(Roughly) Daily

“The nature of things betrays itself more readily under the vexations of art than in its natural freedom”*…


Ernst Haeckel’s 1879 diagram of human evolution

The British Library is hosting “Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight” in its Folio Society Gallery from now through May 26th.  The show features selection’s from the Library’s extraordinary collection of scientific visualizations, charts, and maps.

Turning numbers into pictures that tell important stories and reveal the meaning held within is an essential part of what it means to be a scientist. This is as true in today’s era of genome sequencing and climate models as it was in the 19th century.

Beautiful Science explores how our understanding of ourselves and our planet has evolved alongside our ability to represent, graph and map the mass data of the time.

The exhibit features classic illustrations dating back to 1603, including John Snow’s map of London’s SoHo that’s credited with revealing a contaminated water pump as the source of a 1854 cholera outbreak; and it extends forward to beautiful modern visualizations of data from satellites and gene sequencers.

“Circles of Life,” specially commissioned this year for the exhibit, illustrates the genetic similarities between humans and five other animals (chimpanzee and dog are shown here). See the full diagram.

Read more, and see more examples for the show, at the British Library’s site and at Wired Science (from whence the images above).

(Special bonus:  Florence Nightingale’s extraordinary “rose diagram” infographic, demonstrating that more soldiers died of preventable diseases than in conflict during the Crimean War.)

* Sir Francis Bacon


As we delight in the distillation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1870 that Congress authorized the formation of the U.S. weather service (later named the Weather Bureau; later still, the National Weather Service), and placed it under the direction of the Army Signal Corps.  Cleveland Abbe,  who had started the first private weather reporting and warning service (in Cincinnati) and had been issuing weather reports or bulletins since September, 1869, was the only person in the country at the time who was experienced in drawing weather maps from telegraphic reports and forecasting from them.  He became the weather service’s inaugural chief scientist– effectively its founding head– in January, 1871.  The first U.S. meteorologist, he is known as the “father of the U.S. Weather Bureau,” where he systemized observation, trained personnel, and established scientific methods.  He went on to become one of the 33 founders of the National Geographic Society.

Cleveland Abbe



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