Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

What makes a data visualization memorable?

Many postings here make use of visuals.  And of course, some visuals are better than others.
At times, I thought about just what made a good visual, but much like art, thought it was in the eye of the beholder.

So, when I came across this article, just had to post!

No conclusions yet, but some interesting hypotheses that go against the grain.

From the press release at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science

(Via Science 360 News Service  – a Web site of the National Science Foundation – a US Govt Agency
                          which was on hiatus during the government shutdown)

 

COMPUTER SCIENTISTS AT HARVARD AND COGNITIVE SCIENTISTS AT MIT TEAM UP TO SETTLE A DEBATE OVER “CHART JUNK”

A range of visualization types. (Image courtesy of Michelle Borkin, Harvard SEAS.)

Which of these visualizations will you remember later? (Images courtesy of Michelle Borkin, Harvard SEAS.)


Cambridge, Mass. – October 16, 2013 – It’s easy to spot a “bad” data visualization—one packed with too much text, excessive ornamentation, gaudy colors, and clip art. Design guru Edward Tufte derided such decorations as redundant at best, useless at worst, labeling them “chart junk.” Yet a debate still rages among visualization experts: Can these reviled extra elements serve a purpose?

Taking a scientific approach to design, researchers from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are offering a new take on that debate. The same design elements that attract so much criticism, they report, can also make a visualization more memorable.

Detailed results were presented this week at the IEEE Information Visualization (InfoVis) conference in Atlanta, hosted by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

For lead author Michelle Borkin, a doctoral student at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), memorability has a particular importance:

“I spend a lot of my time reading these scientific papers, so I have to wonder, when I walk away from my desk, what am I going to remember? Which of the figures and visualizations in these publications are going to stick with me?”

But it’s more than grad-school anxiety. Working at the interface of computer science and psychology, Borkin specializes in the visual representation of data, looking for the best ways to communicate and interpret complex information. The applications of her work have ranged from astronomy to medical diagnostics and may already help save lives.

Her adviser, Hanspeter Pfister, An Wang Professor of Computer Science at Harvard SEAS, was intrigued by the chart junk debate, which has flared up on design blogs and at visualization conferences year after year.

Together, they turned to Aude Oliva, a principal research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, and a cognitive psychologist by training. Oliva’s lab has been studying visual memory for about six years now. Her team has found that in photographs, faces and human-centric scenes are typically easy to remember;landscapes are not.

“All of us are sensitive to the same kinds of images, and we forget the same kind as well,” Oliva says. “We like to believe our memories are unique, that they’re like the soul of a person, but in certain situations it’s as if we have the same algorithm in our heads that is going to be sensitive to a particular type of image. So when you find a result like this in photographs, you want to know: is it generalizable to many types of materials—words, sound, images, graphs?”

“Speaking with [Pfister] and his group, it became very exciting, the idea that we could study what makes a visualization memorable or not,” Oliva recalls. “If it turned out to be the same for everyone, we thought this would be a win-win result.”

For Oliva’s group, it would provide more evidence of cognitive similarities in the brain’s visual processing, from person to person. For Pfister’s group, it could suggest that certain design principles make visualizations inherently more memorable than others.

With Harvard students Azalea A. Vo ’13 and Shashank Sunkavalli SM ’13, as well as MIT graduate students Zoya Bylinskii and Phillip Isola, the team designed a large-scale study—in the form of an online game—to rigorously measure the memorability of a wide variety of visualizations. They collected more than 5,000 charts and graphics from scientific papers, design blogs, newspapers, and government reports and manually categorized them by a wide range of attributes. Serving them up in brief glimpses—just one second each—to participants via Amazon Mechanical Turk, the researchers tested the influence of features like color, density, and content themes on users’ ability to recognize which ones they had seen before.

The results meshed well with Oliva’s previous results, but added several new insights.

“A visualization will be instantly and overwhelmingly more memorable if it incorporates an image of a human-recognizable object—if it includes a photograph, people, cartoons, logos—any component that is not just an abstract data visualization,” says Pfister. “We learned that any time you have a graphic with one of those components, that’s the most dominant thing that affects the memorability.”

Visualizations that were visually dense proved memorable, as did those that used many colors. Other results were more surprising.

“You’d think the types of charts you’d remember best are the ones you learned in school—the bar charts, pie charts, scatter plots, and so on,” Borkin says. “But it was the opposite.”

Unusual types of charts, like tree diagrams, network diagrams, and grid matrices, were actually more memorable.

“If you think about those types of diagrams—for example, tree diagrams that show relationships between species, or diagrams that explain a molecular chemical process—every one of them is going to be a little different, but the branching structures feel very natural to us,” explains Borkin. “That combination of the familiar and the unique seems to influence the memorability.”

The best type of chart to use will always depend on the data, but for designers who are required to work within a certain style—for example, to achieve a recognizable consistency within a magazine—the results may be reassuring.

“A graph can be simple or complex, and they both can be memorable,” explains Oliva. “You can make something familiar either by keeping it simple or by having a little story around it. It’s not really that you should choose to use one color or many, or to include additional ornaments or not. If you need to keep it simple because it’s the style your boss likes or the style of your publication, you can still find a way to make it memorable.”

At this stage, however, the team hesitates to issue any sweeping design guidelines for an obvious reason: memorability isn’t the only thing that matters. Visualizations must also be accurate, easy to comprehend, aesthetically pleasing, and appropriate to the context.

“A memorable visualization is not necessarily a good visualization,” Borkin cautions. “As a community we need to keep asking these types of questions: What makes a visualization engaging? What makes it comprehensible?”

As for the chart junk, she says diplomatically, “I think it’s going to be an ongoing debate.”

##

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF, grant 1016862), Google, and Xerox, as well as graduate research fellowships from the Department of Defense and the NSF.

October 18, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Soda’s Evil Twin – The Dangers of Fruit Drinks (Infographic) [With Added Item on Environmental Degradation by Soda Manufacturer Processes]

From Jen Rs Web page  (Twitter: jenicarhee)


Related articles

  • [Environmenal effects of soda drink manufacturing overseas]

From the January 2012 newsletter item by the Mt. St. Agnes Theological Center for Women
Green Notes

Bad news for soft drink lovers…You might believe that your daily cola fix only poses a threat to your diet but, depending on your brand of choice, you could be terribly wrong.  As major soft drink manufactures move their bottling plants over seas and into the developing world, many are engaging in irresponsible behaviors that harm the local environment and communities dependent on it.

Coca-Cola stands out as the worst offender, particularly in India.  In the last decade, tens of thousands of farmers and their families have lost their livelihoods as Coca-Cola’s activities have dried out their wells and poisoned any alternate local water sources.  The company has peddled potentially toxic product containing elevated levels of dangerous pesticides in drinks sold in India. The dangerous pesticides include DDT, Lindane, and Malathion.  PepsiCo’s activities in India have been only marginally better.  India’s parliament has banned Coca-Cola and PepsiCo products from all of its cafeterias and, as of 2007, ten thousand of its schools and colleges have followed suit.

In support of India’s efforts to force responsible practices from the Coca-Cola and PepsiCo corporations, our Center will no longer purchase or serve soft drinks from these companies.  We hope you will do the same.  For more information regarding the on-going protest movement against Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, check outwww.cokejustice.org  andwww.indiaresource.org/news/2010/1044.html, or refer to Paul Hawken’s book, Blessed Unrest, which our Center will be discussing this April.

November 16, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Nutrition, Public Health, statistics | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Misleading Statistical Information in Ads: A Drug Ad Analyzed and Related Evaluation Resources

An Epidemic of Bad Infographics: Depression

http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/06/29/an-epidemic-of-bad-infographics-depression/

Do some statistically laden advertisements and Web sites seem misleading? Is there a disconnect between the displayed data in some ads with your gut feelings?  But you just cannot put your finger on why you feel distrustful?

Just plain sloppily represented infographics could be creating some of the confusion. Infographic combines an interesting graphical element with hard data. They are commonly seen in the media, including USA Today.

John Grohol, founder and editor-in-chief of Psych Central, deftly illustrates how to analyze a medical advertisement for misleading information (and downright errors!) in a recent blog item.

Here are some excerpts from An Epidemic of Bad Infograhics: Depression

In an effort to keep trying to get people’s attention in an increasingly attention-deficit world, we get a lot of inquiries for links to websites promoting education programs and other affiliate websites. The latest effort is focused around “infographics,” those graphics made popular by the USA Todaynewspaper that combines an interesting graphical element with hard data. A well done infographic ostensibly makes data more engaging. A fantastic infographic puts data into proper perspective and gives it valuable context.

What these marketing firms send me, however, are not fantastic or even well-done. So in the interests of demonstrating that any infographic can be worse than no infographic, I’m going to critique one of the latest ones to have come across my desk. It’s about depression, one of the most common and serious mental disorders….

….

Depression LevelsWhat about your level of depression? Well, according to the infographic — but not the research or mental health professionals — you can have different “depression levels” ranging from “Normal” (what’s a “Normal” depression?) to “Situational” or even “Major.”

Of course, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-IV) doesn’t divide major depression in this manner. Instead, it specifies that major depression can be Mild, Moderate, Severe without Psychotic Features, Severe with Psychotic Features, In Partial Remission, In Full Remission, or Chronic.

I assume “Situational” refers to a completely different mental disorder — Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood. The person designing this graphic was obviously not too familiar with the actual information he was asked to illustrate……

Related Health Information Evaluation Resources

    • What to look for when reading medical research outlines the different types  of scientific studies and which ones are the best
    • Participating organizations  provides links to news items from over 25 publishers and organizations. “The publishers allow readers following links from patientINFORM material on the health organizations’ sites to access the full text of these articles without a subscription, and they provide patients and caregivers with free or reduced-fee access to other articles in participating journals.”

Related Statistics Resources

  • Guide to Biostatistics (MedPage Today) is a bit technical, but a good introduction to biostatistical terms used in medical research 

 

June 30, 2011 Posted by | health AND statistics, Health Education (General Public), statistics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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