Interview with Nathan Yau of FlowingData16 Dec 2011
Statistician. I feel like statisticians can call them data scientists, but not the other way around. Although with data scientists there’s an implied knowledge of programming, which statisticians need to get better at.
I’m visualization-focused, and I really got into the area during a summer internship at The New York Times. Before that, I mostly made graphs in R for reports. I learned a lot about telling stories with data and presenting data to a general audience, and that has stuck with me ever since.
Similarly, my adviser Mark Hansen has showed me how data is more free-flowing and intertwined with everything. It’s hard to describe. I mean coming into graduate school, I thought in terms of datasets and databases, but now I see it as something more organic. I think that helps me see what the data is about more clearly.
I got into visualization during my first year in grad school. My adviser gave a presentation on visualization, but from a media arts perspective rather than a charts-and-graphs-in-R-Tufte point of view. I went home after that class, googled visualization and that was that.
The Web is a really visual place, so it’s easy for good visualization to spread. It’s also easier for a general audience to read a graph than it is to understand statistical concepts. And from a more analytical point of view, there’s just a growing amount of data and visualization is a good way to poke around.
<div class="im"> <strong>How did you decide to write your book “Visualize This”?</strong> </div> <div class="im"> </div> <div class="im"> Pretty simple. I get emails and comments all the time when I post graphics on FlowingData that ask how something was done. There aren’t many resources that show people how to do that. There are books that describe what makes good graphics but don’t say anything about how to actually go about doing it, and there are programming books for say, R, but are too technical for most and aren’t visualization-centric. I wanted to write a book that I wish I had in the early days. </div> <div class="im"> <strong>Any final thoughts on statistics, data and visualization? </strong> </div> <div class="im"> <strong><br /></strong>Keep an open mind. Oftentimes, statisticians seem to box themselves into positions of analysis and reports. Statistics is an applied field though, and now more than ever, there are opportunities to work anywhere there is data, which is practically everywhere. </div>