Data Vis or: Why you don't believe in facts, and how to fix it

Politics & Society
re:publica 2017

Short thesis: 

In the 18th century, we believed that a society should be based on reason. In the 19th century, we started to collect that reason in form of data. Now we are in the 21st century, where we proudly look at the enormous mountain of data we gathered. "Impressive," our old ancestors say. "Your society must be really reasonable." And we stare back at them, and then we look away, ashamed.


What the heck happened? We vote for Drumpf, we share articles full of lies, we don't vaccinate our kids, we don't believe in climate change. Back in the days, we didn't act reasonable because we didn't know what's reasonable. Nowadays we know what's reasonable – and we still don't act reasonable.

As someone who communicates data on a daily basis, I find that deeply concerning. Am I just preaching to the choir with my data vis? Or is it possible to convince somebody with facts, numbers, science, reason?

In my talk, I'll try to answer these questions. First I'll explain the psychological, social and technological reasons why none of us will ever fully believe all the facts. And how the kind of facts and the context in which we encounter them makes us believe or ignore them. In the second part, I'll look at possible solutions. How can we all believe more true things? And how can we communicate data so that it convinces somebody, e.g. to vaccinate their kids? We'll look at lots of examples from data communication, especially from data visualisation and data journalism. If I'm doing my job right, you'll leave the room with a better understanding of what's going on and a bit of hope for our future.

Stage 1
Tuesday, May 9, 2017 - 11:45 to 12:15