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New York Times Upshot editor to speak at Northwestern

Amanda Cox uses data visualization to make sense of complex data for the masses

EVANSTON - Amanda Cox, data visualization wizard and editor of The New York Times’ Upshot, will visit Northwestern University and give a talk Wednesday, May 3, as part of the One Book One Northwestern program.

Cox, a statistician, data visualization expert and visual journalist, will discuss her work from 5 to 6:15 p.m. at Harris Hall, Room 107, 1881 Sheridan Road in Evanston. The event is free and open to the public.

“We believe that this event will be not only a wonderful learning experience for the students involved, but also a showcase for Northwestern’s interdisciplinary and translational spirit, both within and beyond the University community,” said Steve Franconeri, a Northwestern professor of psychology and event organizer.

Data is only as good as the human minds deciding what to do with it. That’s the mantra of Nate Silver — author of this year’s One Book One Northwestern selection, “The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail — But Some Don't.”

According to Silver, 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the past two years. “Maybe only .009 percent of it is useful data,” he said during a keynote address at Northwestern in October. Much work remains to ease the “tension” between the vast amounts of data and our limited ability to use the data to solve problems, he stressed.

Just as data scientists recognized that data visualization is paramount to making sense of data, journalists have been focusing more on visual storytelling methods that rely on data-driven graphics and interactives.

“Visual journalists, and those, like Amanda, whose background spans both words and visuals, are a crucial part of the future leadership of The Times,” wrote Times Editor Dean Baquet in a published announcement when Cox was hired in 2016.

The intersection between journalism and data is a sweet spot at Northwestern.

Franconeri, with colleagues Emily Withrow of the Knight Lab and Jeff Ely of the economics department, was inspired by “The Signal and the Noise” to offer a special program merging qualitative analytics with communications.

Data visualization experts from Silver’s website, Upshot and Quartz have served as mentors, consulting with students on their projects.

“We want students to be able to analyze data and come to conclusions, but they also need to be able to communicate the data — you have to be able to visualize it,” Franconeri said.

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