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Environmental Issues largely missing in the data visualization winner’s circle

By Joshua Tewksbury

I woke up this morning and my friend Trevor Branch (@TrevorABranch) had tweeted the 2013 Information is Beautiful awards – this is truly fantastic eye candy for the data lover.  As I wondered through, however,  I kept thinking – where are the big environmental issues? There is some truly amazing talent represented here, and the winners are focused on subjects all over the map, from how to win an Oscar and the taxonomy of comic book characters, to a full data expose of ALL the Alfred Hitchcock movies (you have to be a bit obsessed for that one).  There are also a host of more series topics, from health care costs to the double helix.

I give a particular hats off to Periscopic for their powerful visual storytelling focused on the life-years lost due to US gun violence – this is aggregated storytelling that does not make the mistake of losing the individual in the crowd (for more on their thoughts on this, check out their digest of the project here).

What struck me, however, was the fact that in this super rich field of talent, hitting on everything from Market Crashes to Billionaires, there was only one winning entry focused on the big issues of human interactions with the environment (A very cool motion-infographic on new york city carbon emissions by Adam Nieman and Chris Rabet, which won a silver medal in the “motion-infographic” category). In addition, among the huge range in the data visualization Long List, it was very slim pickings for global development and environment issues. Under interactive, where Periscopic‘s graphic won bronze, there were a bit more, including McKinsey & Co.s Urban World app, (a bit spare on interactivity for my taste, but a great first reach into this space),  but I am greedy,  I want more.

I know, it’s a global competition, and there are lots of data streams to choose from. And yet the wicked problems we face that define our species’ relationship to the rest of the planet, and increasingly define our relationship to each other – these issues are not going away tomorrow.  And clearly there have been some issues in our ability to powerfully capture these issues and present them to the public.  So, here is my ask to the global pool of data visualization folks out there: lets up the conversation: we’ll bring the data, you bring the talent, and lets see if we can capture more spots in the winners circle in 2014.

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