McCandless TED talk on data visualization

Here’s the talk, from last August: link.  I am still trying to understand what the current explosion in interest in “data visualization” is all about.  Watching the talk, I see that putting numbers into pictorial form certainly helps to get around cognitive limitations in appreciating relative magnitudes, especially when the numbers are really large.  (It reminds me of some of the points that cognitive scientist Elizabeth Spelke discussed during her appearance on what is probably my favorite episode of Charlie Rose [link]. Spelke discussed how cognitive processes for interpreting large numbers are much different than small numbers, and that this is evident when one watches how children develop a capacity to understand numbers larger than 3.)  But what I see in data visualization galleries are things that look neat, but don’t do anything more than achieve the one feat (although no minor one) of representing relative magnitudes.  Often I feel like we’re just looking at dolled up pie charts.  I’ve seen Hans Roslings animated charts, and they certainly are neat, but again pretty much limited to displaying differences in relative magnitudes, in these cases flows or trends, rather than levels.  Is visualization more than representing relative magnitudes?

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