April 19, 2013

Video of the Week: Visualizing 150 Years of Health Data

by Julia Rosen

Technology has transformed the process of science—this fact is indisputable. It has allowed us to detect elusive particles like the Higgs boson that remained invisible to generations of physicists, to probe the cold vacuum of outer space for habitable Earth-like planets with unmanned spacecraft, to simulate the complex pulses of neural activity in our brains and even to map the social, economic, and intellectual links that connect people around the world. The problem, if there is one, is that science and technology now produce more data than we know what to do with. According to IBM, more than 90% of the world’s data was produced in the last two years alone.

More data isn’t necessarily better unless we can find some way to analyze and understand it. Luckily technology has a solution for that too: data visualization. The purpose of this fast-growing field is not to present mountains of information in all their gory detail, but rather to guide the consumers of this data toward the powerful insights it provides. As a bonus, data visualizations are often strikingly beautiful and capable of conveying instantaneously the scale and impact of the information they contain in a way that words cannot achieve. Here is one particularly engaging visualization involving human health and economic development over the past century. Check out the links above and below for more wonderful examples, and start thinking visually!


Check out our modules on Statistics and Graphing and Visualizing Data to understand why images and graphs are so useful in analyzing and interpreting scientific results.

Peruse these featured visualization galleries at Visualizing.org and Smith College’s computer science department.

Try your hand at visualization with Google’s Public Data Explorer!

Julia Rosen

Written by

Julia Rosen is a freelance science writer and PhD student at Oregon State University. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University before beginning her doctoral research on polar ice cores and climate change. In between, she did her “Master's” in backpacking around the world and skiing. Julia is a periodic contributor to Oregon State’s research magazine, Terra, and helps write blog content and develop learning modules for Visionlearning.