Natalia Bronshtein remembers the moment data visualization changed her life. She was in the middle of her Ph.D. defense at the Higher Attestation Commission of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation and the projector stopped working. She tried to convey several years of her research to her thesis committee verbally, but it didn’t work.
Later, she re-created the presentation with more than 50 charts. Bronshtein passed the second time around, and she said it was because her message was better communicated visually.
Lesson learned: the “visual is universal.”
After 10 years as a professor of finance and economics in her native Russia and as a consultant for consumer markets in London, Bronshtein became interactives editor in 2015 for science news start-up STAT, based in Boston.
Bronshtein said that after doing years of research and creating visualizations that weren’t shown to many people, she felt the desire to share her work with the public.
It didn’t take long for Bronshtein to make an impact in journalism.
On her first project, Bronstein and investigative reporter Charles Piller won the coveted AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award for their online investigation into top medical research institutions not reporting their study results.
It caused a lot of reaction.
“In response to our investigation, about 100 patient advocates including representatives of 20 organizations are urging the National Institutes of Health to take ‘immediate action’ to ensure better reporting of results from human testing of new treatments,” Bronshtein said in an email.
If that wasn’t enough, former Vice President Joe Biden promised to follow up on Bronshtein and Piller’s findings and cut funding to institutions that don’t report results in a timely manner, according to an article in STAT.
“I’m going to find out if it’s true,” Biden said in a speech to a national cancer summit. “And if it’s true I’m going to cut funding. That’s a promise.”
STAT managing editor Gideon Gil says traditional investigative journalism and data visualization need to fit together.
“The piece really demonstrated the importance of having very skilled reporters and data visualization people, who understand data and who can work together,” Gil said in a phone interview.
With Bronshtein’s background as a researcher and academic, it’s remarkable how quickly she began producing quality journalism.
Gil cited her data visualization skills, calling her work “pieces of art.”