Ten Challenges to the Use of Data Visualization in Human Rights

In January 2016, my colleagues and I from an interdisciplinary research group at NYU (#NYUhrviz) asked a group of human rights researchers and advocates about the challenges they face when using data visualization. Mixing formal interviews with informal discussion, we found that responses revealed a few common themes. Drawn from this modest sample, here are ten questions on the minds of the rights professionals we spoke to, challenges that complicate and impede the use of data visualization in human rights work.

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>  9 February 2016 | LINK | Filed in
Ooh, sparkly new Los Angeles geodata portal! Much data, so map: http://geohub.lacity.org. More about it here.
Los Angeles Geohub home page
Twitter  8 February 2016 | LINK | Filed in
Poverty drop in Africa not correlated to GDP, but to countries building local infrastructure.
Rates of poverty change in 33 African countries between 2011-2015
Twitter  8 February 2016 | LINK | Filed in , ,
Tales of $100k+ student debt earn headlines, but real problem is 1/3 can't repay loans under $5000.
Twitter  7 February 2016 | LINK | Filed in
These gorgeous posters from Buenos Aires to tell you that life is better by bike
Bikes are better for your heart Bikes are better for your knee Bikes are better for your stomach Bikes are better for your head
Twitter  7 February 2016 | LINK | Filed in ,
@RikersBot tweets one story a day from a prisoner at Rikers Island. Via
Twitter  7 February 2016 | LINK | Filed in ,
Facebook Is Throttling Nonprofits and Activists
Twitter  6 February 2016 | LINK
New stamps promoting LGBT equality worldwide unveiled at the UN:
Four LGBT-themed stamps
Twitter  5 February 2016 | LINK | Filed in ,
Searching for a code fix and finding out about all the delightful things you can no longer do with deprecated APIs.
Twitter  4 February 2016 | LINK
Senate to outsource tedious task of writing legislation to industry regulated by same legislation
Twitter  4 February 2016 | LINK | Filed in ,
While you sleep, the DreamLab app uses your smartphone’s computing power for cancer research
Twitter  29 January 2016 | LINK
Machine learning to classify and organize all the fonts.
Twitter  24 January 2016 | LINK | Filed in

What's Wrong with this Picture?

The Ethics Gap in Data Visualization

What do ethics have to do with data visualization? Over the years, researchers and lawyers have come up with some rules and best practices to guide the proper collection and use of data, with particular attention on human subject research. Questions related to the collection of data go to the heart of what constitutes ethical research methods: did the subjects give informed consent for how their personal data would be used? Does using, collecting, or publishing this data put anyone at risk? Is the data appropriately protected or anonymized? The rules continue to evolve, and are not without gray areas and open questions, and many universities have review processes to provide guidance and make sure the critical ethical questions are raised. In fact, these ethical questions and review processes are required under U.S. law for research institutions receiving federal funding.

In contrast, ethical discussion and guidelines around data visualization, that rambunctious cousin of data, are less established. On January 15, 2016 organizers at the Responsible Data Forum will host a workshop with artists, activists, academics, and practitioners on hand to draw out a set of recommendations on ethics in data visualization and to distill a set of best practices.

Continue reading "What's Wrong with this Picture?" »

>  11 January 2016 | LINK | Filed in
Like Tinder but for cleaning up data.
Twitter  10 December 2015 | LINK
Human Rights Watch analysis of December 2015 satellite images show 1,450 Syrian refugee tents at Jordan border, up from 175 in April.

Twitter  10 December 2015 | LINK | Filed in
Visualizing the redistribution of wealth in the U.S. between 1971 and 2015. (Via.)
Twitter  9 December 2015 | LINK | Filed in , ,
The other mass shooting: every day in the US at least 3 women are killed by intimate partners—the majority shot.
Twitter  2 December 2015 | LINK | Filed in
Under the smog, the cobblestones.
Twitter  1 December 2015 | LINK | Filed in
Arriving in Berlin: a collaborative map of resources, made by refugees for refugees in English, Ararbic, and Farsi.
Twitter  30 October 2015 | LINK | Filed in ,

From Museum Bot to Catalog Bot

Running a handful of museum bots that post random images to Twitter, one quickly gets a sense of the eccentricities of of various collections and catalogings: the MoMA bot has surfaced many Louise Bourgeoise prints, the Victoria & Albert bot found an awful lot of snuff bottles, the Tate bot counts every page of Turner’s sketchbooks (even a few blank ones,) while the Cooper Hewitt bot has unearthed an large number of matchsafes. 4,267, in fact.

So when I saw this video interview with designer Irma Boom it gave me an idea. Irma Boom and her studio create books that flout convention: books with blank covers, books printed without ink, little books, and a book to last 500 years. They are rigorous, stylish, absurd, and inspiring. Her new catalog for the Cooper Hewitt showcases 1,300 carefully selected color illustrations across 912 pages. But that’s only so many matchsafes.

I decided to rectify this by generating an absurd catalog of my own. Using the Cooper Hewitt API, I pulled records for all matchsafes with images and produced a 4,390 page book purely devoted to the art: 4,101 pages of matchsafes accompanied by a 256 page index. Download the unofficial Cooper Hewitt matchsafe catalog as a 479Mb PDF. Please consider the environment before printing.

Matchsafes, cover and interior pages

My Saturday morning has nothing on the several years invested by Irma Boom and the Cooper Hewitt team in their catalog design, but I’m pleased with the results. I’ve posted my source code of the layout and though written as a one-off, the mind wanders: why not an app where any search query could automatically generate a catalog PDF, perhaps available to print on demand? How about OpenCV to automatically generate random spreads of objects with visual similarities across different departments? Print period objects alongside text from WikiPedia? Programming print FTW!

>  26 October 2015 | LINK | Filed in ,

More? See October’s archives.
Or September’s.