David Stairs

Informatics is enjoying a renaissance.

Courtesy LiveScience.com

If you haven’t already encountered it, this graph is bound to become the most talked about x-y axis since Al Gore’s Nobel prize-winning acceptance speech. And it represents events more immediate than climate change, if not more important.

We are used to seeing happy little info-graphics in our daily news feeds. These, often the invention of the in-house designer, are seldom as rigorously scientific as the charts popping up in articles and on websites these days. But an awakening is underway.

While we whiled away a decade enraptured by the dystopian fantasies of the zombie apocalypse, the world’s public health infrastructure gathered dust. Regional disasters, like West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, were mere news stories, someone else’s problem isolated on a continent thousands of miles away. Besides, Ebola is a filovirus, transmitted only through direct contact. The threat of an airborne pandemic was the stuff of history, ’til now.

At the moment, informatics like the Malthusian graphs of geometric transmission might be tickling your awareness.

Courtesy VisualCapitalism.com

And then there are the mortality rate projections, both the overall percentages, which decline as the virus spreads, and the rate of doubling by nation.

Courtesy TheLancet.com

There’s also the “social distancing” concept. If ever a public health term was poised to become meme of the year, this one’s it. If you’d thought our digital and social media tools had already distanced us, it’s good to be reminded that one hundred years ago, when there was no Internet to fall back on, the United States suffered over 600,000 and the world over 50,000,000 deaths from the H1N1 Spanish Flu.

Courtesy Vox.com

Not to imply that people are going to become visualization experts overnight, or that there will be a balloon in the numbers of people interested in statistics, but there is certainly something compelling about a graph that could be predicting your own death….. or survival.

David Stairs is the founding editor of the Design-Altruism-Project.

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