Published: 14 September 2018

The University is excited to announce The Playfair Prize competition

The University is excited to announce a new data-driven essay competition for students —The Playfair Prize

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Data can be an invaluable tool when it is used well: a good chart can stack up a good argument and destroy a bad one. But recent years have produced a slew of bad analysis and regrettable charts: data is often inaccurate (accidentally or on purpose) and graphs tend to look awful. There are concerns that the brightest and best of the next generation are being excluded from debates using data. During recent discussions with young people in London (at LSE, UCL and KCL) Playfair found that students and lecturers all wanted to get involved in data visualisation but were held back since they did not know how to find data, how to make plots or maps, and how to construct a sound argument using it.

So, Playfair set up a new prize in honour of William Playfair, the inventor of charts. The idea is to engage students in the importance of data visualisation. Their site shares some important history with essays on Playfair, William Petty, Florence Nightingale and John Snow before bringing the students right up to date, showing them cutting edge ways to store data in a safe and verifiable way, and to visualise data using professional-grade (but free-to-use) programming. The Prize is open to any student (including graduate students) in any discipline. There are only two rules: entrants must write no more than 800 words, and must build no fewer than three charts.

To complement the competition Playfair are offering to run masterclasses at any university that is taking part. This gives students the opportunity to develop their data skills as well as ask questions about the Prize, and Playfair’s experiences using data in journalism and policymaking institutions. Playfair will be running sessions throughout October and November.

More information about the prize is available on the Playfair Prize website.

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