City of Alexandria — Time Series Data
Tufte (2001) and other ambassadors of the visual display of data have shown us how easily it is to understand complex data when it is graphically represented in ways that our minds are designed to understand. Tufte argues that “experience with the analysis of datais essential for achieving precision and grace in the presence of statistics, .but even textbook of graphical design are silent about how to think about numbers” (Tufte, 2001, p. 104). Tufke remarks, that “Illustrators too often see their work as an exclusively artistic enterprise — the words “creative,” “concept,” and “style” combine regularly in all possible permutations — a Big Think jargon for the small task of constructing a time-series a few data points long” (Tufte, 2001, p. 204). Visual display of data has other uses than simply an elegant way to view, appreciate, and analyze data. The process of completing a graphic display of data forces the issue of data integrity and completion of data sets. When data is missing in a graphic display, it is glaringly apparent. And the process of figuring out how to arrange data for best display generates an awareness of the assumptions that undergird the data collection — and ultimately, the data analysis. When creating a visual display of data, the analyst has cause to “muse on the ineffable origins ofinsights” (Gladwell, 2007, p. 40) . The analyst admits, if only privately, that “There are ten different things it can mean — all of those are possibilities. You can’t just look at one behavior [or data point] in isolation” (Gladwell, 2007, p. 43). When the data just doesn’t come together, we might do well to recall Averch’s caveat, that “If we believe that the information to be gained by evaluation should be proportional to the decision makers’ needs, time, budget, and attention, then conventional quantitative evaluations may be infeasible or inappropriate” (n.d., p. 292).
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