Two partial sections of a reproduction of the 6.75m long Tabula Peutingeriana showing a quasi-topological map of the Roman public road network. Great if you need to be wowed by the extent of the Empire or navigate certain parts of the road network. Less good for showing the geographic shapes of regions, or even “reflecting reality”: many of the towns depicted were destroyed or abandoned by even the earliest estimates of the source map’s creation. It’s perhaps more a map of what the Empire wanted to be, and less a map of what it actually was.

My mother worked for the local historical society while I was growing up, so I spent a lot of time in the 1815 historic house that was the group’s headquarters and main touring location. Docents would wear their period-appropriate hoop skirts and take people through the parlor and the master bedroom and and the grand staircase. The slave quarters, tucked away in a hallway on the upper floor, was one of the last parts of the tour. You reach them through a back stairway (originally a trap door with a ladder), so the enslaved people who worked in the house…


A section of a jigsaw puzzle with one piece missing
A section of a jigsaw puzzle with one piece missing

A while back I was interviewing for a research scientist position at [company redacted]. I had already picked up kind of iffy vibes during the day, but there was a point where it crystalized into “ah, I don’t want to be here, and they probably don’t want me here either.” It was when, after an interview loop that was mostly focused on my research and places where I could intervene, I was asked by a new interviewer to take a marker, go up to the whiteboard and, in my “preferred language,” implement a stack data structure using queue data structures…


Nighttime illumination in Honor of Catherine the Great, Jan Bogumił Plersz, ca. 1787

Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

David Graeber, On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant

This is one of those historical stories that probably never happened (or didn’t happen like we think), but is so useful as a metaphor that it’s best to pretend that it did. The story…


American family watches a parade of dashboards on a 1950s TV set
American family watches a parade of dashboards on a 1950s TV set

This post was collaboratively written by Heather Froehlich and Michael Correll as part of our “Provocation” submission to the Visualization for the Digital Humanities workshop at IEEEVIS 2020, “Making Sense of a Sea of Dashboards.”

Tl;dr: Dashboards in the visualization community are often conceived of as decision-support tools that sharpen the mind, triage otherwise ungraspable amounts of information, and bring into focus a single accurate and actionable picture of a subset of the world (as admittedly fraught and positivist as that project is). But we see a troubling trend of dashboards specifically, and massed collections of data more generally, acting…


An illustration of the trolley problem, with panels from an Initial D parody manga showing a trolley “drifting” on two tracks
An illustration of the trolley problem, with panels from an Initial D parody manga showing a trolley “drifting” on two tracks

This post will largely be about the MIT Media Lab’s “Moral Machine” work, after a brief detour. If you don’t recall, the Moral Machine was a series of crowdsourced experiments where people were presented with a dilemma in which there is an autonomous car with, say, malfunctioning breaks, careening down a street, and we are given the choice to either let the car continue (striking and killing the pedestrian(s) crossing the street in front of us) or swerve out of the way (striking and killing pedestrian(s) on the side of the road), in essence a version of the famous Trolley…


This post is meant to accompany our honorable mention paper for CHI 2020, “Truncating the Y-Axis: Threat or Menace.” For more information, read the paper or consult our osf repository. This post was written collaboratively by Michael Correll, Enrico Bertini, and Steve Franconeri.

If you’re not immersed in information visualization culture, this is one of those papers that looks so obvious as to be trivial. The general gist of the paper is that, in charts like the following, the bars on the left look more different than the bars on the right:

Two sets of bar charts showing an increase from 35% to 40%, but only on the left does the y-axis begin from 0%.
Two sets of bar charts showing an increase from 35% to 40%, but only on the left does the y-axis begin from 0%.

This is despite the fact that both charts…


Chevalier et al. looked at concrete scales for helping people visualize quantities. Similarly, Hullman et al. found that “concrete re-expressions” can help people internalize quantities. Here are some preliminary sketches from thinking about what concrete probability scales and risk theatres to convey COVID-19 risk might look like. Can you think of all of the reasons why this project didn’t leave my (toucan-themed) notebook?

I am a researcher in information visualization. I’ve focused on lots of things in the past, including uncertainty visualization, statistical graphics, and bioinformatics. There are lots of current pandemic data visualization challenges that feel directly connected to my past or current areas of research. How do we translate the argots of virology and epidemiology into contexts that are useful for mass audiences? How do we communicate exponential growth, confidence intervals, log scales, model errors, and simulation results to audiences who may not have seen those sorts of things before?

Back in those halcyon days of “mid to late January” I…


Leilani Battle speaks in front of a room at the visualization for social good tutorial
Leilani Battle speaks in front of a room at the visualization for social good tutorial

This post co-written by the organizers of the Visualization for Social Good tutorial at IEEE VIS 2019 in Vancouver, BC: Leilani Battle, Michelle Borkin, Michael Correll, Lane Harrison, Evan Peck, and Uzma Haque Syeda.

What We Did

Information visualization is often portrayed as just one more arm of the data science octopus, a highly technical skill that is employed to help scientists and specialists with esoteric data sets navigate their enormous databases or noisy collection of .csv sheets. Amongst academics, there’s sometimes an impression that persuading or advocating with data visualizations is somehow beneath us, that this sort of deviation from “just” presenting…


Masks from the Kawkwaka’wakwa’s Hamatsa secret society, from the collection of the UBC Museum of Anthropology
Masks from the Kawkwaka’wakwa’s Hamatsa secret society, from the collection of the UBC Museum of Anthropology
Masks from the Kwakwaka’wakw’s Hamatsa secret society on display at the UBC Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver. I think it’s a little odd that so much of the wider world’s conception of the visual and aesthetic culture of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest comes from items and artworks that were supposed to be kept secret, but that’s a post for another day.

I recently attended the IEEE VIS conference in Vancouver, BC. There were a lot of interesting and compelling talks, but of course my sunny and optimistic disposition kept returning to the same thought: “aha, this is the year when the wheels start coming off.”

What I mean by that is that academic visualization work is often situated within computer science (hence why our main conference is an IEEE conference, and most [but not all!] of our bigwigs are in computer science departments). But this allegiance is more or less just an accident of history. Sure, you need some computer science…


Patron Saint of counting, the muppet Count von Count
Patron Saint of counting, the muppet Count von Count

Do not knock — Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men. It expels from movements all hesitation, deliberation, civility.

— Theodor Adorno, “Do Not Knock,Minima Moralia.

Context/ tl;dr : I was asked to give a keynote for the upcoming Workshop on Visualization for the Digital Humanities. I take keynote duty as an opportunity to make as provocative a point as possible. The particular Hot Take I’ve decided to go with is that visualization is a bad neighbor to the digital humanities: it exacerbates the worst tendencies of DH scholarship and promotes parasitic, technocratic collaborations. …

Michael Correll

Information Visualization, Data Ethics, Graphical Perception.

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