Visual Business Intelligence

A blog by Stephen Few

Latest articles

Comparing COVID-19 Mortality Rates Over Time By Country

As COVID-19 spreads its deadly effects around the world, many data analysts are struggling to track these effects in useful ways. Some attempts work better than others, however. Comparing these effects among various countries is particularly challenging. Some attempts that I’ve seen are confusing and difficult to read, even for statisticians. Here’s...

Display New Daily Cases of COVID-19 with Care

Statistics are playing a major role during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ways that we collect, analyze, and report them, greatly influences the degree to which they inform a meaningful response. An article in the Investor’s Business Daily titled “Dow Jones Futures Jump As Virus Cases Slow; Why This Stock Market Rally Is More Dangerous Than The Coronavirus...

Ordinal Malpractice

We love to put things in order. “Which college is best, second best, third best, etc., and how can I get my kid into one near the top of the list?” “I love God, Mom, America, and apple pie, in that order.” “Formal education consists of elementary school, middle school, high school, undergraduate school, and finally graduate school, if you’re lucky.”...

Data Visualization Is Not a Panacea

It galls me when people oversell data visualization. Data visualization combines technologies (visual representations of quantitative data) with specific skills (techniques for creating and interacting with those visual representations) to make sense of and communicate quantitative data. It does not replace the other technologies and skillsets that...

A Thinker’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence

I just finished reading the book about Artificial Intelligence (AI) that I’ve been craving for years: Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans, by Melanie Mitchell. More than any other book on this hot but largely misunderstood topic, this book describes AI in clear and accessible terms. It cuts through the hype to present a sane assessment...

Proportionally Speaking

As data sensemakers, we spend a great deal of time examining quantitative relationships. Along with distribution, correlation, and time-series relationships, proportion is the other quantitative relationship that plays a significant role in data sensemaking. A proportion is just a relationship between two quantities. If we compare the number of friends...

Logarithms Unmuddled

I often write about topics that I myself have struggled to understand. If I’ve struggled, I assume that many others have struggled as well. Over the years, I’ve found several mathematical concepts confusing, not because I’m mathematically disinclined or disinterested, but because my formal training in mathematics was rather limited and, in some cases,...

Context Is for Kings

In season 1, episode 3 of the television series “Star Trek: Discovery,” when faced with a particularly wicked problem the captain of the starship Discovery speaks these words: “Universal law is for lackeys; context is for kings.” I suspect that the writers of this show consciously crafted these words for quotability. They rise to the heights of wisdom...

Linear Versus Logarithmic Thinking about Numbers

Some folks argue that humans intuitively think about numbers logarithmically versus linearly. My experience strongly suggests that this is not the case. If you’ve ever tried to explain logarithms or logarithmic scales to people, or asked them to interpret graphs with logarithmic scales, as I have often done, you probably share my belief that logarithms...

Inaccessible

In our efforts to make knowledge accessible to everyone, if we’re not careful, good intentions can cause us to blunder into useless attempts that benefit no one. I was painfully reminded of this recently when I received a request from a university for an electronic version of my book Show Me the Numbers to accommodate the needs of a student who is blind....

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