R. Tufteauthor

Edward R. Tufte


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Edward Rolf Tufte, sometimes known as "ET," is an American statistician and professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University. He is noted for his writings on information design and as a pioneer in data visualization.

Edward Rolf Tufte was born in 1942 in Kansas City, Missouri, to Virginia Tufte (1918–2020) and Edward E. Tufte (1912–1999). He grew up in Beverly Hills, California, where his father was a longtime city official, and he graduated from Beverly Hills High School. He received a BS and MS in statistics from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in political science from Yale. His dissertation, completed in 1968, was entitled The Civil Rights Movement and Its Opposition. He was hired by Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, where he taught courses in political economy and data analysis while publishing three quantitatively inclined political science books.

In 1975, while at Princeton, Tufte was asked to teach a statistics course to journalists visiting the school to study economics. As a result, he developed a set of readings and lectures on statistical graphics, which he further created in joint seminars he taught with renowned statistician John Tukey, a pioneer in the field of information design. These course materials became the foundation for his first book on information design, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

After negotiations with major publishers failed, Tufte decided to self-publish Visual Display in 1982, working closely with graphic designer Howard Gralla. He financed the work by taking out a second mortgage on his home. The book quickly became a commercial success and secured his transition from political scientist to information expert.

On March 5, 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Tufte to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's Recovery Independent Advisory Panel "to provide transparency in the use of Recovery-related funds."

Tufte is an expert in the presentation of informational graphics such as charts and diagrams and is a fellow of the American Statistical Association. In addition, he has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.

Tufte's writing is important in information design and visual literacy, which deal with the visual communication of information. For example, he coined the word chartjunk to refer to useless, non-informative, or information-obscuring elements of quantitative information displays. Tufte's other vital concepts include what he calls the lie factor, the data-ink ratio, and the data density of a graphic.

He uses the term "data-ink ratio" to argue against excessive decoration in visual displays of quantitative information. In Visual Display, Tufte explains, "Sometimes decoration can help editorialize about the substance of the graphic. But it is wrong to distort the data measures—the ink locating values of numbers—to make an editorial comment or fit a decorative scheme."

Tufte encourages the use of data-rich illustrations that present all available data. When such illustrations are examined closely, every data point has a value, but only trends and patterns can be observed when they are looked at more generally. Tufte suggests these macro/micro readings be presented in the space of an eye span, in the high-resolution format of the printed page, and at the unhurried pace of the viewer's leisure.

He uses several historical examples to make his case. These include John Snow's cholera outbreak map, Charles Joseph Minard's Carte Figurative, early space debris plots, Galileo Galilei's Sidereus Nuncius, and Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial. For instance, listing the names of deceased soldiers on the black granite of Lin's sculptural memorial is shown to be more powerful as a chronological list rather than an alphabetical one. The sacrifice each fallen individual has made is thus highlighted within the overall time scope of the war. In Sidereus, Nuncius Galilei presents the nightly observations of the moons of Jupiter about the body itself, interwoven with the two-month narrative record.

Best author’s book


The Visual Display of Quantitative Information