Whose Truth Is It Anyway?

The Truth in Numbers: Redefining Data Journalism Through Art

Journalist Mona Chalabi uses hand-drawn sketches to break down complex data and challenge mainstream misconceptions.

In a world of “alternative” facts and misinformation, perhaps nothing is more mistrusted than a statistic.

About four out of 10 Americans distrust the economic data that is reported by the government, with the rate even higher among supporters of US President Donald Trump, according to a 2016 Marketplace-Edison Research poll.

But data journalist Mona Chalabi is rethinking the way people think about numbers.

Using hand-drawn sketches and simple imagery, she breaks down complex data on issues as varied as rising sea levels, wage inequality in the United States, islamophobia and rates of extinction in the animal world.

She believes that drawing can make data more accessible to people – and more transparent.

“Part of the purpose of creating hand-drawn illustrations is that I want people to look at it and question the illustration that they see in front of them because the truth is that there is a high degree of imprecision in data,” she says.

“I think there’s something to be said for an understanding that for every statistic that you see the truth lies somewhere in the parametres around that number.”

She uses her work to tackle pre-existing misconceptions while also trying to empower overlooked groups in society.

“I inherently feel sceptical about most of the data sets I see because every single case I’m not in that data set. Arabs are not on any data sets by and large collected in America and so I’ve always perceived myself as the other and I don’t see myself in the data,” she says.

“I think that informs your whole outlook on the world when you are not in that data set and it makes me fundamentally sceptical and it makes me fundamentally concerned about collecting more accurate and better information about the world around us.”

She believes that when others are empowered to collect and interpret data, statistics will better reflect people’s lived experiences.

Follow Chalabi as she prepares her vast body of work for an art exhibition, breaking down her creative process and fresh vision for data journalism along the way.