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Posts Tagged ‘infographic

“The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see”*…

Detail from Richard Waller’s “Tabula colorum physiologica …” [Table of physiological colours], from Philosophical Transactions, 1686 — Source.

One of the most demanding challenges for early modern scientists was devising how best to visually portray their discoveries to the public. In the absence of any sort of technology for automatic visualisation, like cameras or scanners, the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century natural philosopher had to rely on drawings and subsequently woodcuts, etchings, or engravings to turn an experimental finding into a reproducible and publicly accessible demonstration. This was a laborious, expensive, time-consuming, and often problematic operation. Negotiated between several parties involved in the world of image-making, such as draughtsmen, engravers, and printers, the results were inevitably compromises between the intentions of the researcher and the possibilities of the printing press. For example, what a drawing could express with shading, washing, and chromatic nuances, printed illustrations could only approximate through a binary system of black and white, resulting from the pressure of an inked copper plate against a page.

The problem of efficient imaging was particularly felt during the early years of the Royal Society, a scientific institution founded in London in the early 1660s and today still regarded as one of the most prestigious institutions of scientific research in the world. In its early decades of activity, the Royal Society established itself as one of the central forces of the Scientific Revolution, with renowned members such as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton. Members of the Society used to meet on a weekly basis to discuss ongoing research on a variety of subjects, such as physics, mathematics, biology, astronomy, mechanics, geography, and antiquarianism.

Soon after its foundation, the Royal Society sought new ways to increase visibility and maximise its public reach. From this emerged the Philosophical Transactions, a monthly peer-reviewed journal, the first of its kind, featuring extracts from the Royal Society’s weekly research meetings. Founded in 1665 by the Society’s Secretary Henry Oldenburg and still published to this day, the Transactions are regarded as the first and longest-running scientific journal in history, as contributions were the result of original explorative studies into natural and mechanical matters informed by the Society’s culture of experiment — part of what today we generally call science.

The Transactions were printed in small quarto format (about 17x22cm) with up to about a dozen articles per issue and could be purchased for the price of one shilling, about £5 today. The journal was a pioneering learned publication, with exceptional frequency and aimed at a diverse public of curious researchers. As such, especially in the early years, its contributors were often preoccupied with how best to communicate their ideas and discoveries through the immediacy of mass-producible visual media. A closer look into a selection of these articles demonstrates the extent to which natural philosophers were prepared to re-invent the production and consumption of images with new and often odd strategies for representing the world. This was a process of endless hands-on experimentation, often pushing beyond the traditional confines of the printing house…

From infographics to digital renders, today’s scientists have ready access to a wide array of techniques to help visually communicate their research. It wasn’t always so: “‘More Lively Counterfaits’– Experimental Imaging at the Birth of Modern Science.”

* John Tukey


As we “show don’t tell,” we might spare a thought for Earle Dickson; he died on this date in 1961.  Dickson, concerned that his wife, Josephine Knight, often cut herself while doing housework and cooking, devised a way that she could easily apply her own dressings.  He prepared ready-made bandages by placing squares of cotton gauze at intervals along an adhesive strip and covering them with crinoline.  In the event, all his wife had to do was cut off a length of the strip and wrap it over her cut.  Dickson, who worked as a cotton buyer at Johnson & Johnson, took his idea to his employer… and the Band-Aid was born.


“The ice caps are melting, Leonard. In the future, swimming won’t be optional”*…



* “Sheldon,” The Big Bang Theory


As we turn up the air conditioner, we might spare a thought for Sir Karl Raimund Popper; he died on this date in 1994.  One of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century, Popper is best known for his rejection of the classical inductivist views on the scientific method, in favor of empirical falsification: A theory in the empirical sciences can never be proven, but it can be falsified, meaning that it can and should be scrutinized by decisive experiments. (Or more simply put, whereas classical inductive approaches considered hypotheses false until proven true, Popper reversed the logic: conclusions drawn from an empirical finding are true until proven false.)

Popper was also a powerful critic of historicism in political thought, and (in books like The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism) an enemy of authoritarianism and totalitarianism.




Written by LW

September 17, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The exploring of the Solar System… constitutes the beginning, much more than the end, of history”*…


Solar System Interactive,” from Jeroen Gommers, is a simple– and simply beautiful– tool for understanding the relative orbits of the planets (and lest we forsake Pluto, the dwarf planets) the circle the Sun…

In a simplified graphical presentation the planets are seen orbiting the sun at a relatively high speed. The user is encouraged to grab any one of these planets, drag it around the sun manually and experience the orbit periods of the other planets as they are driven along their orbit at relative speeds, uncovering the “interplanetary clockwork.”

Click here to give it a whirl.

* Carl Sagan

As we watch ’em go round, we might send synthetic birthday greetings to Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow; he was born on this date in 1905.  A chemist and physicist, Snow taught at his alma mater, Cambridge, before joining the British Civil Service, where he had a distinguished career as a technical adviser and administrator.  He is probably better remembered these days for his writing (e.g., a biography of Anthony Trollope; the sequence of novels known as Strangers and Brothers).  But he is surely best remembered for his 1959 Rede Lecture, “Two Cultures” (subsequently published as The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution).  Snow argued that the breakdown of communication between the “two cultures” of modern society – the sciences and the humanities – was a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems.

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: ‘Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?’

I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question – such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, ‘Can you read?’ – not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their Neolithic ancestors would have had…



Written by LW

October 15, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky”*…


 click here for zoomable version

In between Earth and space lies an ocean of air. That “great aerial ocean,” as biologist Alfred Russel Wallace (the other natural selection guy) called it, is an extremely thin envelope of gas and suspended particles that encompass our planet. To get perspective on just how thin, there’s this very rough equivalency: The atmosphere is to the Earth as an onion’s wafer thin outer skin is to an onion. But while it may be just a sliver, it’s critical to life on Earth.

Without our atmosphere, there wouldn’t be rain for our plants and vegetables to grow—and feed us. There’d be no greenhouse effect keeping the planet temperate enough to sustain life. There’d be no talking or music-playing because sound wouldn’t exist as we know it—without a medium like air, sound waves can’t travel and thus don’t create vibrations that hit our eardrums allowing us to hear. And there wouldn’t be the oxygen we need to breathe. Bottom line, without it, life on Earth would be nada…

More on the extraordinary envelope that surrounds our planet at World Science Festival’s “Rethink Science.”

* Victor Hugo, Les Misérables


As we take stock of what we take for granted, we might send sunny birthday greetings to Alexander Buchan; he was born on this date in 1829.  A Scottish meteorologist, oceanographer and botanist, he is credited with establishing the weather map as the basis of weather forecasting (after tracing the path of a storm from North America, across the Atlantic, into northern Europe in 1868).



Written by LW

April 11, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Life in the Middle East is quite different from other places”*…


Confused about what’s happening in the Middle East? No need to worry—our research team at the Institute of Internet Diagrams has come up with the ultimate explainer in the shape of an interactive diagram that sums up the geopolitical alliances traversing this ancient region, which dates back to the Mesozoic Era…

While it is common to hear people describe the Middle East as a complex and obscure place, the diagram plainly illustrates that this is not the case. The relationships follow logical patterns reflecting geopolitical interests, partnerships, and conflicts. For example, the United States is evidently on friendly terms with Iran. In Iraq. But America is on the opposite side of the conflict in Yemen. In Syria, the U.S. and Iran are both against and with each other, depending on the outcome of the nuclear talks.

This partially reflects President Obama’s breakthrough system of decision-making, which goes beyond outdated binary oppositions. Forced to choose between confronting and appeasing Iran, Obama has chosen to do both, arguing that at least one of those policies is the right one. Despite critiques from conservatives who are still clinging to old-fashioned ideas, this way of thinking is quite popular in the Middle East, as reflected in the old proverb, “You can have your cake and eat it.”

By carefully following the lines one by one, you can see that Egypt and Qatar are against each other, except in Yemen where they are now allies; Saudi Arabia is both supporting and bombing ISIS; and Libya is its own worst enemy. But it’s best if you draw your own conclusions; the diagram only takes about three minutes to understand fully. After which, you will be qualified to advise President Obama on Middle East policy.

More at: “The Confused Person’s Guide to Middle East Conflicts.”

Colonel Brighton: Look, sir, we can’t just do nothing.

General Allenby: Why not? It’s usually best.

Lawrence of Arabia


Zaha Hadid


As we search for lines in the sand, we might recall that it was on this date in 1991 that General H Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr– Stormin’ Norman, the Commander of Operation Desert Storm– publicly apologized to President George H.W. Bush for having criticized the Commander in Chief’s decision to call a cease fire to end the (first) Gulf War.

General Schwarzkopf and President Bush in a HUMVEE during the President’s visit with troops in Saudi Arabia on Thanksgiving Day, 1990




Written by LW

March 29, 2015 at 1:01 am

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