Tufte Talks… and Waves


These are “amber waves of grain” and they close off a short movie that would never win an Oscar. Edward Tufte, who’s appeared more than once before in Slaw ((Tufte Touted, Visualizing Ideas, The Friday Fillip)) does the voice-over in a film that, in his words:

blur[s] and… reduce[s] distinctions between movies and statistical graphics, to get some visual depth to data graphics, and to bring all the capacities of HD movie-making to data-graphics-making. As the metaphor for sparklines is the resolution of typography, the metaphor for wavefields is the HD video (which records approximately 1 gig per minute, an excellent data throughput).

I can’t say that these particular sparklines on steroids — wavefields — work for me, with my elderly eyes attuned to the passivity of print. But I can see how, with the right pair of youthful video-game-trained peepers, and the right subject in the right hands, the gig-a-minute flow could lead to an understanding of the dynamics of a situation that you couldn’t otherwise grasp, much as the marvelous movement in Hans Rosling’s Gapminder managed to surprise and delight me.

A long way from law? Maybe. In part because empirical data itself is usually a long way from law: we don’t measure the way we should. But the numbers are there, if latent, in all sorts of ways and might be illuminating if made visible. Now, whether the movie would be good…

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