What's Wrong with this Picture?

The Ethics Gap in Data Visualization

What do ethics have to do with data visualization? Over the years, researchers and lawyers have come up with some rules and best practices to guide the proper collection and use of data, with particular attention on human subject research. Questions related to the collection of data go to the heart of what constitutes ethical research methods: did the subjects give informed consent for how their personal data would be used? Does using, collecting, or publishing this data put anyone at risk? Is the data appropriately protected or anonymized? The rules continue to evolve, and are not without gray areas and open questions, and many universities have review processes to provide guidance and make sure the critical ethical questions are raised. In fact, these ethical questions and review processes are required under U.S. law for research institutions receiving federal funding.

In contrast, ethical discussion and guidelines around data visualization, that rambunctious cousin of data, are less established. On January 15, 2016 organizers at the Responsible Data Forum will host a workshop with artists, activists, academics, and practitioners on hand to draw out a set of recommendations on ethics in data visualization and to distill a set of best practices.

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>  11 January 2016 | LINK | Filed in
Like Tinder but for cleaning up data.
Twitter  10 December 2015 | LINK
Human Rights Watch analysis of December 2015 satellite images show 1,450 Syrian refugee tents at Jordan border, up from 175 in April.

Twitter  10 December 2015 | LINK | Filed in
Visualizing the redistribution of wealth in the U.S. between 1971 and 2015. (Via.)
Twitter  9 December 2015 | LINK | Filed in , ,
The other mass shooting: every day in the US at least 3 women are killed by intimate partners—the majority shot.
Twitter  2 December 2015 | LINK | Filed in
Under the smog, the cobblestones.
Twitter  1 December 2015 | LINK | Filed in
Arriving in Berlin: a collaborative map of resources, made by refugees for refugees in English, Ararbic, and Farsi.
Twitter  30 October 2015 | LINK | Filed in ,

From Museum Bot to Catalog Bot

Running a handful of museum bots that post random images to Twitter, one quickly gets a sense of the eccentricities of of various collections and catalogings: the MoMA bot has surfaced many Louise Bourgeoise prints, the Victoria & Albert bot found an awful lot of snuff bottles, the Tate bot counts every page of Turner’s sketchbooks (even a few blank ones,) while the Cooper Hewitt bot has unearthed an large number of matchsafes. 4,267, in fact.

So when I saw this video interview with designer Irma Boom it gave me an idea. Irma Boom and her studio create books that flout convention: books with blank covers, books printed without ink, little books, and a book to last 500 years. They are rigorous, stylish, absurd, and inspiring. Her new catalog for the Cooper Hewitt showcases 1,300 carefully selected color illustrations across 912 pages. But that’s only so many matchsafes.

I decided to rectify this by generating an absurd catalog of my own. Using the Cooper Hewitt API, I pulled records for all matchsafes with images and produced a 4,390 page book purely devoted to the art: 4,101 pages of matchsafes accompanied by a 256 page index. Download the unofficial Cooper Hewitt matchsafe catalog as a 479Mb PDF. Please consider the environment before printing.

Matchsafes, cover and interior pages

My Saturday morning has nothing on the several years invested by Irma Boom and the Cooper Hewitt team in their catalog design, but I’m pleased with the results. I’ve posted my source code of the layout and though written as a one-off, the mind wanders: why not an app where any search query could automatically generate a catalog PDF, perhaps available to print on demand? How about OpenCV to automatically generate random spreads of objects with visual similarities across different departments? Print period objects alongside text from WikiPedia? Programming print FTW!

>  26 October 2015 | LINK | Filed in ,
Human Rights explained in one beautiful two minute animation

Twitter  15 October 2015 | LINK | Filed in
After a morning making charts about charts, lunch comparing different comparative law programs. Next I'll be tweeting about tweeting.
Twitter  14 September 2015 | LINK | Filed in

The Uses of Radicalism

This interview with radical historian Eric Foner is full of goodness. The focus is on Reconstruction and its interpretation, and this bit on the function of radicalism speaks clearly to the present:

Anti-Slavery Poster

“The abolitionists show you that a very small group of people can accomplish a lot by changing the discourse of the country. After the Civil War, everybody claimed to have been an abolitionist. But they weren’t!

There weren’t a whole lot of abolitionists before the war. There were a few beleaguered individuals scattered about, in upstate New York, for example. There were only a couple dozen abolitionists in New York City!

Now, there was a free black community, they were very militant, and you could say they were abolitionists, but I’m talking about the organized abolitionist movement. That was very small. Nonetheless, they managed to actually accomplish quite a bit. They pioneered the use of the media of that time — the steam press, the telegraph, the petitions, the traveling speakers — to change public discourse. If you want to learn something from the abolitionists, that’s what you learn. The first thing to do is intervene in public discourse.

And the Occupy movement — success, failure, gone, still around, whatever you want to think about it — it changed the public discourse. It put this question of the 1 percent and the 99 percent, inequality, on the national agenda. That doesn’t mean they’re going to do much about it in Washington, but it is now part of our consciousness, just as by 1840 the abolitionist movement put the issue of slavery on the agenda in a way it had not been. Now, it took twenty years for anything to happen, but I think that’s something to learn from them, how they managed to do that.

Here’s the point. I am a believer in the abolitionist concept — that the role of radicals is to stand outside of the political system. The abolitionists said, ‘I am not putting forward a plan for abolition, because if I put forward a plan, people are just going to be debating my plan. “Oh, it’s going to be two years, five years, seven years.” No: I’m putting forward the moral imperative of dealing with slavery.’ And if people are convinced of that, then politicians will come up with a plan to do it. That means politicians are eventually going to pick up those ideas and use them in other ways and turn them into political strategies.”

>  31 August 2015 | LINK
OED Word of the Day: downwinder, n. A person who lives or has lived downwind of a nuclear test site or reactor, where the risk of being affected by radiation is greatest.
Twitter  22 August 2015 | LINK
Selected readings about activism and digital campaigning.
Twitter  19 August 2015 | LINK
Ousted from the Georgia House of Reps for opposing the Vietnam war, Julian Bond wrote a comic:

Twitter  17 August 2015 | LINK | Filed in ,
Twitter  10 August 2015 | LINK | Filed in ,

Suicide Rate for Black Children Surges

Three months ago, I read a story in the NY Times with a chilling lede: the suicide rate among black children has nearly doubled since the early 1990s, while the rate for white children has declined.

The story haunted me, and when the Harper’s Index repeated the statistic it prompted me to track down the source. It turns out the study cited uses data from the Centers for Disease Control, data that is easily accessible via the web. So I created a chart to show the change over time. The data is spiky but the overall trend is clear and horrifying.

Suicide by Adolescent Boys

Here is a csv of the chart’s data drawn from the CDC Fatal Injury Reports, 1999 - 2013 and 1981 - 1998.

>  8 August 2015 | LINK | Filed in
Twitter bot idea: links to stories covering police actions in passive voice.

Twitter  5 August 2015 | LINK | Filed in ,
Cool initiative from the Library Freedom Project will install Tor exit nodes in libraries.
Twitter  29 July 2015 | LINK | Filed in
Fax Robot: an Open Source website for sending faxes
Twitter  28 July 2015 | LINK | Filed in
@Bipartisanism: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” #SandraBland

Twitter  26 July 2015 | LINK | Filed in

More? See July’s archives.
Or June’s.