American Elephants

And Now for Something Wonderful: by The Elephant's Child
May 19, 2013, 12:11 pm
Filed under: Art, Education, History | Tags: ,

“Making a presentation is a moral act as well as an intellectual activity.
The use of corrupt manipulations and blatant rhetorical ploys in a report
or presentation — outright lying, flagwaving, personal attacks, setting up
phony alternatives, misdirection, jargon-mongering, evading key issues,
feigning disinterested objectivity, willful misunderstanding of other
points of view— suggests that the presenter lacks both credibility and
evidence. To maintain standards of quality, relevance, and integrity for
evidence, consumers of presentation should insist that presenters be held
intellectually and ethically responsible for what they show and tell. Thus
consuming a presentation is also an intellectual and a moral activity.”

……………………………………………………………………………………Edward Tufte

(click to enlarge)

Charles Joseph Minard’s data-map describes the successive losses in men of the French Army in the Russian campaign of 1812-1813.  Drawn by M. Minard, Inspector General of Bridges and Roads in retirement, Paris, November 20, 1869.

The numbers of men present are represented by the widths of the colored zones at a rate of one millimeter for every ten thousand men. The tan represents the men who enter into Russia, the black those who leave it. The overall toll, French and Russian was approximately 700,000 to 1,000,000. Place names are shown, as are the rivers, and at the bottom a graphic table of the temperature in degrees of the Réaumur thermometer below zero. Moscow, October 18; October 24 –rain; November 9, –9°; November 14 –21° at Smolensk; December 1, –24 ° at Minsk; December 6, –30°.  Only one soldier in 42 survived this brutal campaign — six months from start to finish.

At the war’s beginning , the army crossed the Nieman River with 422,000 soldiers. At the end, 10,000 soldiers returned across the Nieman River. The width of the lines accurately represents the numbers. So much information is conveyed by this one beautiful analytical graph, in a combination of beautiful design, true and accurate information, and a long dreadful story. Amazing.

Edward Tufte is a Professor Emeritus at Yale University, where he taught courses on statistical evidence, analytical design and political economy. He has written four books on visual displays: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Envisioning Information, Visual Explanations, Beautiful Evidence. They are incredibly beautiful, true, refined and luscious books, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Tufte is also a sculptor. His works are available through his website:  as is a poster of the above beautiful graphic in either French or English. He includes this analytical graph in each of his books, as probably the best graphic conveyance of information ever made.

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