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Upside down ethics: Messing with data visualization

A few months ago, an engineering student pointed this graphic out to me. It reveals numbers associated with Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Now, politics aside (but I think this law is a cesspool of privilege shining through), the graphic is what is of interest for this post. Figure 1 shows how it appeared originally:

Figure 1. This original data configuration is wrong on form and mistaken in intent.

By reversing the usual y-axis with a start at 0 (bottom left), this graph has the bottom left as the counted starting point, with 0 at the top of the y-axis, which is completely against all graph-making convention. Over the years, I have seen quite a few crazy graphs, but this one takes the cake. It is an intentional reversal of information, made to lead readers to believe that the “Stand Your Ground” law contributed to a decrease in gun deaths in Florida. The intent of this visual foolery is clear and makes data political by its very reversal of familiar form/visualization.

A reader of Business Insider, P.A. Fedewa, was kind enough to revise this graph, using all of the same numbers, with the y-axis starting at the normalized bottom left, 0 (seee Figure 2). This format, widely used and universally taught, creates a graph that is familiar in form. Figure 2--This visual format adheres to traditional visual formats, allowing it to be more clear quickly.

Now, of course, one could argue that this format is equally political…and so it may be. However, the deceit in its visual execution isn’t intention. If there is deceit, it has not been housed in the form of the visualization itself. The numbers are still the numbers. The data still holds true, and the data is provided by familiar visualization that doesn’t take any amount of studying to unpack. By any and all codes of ethics, the original graph fails.

 
 

Comic Sans has/had a purpose!

“‘A typeface is an answer to a question,’ he tells me later. ‘Everything I’ve ever done is a solution to somebody’s problem.’ The problem that Comic Sans solved concerned a short-lived Windows interface called Microsoft Bob. It featured a cartoon dog who spoke to computer users through speech bubbles.”

See the whole article here: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/shortcuts/2014/jun/04/comic-sans-creator-vincent-connare

comic sans fontWhy is this of interest to me?  Because when I teach about credibility and how to convey that in professional technical work, comic sans inevitably comes up. Students think this font is way to make technical information less intimidating. I don’t buy their argument, but I can see where they are coming from.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Slide Rules, update!

In early March 2014, the paperback version of our book Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in the Engineering and Technical Fields became available for purchase. The e-book is available for download.

Slide Rules,--the bookSlide Rules is meant for engineers, technical specialists, and scientists–whether they are working for businesses, universities, research units, military sectors, or other areas. Professionals and students alike will benefit from this book because it provides specific avenues for improving and honing presentations in these specialized areas. Presentations in the technical fields are creatures of a different kinds, and the targeted needs for that work are duly addressed.

More info here:

http://techartsconsulting.com/sliderules/

ISBN-10: 1118002962
ISBN-13: 978-1118002964
240 pages
2014, Wiley-IEEE Press

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Posted by on May 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Heckuva semester!

This semester has been incredibly busy!  Several new items, all fantastic, were on my plate:

Elementary school teams compete with their creations. This year's theme was "Disaster Blaster!"

Elementary school teams compete with their creations. This year’s theme was “Disaster Blaster!”

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in the Engineering and Technical Fields–AVAILABLE!

bookSRIn early March 2014, the paperback version of our book Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in the Engineering and Technical Fields will be available for purchase.  At the moment, the e-book is available for download.

Slide Rules is meant for engineers, technical specialists, and scientists–whether they are working for businesses, universities, research units, military sectors, or other areas. Professionals and students alike will benefit from this book because it provides specific avenues for improving and honing presentations in these specialized areas. Presentations in the technical fields are creatures of a different kinds, and the targeted needs for that work are duly addressed.

More info here:

http://techartsconsulting.com/sliderules/

ISBN: 978-1-118-79612-2
240 pages
February 2014, Wiley-IEEE Press
 

New year, new opportunities in Engineering Communication

As January 2014 closes out, I find myself with many new exciting opportunities on my plate.  I began working with Cornell’s GameDesign Initiative this week, working with undergrads as they conceptualize, build, test, and deploy original games. I’ll be with the first class in the offerings:

http://gdiac.cis.cornell.edu/

I’ve also committed to working with Cornell’s ASCE teams, specifically with the Mead writing competition and with Concrete Canoe (CC).  It’s nice to get back to CC, after leaving the teams at U of Wisconsin-Madison. There’s a strong CC tradition at Madison and I have missed being a small part of that. So, go Cornell!

http://www.asce.org/concretecanoe/

http://www.engineering.cornell.edu/academics/undergraduate/special_programs/student_teams/teams/canoe.cfm

 

UW online engineering, at the top again!

Once again, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s online Masters of Engineering has earned a top three ranking in the US News listings! I couldn’t be more proud to teach in such a great program!

http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/university-of-wisconsin-madison-OENG0236/engineering

 
 
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