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Visualization: On reluctance and tools

Presenter 1
Andreas Perret
Swiss Center of Expertise in the Social Sciences (FORS)

Whenever a researcher presents his work, some visual support almost inevitably comes along, and the audience is gratified with at least some chart or graphic. Fancy or rudimental, these visualizations are never innocent, we know it, researchers know it, but the topic is seldom addressed in discussions. To understand the issues of visualization in the social sciences, we have chosen to follow two paths that seem to venture in opposite directions: As society is a very tough subject to describe, social scientists have spent decades to master a complex vocabulary that is (somewhat) unanimously accepted. Introducing graphics in that well groomed landscape brings up touchy issues such as how we convince each other of the quality of our findings. Social scientists use statistical packages for to analyze data; they have different visualization possibilities, but differences arise in other dimension as well. So choosing one over another has implication that range from the attitude towards intellectual property to the kind of journal that is likely to publish a paper. Through interviews with social scientists we intend to show how five communities have shaped - and been shaped by - their statistical tools.

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