The Value of a Datapoint
In high school, his passions were art and the environment. He wanted to go to art school after he graduated, but his parents convinced him to attend college.
“You can study environmental sciences,” his father said. “It will provide job security.”
When he scowled, his mother added, “and contribute to your ambition to depict environmental degradation through your paintings.”
He went along with his parents’ wishes. By second year, he was spending all his time and effort on outside art classes. He dropped out of university and devoted himself to his art. He might not make much money, but it was a better choice. He’d be happier.
He developed a routine; early morning beach walks followed by hours painting landscapes that depicted environmental degradation. On his walks, he often stopped and talked to an old university professor who was making daily measurements of biological conditions.
“Long-term record of the changes,” she said, “is the only way to prove we’re seeing environmental degradation.”
He smiled, but said nothing as he watched her process her samples. Over the following months, he often helped with her sampling efforts. As the old biologist became frailer, he did more of the work. When she became too frail to walk to the beach, he began collecting the samples, making the measurements, and submitting the results to the university.
For years, no one acknowledged his efforts, but he kept submitting his results. Then a new professor discovered the fifty-year-long dataset. She invited him to the climate change symposium she organized.
He arrived, hoping they’d offer him a few minutes to discuss digital photos of his paintings. They were his record of the environmental deterioration he’d observed over thirty years as a landscape artist.
They offered him much more. During the lunch they put on for all participants, the university president stood and praised his efforts. He conferred an honorary degree on our artist. In the afternoon, they offered him an hour to describe his work.
One student summed it up beautifully. “Wow! One picture is definitely worth a thousand data points.”