historian of science and lover of linguistics, software dev, juggling, secular Judaism, sci-fi, cogsci, data viz, fire, Open Access, and everything else
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A dialogue between a reporter and a visualization journalist

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Inspired by true events and, unfortunately, witnessed in many newsrooms:

Reporter/writer (RW): “This chart is just so boring. Can’t you spice it up, adding some shadows, 3D, illustrations, or something?”

Visualization journalist (VJ): “This chart shows all relevant information, and it’s accurate, readable, and elegant. Its headline is a pun, so it even has some humor. If I agree to ‘spice it up’, would you do the same with the copy you're writing, if I ask you to?”

RW: “I want this graphic to go viral! Look, visuals are supposed to attract eyeballs, above all!”

VJ: “I will be happy to sacrifice the integrity of the chart if you do the same with your story. Would you be willing to add made-up colorful details here and there in your story to make it more ‘viral’?”

RW: “Well, I'm a journalist, you know... Anyway, nobody will read this chart!”

VJ: “Have you tested how many people really read your 1,000-word stories? Perhaps we could compare.”

RW: “But I want to do surprising, experimental stuff with our graphics!”

VJ: “I am all for experimentation, but it’s easy to experiment with someone else’s work, not knowing much about its rules and ethics. It’s harder to do the same with your own ‘stuff’.”

I wonder if so many reporters/editors (writers) realize how arrogant they sound when they recklessly tell visual journalists how to do their jobs.* It's insulting and it must stop outright. They need to get some of their own medicine, for a change. Give it to them. And never give up.

(*I'm also dismayed by how many of us have happily and uncritically adopted the jargon of marketing, but that's another story.)



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scottbot
416 days ago
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Bus pass: Civic hackers open transit data MTA said would cost too much to share

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Despite promises of transparency and efforts to create "open data" in the hopes of latching onto the "app economy"—words frequently used in government agency press releases—much of the data that would be of the greatest value to citizens often ends up out of reach. For example, if you want to plan a trip on public transportation in many cities (or even just find out when your bus will show up), you often have to turn to Google Maps or another transit-tracking application on your mobile device. In Baltimore, however, that data has been locked behind the firewalls of the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA).

But now a civic hacker has made that data available to app developers by doing what the MTA claimed would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete—simply tapping into websites that the agency has already built. And the hacker did it without spending a dime of taxpayer money. The work took just a few man-days' worth of spare time and a commercial app development team's afternoon.

While the MTA released an early version of its own bus tracking application this month, it's a Web application and lacks tools like geolocation. It has the sort of byzantine interface that most people have come to expect from government websites, it makes accessing the data difficult, and the MTA isn't making the data available to Google or others to make finding the best route any easier.

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548 days ago
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Lockheed Martin claims “technological breakthrough” in compact fusion

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Lockheed Martin's promo video for its fusion project

Reuters is reporting that defense contractor Lockheed Martin claims it has made a technological breakthrough that places us on the doorstep of affordable fusion energy. Supposedly, the breakthrough will result in compact fusion reactors before a decade is out.

But the Lockheed Martin press release that coincides with the coverage says little of the sort. There, the company simply states that after initial work in the area, it expects to be able to build a prototype in five years. If everything goes well, the design could "be developed and deployed in as little as ten years." The "if" in the last sentence, however, is a big one.

The hype also seems to have been designed to leverage a technical article in Aviation Week that goes into some of the details about how Lockheed Martin is structuring their its. The general concept is similar to a Tokomak, in that it involves magnetic confinement of a plasma rather than hitting a small target with massive amounts of laser power. But the shape of the container is different and, according to the company's researchers, more efficient. However, the Aviation Week report also notes, "The team acknowledges that the project is in its earliest stages, and many key challenges remain before a viable prototype can be built."

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682 days ago
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How Spurious Wikipedia Edits Can Attach a Name To a Scandal, 35 Years On

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Andreas Kolbe (2591067) writes For more than six years, Wikipedia named an innocent man as a key culprit in the 1978/79 Boston College point shaving scandal. The name Joe Streater was inserted into Wikipedia by an anonymous user in August 2008. The unsourced insertion was never challenged or deleted, and over time, Streater became widely associated with the scandal through newspaper and TV reports as well as countless blogs and fan sites, all of which directly or indirectly copied this spurious fact from Wikipedia. Yet research shows that Streater, whose present whereabouts are unknown, did not even play in the 1978/79 season. Before August 2008, his name was never mentioned in connection with the scandal. As journalists have less and less time for in-depth research, more and more of them seem to be relying on Wikipedia instead, and the online encyclopedia is increasingly becoming a vector for the spread of spurious information.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.








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685 days ago
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Carrying Your Nobel Prize Through Airport Security

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Astrophysicist Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University won the Nobel Prize for physics in 2011 for discovering dark energy. Speaking at an event in New York last month, he talked about how winning a Nobel changed his life. Some of the things that come with the medal are money, respect, worldwide recognition of your research, and at least for Schmidt, a bit more hassle with U.S. airport security.  

“When I won this, my grandma, who lives in Fargo, North Dakota, wanted to see it. I was coming around so I decided I’d bring my Nobel Prize. You would think that carrying around a Nobel Prize would be uneventful, and it was uneventful, until I tried to leave Fargo with it, and went through the X-ray machine. I could see they were puzzled. It was in my laptop bag. It’s made of gold, so it absorbs all the X-rays—it’s completely black. And they had never seen anything completely black.

The exchange that followed was amusing, although you have to understand that if you’re a TSA officer in Fargo, this is probably the most excitement you’ve had on the job in years. Read the story at Scientific American. -via Digg

(Image credit: Markus Pössel)

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685 days ago
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Patent suits are down 40 percent after new Supreme Court rules

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Data produced by Lex Machina shows that patent lawsuits reached a near-record low in September, down 40 percent from September in 2013. The month's numbers for new lawsuits filed are lower than any other month in recent years, going back to 2011.

The drop comes shortly after new patent rules came down from the Supreme Court. Most notably, the Alice v. CLS Bank decision made it clear that courts shouldn't accept "do it on a computer"-type patents as valid. That's resulted in nearly a dozen patents being tossed out in a short period of time, and some patent trolls with dubious patents aren't bothering to fight it out anymore.

"It is an interesting coincidence to me it lines up with Alice this way," said Brian Howard, Lex Machina's legal data scientist. "I'm not sure I can say Alice caused this, yet. but it is an interesting correlation."

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688 days ago
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