I’m writing a series of posts in response to a still-unfolding debate and conversation within the visualization community that was catalyzed by two newsletter/blog posts from Stephen Few. He wrote two strongly negative critiques of two papers on memorability from a group of researchers at Harvard and MIT; Michelle Borkin was first author on both of these papers. He also critiqued the InfoVis conference itself, where these papers were published.
The first paper was published at InfoVis13: What Makes a Visualization Memorable? by Borkin, Vo, Bylinskii, Isola, Sunkavalli, Oliva, and Pfister. In my posts, I’ll call it [Mem13] for short. The second was published at InfoVis15: Beyond Memorability: Visualization Recognition and Recall by Borkin, Bylinskii, Kim, Bainbridge, Yeh, Borkin, Pfister, and Oliva. I’ll call it [Mem15]. Few’s critique of Mem13 is Chart Junk: A Magnet for Misguided Research, I’ll call it [Few13]. His critique of Mem15 was called Information Visualization Research as Pseudo-Science, I’ll call it [Few15]. The discussion about that article is on a separate set of pages.
I note two roles of my own, for full disclosure and context.
I was Michelle Borkin’s postdoc supervisor from mid-summer 2014 through mid-summer 2015. I was not personally involved with any of the memorability research, which was done while she was a PhD student at Harvard with Hanspeter Pfister.
I’ve been heavily involved with InfoVis for quite a while now. I’ve attended every single one since it started in 1995, and first published there in 1996. My first organizational role was being webmaster in 1999, I started the posters program in 2001, I was papers chair in 2003 and 2004, and I’ve been a member of the steering committee since 2011.
All of which is to say yes, I do have some skin in the game on both of these fronts.
My response covers enough ground that I’ve split it across multiple posts. I’ll get the ball rolling with a first set of posts that are ready now, even as I continue working on more that dive in further into the scientific content of the papers. I’ll update this list as I go.
So far, I’ve written: