RSS sections and groups meeting reports

Glasgow local group meeting: Visualising data - a statistician’s journey

Written by Alastair Rushworth on . Posted in Sections and local group meeting reports

The Glasgow Local Group meeting held on 23 April 2015, featured speaker Dr Robert Grant, a senior lecturer from Kingston University and St George’s Medical School. Dr Grant presented his recent work and experiences surrounding the role, and the use (and abuse), of data visualisation. The talk, jointly hosted by the RSS Young Statistician’s Section and the OR group of Scotland, was delivered to a packed audience at the University of Strathclyde. 

Dr Grant began the talk by discussing the historical challenges in constructing and printing data visualisations that have only recently been alleviated by the explosion in digital and online media technology. He discussed the role of visualisation as a tool to engage audiences and present data, and raised some issues, such as the importance of visualisation design and the potential for visualisations to mislead. The importance of understanding human perception when considering the design of graphics was highlighted, and in particular how visualisations that compare quantities using shape and area are often misinterpreted. He discussed a wide variety of software options that are available, but emphasised the need for creativity in making effective visualisations, and that an established approach may not be the most appropriate. 

The latter part of the talk focused on the proliferation of recently developed tools for interactive data visualisation, that can be used as a mechanism for exploring and communicating data more effectively. These tools are typically web based and have the potential to make an impact across a very wide audience. The JavaScript library D3 was introduced, and is currently dominant in constructing interactive content on webpages, while the software Leaflet and R packages rCharts, ggplot, ggvis and Shiny offer less flexible, but simpler alternatives. Dr Grant has recently developed software (R2leaflet, Stata2leaflet and Stata2D3) that enables statisticians more accustomed to statistical computing environments such as R and Stata to easily construct advanced interactive graphics using D3 and Leaflet.   

The event was broadcast live via webinar to attendees wishing to watch remotely, promoted by both the YSS and GLG, and successfully attracted over 160 Eventbrite sign-ups. Webinar participants were encouraged to engage by posting comments and questions on Twitter using the hashtag #GlaDataViz, which was highly successful with many participants sharing talk materials, web links and posting questions for the speaker.

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