More Than Numbers

Face it. Data can be boring if you don’t know what you’re looking for or don’t know that there’s something to look for in the first place. It’s just a mix of numbers and words that mean nothing other than their raw values. The great thing about statistics and visualization is that they help you look beyond that. Remember, data is a representation of real life. It’s not just a bucket of numbers. There are stories in that bucket. There’s meaning, truth, and beauty. And just like real life, sometimes the stories are simple and straightforward; and other times they’re complex and roundabout. Some stories belong in a textbook. Others come in novel form. It’s up to you, the statistician, programmer, designer, or data scientist to decide how to tell the story.

This was one of the first things I learned as a statistics graduate student. I have to admit that before entering the program, I thought of statistics as pure analysis, and I thought of data as the output of a mechanical process. This is actually the case a lot of the time. I mean, I did major in electrical engineering, so it’s not all that surprising I saw data in that light.

Don’t get me wrong. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but what I’ve learned over the years is that data, while objective, often has a human dimension to it.

For example, look at unemployment again. It’s easy to spout state averages, but as you’ve seen, it can vary a lot within the state. It can vary a lot by neighborhood. Probably someone ...

Get Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.