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Data Visualisation - The Lady With The Lamp, Our First Data Pioneer

Florence Nightingale

Even if history wasn’t your strongest subject at school, many of us know the name Florence Nightingale, the "Lady with the Lamp".


She is remembered as a nurse who cared for fallen soldiers during the Crimean War. She carried a lamp at night while looking after soldiers who could not sleep, she would help them read letters from family and help them write letters back.

What many people do not know though, is that from her time in the Crimean War, Nightingale would go on to become an icon of Victorian culture. She would revolutionise sanitation in hospitals and establish Nursing as a profession.

So how did one lady do this? Nightingale was home schooled as a child and had a natural gift for mathematics. She was an accomplished statistician and as a Nursing Manager in the Crimean War she was tasked with reporting to politicians why so many British Soldiers were dying in hospital.

Inquisitive by nature and compassionate, she started to collect raw data at the same time as caring for the soldiers. In 1854, her first winter during the Crimean War, over 4,000 soldiers died - the highest death count of all hospitals in the region.

Nightingale’s big challenge was getting her superiors to see the data and understand the problems she was facing. She then needed MPs in Parliament to act on the data. Her fear was that no matter how grim the figures looked, politicians thousands of miles away would simply ignore or overlook the seriousness of the situation these wounded soldiers faced.

What did Florence do? Instead of reporting data in its raw format, she transformed the data and created unique graphs that helped civil servants and politicians to understand the results and visualise clearly that soldiers were dying from infections caught whilst in hospital - not on the battlefield.

These unique illustrations were called "Polar Area Diagrams," or "Nightingale Rose" diagrams, and groups of them were called “coxcomb”. These diagrams would be used extensively by Nightingale during the Crimean War to present reports to Civil Servants in London which showed the true nature and magnitude of the conditions of medical care in the war.

Later in her life, Nightingale would be recognised as ‘a true pioneer in the graphical representation of statistics’.

Diagram of the causes of mortality in the army in the East

Source: Visual.ly

This image above, called the "Diagram of the causes of mortality in the army in the East," was published in Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency, and Hospital Administration of the British Army and sent to Queen Victoria in 1858.

This graphic indicates the number of deaths which occurred from preventable diseases (in blue), those which were the results of wounds (in red), and those due to other causes (in black).

The impact these diagrams had was comprehensive. Hygiene standards and sanitation in war hospitals improved massively and as a consequence thousands of soldiers lives were saved.

Her legacy and lasting contribution have been her role in founding the modern nursing profession, but it could be argued that she revolutionised sanitation in public hospitals and private houses; her lobbying eventually helped strengthen the proposed Public Health Bill and that enacted the Public Health Acts of 1874 and 1875. It is believed that this reform had a greater impact on average life expectancy between 1871 and the mid-1930s than medical science had on most fatal epidemic diseases.

Nightingale went on to be elected the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society and an honorary member of the American Statistical Association.

158 years later, phrases like "Big Data" and "Business Intelligence" have become more prevalent and these concepts are used by organisations around the world to interpret raw data into digestible information. They employ highly educated and technically skilled Data Experts who use the latest database technology and advanced analysis techniques to gain valuable insight from their data. The insights gained are often used to help companies gain a competitive edge.

At Oscar, we have dedicated teams set up to help clients to achieve their own Data Analysis and Visualisation projects. From high level Data Warehouse Projects, Data Migration, Marketing Analytics or Customer Insight Projects, Oscar Technology are able to help clients to recruit in-demand and hard to find skill sets within Big Data and Business Intelligence.

To find out more about our Data Analysis and Visualisation staffing solutions please send us an enquiry, or call / email me directly on 0207 600 2542 / sam.mikkelsen@oscar-tech.com to register your Business Intelligence or Data related permanent or contract positions.

To search for our latest Data Analysis jobs and to apply click here

Written by Sam Mikkelsen
Associate Direcor - Contracts Division

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