In which I earn the contempt of my peers

Edward Tufte is auctioning off a bunch of rare old manuscripts from his library at Christies in New York.  There’s a Galileo first edition going for a mere $5000-$7000, which sounds like a steal to me (not that I know anything about this stuff.)  I love old manuscripts like this.  I were in the area, I’d love to go.

But here comes my shameful confession: I’ve tried to like Edward Tufte’s sensibility, and I just can’t do it.  I look at the Minard map of Napoleon’s Russian campaign, which Tufte says “may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn,”and I just find it confusing and cluttered.  Just because you can layer seven (or however many it is) dimensions of data on one graphic doesn’t mean you should.

Even when he aims at the low-lying fruit of anti-PowerPoint ranting, I can’t really get behind him.  Yes, lots of PowerPoint presentations (including some I’ve perpetrated) are deadly, but I don’t think it’s because of the “cognitive style of PowerPoint.”  It’s because, no matter what tools you use, creating a bad presentation is much easier than creating a good presentation. Take it from me, young folks: even before PowerPoint, most talks were bad.

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Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!

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