Malcom Gladwell and the Art of Graphs

Detective of fads and emerging subcultures, chronicler of jobs-you-never-knew-existed, Malcolm Gladwell’s work is toppling the popular understanding of bias, crime, food, marketing, race, consumers and intelligence

If you’ve not read Malcom Gladwell’s books, or his articles in the New Yorker he’s worth a look. He is very good at combining data and social critique in a way that is immensely readable. He has a habit of complimenting the reader and taking them on a journey to the other side of his original argument which is very entertaining. However, what I’m here to talk about today is his work “David and Goliath” in which, he effortlessly presents some nice little snippets of data. If Edward Tufte read his work would be quite pleased (see my previous My Data Heroes Post – also more on old Tufte later in this series).

Gladwell takes tufts ideas of concise data visualisations and uses them really well. At one point he is explaining that not all relationships are non-linear (easy to understand if you’ve done a little more than secondary school stats). To do this, he shows a linear graph which is just a simple line with two axis and the upper and lower limits. No grid lines, no “vibrations”, no excessive labelling or useless legend. Then he does the same but, instead he shows a parabola curve. Easy.

He has encaptured the idea behind Tuft’s work. Decide what you want to tell your audience, then tell them that and don’t complicate it with anything else. Then, they will understand what you are trying to say. This, although immensely simple is incredibly difficult for the detail orientated data scientist. But, if they can capture this idea and work it into presentations and reports, they will reap rewards.


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