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Data Talks, Episode 21

Data Talks is Exago’s podcast on all-things business intelligence, analytics, and application software. This month, journalist and professor Alberto Cairo joins us for a discussion on data democratization, data literacy, and the role charts play in the art of persuasion. Cairo has authored several books on data visualization, including The Functional Art (2012), The Truthful Art (2016), and just this past year How Charts Lie (2019).


Segment 1: Charts and Persuasion

(0:33) Introducing Alberto.

(7:08) How Alberto became interested in the persuasive powers of data viz.

(10:10) How Charts Lie.

(14:30) The chart author’s role in helping the audience decode the chart correctly.

(18:25) On separating signal from noise and noting margin of error in your charts.

(23:40) Controversy around data democratization.

(27:36) The importance of editing and revising charts; first drafts are rough.

(31:32) Data visualization as part of persuasion.

(34:14) Escaping echo chambers.

Segment 2: What We Are Nerding Out About

(41:58) Alberto: Avoiding Data Pitfalls (2019) by Ben Jones


Notable Quotes

“So the challenge with visualization is that it can be extremely ambiguous. Again, going back to the saying a picture is worth a thousand words — well, that’s not necessarily true. It is only true when you know how to read that visualization.” (15:40)

“When there is a mismatch between your mental model and the audience’s mental model, that’s when problems arise.” (16:56)

I am a great fan of democratization. The way that I see data visualization is very similar to the way that I see writing. You can also lie to yourself by reading and writing. So does that mean that writing should be something done just by experts in their own domains?” (27:00)

“The first visualizations that people will create — any person will create — will always be crap.” (27:44)

“I don’t think that charts should be conversation stoppers. They are conversation enablers.” (32:24)


Featured Guest

Alberto Cairo

Albert Cairo is a journalist and designer, and the Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at the School of Communication of the University of Miami (UM). He has written several monographs on data visualization, most recently The Truthful Art (2016) and How Charts Lie (2019). He is also the director of the visualization program at UM’s Center for Computational Science. He has been head of information graphics at media publications in Spain and Brazil.

The author of several textbooks, Cairo currently consults with companies and institutions like Google and the Congressional Budget Office, and has provided visualization training to the European Union, Eurostat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Army National Guard, and many others. He lives in Miami, Florida.

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