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Engineering Information, Technical Communication

Ethics of Presenting Information

“How much does a problematic presentational style signal poor engineering? Is it just PP or a PP designer weakening the quality of evidence? Or are there deeper intellectual failures?…” – Edward Tufte

Great questions all! I discovered a great website this morning by Edward Tufte, a well-known author of books on statistics and the visual presentation of information. His personal website has a page devoted to a devastating critique of the use of Powerpoint by NASA in the investigation of the Columbia space shuttle explosion of 2003. This is very relevant to engineers, who are continually asked to present information visually. This page would be a great discussion starter in technical communications classes (hint, hint).

Much of this material comes from his book Beautiful Evidence (Graphics Press, 2006), which sad to say, we do not yet own at Waldo Library. (But don’t worry – I plan on ordering and reading it this month.)

As Tufte was quoted as saying in a July 13, 2006 review of his book in Nature, “Making an evidence presentation is a moral act as well as an intellectual activity. To maintain standards of quality, relevance and integrity of evidence, consumers of presentations should insist that presenters be held intellectually and ethically responsible for what they show and tell. Thus consuming is also an intellectual and moral activity.”

About Ed Eckel

I am a engineering and applied sciences librarian at Western Michigan University.


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