How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

TTLT: Data Viz Gold Standard

It’s this graphic by Vox, issued in the wake of President Trump and U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy blaming the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton in part on teen consumption of violent video games:

The graphic exemplifies data marshaled to shape a public conversation.

It has a single point, which it makes with clarity and force.

It declares: evidence tells us that one solution is a dead end. Let’s focus on more productive ones.

It needs no additional explanation.

No surprise that this graphic got RT’d countless times on Twitter yesterday, paired with the hashtag #videogamesarenottoblame.

Contrast with this graphic, which scientist Jon Foley (who is a very good communicator) tells us is one of the three most important in climate change:

Jon writes that this graph “shows…that there are a lot of different things that contribute to climate change — not just burning fossil fuels.” By which he means emissions in the food and land use sector from deforestation or methane from cattle, for instance.

But that’s not at all clear from the graphic itself — not to mention what to do about it. The graph needs considerable explanation. And it can’t be shared without that explanation — at least not if we have hopes our intended message will be automatically understood.

We can think data are important — even crucial. But that is not the same as being useful in a world where misunderstanding is instant and rampant.

The Vox standard is an exacting one. But the onus is on us to get as close to it as we can, every time we send visualized data into the world. Saying “that’s not what I meant” is no longer an option.