This Week in Data Reading

This week Boris shares a piece on the persuasive power of data visualization. Read something provocative in the field of data science? Be sure to share your links in the comments.

Boris Gorelik

boris In “The Persuasive Power of Data Visualization,” a group of New York University researchers demonstrates the results of an experimental assessment: the claim that data visualization is indeed an effective tool for conveying a message.

The 2014 study claims that despite the fact that “…data visualization has been used extensively to inform users…little research has been done to examine the effects of data visualization in influencing users or in making a message more persuasive.”

To make their point, the researchers presented a series of questions to 150 Amazon Mechanical Turk users. (Such a setup isn’t flawless, of course, but is a common practice in many perception studies.)

Indeed, graphical representation was effective, at least for some tasks, according to this study: “When initial attitude is not strongly polarized, charts seem to have a stronger effect than tables on persuasion likelihood and attitude change.” Surprisingly, there were tasks in which “the table[s]…have a higher percentage of…change than the charts.”

Interestingly, the paper implies that tables, unlike charts, are not a form of data visualization. It seems that tables are “foster children” of data visualization, as they don’t often get the appreciation they deserve. From my experience, tables can serve as a powerful visualization tool. When I teach data visualization, I devote at least one lesson to tables. I’m glad this study provides empirical confirmation of the importance of tables.

What are your experiences using data visualization in the field? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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