Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘data visualization’

29 NOVEMBER, 2012

A Visual History of Nobel Prizes and Notable Laureates, 1901-2012

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Mapping the greatest cultural and scientific advances in modern history with inspiration from John Cage’s music.

After her wonderful visual timeline of the future based on famous fiction last week, I asked Italian information visualization designer Giorgia Lupi and her team at Accurat to create an exclusive English version of another fantastic visualization designed for La Lettura, the Sunday literary supplement of Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera — this time exploring the history of Nobel Prizes and laureates since the dawn of the awards in 1901.

Visualized for each laureate are prize category, year the prize was awarded, and age of the recipient at the time, as well as principal academic affiliations and hometown. Each dot represents a Nobel laureate, and each recipient is positioned according to the year the prize was awarded (x axis) and his or her age at the time of the award (y axis).

(Click image for hi-res version)

Also highlighted are several record-holding laureates — like Marie Curie, for instance, who endures not only as the first woman to win a Nobel Prize but also as the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, and in two different sciences at that, chemistry and physics.

What makes the visualization especially interesting is that Lupi, herself a pianist, was inspired by the work of legendary composer John Cage and the fantastic Notations 21 project. She tells me:

I love the way Cage composes the overall visual architecture of his pieces. Of course, they are functional (sheets to be played) but they are also very graceful in terms of visual beauty.

Indeed, she points out that there are a number of parallels between data visualization and Cage’s work, including non-linear storytelling, layering and hierarchies of information, a clear overall structure for each piece, a focus on overall architecture rather than individual elements, words within diagrams, and a convergence of emotive and functional beauty.

See more of Giorgia’s terrific work on her site, then complement it with some visualization lessons from the world’s top information designers and data artists.

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21 NOVEMBER, 2012

A Visual Timeline of the Future Based on Famous Fiction

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Proof that in the year 802701, the world will still exist.

The past has a long history of imagining the future, and humanity has an equally long history of mapping time. Several months ago, I shared a link to a timeline of future events as predicted by famous novels. Italian information visualization designer Giorgia Lupi saw it on Twitter and was inspired to create an ambitious visual version for La Lettura, the Sunday literary supplement of Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, with her design team at Accurat.

Giorgia was recently visiting and after she shared the story, I asked her to create an English edition of the exquisite timeline exclusively for Brain Pickings, which she generously did:

(Click image for hi-res version)

Giorgia explains:

The visualization is built on a main horizontal axis depicting a distorted time-line of events (in fact we put them regularly, in sequence), starting our future-timeline in 2012. The y-axis is dedicated to the year the novel / book foretelling the event was published.

On the lower half of the visualization you can find the original quotes (shortened)

We then wanted to add further layers of analysis to our piece:

- finding out main typologies of foretold events (are they mainly social, scientific, technological, political?)
- discovering and depicting the genre of the book,
- and most of all, dividing them into positive, neutral or negative events.

Finally, good news, in 802,701 the world will still exist!

Here are a few progress sketches for a fascinating glimpse of her process:

See more of Giorgia’s wonderful work on her site, then imbibe some visualization lessons from the world’s top information designers and data artists.

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10 MAY, 2012

Graphing Jane Austen: Using Science to Extrapolate the Human Condition from Classical Literature

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What literary Darwinism reveals about universal values.

In 1959, C. P. Snow lamented the tragic disconnect between science and the humanities in his famed “two cultures” lecture. In Graphing Jane Austen: The Evolutionary Basis of Literary Meaning, researchers Joseph Carroll, John Johnson, Daniel Kruger, and Jonathan Gottschall — who gave us the fascinating The Storytelling Animal earlier this week — embody Snow’s vision and bridge the gap between science and literary scholarship by borrowing from the evolutionary biology and modern data analytics to construct a model of human nature that explains the evolved psychology of character dynamics in nineteenth-century British novels.

Using the framework of the model, they asked a sample of several hundred readers to give numerical ratings on 2,000 characters from 202 British novels, including all of Jane Austen’s.

This exercise in literary Darwinism produced three key findings: (1) these novels have determinate “agonistic” structures of meaning — centered on protagonists, antagonists, and minor characters — that can be captured using the model’s framework; (2) the perceived differences between protagonists and antagonists are much more structurally pronounced than the differences between male and female characters; and (3) the agonistic structure of these novels fulfills an adaptive social function, wherein literature articulates and cultivates specific social values.

A few of the findings (PDF) follow, in unnecessarily ugly academic graphics. (Please, oh, please, would some talented literature-loving information designer care to spruce them up?)

The researchers examined the positive and negative emotional responses readers have to characters based on a number of character qualities, including sex, age, attractiveness, personality, motives, and mate selection criteria. Five key motive factors emerged — dominance, constructive effort, romance, subsistence, and nurture — which varied greatly across the male and female protagonists and antagonists, and which played a key role in readers’ emotional responses.

Personality was also broken down to five factors: extraversion (assertiveness and sociability), agreeableness (warmth and affiliative behavior), conscientiousness (organization and reliability), emotional stability (calmness and evenness of temper), and openness to experience (curiosity or mental life).

The authors sum up the findings in a conclusion that seems as true of literature as it is of real life:

Standing as a protagonist — a good major character — typically depends on a combination of prosociality and an active mental life.

Also found were normative differences in personality based on gender:

In personality factors and mate-selection criteria, female protagonists most fully exemplify the normative tendencies of good major characters. The norms of the novels are thus gynocentric or feminized.

Though some may argue that bringing the rigorous lens of scientific research to world of literature is a barbaric way to rob the latter of its whimsy, if we subscribe to the view that fiction illuminates reality, Graphing Jane Austen shines a spotlight that not only would make C. P. Snow proud but also helps better understand our culture’s relationship with constructs like personality, gender, and introversion.

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