Statistics comes to Swarthmore College

Some years ago, I studied mathematics and statistics. At that time, there was only one statistician among the mathematics department members, maybe the entire Swarthmore College faculty, Gudmund R. Iversen. He was my academic adviser. Professor Iversen was grey, tweedy and Norwegian. He always addressed me as Miss Kesselman, which helped alleviate my shyness at the time.

Professor Iversen got his PhD in statistics from Harvard University in 1969. I noticed only one other familiar name on that very short list of all Harvard Statistics PhD alumni: Columbia University political science and statistics professor Andrew Gelman PhD in 1990.

Lunch with Tufte

Professor Iversen had a group of colleagues, all statisticians from other academic institutions. They would visit Swarthmore to give lunchtime talks, or more typically, late Friday afternoon presentations to mathematical statistics students.

Diagram of Napoleon's Russian campaign by Minard

Napoleon’s March to Moscow. Charles J. Minard, 1869

I recall one particular guest statistician. Edward Tufte was on the faculty of Princeton University, and had recently written his first book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. The venue was a small private room in Sharples dining hall. I was one of maybe 20 attending. (more…)

Chart art

Edward Tufte’s first text, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, introduced standards for graphical representation. It is considered the definitive guide for visual display of complex data.

UPDATE 4 September 2014

Mind map about Tufte data visualization

Visualization of Edward Tufte visualizing data

Visualizing Edward Tufte’s thought processes

I found this while surfing Flickr. Austin Kleon of Austin, Texas is the artist. The image represents the cognitive process by which Edward Tufte transformed raw data into digestible information while writing Envisioning Information, one of his many follow-on publications to Visual Display. It is a mind map.


IEEE Spectrum’s Innovation blog featured the topic of data visualization, profiling Edward Tufte as a practitioner. The emphasis was unusual for IEEE. “Tufte-isms” explores how Tufte’s ideas have influenced language:

Tufte, it turns out, is not only a doyen of data visualization but also a neologist par excellence. His most famous term might be chartjunk, which refers to chart elements that not only serve no purpose but may in fact hinder understanding. In Tuftese, when chartjunk takes a cartoonish form…the result is a chartoon.

SAS* surprise


Published in: on February 4, 2012 at 10:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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Economic Models for Turbulent Times Part 2

A new research study has already received unusual attention. The Network of Global Corporate Control [PDF] discovers a relatively small group of multinational companies with disproportionate influence over the global economy. The authors, a trio of complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, are supposedly the first to empirically identify such a network.

The problem is approached using mathematical models designed for capturing behavior of complex natural systems. The study applies this methodology to a large data set of corporate information, to map ownership among the world’s transnational corporations (TNCs). Previous studies reported that a few TNCs drive much of the global economy. However, they analyzed fewer companies. Due to limited data availability and computing resources, past studies did not consider the effect of indirect ownership.


Orbis 2007, a repository of over 30 million private and public companies, published by Bureau van Dijk, was the data source. The study sample used the 43,060 largest TNCs, and derived the associated ownership linkages. The network structure was based on the relationships between shareholding interests, then weighted by each company’s operating revenue. This yielded a directional map of global economic power.

Quantitative results

The model revealed a core group with networked ownership, see image below. These 1,318 companies:

  • all had ties to at least two other companies in the core group
  • on average, were each connected to 20 other core group companies
  • represented 20% of all global operating revenues,
  • collectively owned the majority of the world’s largest blue chip and manufacturing firms:
  • in total, generated 60% of all global revenues.


Published in: on November 20, 2011 at 4:28 am  Comments (2)  
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Basic data visualizaton

Simple data viz

Internet users by country in 2010

This is the first of five graphics in a series, State of the Internet 2010. All are hand-made graphics by Jose Duarte. He is exploring new and simple ways to represent information. With his handmade visualization tool-kit, he provides the technology to rapidly create any kind of graphics including

abstracts maps and diagrams, area graphs and charts, arrow diagrams, bar graphs, Venn diagrams, time line charts, bubble graphs, circle diagrams, proportional charts, organization charts, and really, whatever you want.

Do you want your own kit? Follow the link embedded above, and follow the instructions. It can be yours, free of charge, no-strings-attached. Just send an email to Jose Duarte as instructed in the text accompanying the “handmade visualization tool-kit” link.

Published in: on August 8, 2011 at 9:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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