Mathematical Storytellers

February 24, 2011

Speaking of great displays of data, check this out: the last 200 years of history of the wealth and health of the 200 countries of the world

When it comes to figuring out how the world works, statistics is where it’s at, these days, no question. And part of the reason is because it’s pretty much the only field equipped to make sense of the reams and reams of data we now have at our fingertips. Thankfully, there are also people (Tufte and Rosling, for example) and groups (MAPlight, say) devoted to making data easy to understand and telling us the story they’ve teased out from the numbers.

Interestingly, this puts the real power in the hands of a surprising group: mathematically literate storytellers and artists. Which means that, if you want do be one of the movers and shakers of this new world order, you need to be able to translate raw data into compelling narratives and visuals. The artists and the statisticians can’t ignore each other! The mathematicians must befriend and become storytellers!

Data on its own is impossible to read, and stories without data (or without correct use of data) are misleading. It takes a subtle touch to get to the truth, and get there convincingly. Statistical artistry and mathematical storytelling is the future.

David McCandless does this kind of work as well as anyone I’ve seen. His Visual Miscellaneum is one of the best books of its kind, and his TED talk (below) about as lovely a demonstration of the value of the merging of math, statistics, story, and art that I know.

Any other favorite data artists?

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