Messier research

Research is messy, but we pretend it is neat. We leave things out because they don’t fit or we set them aside for a time that they will. We synthesise our diverse thoughts into an easily digestible final product. New computer programs and competency with digital design have meant that results can be presented in quite beautiful ways. The more data we have the more we need problem solve how to present it. Maybe data presentation will soon become an art-form that we can bid on and hang on our walls! I’m no expert on how to read these graphs but I find them visually appealing.

Enjoy 50 great examples of data visualisation here

or

click through to We feel fine that has visualised human emotions by drawing from a database of 12 million sentences from personal blogs.

We have certainly come a long way from Microsoft Excel (not to mention neatly ruling a line graph with a black fine point marker)!

Created using Gephi

Created using Gephi

Here is a representation tweeted by Wasim Ahmed recently. It shows a network analysis of one week of tweets on a pollution scandal. Check out his blog as he plays with lots of different ways to represent interactions on social media.

Network analysis isn’t my bag, but what I like about this form of data representation is that it stays messy. But in its messiness it actually begins to take an aesthetically pleasing organic form.

It is a closer representation of how human we are. That we cannot be put in a box. That we tangent our thoughts and change our ideas. Traditional research is usually single, or limited, conversations, controlled (or at least framed) by the researcher. Social research has been acute. How humans react to a human construction.

The digital world is by no means representative of humanity but for the first time we have data showing how diverse we are. Not just who we are but how we are. We also have some sense of how things beyond our control throw us around, like the universe’s flotsam and jetsam.

messier43Recently I found this photograph of Messier 43. Taken by a telescope in the Chilean Andes, it is a star forming region near (well in universe terms) Orion. Naturally, the name of the region attracted me and sparked my thinking. This photograph is a natural representation of how dust particles, light and dwarf stars interact with each other. But what is not visible is the invisible forces of gravity, wind and whatever else is out there, causing these interstellar agents to be where they are. It is not just a visualisation of what is there but also how it is there.

Representations of the natural world thrown around by the invisible forces are quite beautiful. As humans we are thrown around by life. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could start representing researched human experiences according to what we can’t see and not just according to what we can?

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2 thoughts on “Messier research

  1. Naomi, there’s an interesting book called ‘Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process’, a collection of essays working towards the representation of the unspoken in research. Although it’s a book entirely of text looking at the issue as it manifests (or doesn’t) in words, it’s relevant, I think. Completely agree, though, that we need to move away from the dominance of text and find other ways to represent the lacunae in our perceptions.

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    • Hi Helen. Thanks for the tip. I began exploring silences in the history of scientific research via Londa Schiebinger in my Masters and it resonated. I forgot about it until I read the title of the book you recommended. I must grab a copy. I have been reading a lot of Latour and ANT stuff which I think has reignited this way of thinking. I don’t want to be an ANT person but I like having them in my life and pushing my thinking. Other members of my research group have mentioned that the ANT stuff resonates with their ideas of feminist theory. Personally, I like not being pinned down to a theoretical framework because it allows a freedom to explore other ways of thinking.

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