This lecture explores the risks of uncritical approaches to data on issues of social change with a focus on how it is harnessed in images.

Accurate information is a basis for effective policy-making, yet data is far too often understood as empirically incontestable. This apparently evidence-based analysis can obscure more than it reveals. This lecture will examine how data is mobilized in data visualization on issues of social change in ways that serve ideological agendas. Specht will begin by examining how images work with a re-contextualization of impressionist art. A critic of Cézanne declared that his artwork was nothing more than an ugly untruth, a deliberate distortion of nature. Using this notion as a starting point, this lecture questions how data visualization illustrates trends and presents truth claims, through the privileging certain perspectives and, importantly, the rejection of others. Through a number of examples he will develop the concepts of digital-positivism, datawash and darkdata as critical tools for approaching the communication of data, putting forth the idea that we could avoid the obfuscations of data by understanding that its voids are political and that these voids might help us more clearly see power and ideology in data.

Doug Specht

Doug Specht is a Senior Lecturer at the Communication and Media Research Institute, within the University of Westminster. His research examines how knowledge is constructed and codified through digital and cartographic artifacts, centering on human development issues. He sits on BSi committee IST/36 Geographic Information, where he focuses on geographic data in the SDGs and on web ontologies. He also holds positions at Media Culture and Society and Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture. 

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