Mona Chalabi’s Datasketches

Hand-drawn data visualizations about farts and penises! If that has you hooked, no need to read any further. Just surf over to Mona Chalabi’s Instagram account and enjoy.

I first encountered Chalabi through her “Dear Mona” column at FiveThirtyEight, which has since moved to New York Magazine. There she answers people’s questions with both statistics and compassion. Since then, I’ve also been impressed with her work as data editor at Guardian US, including this November 9 column about why we should be treating polls with more skepticism. In a slightly less obviously mathematical vein, if you have a vagina or know someone who does, check out the Guardian’s Vagina Dispatches, a series of four fantastic and fearless videos by Chalabi and Mae Ryan that delve into emotional, cultural and health aspects of owning and operating that particular body part, of course using statistics to support their work.

Currently I’m obsessed with Chalabi’s “datasketches,” hand-drawn illustrations that visualize data in creative, accessible, and entertaining ways. One of the things that makes Chalabi’s visualizations so appealing is that she doesn’t shy away from taboo subjects: sex, pubic hair, periods, nose picking, death, you name it. They’re not exactly NSFW, but if you don’t want your boss to glance over and see a cartoon penis on your screen, you might want to save them for when you get home.

In a really nice Q&A with DigitalArts, Chalabi says she had grown frustrated with the inaccessible, academic way in which organizations tend to present important data and intellectual elitism in data visualization by journalists. She wanted to present things more clearly and accessibly and in a way in which people could feel free to ask questions about the data, which they do in the comments on Instagram. She always cites the source of the data she presents so if people are skeptical or think it has an agenda, they can explore it for themselves.

Chalabi’s datasketches were shortlisted for an Information is Beautiful prize and commended by the Royal Statistical Society this year. The citation says, “she has demonstrated that it is not always necessary to have sophisticated graphics packages or specialist programming knowledge in order to visualise data and tell a story.” In fact, one of the most affecting images is one of her simplest: the average size of a parking space versus a solitary confinement cell.

Sources: Texas Accessibility Standards, The Center for Investigative Reporting #datasketch

A photo posted by Mona Chalabi (@mona_chalabi) on Apr 23, 2016 at 7:44am PDT

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