Why visualize data?

Growing up, I had been fascinated by maps and built a hobby in collecting printed maps of different regions and countries around the world. They would be the main decors for the walls at home or in the workplace, and sometimes too many of them on the walls overwhelm people who would enter the space. I was mainly interested in having a bird’s eye view on something, which I probably cannot have as a human being without the help of a drone or a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle).

In July 2016, I took a summer course with Prof. Bear Braumoeller at Ohio State University at the NUS-IPSA Methods School, where I was able to get a hands-on learning experience on data visualization with R using RStudio. The replication exercise in that course for Dr. Hans Rosling’s Gapminder was an eyeopener to data visualization. For some reason, I found R and its graphic tools far more interesting than in others, for the beauty of information that it is able to capture and the instantaneous explanation the visualization can carry without having to explain in words.

During my postdoc, upon encountering data visualization work completed with Tableau while working on a co-authored chapter, I was immersed myself in the software and focused on honing my skills in using the Tableau software. My main interest was in seeing data in media coverage and short policy briefs, where data visualization via infographics carried a considerable weight in message delivery. In particular, I found data visualization featured the New York Times Flowing Data – a data visualization archive developed by statistician Nathan Yau and his books very helpful. For learning Tableau, ‘Tableau Your Data!’ has been instrumental and Tableau for Teaching has been instructional.

My intent is to utilize Tableau’s functions for mapping and estimation to develop university level courses in mapping data and creating infographics to increase the level of explanatory power in reporting research results. Currently, my mapping is done on ScribbleMaps. Here’s an example of my mapping for an ongoing research project:

Chinese Oil Production Projects in Iraq (Source: Iraq Business News – List of International Oil Companies in Iraq operating under licenses granted by the Ministry of Oil in Baghdad)

Maps to see geography

Infographics to explain

Networks to connect the dots

Softwares to make it happen

Sources to use as data

Microsoft Timeline Storyteller
iWork: Numbers