Data visualisation at the nexus of science and the public

Nikola Sander, Guy Abel, Ramon Bauer
& Johannes Schmidt

Wittgenstein Centre, Vienna Institute of Demography;
Null2, Berlin

The Graphical Web Conference, August 2014


Science communication
& data visualisation

State of science communication

“Scientists must learn to communicate with the public, be willing to do so and indeed consider it their duty to do so.”

Royal Society, 1985

Science communication in the digital era

A late transition from traditional to digital dissemination.

Barriers to communication:

  • Scientists don't get paid for doing outreach
  • Scientists lack the skills to communicate

Science communication needs a change in attitudes.

From informing to engaging the public

More openness in the research process encourages participation and engagement.

  • Open access … to research articles
  • Open data … facilitates the re-use of data
  • Open source … enables use and development of applications
  • Open science … fosters the accessibility of research processes

Data visualisation in science communication

“Visualizations invite people to touch, stroke, and go deeper into the data that underlie them. They engage.”

Michael Schrage, 2013

How does data visualisation encourage engagement?

  • attract visually (exploiting visual perception)
  • re/present data (allows insights)
  • facilitate accessibility & understanding (of research findings)
  • amplify cognition (allow user to go deeper into the data & topic)

The problem is …

“Scientists do not seem to distinguish between analysis and communication. The last exploratory graph becomes explanatory.”

Moritz Stefaner, Data Stories Episode 37

Scientists lack the mind & skill sets to communicate data visually

What skills do we need to engage visually?

Literacy refers to the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently and think critically about printed material.

  • Data literacy … to make use of quantitative information
  • Statistical literacy … to make sense of statistical information
  • Scientific literacy … to evaluate the quality of scientific information
  • Visual literacy … to construct meaning from visual images
  • Media literacy … to apply literacy skills to media and technology messages

Ready, willing and able

Preconditions required to adopt a new form of behaviour (Coale, 1973):

  • readiness … a new behaviour must be advantageous
  • willingness … a new behaviour must be cultural acceptable
  • ability … technical or social means for the realisation of new behaviours

Ready, willing and able to engage with the public

Readiness … why researchers should engage

→ change in job description

Willingness … what it brings for researchers to engage

→ change in mind set

Ability … how they can engage visually

→ change in skill set

"Data visualisation is a multi-disciplinary subject"

Andy Kirk, 2012

The Global Flow of People

Common presumption:

Global migration has accelerated and diversified

Problems with data on migration flows

Provided by less than 50 countries.

Differences in the way of measurement.

Harmonised flow data exist only for Europe

Data on migrant stocks

Widely captured in population censuses.

Country of birth != country of current residence.

U.N. released global bilateral dataset in 2013.

Accumulative measure that cannot capture recent trends.

How many people migrated in the world in 2005-10?

Estimating flows from stocks

UN stock data

lifetime transitions

static snapshot of
immigrant population

1990, 2000, 2010

~220 countries

Our flow estimates

5-year transitions

dynamic movements
over time

1990-95 to 2005-10

196 countries

Migrant stock table, 2000

Estimated flow matrix, 2005-10

No rising tide of migration

About 0.6 % of world population have moved over 5-year periods since 1995.

Quantifying Global International Migration Flows

Guy Abel & Nikola Sander.
Published in Science on 28 March 2014; vol 343: 1520-1522.

Teaming up with coders and designers to create
The Global Flow of People

Coding: Null2 in Berlin

Web design: Elvira Stein in Vienna

Internal migration in Germany


Using data visualisation to engage the public works

  • Teaming up was essential
  • Positive feedback from scientists & the public

How to change a researcher's mind and skill set?

  • mind set ... incentives and best practice
  • skill set ... education and training

Data visualisation has the potential to bridge the gap between science and the public

"The Global Flow of People"
Interactive data visualisation
A collection of our circular migration plots