June 14, 2007

Edward R. Tufte

Edward R. Tufte: Here are a couple of articles about the author of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Edward R. Tufte, who has a new book out called Beautiful Evidence (which I haven't seen yet). Some of it is apparently dedicated to analyzing the most famous graphic Tufte has rediscovered: C.J. Minard's statistical map of what happened to Napoleon's Grand Army on its march to and from Moscow in 1812. I had that graph on my wall for many years during my marketing research career, and it functioned like Danny Dravot's Freemason watch fob in "The Man Who Would Be KIng" -- the people walking by who stopped and recognized it tended to be on my data-oriented psychological wavelength.

Edward Tufte is most likely the world’s only graphic designer with roadies. “We own two of everything—amplifiers, digital projectors,” other A/V gear, he says. “One set moves up and down the West Coast, and one stays in the East, to keep the FedEx charges down.” He plays 35 or so dates a year, at $380 per ticket.... As soon as the applause stops, Tufte bolts backstage, enthusiastically draining a Corona. “There are usually about 500 people who want to talk afterwards, and I’ve exhausted myself,” he says sheepishly. “I have to go hide out. Otherwise it takes hours.” This is all a good deal more lucrative than many author tours. “Thirty-five, forty dollars a book, 1.4 million copies?” he says, with a quizzical smile, when I ask about money. “You can multiply.”

And who are these fans who won’t leave? The majority are male, and wearing expensive rimless eyeglasses. Many are Web designers, creative directors, art directors, editors, architects.

Five years ago, I tried to see a display of Tufte's abstract steel sculpture at the magnificent Bradbury Building (where the climax of "Blade Runner" was filmed) in downtown LA on Broadway, which is now the city's chief Latino immigrant shopping street. I arrived about 4pm on Saturday, when there are an incredible number of people on the street -- the only place in America I've seen with a clearly higher density of pedestrians is New York's Chinatown. Unfortunately, the Bradbury Building appeared to be locked, so I started looking around for fellow Tufte fans who could explain what the situation was. Despite the enormous crowds, they weren't hard to pick out as they approached on the sidewalk even from a block away, since they were all white guys at least a half foot taller than anybody else on the street.

And here's the classic anti-Tufte "Gettysburg Address Powerpoint Presentation."

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


James said...

I bought the Visual Display of Quant. Info. book a year or two ago and then a week or two later I got a post card in the mail advertising one of his talks. I NEVER GAVE THEM MY ADDRESS. How did Tufte know? It was creepy.

Ron Guhname said...

I like Guerry's 19th century crime maps of France:


Anonymous said...

Beautiful Evidence is worth flipping through in the bookstore, but you don't need to buy it. With each successive book, Tufte's message has drifted away from data analysis, and have become showcases for the pretty things he has collected. Beautiful Evidence is more a fetish object than an argument.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Cleveland's "Visualizing Data:" better than Tufte's works?
Cleveland is a statistician after all.

Jedster said...

I'm totally confused. How is the gettysburg address pp anti-tufte? (or perhaps you're being sarcastic?)

I took one look at it and it seems 100% consistent with tufte's discomfort with powerpoint style presentations (unless you think it was intended to promote rather than discourage pp usage).

when i did more research, it turns out that tufte uses the presentation in his courses and has even invited the author to speak to his classes.

btw, i've taken courses from tufte while in college, and he's a pretty cool guy, he was one of the best teachers that i've had.