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DataFlash: Stephen Few’s “The Data Loom” – A Book Review

Posted by on August 27th, 2019 Posted in: Blog, Data Science, Health Literacy/Consumer Health, Training & Education
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Stephen Few is no amateur when it comes to data analysis and data visualization; as the author of more than half a dozen books on data analysis and data visualization, this Pacific Northwest resident has become a trusted expert on the topic.

In Few’s newest book which was released this past May 2019 entitled “The Data Loom”, he does not disappoint his growing data fans.  In a time where dressing up data stories with cheap tricks (i.e. useless and misleading data visualizations to suit your own objectives) has become popular, Few reminds us of the importance of truthful data storytelling and truthful data presentations.  Few teaches us how to think critically and scientifically when it comes to thinking about our data and data presentation.  In fact, Few asserts that we don’t really live in the “Information Age” but more of the “Data Age” where data only is valuable to us after we make sense of it – i.e. through data sensemaking.

In Chapter 3 entitled “Think Scientifically”, Few reflects on the greater purpose of data sensemaking (63):

“Too often, data sensemaking focuses solely on collecting and reporting facts. However, facts are only useful if they lead to an understanding that enables decisions and actions that produce a better world.  Not every question involves causal relationships, but the most important questions do.”

Through being able to think critically and scientifically, we are in a better position to really understand and use data in a truthful and valuable way that will ultimately affect our ability to make good decisions.  Few’s knowledge of critical and scientific thinking comes shining through with many of his inspirational quotes and book references from great thinkers.  Masterfully, Stephen Few succinctly sums up a huge body of essential statistical, philosophical, and scientific works into a matter of 122 pages.  “The Data Loom” by Stephen Few is an amazingly concise work on thinking about data and a very worthwhile read!!!

Additional Reading by Stephen Few:

Show Me the Numbers

Information Dashboard Design: Displaying Data for At-a-Glance Monitoring

Image of the author ABOUT Nancy Shin
I received my Bachelor of Science in the Integrated Sciences majoring in medical genetics and animal biology from the University of British Columbia (UBC). I also graduated from UBC's esteemed MLIS program with a focus on health librarianship. In 2018, I was the Research Data Management Sewell Fund Fellow for the Technology Incubator at Washington State University. Currently, I'm the NNLM PNR Research and Data Coordinator for the University of Washington's Health Sciences Library. In my spare time, I enjoy photography, drawing, cooking and baking, and travelling the world!!!

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Developed resources reported in this program are supported by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), National Institutes of Health (NIH) under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012343 with the University of Washington.

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