Shoot the Messenger: Comedy & Criticism with Nate Silver

November 4, 2012

Click for Richard Sala source.

Statistical reports and observed reality do not always correspond, as my favorite comics artist, Richard Sala, illustrates with the image above.  This gives an opening to right-wing critics of the statistician Nate Silver, who has consistently rated Obama the favorite in this election at his blog,  I find the attacks on him to be laughable:  yes, he says he votes Democratic; yes, he has strong opinions on the importance of state as opposed to national polls; yes, he predicts the popular vote to be rather close but still rates Obama at more than 80% likely to win.

So what?  As they say in the pundit world, “Here’s the thing…”  In a few days the election will be over and we’ll see whose predictions and analysis were good, and whose were bad.  Let’s just wait and see, heh?

OWS: The Beautiful and the Arcane

October 16, 2011

At the Occupy Wall Street site yesterday, I saw some people wearing a small enamel lapel pin with this design.  I searched in vain for the man who was giving them away – I want one!  It beautifully expresses the facts of income and social inequality in a clean, concise, and compelling graphic.  Bravo to the designer!

Occupy Wall Street + Walter Benjamin +Pauline Christianity = Anaphoric Solidarity.  Whaa?  One of the strangest amalgams of intellectual systems I’ve come across, represented at OWS by two young men at a small table in the center of Zucotti Park.

Playfair with Images

December 12, 2007


Playfair’s Commercial and Political Atlas and Statistical Breviary, much beloved by Tufte and others, is a monument in the history of communication with imagery. The simple chart here, showing the balance of trade between Norway and England as a time-series dual line plot looks totally modern and familiar to us, but was an incredible novelty in his day. Nor was he limited to linear charts: he worked with bar charts, innovative pie-charts, and combinations of several chart formats.

The text, now available in a complete facsimile edition at the link provided above, is, in addition, wonderful to read. If you enjoy reading intellectual strivers of the Enlightenment, as I do, you will enjoy this book thoroughly. He deals with sophisticated issues of data presentation and analysis in language so plain, you wonder how we got into our present mess with statistics being always associated with incomprehensible jargon. He also gets in some zingers against Adam Smith, with whom he had some differences.

Today we are inundated with statistical graphs, so it’s hard to accept that in his day, Playfair’s innovations were regarded with suspicion! The very informative introduction to this edition describes the intellectual prejudices of his day against graphical display of information. So much for a picture being worth a thousand words – in those days, they preferred the words! Pictures were thought to be unreliable, and subject to all sorts of hidden error, while words could be parsed to the bone to cut away the fatty tissue of falsity. It was Playfair’s genius to turn this on its head successfully, although he personally never made much of a go of it financially.


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