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Learning to See Data

FOR the past year or so genetic scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have been collaborating with a specialist from another universe: Daniel Kohn, a Brooklyn-based painter and conceptual artist.

Mr. Kohn has no training in computers or genetics, and he’s not there to conduct art therapy classes. His role is to help the scientists with a signature 21st-century problem: Big Data overload.

Advanced computing produces waves of abstract digital data that in many cases defy interpretation; there’s no way to discern a meaningful pattern in any intuitive way. To extract some order from this chaos, analysts need to continually reimagine the ways in which they represent their data — which is where Mr. Kohn comes in. He spent 10 years working with scientists and knows how to pose useful questions. He might ask, for instance, What if the data were turned sideways? Or upside down? Or what if you could click on a point on the plotted data and see another dimension?

Click here to read more from this March 27, 2015 New York Times story by Benedict Carey.

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