outbreaks in London (the Broad Street Pump) and, for the first time, visually showing cause-effect for disease.  This led him to use a microscope on the water and see the little white blobs.

Not that they believed him, though.  It would be years before everyone accepted that the nearby septic pit had contaminated the well and was the source of the cholera.

Then we have earthquake data, geographically presented, showing clearly the Ring of Fire and giving strong evidence for tectonic plates.  From USGS ...

I love how the earthquakes outline the plates.  Students can even guess direction and speed of the plates by looking at the concentration of spots.  India is moving north, for instance

Going historical again: Minard's graph of Napoleon's March to Moscow and Back showing troop numbers by width of the line (400,000 down to 10,000) and then correlating the temperatures to the trip back.
"The Graph that made a Nation cry."

On the trip back, the vertical lines trace down to the temperature graph at the bottom.  December 6th was -38oC, -34oF.  Remember, these are men walking a thousand miles in the snow and that cold.

Of course, there's the infamous Time Magazine 'Sexual Relationships at Jefferson High' graph that freaked out a nation.:

and the kids wonder why we worry about disease and contagion ...

David Chandless of is a master at making a point visually:

Here's an interesting new one from Slashdot. This is firewall data arranged by date and attack source. The video contains a decent explanation of the characteristics.

Here's the YouTube link:

This is the kind of thing I point to when kids ask "What will we ever do with this?" 

Isn't math fun?

1 comment:

  1. I love your take on math and teaching. As an engineer with 5 years of college math, you'd think I would be able to help my friends' kids with their homework, but most of the time, even after reading the book, I have no idea what their point is. Job security through obfuscation? Keep fighting the good fight.