Beautiful Evidence

Science and art have in common intense seeing, the wide-eyed observing that generates empirical information. Beautiful Evidence is about how seeing turns into showing, how emipirical evidence turns into explanations and evidence presentations. The book identifies excellent and effective methods of presenting information, suggests new designs, and provides tools for assessing the credibility of evidence presentations.

Edward Tufte’s Beautiful Evidence, is now available for purchase. This is the labor of years of writing, thinking, and discussion. The book is physically beautiful--cloth-bound, five-color printing--and has the physical and intellectual heft to beat down opponents of good design.

Tufte covers the following topics.

  1. Mapped Pictures: Images as Evidence and Explanation
  2. Sparklines: Intense, Simple, Word-Sized Graphics
  3. Links and Causal Arrows: Ambiguity in Action
  4. Words, Numbers, Images -- Together
  5. The Fundamental Principles of Analytical Design
  6. Corruption in Evidence Presentations: A Consumer’s Guide to Effects Without Causes, Cherry Picking, Overreaching, Chartjunk, and the Rage to Conclude
  7. The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within
  8. Sculptural Pedestals: Meaning, Practice, Depedestalization
  9. Landscape Sculptures

I’m particularly interested in the first five chapters, particularly in The Fundamental Principles of Analytical Design. The last three chapters seem to range over Tufte’s personal hobby-horses--he is, after all, a sculptor.

His critique of PowerPoint should be well known and raises good issues. I wish, however, that Tufte took on more than the critic’s role in his discussion of the poverty of some of Microsoft’s products. People need more than rejection of the tools they have. Business people aren’t going to make graphs in Adobe Illustrator, they need to make them in Excel. People need the tooling that turns Excel (or PowerPoint) into effective tools for information communication.