Rethinking data with context and effective visualization

If there’s one thing I learned from three years of statistics in college, it’s this:

Statistics can be fashioned to say anything.

The TED talk below is by David McCandless in which he highlights the power of effective data visualization and data context. For me, one of the turning points in his presentation was when he displayed the following two charts comparing the military budgets of countries around the world:

In the first, it appears that the U.S. is spending the most on its military. However, he explains, that raw data does not account for the GDP of each country. The U.S. GDP is much larger than other countries. In other words, the U.S. has more money to spend (the massive deficit notwithstanding…) and therefore spends more on everything, including its military. When he factors in the GDP and represents military spending as a percentage, a new picture emerges. Myanman and other countries spend a far greater percentage of their country’s budget on their military force. Let me know in the comments what other insights or “a-ha” moments you had watching the video. How does this impact


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  2. thisisjohnny · September 11, 2010

    i actually watched this video a few weeks ago. i loved it. information really is the most important thing into today’s work environment. getting people to understand that information is probably the second most important thing.

    i guess my a-ha! moment was when it mentioned the language of the eye. objects, their shape, size, color, relation to other objects in space — these all have an effect on how we interpret meaning from those objects. so why do we always use standard pie charts, bar graphs, and scatter plots to try to visualize data?

    there’s more to data visualization than microsoft charts. i know now, since watching that video, that i want to learn more about it.


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