Robert Kosara has written recently on his blog Eager Eyes about the tension or synergy between stories (showing the consumer of data what the message is, or leading them to the points of interest, or telling them a really compelling instance) and worlds (opening it up for exploration and leaving them to it). This is something I was reflecting on last week at the RSS (for which, by the way, videos are coming soon, hopefully in 2 weeks’ time). I read somewhere in The Politics of Large Numbers (and have never been able to find the page again – perhaps I dreamt it, in the same way I was convinced for a couple of years that Flavor Flav was dead before realising I dreamt that particular news broadcast) that a great debate raged through the innovative French statistical service set up after the Revolution. Some claimed that the role of the statistician was to present data without filtering or interpreting – or even summarising. Yes, some argued against percentages and averages; a very French sort of intellectual aggression!
But the prolegomena makes or breaks a visualisation, as I raved about here recently. The best example might be Budget Forecasts, Compared With Reality, and while some bad ones come to mind, I don’t really want to single one out. I’m sure you have your own bugbear, or you can just visit wtfviz.
For me, there’s really no difference between introducing a visualization and introducing a table of stats, or a page of results text. Effective communication will involve some story and some world, and not just one-size-fits-all, as Gelman and Unwin pointed out. It’s interesting, though, that all this attention and investigation and debate goes on for grahics, while nobody pays any attention to what tables or words we should use to get people engaged with, understanding and remembering our/their stories. Where are the research studies comparing layouts of logistic regression coefficient tables in terms of comprehension and recall?