Open thread: Are we drowning or swimming in data?

Posted to Discussion  |  Tags: ,  |  Nathan Yau

After reading another article about the flood of data that we’re drowning and struggling to stay afloat in, I wondered, “If everyone is drowning in data, does that mean statisticians are the life preservers?” Some agreed, but others went a slightly different route. Some said plumbers, and others said lifeguards. Someone said they’re the annoying kid doing cannonballs.

The metaphor seems to change depending on where you’re sitting and what body of water you’re in, so just for kicks and giggles, let’s see how far we can stretch this metaphor. If data is the tsunami and people are drowning, what does that make statisticians, data scientists, and information designers? Plus points for ridiculousness.


  • Depends on how well you can swim.

  • we are drinking it, and it tastes like RedBull.

  • We’re the ones up on the 4 story hotel on the water’s edge recording what we can from our balcony, eager to upload it to YouTube and wondering how many hits it’ll get.

  • The difference between swimming and drowning are whether you panic. It’s important to know when to let the current take you and when you need to break away from the current.

  • Children making sandcastles?


  • Surfs Up!

  • I’d say the statisticians are buoys, riding the rising tide that’s trying to knock ’em down.

  • Dolphins playing in the bow wake? Surfers in the Tube? Octopi getting in & out of the jar? Sharks with chum? Jellyfish at the beach?

  • Jim Rhorer April 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Scuba diver. Go in with a purpose and be prepared!

    • Rory Dunne April 6, 2012 at 9:58 am

      Go in with a porpoise, surely?

    • Get certified, have procedures you follow every time, don’t dive beyond your ability, know and understand your equipment, the more you dive the more efficient you become, the better you get the more you see, vision is *always* important

      I could do this all day.

  • They are simply the news readers reporting on the event, some in the thick of it, some back in the studio, but all impotent to do anything about it apart from tell the story as it unfolds. Good Night.

  • Some are judging the lines carved in the ice by figure skaters. Others are sculpting frozen sewage and saying “Hey! A black swan!”

  • Rory Dunne April 6, 2012 at 5:29 am

    We are all swimming in data to some degree, but Nathan Yau is going all “James Cameron” in it.

  • Data is the water in the pool. It doesn’t look dangerous, but it can be. Statisticians are the 16-year-old lifeguards. They’re trained for something, but nobody is really sure what. And I’m the middle-aged dad who decided it was a good idea to get in shape by doing laps in the pool. Unfortunately I only know how to do the front crawl and I stop after each lap to drink a gin with a twist of lime. Good luck folks!

  • Data scientists and information designers often consume information too fast from the data tsunami and then forget to wait “20 minutes” to consult subject matter experts before jumping into the pool of conclusions.

    • As the Humbug found out, you can swim all day in the sea of knowledge without getting wet. (Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth).

  • Rory Dunne April 6, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Are infographics water balloons then?

  • Fish whisperers.

  • Rory Dunne April 6, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Ha Ha! That’s an awesome image…

  • They are Green Peace: They tell you that what you are swimming in contains so much garbage that it is not healthy.

  • Paul Koenig April 8, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Infographic designers are the contractors who built the retaining walls below spec.

  • The captains and crew members of “Deadliest Catch”… it beats beachcombing.

  • If consider data waves like natural phenomenon, maybe Data Scientist is like seismologist and geographer.
    But we create our own waves so maybe we are like fracking rigs triggering more earthquakes.


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