Another dot in the blogosphere?

Navigating digital information 8

Posted on: February 28, 2019

This week’s episode of Crash Courses’s Navigating Digital Information focused on data and its visual representation.


Video source

Data, whether represented by raw numbers or graphics, can seem objective. However, they are not neutral because people gather and interpret them. (As a former academic, I shuddered whenever I overhead colleagues talking about “massaging data”.)

In evaluating data, host John Green reminded us to ask:

  • Does the data support the claim? (Is it relevant?)
  • How reliable is the source of data? (Who commissioned the research and why? Who conducted it and why?)

As for data visualisations, Green reminded us to check if the graphic was based on real data (check its source) and that the data was transferred and presented accurately.

Another consideration specific to data visualisations like infographics is how complex phenomena are simplified in the creative process. This might sacrifice the accuracy of the data.

If we combine both sets of principles, we might be in a stronger position to evaluate the following example. Two organisations, used the same set of data to send messages on climate change.

Organisation A’s image is on the left and B’s is on the right.

Screenshot of graphs from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiND50qfCek&t=201s.

Organisation A had already concluded that temperatures were not rising globally over time, so it manipulated the y-axis to range from -10 to 110 deg F. Organisation B zoomed in a smaller range and the average temperature increase was more pronounced. B critiqued A’s representation as misleading.

Both organisations used relevant data that supported their claims. The data was sourced from a neutral third party (NASA’s GISS). However, the presentation was manipulated by A to obscure the trend.

My perspective: Seeing should not immediately lead to believing because the data might be selectively or “sexily” presented. The first is only sharing data that supports preconceived notions; the second is using elaborate or compelling-looking visuals to disinform or lie.

A side note: Have you ever noticed that “lie” is central to believe?

1 Response to "Navigating digital information 8"

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