Presenting Visual Information Responsibly

Vol.33 No.3 August 1999

From the Guest Editor

Nahum Gershon
Nahum Gershon
The MITRE Corporation

“Seeing is believing” — An English saying
“Seeing is not believing” — Jon Darius

“Seeing is believing,” or so goes the popular saying. We are wired to accept what we see as the truth. Excluding chameleons and the like, this is true of nature most of the time. With synthetic imagery, however, this is not always the case. To begin with, the visualized data and information can be inaccurate or even wrong. And in the synthetic digital world, anybody can visualize anything in any shape or form, disregarding how users might potentially perceive or interpret the information. Incorrect visual representations can mask important pieces of information or distort their appearance. What makes the situation worse is that as technology develops, it becomes easier to do so.

In the digital age, we are confronted with fast streams and massive quantities of data and information. This avalanche of data and information challenges the users who need to make effective decisions in relatively short times. To help tackle this issue, more and more people are increasingly relying on visual representations.

Knowing what pieces of information or data are accurate, complete, consistent and certain; and which are not, and by how much, can be essential for understanding the data and information and for reaching sound decisions. By studying how to misrepresent data and information, we learn how not to do it.

This “mini-focus” presents three papers dealing with these important issues. The first piece, “Are Faithfulness and Accuracy Necessary?,” addresses the question of when lying in data and information visualization is necessary or appropriate, and when it is not.

The second paper, “Bad Graphs, Good Lessons” written by Alan Davis, describes how familiar data displays such as graphs can reveal, distort or hide information. From these relatively simple displays, we learn about potential pitfalls of the more complicated visualizations so familiar and prevalent in computer graphics systems.

The last paper, “Knowing What We Don’t Know; How to Visualize an Imperfect World,” describes the difficulties of visually representing imperfections of data and information, and in making accurate presentations. Imperfection of data, information and presentation can be improved up to a point and, just as in real life where nothing is perfect, users need to learn how cope with these complex problems. This paper suggests a number of possible solutions.

I hope you enjoy the articles!

Nahum Gershon is a Senior Principal Scientist at The MITRE Corp. His work is concerned with information and data visualization, network browsers, image processing, data organization and analysis of medical, environmental and other multidimensional data. He pursues research in the use of understanding of the perceptual system in improving the visualization process.

Gershon has published extensively in the area of visualization and has organized and chaired seven SIGGRAPH panels. He served as a Co-Chair of Visualization ‘94 and ‘95 conferences and co-organized the Information Visualization Symposia (1995-98).

Nahum Gershon
The MITRE Corporation
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McLean, VA 22102

Tel: +1-703-883-7518
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The copyright of articles and images printed remains with the author unless otherwise indicated.