01 Apr THE DATA JOURNALIST MAKING STATS STIMULATING
THE DATA JOURNALIST MAKING STATS STIMULATING
Instagram Legend Mona Chalabi Is Taking
The ‘Numb’ Out Of Numbers
Have you ever come across a person who is achingly cool, ridiculously smart and who can make pretty much anything seem interesting?
Well, Mona Chalabi is definitely one of those people.
A data journalist and illustrator who works for the Guardian US, Mona is making amazing hand drawn charts of statistical data. And while at first read, this may sound pretty darn boring, let us assure you – it really ain’t.
On a day to day basis, we’re bombarded with bad stats and fake data. How many times have you seen stupid claims such as ‘9.8 out of 10 women would recommend this really-quite-average shampoo’ or ‘73% of men love large shaggy dogs’ in your time? In fact, 33.3% of statistics are made up on the spot.
Thankfully, we’re already pretty sceptical of numbers such as these. But, in an age where alternative facts are rife we have serious, world changing things happening such as referendums and presidential campaigns, it’s pretty important that we’re able to tell which numbers and statistics are reliable and which ones aren’t, especially when they’re being used to influence our decisions.
// “We Need To Move Beyond Either Blindly Accepting Or Blindly Rejecting Statistics.” //
Yes, her images pretty – but more importantly, they are powerful and provocative. They, and her successful TED talk, are raising awareness about what good and bad stats look like and what we should be asking when we see them. And, they’re being created by someone who wouldn’t be traditionally viewed as a statistician anyway, having dropped out of her first Economics degree at uni and earning an E for A-level maths.
Mona has been working hard to highlight the importance of having stats in the first place. Statistics originally always came from the state and the point was to measure the general status of the population in order to best serve it. Which makes sense. It would be impossible for governments to improve healthcare or inequality without accurate data to illustrate the problems. Having stats that we can rely on also means that we have good starting points for debates, because accessing numbers on which we can agree and trust means we can move on to investigating causes, effects and solutions.
// “How Can A Government Create Fair Policies If They Can’t Measure Unfairness?” //
What Mona is making blindingly obvious to us is that we really need to be questioning where our data is coming from and what it’s really saying before we swallow or ignore it. That’s partly why Mona hand draws her own charts. She deliberately leaves them imperfect or with shaky lines to illustrate that her diagrams have been visualised by a human, just like any other chart – no matter how slick it might look.
Mona’s work isn’t limited to 2D images either. She previously made an amazing documentary series called Vagina Dispatches in which she teamed up with video producer Mae Ryan and used data and illustrations to discuss issues regarding women’s sexual health. Now, she has a new podcast called Strange Bird which reimagines data journalism for a mainstream audience.
There’s something Freakonomics-esque about Mona’s ability to interest and impress people who may not be naturals at seeing the world in numbers. It wasn’t something that came easily to us either. But actually, finding someone who can explain a concept in an easy, accessible way like Mona does is incredibly helpful and could even spark a flame of interest you never even knew was there.
And at the very least, we’ll be better equipped the next time we see a bad stat.