Edward Tufte

Edward Tufte

Infobox Writer
name = Edward Rolf Tufte

caption =
birthdate = 1942
birthplace = Kansas City, Missouri
deathdate =
deathplace =
occupation = professor, statistician
nationality = American
period =
notableworks =

Edward Rolf Tufte (pronEng|ˈtʌfti) (1942) is an American statistician, and Professor Emeritus of statistics, information design, interface design and political economy at Yale University [http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/ Edward Tufte website] ] has been described by "The New York Times" as "the da Vinci of Data". [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A01E5D6123BF933A05750C0A96E958260 "The da Vinci of Data"] , Deborah Shapley, "The New York Times" March 30, 1998]

He is an expert in the presentation of informational graphics such as charts and diagrams, and is a fellow of the American Statistical Association. Tufte has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences.

Tufte lives in Cheshire, Connecticut. He periodically travels around the United States to offer one-day workshops on data presentation and information graphics.

Background and early work

Edward Rolf Tufte was born in 1942 in Kansas City, Missouri, to Virginia and Edward E. Tufte. He grew up in Beverly Hills, California, and graduated from Beverly Hills High School. [Reynolds, Christopher. [http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/latimes/access/238716911.html?dids=238716911:238716911&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Nov+14%2C+2002&author=Christopher+Reynolds&pub=Los+Angeles+Times&desc=ART%3B+Onward+means+going+upward%3B+Edward+Tufte+has+spent+his+career+fighting+the+visually+dull+and+flat.+Even+his+sculpture+is+a+leap.&pqatl=google "ART; Onward means going upward; Edward Tufte has spent his career fighting the visually dull and flat. Even his sculpture is a leap."] , "Los Angeles Times", November 14, 2002. Accessed April 23, 2008. "Edward Tufte] , who shares 20 acres in Cheshire, Conn., with his wife, graphic design professor Inge Druckrey, and three golden retrievers, is a 1960 graduate of Beverly Hills High School."] He received a BA and MS in statistics from Stanford University and a PhD in political science from Yale. His dissertation, completed in 1968, was entitled "The Civil Rights Movement and Its Opposition." He was then hired by Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, where he taught courses in political economy and data analysis while publishing three quantitatively-inclined political science books.

In 1975, while at Princeton, Tufte was asked to teach a statistics course to a group of journalists who were visiting the school to study economics. He developed a set of readings and lectures on statistical graphics, which he further developed in joint seminars he subsequently taught with legendary statistician John Tukey, a pioneer in the field of information design. These course materials became the foundation for his first book on information design, "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information."Mark Zachry and Charlotte Thralls, [http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/s15427625tcq1304_5.pdf An interview with Edward R. Tufte] , "Technical Communication Quarterly", 2004.]

Tufte published his "Visual Display" in 1982 himself, working closely with graphic designer Howard Gralla. He financed the work by taking out a second mortgage on his home. The book quickly became a commercial success and secured his transition from political scientist to information expert.


Tufte's writing is important in such fields as information design and visual literacy, which deal with the visual communication of information. He coined the term "chartjunk" to refer to useless, non-informative, or information-obscuring elements of quantitative information displays.

He uses the term "data-ink ratio" to argue against including non-informative decoration in visual displays of quantitative information. He claims that ink should only be used to convey and display significant data. In "Visual Display", Tufte states:

Sometimes decorations can help editorialize about the substance of the graphic. But it's wrong to distort the data measures—the ink locating values of numbers—in order to make an editorial comment or fit a decorative scheme.

Tufte also encourages the use of data-rich illustrations with all the available data presented. When examined closely, every data point has value; when seen overall, trends and patterns can be observed. Tufte suggests these macro/micro readings be presented in the space of an eyespan, in the high resolution format of the printed page, and at the unhurried pace of the viewer's leisure. Tufte uses several historical examples to make his case including John Snow's .Clarifyme|date=April 2008

Criticism of PowerPoint

Tufte has criticized the way Microsoft PowerPoint is typically used. In his essay "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint", Tufte criticizes many properties and uses of the software:

* It is used to guide and reassure a presenter, rather than to enlighten the audience;
* It has unhelpfully simplistic tables and charts, resulting from the low resolution of computer displays;
* The outliner causing ideas to be arranged in an unnecessarily deep hierarchy, itself subverted by the need to restate the hierarchy on each slide;
* Enforcement of the audience's linear progression through that hierarchy (whereas with handouts, readers could browse and relate items at their leisure);
* Poor typography and chart layout, from presenters who are poor designers and who use poorly designed templates and default settings;
* Simplistic thinking, from ideas being squashed into bulleted lists, and stories with beginning, middle, and end being turned into a collection of disparate, loosely disguised points. This may present an image of objectivity and neutrality that people associate with science, technology, and "bullet points".

Tufte's criticism of PowerPoint has extended to its use by NASA engineers in the events leading to the Columbia disaster. Tufte's analysis of a representative NASA PowerPoint slide is included in a full-page sidebar entitled "Engineering by Viewgraphs" [http://anon.nasa-global.speedera.net/anon.nasa-global/CAIB/CAIB_lowres_chapter7.pdf "Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report Volume 1"] , August 2003, p. 15] in Volume 1 of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's report.


Tufte also developed sparklines — a simple, condensed way to present trends and variation, associated with a measurement such as average temperature or stock market activity. These are often used as elements of a small multiple with several lines used together.


Tufte's Yale PhD thesis was "The Civil Rights Movement and Its Opposition" (1968).

Early in his career, Tufte wrote several books about using statistics to analyze political issues:

*cite book|last=Dahl|first=Robert|authorlink=Robert A. Dahl|coauthors=Tufte, Edward R.|title=Size & Democracy|year=1973|publisher=Stanford University Press|isbn=0804708347
*cite book|last=Tufte|first=Edward R.|title=Data Analysis for Politics and Policy|date=1974-08-05|publisher=Prentice Hall College Div|isbn=0131975250
** Tufte notes on his website that a second edition of this book is likely.
** Tufte now owns the copyright and has made a [http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/dapp/ free pdf of DAPP available on his website] .
*cite book|last=Tufte|first=Edward R.|title=Political Control of the Economy|year=1978|publisher=Princeton University Press|isbn=0691075948

The core of Tufte's work documents how to best display different forms of information with copious examples and commentary:
*cite book|last=Tufte|first=Edward R.|title=The Visual Display of Quantitative Information|origyear=1983|edition=2nd Edition|year=2001|publisher=Graphics Press|location=Cheshire, CT|isbn=0961392142
*cite book|last=Tufte|first=Edward R.|title=Envisioning Information|year=1990|publisher=Graphics Press|location=Cheshire, CT|isbn=0961392118
*cite book|last=Tufte|first=Edward R.|title=Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative|year=1997|publisher=Graphics Press|location=Cheshire, CT|isbn=0961392126
** Chapter 2 is also published as cite book|last=Tufte|first=Edward R.|title=Visual & Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Decision Making|year=1997|publisher=Graphics Press|location=Cheshire, CT|isbn=0961392134 It contains extensive analysis of Dr John Snow's intervention into the cholera epidemic in London in 1854 and of the "Challenger" disaster of 1986.
*cite journal|last=Tufte|first=Edward R.|year=2003|title=PowerPoint is evil|journal=Wired|volume=11|issue=9|issn=1059-1028|url=http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/ppt2.html
*cite book|last=Tufte|first=Edward R.|title=The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint|origyear=2003|url=http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/powerpoint|edition=2nd Edition|year=2006|publisher=Graphics Press|location=Cheshire, CT|isbn=0961392169
*cite book|last=Tufte|first=Edward R.|title=Beautiful Evidence|year=2006|publisher=Graphics Press|location=Cheshire, CT|isbn=0961392177


External links

* [http://www.edwardtufte.com/ Edward Tufte's website] with [http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a?topic_id=1 Ask E.T. forum] [http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=000262&topic_id=1&topic= Ask E.T. forum topic on publication of Beautiful Evidence]
* [http://www.salon.com/march97/tufte970310.html The Data Artist]
* [http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/2007/marapr/features/tufte.html Intelligent Designs] Article in Stanford University's alumni magazine
* [http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/000931 "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint" Presented in the Form of a PowerPoint Presentation]
* [http://www.onlineethics.org/CMS/profpractice/exempindex/RB-intro/RepMisrep.aspx Representation and Misrepresentation: Tufte and the Morton Thiokol Engineers on the "Challenger"] criticizes Tufte's analysis of NASA graphics in "Visual Explanations"
* [http://blog.bissantz.com/a-day-with-tufte Ivy League Rock and Roll - A day with Edward Tufte] Review of a Tufte seminar, including discussion of his work
* [http://www.adcglobal.org/archive/hof/2004/?id=306 Art Directors Club biography, portrait and images of work]
* [http://www.yuriweb.com/tufte/ A review of Edward Tufte's 'Beautiful Evidence'] (updated from: [http://www.benjamins.com/cgi-bin/t_articles.cgi?bookid=IDJ%2015%3A2&artid=819109913 Information Design Journal 15(2), 2007, pp. 190-193] )

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