Monday, 26 April 2010

Statistics can be Beautiful

OK. That probably put off half my audience – I don’t care. We are all subjected to a constant stream of statistics, whether we like it or not, unless we opt to ignore the outside world, which is increasingly hard to do.

In the course of the eruption of the Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable name – spelt Eyjafjallajoekull - I came across Information is Beautiful a site by David Candless. What impressed most is that the graph shown is version 3. On the Home Page is an apology for getting the original numbers wrong. He corrected them.

Even if you have no time for statistics, take a few minutes to look at the various visualisations (also known as graphs). They have a beauty which transcends the data. I’m impressed enough to put his book on my Amazon Wishlist.

In particular, try The Solar System  Music Box.  If you click on the graph, you will get an inkling as to why mathematics and music are so tightly intertwined.

The key benefit is that the data is made available. Even if you don’t have the skills to make use of it, it is there for those who have and that gives it authority.

Trust me, if there was any doubt, someone would have brought down the site in flames by now. Statisticians are as prone to confrontation as anyone else!

The second site is one which is a spin-off from a print UK newspaper.

Scroll down to ‘Tax receipts since 1963’. Note that beneath the pretty – though worrying – illustration there is an invitation to ‘Download the data’. If you see this offered, you should be able to trust the graphics.

As Lawrence Lowell, the President of Harvard University wrote in 1909, “Statistics are like veal pies, good if you know the person who made them and are sure of the ingredients”.

1 comment:

  1. You might like this podcast I listen to:

    He's been on there once or twice and there's often all kinds of interesting things like this discussed...


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