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Obama Appoints Infographics Guru Tufte to Explain Stimulus Funds

Geeks and design lovers are aflutter on Twitter this morning with the news that President Obama has appointed infographic guru and PowerPoint hater Edward Tufte, a professor emeritus of political science, statistics and computer science at Yale University, to the U.S. Recovery Independent Advisory Panel. Tufte explains on his own site that he’ll help advise the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, “whose job is to track and explain $787 billion in recovery stimulus funds.”

Tufte has attracted worship for his work on information design. Through books, lectures and essays, he advocates infographics that give relevant data room to breathe rather than “chartjunk” that pretties up information without giving an understanding of why it’s useful. He has particular disdain for PowerPoint (s MSFT), writing in a 2003 Wired piece, “If your words or images are not on point, making them dance in color won’t make them relevant.” He argues,

Poking a finger into the eye of thought, these data graphics would turn into a nasty travesty if used for a serious purpose, such as helping cancer patients assess their survival chances. To sell a product that messes up data with such systematic intensity, Microsoft abandons any pretense of statistical integrity and reasoning.

11 Responses to “Obama Appoints Infographics Guru Tufte to Explain Stimulus Funds”

  1. sqlblindman

    If your issue is with forms that impose limits on content, then are you simply dissatisfied with PowerPoint because of a lack of features? That is not the impression I got from Tufte. He seems to think there is something inherently wrong with PowerPoint that leads to shallow presentations. But PowerPoint is just a tool. You can undermine deep scientific analysis and engagement between speaker and audience using overhead projects and transparencies too, can you not? Or blackboards and chalk.
    Believe me, I have plenty of gripes with PowerPoint and other MS products because of their poor user interfaces, but I don’t hold them responsible for content. That is the sole domain of the presenter.

    • sqlblindman is correct that PPT can be an effective tool in the hands of someone who actually understands how to effectively communicate. The argument against PPT is that the shorthand style of presentation has become institutionalized and accepted as the predominant form of communication. PPT in the hands of someone who does not understand how to effectively communicate is a crutch, and the lazy. short style is now widely viewed as acceptable communication. “PPT culture” perpetuates poor communication.

  2. Haha – no, my issue is with forms that impose limits on content. I realize it’s a complicated issue (socially, economically,..) and I admit I have seen some pretty cool PPTs… and interesting Lite-Brites! I also appreciate Tufte’s opinion that PP charts can undermine deep scientific analysis and engagement between speaker and audience. Good to hear your thoughts, too.

  3. sqlblindman

    …but Lite Brights do. So….what the heck is your point?
    Is your issue with any app that includes templates?
    Seriously…find a real argument.

  4. sqlblindman

    Tufte’s comment about Powerpoint is completely asinine, and if is unable to comprehend the difference between content and presentation then that does not bode well for his tenure on the panel.
    Bad data and misinformation is not the fault of PowerPoint, and can be published just as easily in practically any format. One might as well blame Crayola for creating crayons used to color in charts on 6th grade science fair projects.
    Really stupid.

  5. Smart move, Mr. President!
    Back in the day, back when I actually read Wired magazine rather than merely subscribed to it, I would see ads for Mr Tufte’s works and think I should probably read them.

    Soon I will — and to show me why spending money we don’t have is good for us.

    Funny ol world.