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Executive Summary

Overview Report

Main Report

Bibliographic History

Review of Visualization in the Social Sciences: Overview Report


Our review has taught us many things about visualization in the social sciences and we hope that its results will also be of more general interest and will change more widely held views. Firstly, there is no central core to this research and it is thus very difficult to define key research groups and centres, hence the need for organisations such as ACOCG, and interdisciplinary meetings within the social sciences. Consequently, most of the research is conducted largely in ignorance of much other work which either has already been done or which is currently being undertaken. Secondly, visualization research in the social sciences is dominated by subjects with the closest links to the natural sciences or/and with a tradition in graphical output. A pattern of diffusion from science to social science is clear. Thirdly the World Wide Web is quickly becoming the dominant form of research dissemination as paper journals fail to evolve, charging exorbitant prices even for the production of simple two dimensional colour illustrations. We can expect all these trends to continue as there is no single discipline likely to dominate visualization in the future and so provide a core set of methodologies.

Our original specification asked for key research groups to be identified, but as we have stated above these are very difficult to define, given the diffuse nature of work in visualization in the social sciences. If we were to identify specific groups these would include: project ARGUS from Leicester, the SigGraph ACM, the University College Research on visualization in planning in London, the MIT Urban Studies and Planning Department, Alan Maceachren's centre in Penn State, and the work on visualization sociological networks in Germany. But overall it would be unfair to many other groups not to list them and to list all groups would not produce a key list!

Visualization in the social sciences continues to grow as a research activity beyond the original spurt of activity following the 1987 report. However this growth is relatively uncoordinated. The activity does not fall easily within the remit of any particular discipline and the publication of results in the traditional form is very problematic. This review has attempted to illustrate the wealth of work currently being conducted into visualization in the social sciences. It has provided a reference to the historical background through the creation of a very large bibliography of past papers and a long list of current web sites providing examples of different techniques and access to many different methods. Without greater coordination the future of visualization in the social sciences is likely to be much like the past, but more diffuse and more ephemeral. This coordination is likely to arise only from direct funding for exemplar projects and centres from the research funding councils.

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