Saturday, 4:30pm, no breakfast, no lunch, but lots of reading, thinking, and dreaming on how to draw that perfect plot. How can I convey data and science from Greenland as oceans, glaciers, and ice are all changing faster than I can process data, faster than I can think? What is signal, what is noise? How to get rid of all the clutter everywhere?
Calming my nerves, I am thinking of the above carving. Calming my mind, I am thinking of the essay by Michael Shermer which was published by Scientific American in April 2005. It reviews work by Edward Tufte after an interview with him [source] from which I take the following wise words on how to convey information well and ethically:
Information displays should be documentary, comparative, casual and explanatory, quantified, multivariate, exploratory, and sceptical.
1. Document sources and characteristics of the data;
2. Enforce appropriate comparisons;
3. Demonstrate mechanisms of cause and effect;
4. Express those mechanisms quantitatively;
5. Recognize the inherently multivariate nature of analytical problems;
6. Inspect and evaluate alternate explanations.
I enjoy my daily struggles with graphic design. A more practical and wordy essay titled “Graphical Rhetoric” (.pdf) was written by Duncan Agnew and has been posted by my favorite graphics software designer, geophysicist Dr. Robert L. Parker of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He also gave us plotxy (old and open Fortran source code and executable) to make graphs like this one:
The above plot is far from perfect by the 6 design rules above; but on perfection, Dr. Daniel Steinbock tells us that “Perfect is Dead: Design Lessons from the Uncarved Block. To be human, so his argument, is to be imperfect. True, but shall we not also aspire to become better, to reduce clutter, to simplify as much as possible (but no more)?
Better eat now … pickled herrings.