Monday, 28 March 2011

VizBi 2011 - looking back





Has been a while (again) since my last post. It seems that the requirements on my time are just a little bit different from during my previous position... But I'd like to share a little bit about the VizBi conference that I attended 2 weeks ago.

This second installment of the VizBi conference was held at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA. This workshop focuses on visualizing biological data and harbours a new community of people with backgrounds ranging from bioinformatics and genomics to pure data visualization. Biological visualization is a very broad field, going all the way from abstract data visualization to enable finding patterns in data, to outreach for education, creating movies to explain things like DNA replication to the general public using Holywood-studio tools (for example molecularmovies and the work by Drew Berry).

Probably the best description of the relevance of this conference was given in the opening keynote by Eric Lander, professor at MIT, one of the people pulling the Human Genome Project and - entre autres - co-chair of the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in the Obama administration. Some of his quotes:
- "If all data fitted nicely within one clear paradigm, we wouldn't need VizBi."
- "Things that are beautiful have huge communicative value"
- "Nowhere is visualization as important as in biology, because it's the bleeding edge right now, and has the messiest data and the messiest problems."

And my favourite: "We need to work on exchange rates; if one picture is worth only a thousand words, we're screwed."

I can highly recommend having a look at Tamara Munzner's keynote on visualization principles, available here.

Slides and videos of the talks will be available on the vizbi.org website.