Observations Out of Hours

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BMJ 2010; 341 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c4490 (Published 19 August 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4490
  1. Christopher Martyn, associate editor, BMJ
  1. cmartyn{at}bmj.com

    Is absence of feedback one of the reasons why there are so many complaints about poor communication in medicine?

    It was Edward Tufte in his book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information who invented the concepts of data ink and chart junk. Data ink more or less explains itself: it’s a measure of those elements of an image that actually impart information. Chart junk is the opposite: the unnecessary extra stuff that software packages seduce us into using to decorate our presentations. Tufte thought that the best diagrams maximised data ink and minimised the junk. Another of his principles was the erasure of redundant information. Don’t show more than you need to convey your message.

    Similar ideas apply to effective communication of any sort. Whenever I watch the evening weather forecast on BBC television I’m both irritated and amused by the near complete violation of Tufte’s principles: a lack of data pixels, an excess of screen junk, and an abundance of unnecessary detail. The information I’m looking for—whether I need to take an umbrella tomorrow—is concealed by fancy graphics and …

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