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Calling Out GE's Misleading Data Visualizations

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the lies-damned-lies-and-statistics dept.

Businesses 123

theodp writes "Stephen Few never did suffer data visualization fools gladly. After seeing an oil exec (mis)use data viz to put a positive spin on Gulf Oil Spill cleanup efforts, Few felt compelled to call out BP. And now it's General Electric that's got Few's dander up: 'The series of interactive data visualizations that have appeared on GE's website over the last two years,' writes Few, 'has provided a growing pool of silly examples. They attempt to give the superficial impression that GE cares about data while in fact providing almost useless content. They look fun, but communicate little. As such, they suggest that GE does not in fact care about the information and has little respect for the intelligence and interests of its audience. This is a shame, because the stories contained in these data sets are important.' Concerned about his strong reactions to poorly designed data visualizations, Few asked his neuropsychologist wife whether he might be overreacting. She, too, agrees that GE's natural gas visualizations are maddening, which one might be tempted to dismiss as predictable, although Eyeo Festival presenter Michal Migurski also declares GE's effort 'one terrible, terrible bit of nonsense.'"

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Pathetic. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646094)

The legend is far too visually prominent.

If you can't find anything of substance to say, attack the visual. lul.

What's good for GE is good for America.

Re:Pathetic. (5, Funny)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646176)

What's good for GE is good for America.

What's good for GE shows up as legislation in America.

Re:Pathetic. (1)

sanzibar (2043920) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646190)

ala wind subsidies

Re:Pathetic. (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646468)

ala wind subsidies

With as much wind as we have, one would think that it needed no subsidies, but it is somehow believable that it is.

--

When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, and scream and shout.

Re:Pathetic. (1, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647266)

It's almost impossible to compete with the vast fossil fuel subsidies. People who mock the costs of alternative energy sources seem to forget that one of the chief reasons they aren't competitive is that any subsidies they may get are dwarfed by what is handed over to oil companies.

Re:Pathetic. (1)

sanzibar (2043920) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647922)

the chief reasons they aren't competitive is that any subsidies they may get are dwarfed by what is handed over to oil companies.

Did you consider reliability and cost in your market analysis?

Re:Pathetic. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646320)

What's good for GE is good for America.

What's good for GE shows up as legislation in America.

so this guy is some kind of force for good, a hero of light, a champion of sense ... the ANTI-NIGGER!

Re:Pathetic. (1)

mcvos (645701) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647686)

What's good for GE certainly doesn't help the IRS. Biggest company in the world, and paying practically no taxes.

Re:Pathetic. (2)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646212)

What's good for GE is good for India

FTFY [truthdig.com]

Re:Pathetic. (0)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646460)

What's good for GE is good for India

FTFY [truthdig.com]

Tell that to the residents of Bhopal.

Re:Pathetic. (1)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646690)

Uh, that was Union Carbide, which is now owned by Dow Chemical, which has nothing to do with GE, other than that they're both industrial companies.

Re:Pathetic. (0)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 3 years ago | (#36648712)

Uh, that was Union Carbide, which is now owned by Dow Chemical, which has nothing to do with GE, other than that they're both industrial companies.

Except that they use the same bought dog politicians.

Re:Pathetic. (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647908)

Uhhh did you read the link? GE which was bailed out by American taxpayers instead of using that money to...oh I don't know...keep their American workers instead took that money and promptly offshored a large chunk of their workforce and the CEO had the balls to brag "These aren't the low paying jobs, these are the good jobs, We are sending them to India because that is where the consumers are"

Well no shit the consumers are there you traitorous dirtbag who frankly should be shot, the REASON the consumers are there is because you and your dirtbag friends offshored more than 20,000 FACTORIES [businessinsider.com] in the last decade alone!

So this has NOTHING to do with abusing third world countries except that being able to poison the land and treat workers like dogs is considered a nice bonus to these bastards, no what we are talking about here is companies taking hand outs to then fuck us over with the money which is why we should demand payback at 75% interest RIGHT NOW and if they don't? They are banned. No GE products, no GE businesses, not even the CEO will be allowed to set foot on American soil and any assets they have here seized.

But of course that will never happen because our congress critters and dear leader are too busy cashing their bribery checks thanks to Citizens United to give a fuck. Hell the CEO that pulled this shit? Got to enjoy having GE PAY NO TAXES for most of this past decade!

Re:Pathetic. (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 3 years ago | (#36648632)

So this has NOTHING to do with abusing third world countries except that being able to poison the land and treat workers like dogs is considered a nice bonus to these bastards, no what we are talking about here is companies taking hand outs to then fuck us over with the money which is why we should demand payback at 75% interest RIGHT NOW and if they don't? They are banned. No GE products, no GE businesses, not even the CEO will be allowed to set foot on American soil and any assets they have here seized.

But of course that will never happen because our congress critters and dear leader are too busy cashing their bribery checks thanks to Citizens United to give a fuck. Hell the CEO that pulled this shit? Got to enjoy having GE PAY NO TAXES for most of this past decade!

The reason companies outsource to foreign nations is due to being able to reap the rewards of the American tax system.
I have no problem with companies sending jobs to other countries, as long as those same companies take their administration, secretaries, CPA's, their board of directors with them. The American tax system should be for American companies hiring American workers.
As for the abuses of the foreign workforce, soon enough they will wise up and start demanding higher wages, it's already happening in China. These same companies will then return to this country for the cheap labor. Personally, these companies should be told to go back where they came from. The politicians need a good dose of reality, 10 to 20 years in Ft. Leavenworth could be a start.

Re:Pathetic. (1)

aix tom (902140) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647038)

Well, take the visual out of data VISUALIZATION, what is left?

Re:Pathetic. (1)

CFTM (513264) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647420)

What's good for GE is good for GE share holders. If the the board of GE is not acting in this way they are not fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility. GE does not care about America anymore than it cares about any other country. Go away shill.

Re:Pathetic. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36647514)

What's good for GE is good for GE majority share holders.

FTFY

Can somebody translate the summary into English? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646124)

Can somebody please translate the summary into English? What the fuck do phrases like "never did suffer data visualization fools gladly" and "got Few's dander up" mean?

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646138)

+1

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646156)

No. Learn to speak American.

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646234)

I've lived and traveled throughout the United States of America, and I'm pretty sure that no American would write that way. You wouldn't hear such phrases used in places like California, New York, Colorado, Washington, Maine, or in the mid-western states.

Admittedly, I have never visited the Confederate States of America. Why would I want to visit a third-world country like that? That's the only conceivable place where such language might be used, due to the broken grasp of the English language by people living in places like Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. That would contradict what you're saying, however. They aren't American, and thus can't be speaking American English.

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (1, Insightful)

Elbereth (58257) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646342)

Normally, I'd agree with you. However, as a New Yorker, I can tell you that these phrases are used (or at least known) in the coastal Northeast (NY, NJ, PA, MD). I can't say one way or the other how a New Englander might react, because I've never been out that way (except for a brief foray into Boston once). It's not something that we commonly use, but we understand the idiom. Whether that's from linguistic evolution or global telecommunications, I don't know. I didn't have any trouble understanding the summary, but I find the guy's ire a bit perplexing. He got mad because someone made a misleading visualization? He's going to have a heart attack at 40.

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647478)

As a New Englander (a Rhode Islander, even) yes, we do use these idioms.

They are more picturesque than boring "standard" English.

--
BMO

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (1)

gomiam (587421) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646352)

I've lived and traveled throughout the United States of America, and I'm pretty sure that no American would write that way. You wouldn't hear such phrases used in places like California, New York, Colorado, Washington, Maine, or in the mid-western states.

I find it interesting that I could read that summary with no problems even when I'm not a native English speaker. Perhaps you should read a bit more, because I have read people from those "places" use those phrases. By the way, an interesting link about getting your dander up [phrases.org.uk] .

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646764)

Then you are not American and have not lived here for long. I have lived in almost a dozen states spread all over the USA and everybody would know that is American English. Dander is a bit older, and rural, but you will find it in loads of writing that is taught in our schools.
The states: Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennesse, New Hampshire, Arkansas, Texas, Florida, Michigan, Illinois, California, Colorado
My guess is that you are not American and have not spent much time here, or are very poorly educated.

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (1, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646544)

Why? The summary, aside from the spelling, was perfectly valid idiomatic English. No need to learn some colonial dialect.

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646162)

LRN2English. I f you don't like the way someone writes, don't get you panties in a wad. Whining about having to think a little drops your geek score drastically,

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (4, Informative)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646168)

"never did suffer data visualization fools gladly" == "Few despises bad charts"
"got Few's dander up" == "Few lost patience."

Recommendation: steer clear of the writings of William F. Buckley, Jr. There is a difference between business English and literary English.

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646378)

[I don't] suffer fools gladly is a crude way of pointing out that you're an arrogant douchebag.

dander is redneck slang for anger.

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646402)

[I don't] suffer fools gladly is a crude way of pointing out that you're an arrogant douchebag.

I don't know, man. There really are a lot of fools doing a lot of damage. After a while even the most non-arrogant can get tired of it. Mainly because fools don't understand the virtue of confining the results of their decisions to themselves.

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646432)

NO! Either you put up with shit like you are supposed to, or you are ARROGANT. It's simple you stupid ARROGANT douche!

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (1)

kwoff (516741) | more than 3 years ago | (#36648202)

[I don't] suffer fools gladly is a crude way of pointing out that you're an arrogant douchebag.

Probably why St. Paul used it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suffer_fools_gladly [wikipedia.org]

dander is redneck slang for anger.

There's a good explanation of its origins here: http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/5/messages/289.html [phrases.org.uk]

Re:Can somebody translate the summary into English (2)

bmo (77928) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647358)

>"never did suffer data visualization fools gladly"

suffer: verb - to put up with, to endure, to tolerate

data visualization fools - collective noun - idiots that don't know how to draw a graph.

gladly: adverb - enjoy with a smile. this word modifies the verb "suffer"

To rewrite the sentence fragment:

"never did gladly tolerate idiots that can't draw a good graph"

I like the original better.

> and "got Few's dander up"

If you've ever angered an animal enough to provoke a fight or flight response, its fur stands on end and its dander (skin flakes and dried saliva from grooming) is disturbed in a cloud as it moves. This can be seen if backlit. It's pissed.

It's good imagery.

--
BMO

Stupid we are (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646182)

Stupid, Yes, We allow these corporations to run over us, feed us bullshit and generally lie to everyone.
One thing you have to remember. Corporations are run by people, not machines. People are intrinsically evil.
They enjoy screwing others and cannot be trusted, That is really sad.

Re:Stupid we are (1, Insightful)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646722)

You have a point. Corporations are run by people. LLC stands for "Limited Liability Corporation." Corporations protect owners and employees from blame and lawsuits when something goes wrong. The corporation keeps owners from suffering the consequences when something goes wrong or even when someone does something wilfully negligent. This is why the modern corporation is a great enabler of evil... when something is done wrong, like the poisoning of a body of water or the financial ruining of thousands of people, the is no one but a "legal fiction" to punish.

Re:Stupid we are (5, Informative)

swalve (1980968) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647330)

Limited Liability doesn't mean what you think it does. It provides a wall of separation between owners/shareholders and employees, but it does nothing to limit the liability of individuals doing bad acts. If someone does something bad, doing so under the guise of an LLC doesn't shield them from legal liability. Merely from financial liability if the actors are acting within the confines of their fiduciary responsibility.

The most useful one (4, Interesting)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646192)

After looking at the various visualizations the only one that is worth anything is the third one that shows the years of remaining reserves for each of the fossil fuels. Even that one isn't that impressive. Also I don't get the use of the Sierpinski triangle [wikipedia.org] , Apollonian gasket [wikipedia.org] , and Sierpinski carpet [wikipedia.org] style shapes for representing each fuel source. I haven't looked at much data visualization, but it doesn't seem the use of these doesn't add anything.

Re:The most useful one (5, Insightful)

Noughmad (1044096) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646214)

I don't get the use of the Sierpinski triangle [wikipedia.org] , Apollonian gasket [wikipedia.org] , and Sierpinski carpet [wikipedia.org] style shapes for representing each fuel source. I haven't looked at much data visualization, but it doesn't seem the use of these doesn't add anything.

I don't know much about visualization either, but this one is really obvious. Empty spaces add perceived volume to the graph, so that it looks bigger (compared to the full square that show how much we use each year). Our brains don't know how to calculate the percentage of empty space into the perceived size.

Re:The most useful one (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36648254)

This is exactly why I ignore hand wavy comparisons and such. If the final answer is not deduced rigorously then it is worthless. Using valid mathematics to then display the information in a way that we must interpret without precision and without accuracy is a dead giveaway that the data is obscured.

Re:The most useful one (2)

Silvanis (152728) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646216)

I don't think that one is useful, either. You have a slider at the bottom to adjust consumption rates, but there's two different scales (-2 to 5 and -1 to 4) AND a confusing note below that. Since the sliders are at 0%, is that assuming no increase, or should you adjust the slider to match the average increase listed? (which would make all 3 run out at roughly the same time)...who knows? There's no context to work with, just random sizes and shapes that pretend to be data.

Re:The most useful one (5, Insightful)

craighansen (744648) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646442)

Adjust the sliders to match the production increases over the last ten years, and you get 38 years left for oil, 42 years left for natural gas, and 44 years left for coal. Which makes the premise that "The World has Huge Natural Gas Reserves" totally false, unless you have no children and only expect to live for 40 years or less.

How many years of Sunlight Reserves do we have left?

Over 4,000,000,000 years.

Do you need a visualization to understand the difference between 40 years and 4,000,000,000 years?

Re:The most useful one (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646566)

Adjust the sliders to match the production increases over the last ten years, and you get 38 years left for oil, 42 years left for natural gas, and 44 years left for coal. Which makes the premise that "The World has Huge Natural Gas Reserves" totally false, unless you have no children and only expect to live for 40 years or less.

How many years of Sunlight Reserves do we have left?

Over 4,000,000,000 years.

Do you need a visualization to understand the difference between 40 years and 4,000,000,000 years?

A visualization would not help to explain this ratio. People rarely understand numbers with more than a couple of digits, and would probably just classify it emotionally as "something bigger than 10".

Re:The most useful one (1)

Chelloveck (14643) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646632)

In that case, just use a log scale. Then the bar for solar is less than 10 times the bar for natural gas, and back in the realm of the understandable again.

Re:The most useful one (0)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647500)

Anyone who takes such things seriously examining the raw data is a fool. Without the raw data it's as accurate as climate change priests excretions.

Yet the article whines about white space and shape and even color. The last bit about wikipee, creative commons, and the like appear to have been hacked on last as an after thought.

Summary v2 (4, Informative)

thePowersGang (1726438) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646204)

Since the summary is so difficult to understand, the jist of the article is that GE's visualisations (I will not grace them with the title "graph") are completely useless in comparing datasets, and are completely confusing to use. This seems to indicate that GE (like many companies) like to fiddle with the presentation of data to push their agenda. (Shock, Horror!) Sadly, this case is an insult to good design principles and statisticians everywhere.

Re:Summary v2 (1)

djlemma (1053860) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646228)

To me it didn't seem like GE was intentionally making bad graphics to push an agenda.. It's more that they said "Hey, it would be nice to make some graphics to demonstrate X and Y" without realizing that a simple bar graph would have done a much better job than that crap they have up there now.

BP, on the other hand.. that was deliberate misleading..

Re:Summary v2 (2, Interesting)

Tanktalus (794810) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646360)

Maybe I'm too naive, but I suspect it's not even that malicious. I think it's merely that marketing folk got a hold of some numbers that the company wanted to put a positive spin on, and thought they (the marketing folk) were statisticians. About the only thing I learned from my Engineering Statistics course was that statistics looks obvious, but is far more complicated than it looks (at least, if you want to approach accuracy and such). I highly doubt that your average marketing drone has taken that much in post-secondary level statistics, and still think that a simple, but pretty, graph conveys the information they want it to.

I actually suspect that BP was about the same. A graph was made, the presenter had no fundamental understanding of it, and merely drew conclusions from the picture, the same as your average person might. And, since statistics is far harder than it appears (you know, actually paying attention to details), average people might accept the misconstruction as truth. I don't think it was deliberate on the part of the presenter, merely uneducated.

It'd be nice if presenters were actually knowledgeable in the subject they're presenting. However, for some reason, techies spurn the limelight more than average, while confidence men soak it up. I don't see a switch happening too often. (Gates, Jobs - these are exceptions, not the norm; most big-corp CEOs are former sales people, not former techies.)

Re:Summary v2 (4, Insightful)

GrumblyStuff (870046) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646620)

Marketing folk are malicious.

Re:Summary v2 (1)

Tanktalus (794810) | more than 3 years ago | (#36648242)

I stand corrected.

Re:Summary v2 (1)

AdamHaun (43173) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647134)

Yeah, my experience in the corporate world has been that almost nobody knows anything about data visualization. It's a rare person who even goes beyond the default Excel graphs. Most people don't read books, either, so getting them to read something called "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information" is a non-starter.

The GE guy seems like an artist who thinks graphics have to be exciting instead of informative. The BP guy doesn't seem dishonest at all -- he gives a rough daily average right on his graph. Whether you use cumulative collection or daily collection, one graph isn't going to tell the whole story. The graphics here aren't great, but in these cases I'd care more about whether the data supports the overall message.

Re:Summary v2 (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647404)

"without realizing that a simple bar graph would have done a much better job than that crap they have up there now."

You can't use graphs from the eighties nowadays, it's uncool.

Not to go too far off topic... (1)

Old Sparky (675061) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646224)

but GE is Evil.

Jeff Immelt is Satan.

Re:Not to go too far off topic... (2)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646398)

My how the fallen have fallen.

Re:Not to go too far off topic... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36647276)

Jeffrey Immelt hobnobs with B. Hussein Obama, so he and his tax-dodging corporation are most certainly Good.

spergy bastard (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646252)

Holy crap is this guy over-reacting. (and his wife). OH NOES THEY ARE PUTTING ATTRICTVE GRFICS UP WITH THE INFOS!!!1 oh noes capitals oh noes capitals oh noes capitals oh noes capitals oh noes capitals oh noes capitals oh noes capitals oh noes capitals oh noes capitals oh noes capitals

WTF slashdot? How is 'pr8mrose' 'primrose'? You are fucking stupid.

WTF does the summary mean? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646258)

I have absolutely no idea what the summary is about - it makes no sense and there is no context...

Re:WTF does the summary mean? (0)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646582)

I have absolutely no idea what the summary is about - it makes no sense and there is no context...

Um, did you finish High School? Or are you just being deliberately obtuse?

Re:WTF does the summary mean? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646812)

Maybe the summary could actually try to summarize what is going on. For example it could let us know:

* Who is Stephen Few? Is he an expert in this filed or some random blogger?
* What data on the GE website are they talking about? If there are many different sets of data give an example of one.
* What is 'Eyeo Festival'?

Providing some basic context lets us know whether TFA is worth reading - as is stands it just bunch of meaningless drivel.

What about the fonts? (5, Funny)

lucm (889690) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646288)

At first I was thinking that this story was about GE trying to push its agenda or doing something evil. But I RTFA and this is actually about this guy complaining that people are using the wrong type of chart and making poor design decisions. The big punch is that his wife agrees with him.

I am so shaken up by this story, I know I will get all nervous the next time I insert SmartArt charts in Powerpoint - I would be so ashamed to end up publicly flogged on this guy's strongly-worded blog...

Reminds me of a former coworker who is spending his evenings writing blog entries about companies that dare use Arial instead of Helvetica on their websites.

Re:What about the fonts? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646424)

I am so shaken up by this story, I know I will get all nervous the next time I insert SmartArt charts in Powerpoint - I would be so ashamed to end up publicly flogged on this guy's strongly-worded blog...

"This guy" is one of the most well known authors of the visualization community.

Check out his website [perceptualedge.com] . How many people have a wikipedia page of one of their inventions [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:What about the fonts? (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647070)

First thing I saw was a face full of mustard yellow. Didn't like it.

Re:What about the fonts? (1)

methano (519830) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646428)

What's wrong with Arial?

I think I now use Arial because most computers come with a zillion fonts and Arial is at the top and Helvetica is lost somewhere in the middle.

Re:What about the fonts? (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646492)

I never understood the difference, either...until I got into publishing (on a small scale). I had a brief but torrid affair with Verdana as a body text (always use serif fonts for body text, shows you how much I knew at the time).

I will never forget the moment that it dawned on me that Arial is just a cheap whore compared to Verdana's classy lady. I understood. OMFG.

Why did Microsoft "innovate" Arial? Because they didn't want to pay license fees. What, like Micro$oft doesn't have enough folding cash lying around? So, like everything Microsoft did, they made a cheap ripoff of an existing standard. Really opened my eyes, and it's not like I was pro-MS at the time. Arial is *just different enough* from Verdana to avoid a lawsuit. I'm sure some PHB got a six-figure bonus for that "innovation".

Re:What about the fonts? (2)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647206)

Arial is a knockoff of Helvetica. Design people hate this, even more than they hate Helvetica. It's one of the things that can be used to distinguish someone who knows a little bit about the subject from someone who doesn't, and as such is really just a bit of snobbery.

Re:What about the fonts? (2)

dkf (304284) | more than 3 years ago | (#36648828)

The problem is, the font snobs don't design fonts to handle Unicode (or hide the ones that they've done that on behind paywalls). Those of us who work with things other than western european languages (e.g., russian, japanese, even math!) like to use Arial as it has much better coverage of the glyph-space. As a bonus, it's widely deployed too. Such practical considerations trump the font snobs regard in my eyes, and in those of many other people too.

Re:What about the fonts? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36647088)

This is a lot more than "fonts", and a bit closer to deception than you're making it out to be. Visualizations are supposed to convey information quickly. When they don't it just becomes a series of pretty pictures people look at that give the reader the impression that they've learned something. That's a form of deception. It's not outright lying, but it's also certainly not aesthetics like font type.

It's too bad you expected the wrong thing going into the article. But it sounds like you're letting your own fallen expectations influence the rest of the article.

Well if you think the visualisation is poor... (2)

DaveGod (703167) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646304)

...then perhaps we'd better not even get started on the quality of the underlying data.

The sole purpose of corporations providing information is to convince the public of something that will benefit the company. From inception to design through data collection, analysis and reporting there is a defined marketing objective and it never involved "let's find out". Yet we treat with less scepticism than reports from an independent academic that at least in theory has survived a thorough peer review - though even that tends to assumes the technical parameters operated were correct. How often do you see reference to, say, questionnaires in the methodology which then goes on to even let you see a copy of the questionnaire?

Re:Well if you think the visualisation is poor... (0, Troll)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646522)

What political persuasion do you think "independent" "academics" come from? There exists idealogical conformity in universities today. Of what character is this lack of dissent? I'll give you a hint, and it ain't the rights of the individual, limited government, and the promotion of free enterprise.

Re:Well if you think the visualisation is poor... (0)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646734)

Wow.. and YOU have no political bias at all, do you? Go away.

Re:Well if you think the visualisation is poor... (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646966)

Re:Well if you think the visualisation is poor... (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647356)

What on earth does that picture have to do with anything? How does it even relate to the political persuasion of professors?

Re:Well if you think the visualisation is poor... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36647360)

Given the debates between differing views that are often hosted within and between people in universities, and the general support for a diversity of opinions there, it's a little hard to believe that universities are particularly prone to conformity rather than the exact opposite. There's probably less conformity there than in society in general.

Re:Well if you think the visualisation is poor... (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646800)

somewhere between the computer lab (funded by HP), the new classroom (funded by BP), the endowed professor chair (funded by Motorola) and the John Witherspoon Sciences Annex (heir of an oil fortune), i managed to see one little girl on a hunger strike about some nigerian dictator killing his people so that he could steal their land for an oil pipeline.

i told her to stop this silliness, and think about all the 'free enterprise' this nigerian fellow (im sure that 'dictator' is a stretch. he only killed a few people who were rioting, obviously criminals trying to abuse the police). the real villians are the brainwashed academics, like my professor of differential equations, who keeps going off about some guy named 'einstein', apparently an icon to liberals and other communist types.

Re:Well if you think the visualisation is poor... (2)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646956)

You are not seriously using The Simpsons "won't somebody think of the children" argument, are you? What the fuck does this have to do with the fact that idealogical conformity is a fact of life in the academic West?

Re:Well if you think the visualisation is poor... (2)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647108)

See, this is the problem with fiction nowadays. It's almost all absurd in it's portrayal of the human condition.

Yes, it would be nice to believe that "one little girl" would be so self-sacrificing, if not terribly astute, as to stand on the side of some street somewhere in the US starving herself to death, thinking she'll be noticed and that the wonderful people of that country would suddenly mend their ways and cease toiling to make things better for themselves as well as others, thus bringing about the downfall or change of heart (it's not made clear) of the evil dictator who brought about her plight in the first place.

Even fiction needs logic.

truth is stranger than fiction (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647884)

which is why nobody believes it.

there were a couple of protests about 10 years ago about an oil company dealing with some dictators in the western pacific, cant even remember the names.

one of the local 'professional student protestor' groups had this girl who went on a hunger strike over it.

Re:Well if you think the visualisation is poor... (1)

elgol (1257936) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646606)

While you are right about the marketing end, you are incorrect in extending the marketing objective's influence into the inception, design, and data collection phase. Sure, they display simplified graphs to the general public in order to sway opinion. Why do they do it? Because the underlying data suggests that there is money to be made. You can bet that there is a lot of underlying data, which was obtained, analyzed, and reported internally at no small cost. GE needs to convince itself first before it tries to convince others.

Re:Well if you think the visualisation is poor... (1)

BartholomewBernsteyn (1720348) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646658)

Interactivity in graphs is smoke and mirrors. It suggests certain degrees of freedom, while the dataset is aligned to whatever 'benefits the company'. Interactivity merely creates the illusion of being able to 'find out' - This is not transparency; this is propaganda.

White space doesn't indicate what's claimed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646324)

Try fiddling with the knobs at the bottom. Only the size of the enclosing circle, square, and triangle are the data. While the stuff inside might allow the viewer to think there's more data, the page doesn't actually claim that whitespace vs. blue are related to the number.

I don't know whether that makes it worse or better, but I think it may give GE too much credit to think that they're even /trying/ to convey information.

KEYL ZEM !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646392)

Und dan wie TANZEN mit unsererer GM monkie !!

Heil !!

Typical liberal butthurt (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646418)

I love how the submitter tries to validate his submission with a paper that has "social justice" in the first paragraph. What a load of crap.

Off to slam Comic Sans, laters.

yup. a phrase that andrew carnegie (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646802)

..

ok actually andrew carnegie used this phrase, and so did some other industrialists in the early 1900s, when they did things like Henry Ford raising the wages of all of his workers something like five fold.

Re:yup. a phrase that andrew carnegie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646930)

Your statement and claims are already disproven by the raging hordes who regularly show "evidence" why companies exist solely to make a profit at the expense of average people.

Got any more "facts" you want to lie about?

Re:yup. a phrase that andrew carnegie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646964)

To them, "social justice" meant not treating their employees like slaves. In modern times it has a different meaning.

Yeah, and? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646422)

They just described 95% of the internet and 99% of what people do with computers these days. There used to be a time when computers where made by serious people to be used by serious people to solve serious problems. Now we don't. You're the ones who wanted that, deal with it, geeks.

When someone refers to 'social justice' (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646438)

.. I reach for my revolver, because it means that they want to impose their view on me and consider themselves justified in doing so.

Justice equals law equals the desire to use force. Otherwise they would talk about 'social suggestions' instead.

Re:When someone refers to 'social justice' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646700)

But when you reach for your revolver, it's all OK, right? No force there! (rolls eyes) What a loon you are, sir or madam.

Re:When someone refers to 'social justice' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36646838)

So, you're one of those libertarian scumbags that's running the country into the ground because how dare the government act with your interests in mind.

The appropriate use of that firearm is directed in the mouth.

I palindrome I (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 3 years ago | (#36648430)

When I hear the phrase "When I hear the phrase $x, I reach for my $y", I reach for my Quine.

Fault McCandless, not GE (5, Informative)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646640)

I think we should make a distinction between GE, the company hosting the site, and Stephen McCandless, the rather famous data visualization specialist who created the figures. (Here's his website: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/ [informatio...utiful.net] )

The problem is not that the data presented are not useful, or that they're deliberately intended to deceive, which we could fault GE for. As I see it, the problem is that the graphs themselves are crap. They hide useful information, and they use shape and color in ways that seem to provide information but don't, and in general they focus on the aesthetic appeal of the charts at the expense of the data.

When I first encountered McCandless's site a few years ago, I really loved it, but as time goes on it's begun to piss me off. For example, his chart on relative radiation risks:
      http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/radiation-dosage-chart/ [informatio...utiful.net]
Logarithmic charts are always difficult to explain to the public, but the triangular shape of his graph makes it even worse, suggesting a linear increase in dose. He compares it to XKCD's chart [xkcd.com] , but his version is inferior in every way. XKCD uses color and shape to provide information; in McCandless's version color and shape have negative information content.

Another example: a graph of time travel plots in film and TV (minus Dr. Who):
        http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/timelines/ [informatio...utiful.net]
The curvy lines look nice, but all anyone can make out of this is a confusing snarl of lines too tangled to parse. Once again, shape has negative information content in this image.

But the king of the bad visualizations is probably another graph McCandless did for GE:
          http://visualization.geblogs.com/visualization/co2/#/flights_London_Tokyo [geblogs.com]
Here, there's no way to intercompare various quantities, and figure out which of two choices is bigger. Shape, color and position are once again meaningless or misleading (things are shown the same size even when they're 8x different), quantities are in incompatible units, and worst of all some of the numbers are flat-out wrong (for instance, fuel usage of aircraft).

But the one thing these all have in common is McCandless, not GE. So let's not fault megacorporations who're trying to communicate a message: let's fault information presentation gurus who care more about appearances than on information presentation.

Re:Fault McCandless, not GE (2)

anthroboy (663415) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647654)

I think we should make a distinction between GE, the company hosting the site, and Stephen McCandless, the rather famous data visualization specialist who created the figures.

Yes, the latter was hired to produce the misleading figures, and the former selected, hired and paid for that work. Why exactly does this exonerate GE of responsibility for the images it commissioned and hosts on its site?

facts versus message (1)

manaway (53637) | more than 3 years ago | (#36647972)

Informative post, except for this:

But the one thing these all have in common is McCandless, not GE. So let's not fault megacorporations who're trying to communicate a message: let's fault information presentation gurus who care more about appearances than on information presentation.

Megacorporations are presenting a message alright, but it's not one of information. Rather it's delivering messages that make them either look good or confuse the issue, or both. Ever read How to Lie with Statistics? Megacorporations are not filled with dumb marketing people, they are almost certainly acquainted with such techniques. Are they lying to themselves as well as us? I don't know and I don't care. Fry's visualizations, and now McCandless's artsy ones, were chosen for good reason. They work. Even a person who is interested in factual information is diverted to blame the graphic designer instead of exploring the issue. My opinion is that people like Fry and McCandless, and especially the corporations who hire them, are trolling experts.

If interested in informative graphic design, check out Hans Rosling [ted.com] for an engaging presentation on population, or the Knuth of graphic designers Edward Tufte on analytical design and human factors [edwardtufte.com] . If you want to know more about fossil fuel problems, check out sources other than fossil fuel profiteers. For example Bartlett's more factual presentation on limited supplies and exponential growth [youtube.com] .

"Good displays of data help to reveal knowledge relevant to understanding mechanism, process and dynamics, cause and effect." -- Edward Tufte

Re:Fault McCandless, not GE (1)

gilgongo (57446) | more than 3 years ago | (#36648006)

When I first encountered McCandless's site a few years ago, I really loved it

Can you explain why? I would have thought that anyone who has ever considered data and the visualization of it would see his site and pretty much instantly realise it was pile of useless drek.

Re:Fault McCandless, not GE (1)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 3 years ago | (#36648150)

Because he actually gave a damn. Information presentation has recently come into vogue, but a couple years ago, it was tough to find people who recognized the value of a good chart. Also, many of the things he links to which are done by other people (example 1 [informatio...utiful.net] example 2 [informatio...utiful.net] ) are quite good.

Other GE Visualizations: Rank-And-Yank Curves (3)

theodp (442580) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646698)

Didn't stop them from losing tens of billions of dollars [forbes.com] in the financial meltdown, but GE is a big fan of Forced Ranking [rightattitudes.com] : "Jack Welch, General Electric's former CEO, is often associated with a 20-70-10 distribution: the top 20 percent is rewarded for best performance, the middle 70 percent is rated 'average' and the bottom 10 percent is coached for improvement. The 'rank-and-yank' system, also associated with Jack Welch, automatically terminates employees in the bottom category, allowing organizations to purge the worst performers."

Re:Other GE Visualizations: Rank-And-Yank Curves (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36647766)

Worked once on a VERY VERY large project. The project was the majority of the inhouse work at the company. Once your part was close to done you were forcibly moved to the next group/task. You could wind up having a new boss and coworkers Monday based on an email sent Friday afternoon. Where you moved to was based on need, not qualifications.

They also broke people into 4 groups. If you were on the bottom, you were put on warning. Guess who almost always wound up in the bottom 1/4? The people who just got moved.

The practice sounds good on paper, but in practice performance is the least important ranking measure.

Re:Other GE Visualizations: Rank-And-Yank Curves (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36648682)

A company like GE could not survive without this sort of culling. Every herd needs the set of cows who need to go to the slaughter, so that their genes don't intermingle.

Other GE Visualizations: GE/McKinsey Matrix (1)

theodp (442580) | more than 3 years ago | (#36646712)

Pac-Man meets Tic-Tac-Toe [uottawa.ca] : "Though the GE/McKinsey Matrix is more sophisticated than the BCG matrix and can provide higher value information for the executive management, it has several flaws and limitations..."

Re:Other GE Visualizations: GE/McKinsey Matrix (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 3 years ago | (#36648446)

I call Inky, Blinky and Clyde in the corner pocket. Cherries are trumps.

Not only that (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36647076)

, Few asked his neuropsychologist wife whether he might be overreacting. She, too, agrees

Few then asked his mom about GE's data visualization who replied "Yes it's just horrible. Not as good as my pretty little boy could do."

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