29 July 2010

Information Overload: Visual Images Make Data Coherent


The brain evolved as best it could, but it is quite limited all the same. We are stepping into a world of terrahertz computer chips, equipped with brains capable of handling only 40 bits a second. Clearly, we must cheat somehow, to stay ahead of the tsunami of data that our machines are excreting over us.
Hard Ass Science
Visual images can bring a lot of data together, in a way that brains can make some sense of it. Images of changes over time can be helpful in trying to understand how a formerly trusted institution -- such as science -- has been corrupted by polemics and political activism.
The image above demonstrates a connectivity network -- in this case, the network connected by ClimateGate emails released from the University of East Anglia CRU's backup server. Is authoritarian science of this type a conspiracy? Take a good look at the enlarged graphic and tell me what the word "conspiracy" means anymore.
Soot Over Tibet

When a science -- such as climate science -- becomes fixated upon a central hypothesis, it can sometimes lose its bearings and sense of perspective. By focusing upon CO2 as an agent of climate change, the inner circle of climatologists appears to have overlooked what may be a far greater agent of change -- black soot. Such activist science appears to have led a lot of people on a wild goose chase of wasted time and resources.
Make An Atom

This image comes from an amazing site that allows visitors to build their own atoms, particle by particle. Expect ever more incredible visual (and fully multi-media) simulations as time goes on.
Greenhouse Effect on the Moon

For some reason, understanding the phases of the moon can be difficult for many people. Images such as that above can compress time to allow picturing of an entire cyclic phenomenon. Many important cycles are far more complex than lunar phases, and visual images can be crucial in their understaning.

Images serve a similar purpose in the visual realm as narratives and stories serve in the auditory and verbal realm. In fact, visualisations can portray important aspects of a narrative which can be almost impossible to convey verbally.

Just as with narratives, visual images can be used to clarify or to confuse and mislead. Some of the cleverest narratives and images are in fact used to obscure and mislead. Political consultants and advertising talent are paid a lot of money to create misleading and obscuring narratives and images -- blatant lies which make sense to masses of people and cause them to think and act in a certain way.

How to Lie With Statistics has been a popular book for well over 50 years. But it is likely that Darell Huff never imagined the incredible power of computer generated visualisations and animations, which can take the idea of lying with statistics to a new level.

We have our brains, and we are learning a lot of things about how our brains work. But we also need to understand the many ways that our brains can be tricked and misled. Otherwise we will be perpetually adrift on the flow of someone else's river of lies.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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