Why Vizioneer?

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Atlanta, Georgia, United States
The "Vizioneer" comes from mashing two words that have shaped my world for most of my adult life - Engineer and [data] Visualizations (or Vizes to those who know what's up). Graduating from first from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, followed by Georgia Tech with my Bachelors and Masters in Civil Engineering, all of which taught me to think through anything and everything - problem solving, "engineering" solutions, teaching to the "ah ha" moments - is what I love to do. In 2010 that investigative, engineering mindset intersected a job change and a plunge into the world of Data Analysis. In the search for the next great thing I stumbled on to a data visualization and dashboarding product called Tableau software and things just took off. So now I guess you could call me that engineer with the sweet data visualizations - or just "The Vizioneer" :)

In 2013, I joined the incredible team at Slalom, focusing on Tableau and it's been an amazing experience. Recently in 2014, I was honored and humbled to receive Tableau's highest recognition of being named a Tableau Zen Master. Follow along to see what happens next :)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Effect of War and Genocide

Earlier today Adam McCann put together a fantastic that looks at Life Expectancy by country, inspired by the great Hans Rosling.

Great vizzes often lead to the discussion of "how they do that?" and the beautiful thing about Tableau Public is that you can download and reverse engineer it to see what's going on.  Being the curious fellow that I am, I did exactly that and found some interesting things.  I also thought it would be interesting to look at the data with a slightly different X-Axis, simply the countries' rank of life expectancy, which in effect creates a massive bump chart.

But it also did something else.  The lines of some of the countries had massive shifts in short amounts of time.  I began to ask myself why that would be - "What would cause a large decrease in life expectancy rapidly?"  It turns out that the answer is very sobering - Genocide and War.

When I was in school at Oglethorpe University (before my days at Georgia Tech), I read a book called "A Problem from Hell" by Samantha Power (the current United States' Ambassador to the United Nations) that examined America's role in Genocide in the 20th century.  It was one of the most moving and core-shaking books I've ever read.

And so I began to look at this data differently, and I almost fearfully clicked to find Rwanda - the story of genocide which we studied and I knew all too well.  The massive loss of life in the early 1990's lit the screen.  The loss of over 1 million people shown in a single line.

I let that image sink in to the best of my ability, but frankly it took my breath away.

I next found Bosnia, where about the same time, early 1990's,  Slobodan Milosevic was exterminating his people. 

Then the Iran - Iraq War from the early 1980's, when both countries experienced tremendous losses as they killed each other.

That was followed by the 'Soviet' people - Russia and Ukraine - losing ground over the past 50 years (even through 2011).

There's even the early effect of the Assad regime and Syrian Civil War which started in Spring 2011 and continues to spiral out of control currently at the hands of ISIS.  Future data will likely show what we already fear to be true - another genocide and civil war with devastating results. 

And there was Cambodia.  I actually was about to exclude this as I thought it was bad data.  To see that the life expectancy in 1977 was short of 20 years old, I thought there must have been something wrong.  But there wasn't.  

Today I learned about the Cambodian genocide of the late 1970's where an unimaginable 1.5M-3M people lost their lives.  It's difficult to comprehend.  But you can see it in the data.

Putting this together has been very moving and sobering.  Please have a look for yourself:

I look forward to your thoughts.  Many thanks - 

Nelson Davis 


  1. Hi Nelson

    What a great post. Not seen a post get me thinking as much as this one in quite some time.


    1. Paul -
      Thanks so much. I feel the same way. Still very melancholy even a day after. It's something that shakes you up.

  2. Nelson - this is incredible. New York Times' worthy, I think. A really refreshing perspective on the data.

    1. Thanks so much Andy. I think it shows how powerful the story of the data can be. As a whole, the visualization's a mess, but when you highlight a single country, all of a sudden there's a story. The five I've highlighted tell some of the most tragic stories of the last 50 years in our world. And Tableau helps to do it beautifully.

  3. Awesome work Nelson. Really thought-provoking. You inspired me to download the workbook and explore it further. I created another view off of the same data, that looks at where the largest drops in life expectancy have occurred. I'd be interested to know what you think. Have a great weekend.


  4. Thanks!! Learned something new!!

  5. A very impressive work! You're a real Vizioneer, indeed.

  6. Nelson - you have inspired me to rethink about storytelling in my viz. Thank you for sharing at the ATUG meeting last month

    1. You're very welcome - I'm so glad you found it helpful!

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