Eric Fischer's Work Blurs the Line Between Data Science, Cartography, and Art

September 14, 2012 Paul M. Davis

During a talk earlier this year at the Big Data for the Public Good seminar series, Stamen’s Eric Rodenbeck emphasized that data scientists are not only researchers, but also storytellers. Fittingly, many in the field boast a cross-disciplinary background, such as Greenplum’s Noah Zimmerman, who moonlighted at Stanford’s design school while doing PhD research on immunology and statistics. This intersection of science, art, and storytelling is vividly illustrated in the work of Eric Fischer, a former Google engineer whose data-driven mapmaking is as visually stunning as it is revealing.

Profiled recently at The Atlantic‘s cities blog, Fischer’s visualizations were exhibited at the MoMa in 2010 and he was recently named artist-in-residence at San Francisco’s Exploratorium. In his interview with The Atlantic, Fischer explains that his aim is to “take the dim, distant glimpse of the real world that we can see through data and magnify some aspect of it in an attempt to understand something about the structure of cities.” By doing this, Fischer reveals previously unseen patterns of human activity within cities, such as his “see something or say something” project, which compared instances of geotagged Flickr photos versus geotagged tweets in cities around the world:

See something or say something map of Buenos Aires. Red dots are locations of Flickr pictures. Blue dots are locations of Twitter tweets. White dots are locations that have been posted to both. Visualization by Eric Fischer via Flickr.

Another project visualized racial and ethnic divisions in major US cities, using 2010 Census data:

Race and ethnicity 2010: New York City. Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Yellow is Other, and each dot represents 25 residents. Visualization by Eric Fischer via Flickr.

To find out more about Fischer’s work, read the interview with him at The Atlantic, and check out his galleries on Flickr.

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