Last week Paz wrote that “the representation of ecological invisible data, of hypothetical open access, is nowadays one of the great dilemmas to solve.” I love the term “invisible data” because it implies the need for visualization and sounds like something invented in a secret government lab that will escape and wreak havoc in a generic Midwestern town. Perusing through some of the other blogs in the Bridge program, I see that information visualization is a common subject of investigation, especially with the deluge of data available online— data with “hypothetical open access” as Paz puts it, leaving room for secrecy and incompetence.
Paz and I had scheduled an online chat on Wednesday morning, and when we had to postpone, I was relieved that my collaborator in Spain didn’t have to see me bleary-eyed and confused as a drank my coffee the morning after the election. The President-elect’s complete disregard for facts is sure to be a major issue in the global scientific community, and science librarian (!) John Dupuis is already chronicling a running list of Trump’s “War on Science.” I don’t know if all activist-artists are teachers, but it sure seems like a big overlap as art’s ability to shape the world relies on awful lot on awareness, education, and community-building.
One idea we’re throwing around for The Bridge is a visualization of water data, specifically something that would highlight the dangers of pollution and the wonders of scientific analysis. So I’ve been Googling.
There are a surprising number of organizations devoted to collecting data on the planet’s water. The Global Runoff Data Centre (GRDC): “a repository for the world's river discharge data and associated metadata.” The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has a multi-tiered “water data portal.” Then there is the United States Geological Society’s “ USGS Water Data for the Nation” and Worldwater.org— I could go on (and that’s only fresh water).
Many of the websites put forth by these acronymous institutions are confusing piles of individual reports hidden behind imposing drop-down menus. It’s hard to find anything specific, and there’s no overarching story to connect one’s Flow Management Classes to one’s Global Irrigated Area Mapping. As a web designer, I’m offended; as a scientific observer, I see why it’s called “invisible data” and I continue to wish for more democratic ways to share scientific research.
Just this week I was talking to a teacher at Penn State about developing a virtual exhibit to showcase 3D reconstructions of archaeological and anthropological artifacts. Databases of 3D models have proliferated among science and art institutions. Perhaps it’s because the technology of 3D printing and scanning is shared so closely with the Maker movement (which idolizes open-access), but the outreach and infrastructure of these projects should really be adopted for other types of data.
I’m looking for data that offers widespread utility and could bridge the geographical gap between Paz and me. There’s something comforting about seeing the world’s many rivers on a single line graph; maybe the world isn’t so big after all.
One of my favorites so far is this chart of pH from the 2015 UN Water Quality Report. Water’s fundamental pH of 7 (I’m a homebrewer, remember) is apparently not so concrete.
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Paz Tornero is an artist, visiting professor at the University of Caldas in Colombia, researcher at the University of Murcia, Faculty of Fine Arts in Spain, and visiting fellow at the Institute of Microbiology (USFQ) in Ecuador.
Benjamin Andrew is an award-winning interdisciplinary artist, storyteller, and Instructor at Pennsylvania State University.