Review: Atlas of Science, Visualizing What We Know

Katy Börner, professor of information science, catalogs visualization and science in Atlas of Science: Visualizing What We Know.

Cartographic maps have guided our explorations for centuries, allowing us to navigate the world. Science maps have the potential to guide our search for knowledge in the same way, helping us navigate, understand, and communicate the dynamic and changing structure of science and technology. Allowing us to visualize scientific results, science maps help us make sense of the avalanche of data generated by scientific research today.

At first glance, without reading anything, it looked a lot like a general scientific visualization book. Sort of like the opposite of Data Flow. Where the visuals lack in aesthetics, they make up for with richness in data and detailed explanations of what you’re looking at. There are a lot of network diagrams, some geographic maps, and a handful of traditional statistical graphics.

Taking a closer look though, I realized that it’s actually much more specific than just a visualization catalog. It really is about “visualizing what we know.” As in: cataloging scientific knowledge. Think of all the books, resources, and academic papers you might find in a library and on the Web, and then think of interfaces and visualizations to access all of that in a meaningful way. That’s what Atlas of Science is about, from the point of view of an information scientist.

All of the visualizations are in color, which is nice, and the book is large at over a foot wide and almost a foot tall, leaving lots of space for full page images.

The strength of the book is that each visual is accompanied by a thoughtful description about the data, how the visualization was built, and what we should see in the picture.

While the book was written for a general audience, I have a feeling the topic might be a little too, for lack of a better word, sciencey for some. There are some very beautiful images in it though, and at under $20 on Amazon, the 288-page hard cover, in-color atlas is a steal if you’re at all interested in the subject. If anything, you’ll learn a thing or two.

For a better idea of the insides, you can actually view all of the high-res images online for free.

Comment to win a copy

Lucky for you there’s a free copy up for grabs. Leave a comment below by Sunday, November 7, 8pm PST, and I’ll randomly select a winner. Complete this sentence. Data is _________. Good luck.

Update: Winner picked. Congratulations to Crystal! Thanks for participating, all.