Snake Oil over Ramen Noodles

My colleague Helen is a data analyst and researcher at the University of Toronto. Daily, she mines volumes of data about graduate education.

Most of her reports feature black and white charts with texts and numbers. The reports are robust with comparative data. Whenever I need to check a graduate program’s data set, her reliable annual report is my ultimate go-to resource.

However, we both agree that traditional statistical reports can use a shot of pizzazz!

Helen is also a foodie, so I love dining with her. Today we find ourselves lunching at Kenzo Ramen.

We are discussing a Ted Talk by data journalist David McCandless titled “The Beauty of Data Visualization” (July 10, 2010). An information designer, McCandless talks about visualizing the connections between data so that relational concepts are better understood when presented graphically.

With the emergence of data visualization and infographics, the future is beautiful. Information is beautiful. His recent project, Snake Oil?, presents comparative scientific data on popular health supplements.


By presenting research in such an engaging way, information is accessible to the public. Scientific data is not languishing on dusty shelves or in rusty filing cabinets. (OK, maybe no one but me files paper in physical cabinets any more…)

In fact, consumers are flocking to buy infographic posters as much for their informational significance as for their visual appeal.

McCandless explains, “The eye is exquisitely sensitive to patterns in variations in color, shape, and pattern. It loves them, and it calls them beautiful. It’s the language of the eye. If you combine the language of the eye with the language of the mind, which is about words and numbers and concepts, you start speaking two languages simultaneously, each enhancing the other. So, you have the eye, and then you drop in the concepts. And that is the whole thing – it is two languages both working at the same time.”


Indeed, information is beautiful!

Data visualization empowers us to readily examine complex data to develop our own interpretations. When data is understood, it can be better analyzed which, in turn, can lead to informed change. We no longer depend on someone else to parse the patterns. We can visualize it for ourselves. Secondary bias is eliminated. We can comprehend concepts unfiltered – on two cognitive levels – the eye and the mind.

Not into supplements? How about a serving of vegetables from Over 400 Vegetables on One Incredibly Healthy Poster (Pop Chart Lab).


Add a little ramen to the mix, and now we’re cooking! Or noodling…

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