Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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Bad Data Visualization

Great article over at Seed about some of the current shortcomings in the data visualization craze. Three things I learned:

  1. A guy named William Playfair invested the pie chart: “In 1801 he represented the relative proportions of African, Asiatic, and European dominions of the Ottoman Empire with a clever diagram, a sectored circle that showed the whole and its parts simultaneously.”
  2. There’s a hierarchy of visual calculations humans are good at: Good at linear distance, pretty bad at angles and terrible at area and volume.
  3. Some people are combining human pattern recognition with computer data visualization: “an effective way of detecting patterns in massive data sets is to make a simple chart for each subset and view the hundreds of charts in quick succession. The human perceptual system is phenomenally good at spotting patterns.”

April 8, 2009