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The Answers Issue Time Magazine
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The Old Answer to Humanity’s Newest Problem: Data
Inside TIME’s Answers issue

This Is the Best Beach in the U.S.

U.S. Coastlines receive some 62 million visitors annually

This Is the Safest Place to Sit on a Plane

Where you should sit next time you get onboard

This Is the Best Job in America

Finding a growing career path is one thing, but finding one that won’t stress you out is another

Why Europe Can’t Leave Greece Adrift

Even though the country got itself into its huge debt mess

How a 25-Year-Old Blogger Took Down Apple

What Should I Order at Fast-Food Chains?

Some surprisingly healthy choices that aren’t salad

Do You Vote Your Lifestyle?

Only you can really know for sure. But let this folding quiz help you get closer to the answer

If President Obama Can Say It, You Can Too

The commander in chief sparked a debate with his vocabulary

The Most Exceptional Capitalist: Warren Buffett

The 84-year-old investor keeps a low profile but is on the highest pedestal in the business world

My Very Own ‘She Shed’

I’ll take a little more vodka and a little less gingerbread trim

What U.S. States Are Not Known For

Most states have at least one major claim to fame. Here’s a closer look at some lesser-known local superlatives

The Most Exceptional Actor: Meryl Streep

Known for expertly tackling diverse and difficult roles, the 66-year-old still sets the performance bar in Hollywood

The Most Exceptional Writer: Toni Morrison

She received the nobel prize in 1993 and is now the only living American nobel laureate for literature

Summer’s Best Cookbooks

This season’s offerings bring tasty treats

How to Win Jeopardy

You have to study. But since confirmed contestants typically get only four to five weeks to cram before competing, you can’t study everything. start here

The History of Human Innovation

Translated into the world’s newest language

3-D-Printed Bridge

Dutch firm MX3D recently partnered with software giant Autodesk to build a machine that can “print” bridges in midair. Its first test will be over an Amsterdam canal in 2017. Here’s how it will work.

The Art of Turning Data Into Answers

Which Team Has the Best Home-Field Advantage?

The team is perfectly average on the road but has a killer record at home. Here are the factors that help give home teams an edge

What’s Your Ultimate Summer Read?

Use your mood, your personal interests and your favorite recent reads to find the perfect book for this season

Am I Hurting the Planet?

Probably, if you look at the surprising carbon footprint of routine daily activities

Mapping a Nation of Books

Transport yourself across the country with 7 location-based yarns

How Much Competitive Eaters Really Eat

Since 1916, competitive eaters have gorged themselves for Nathan’s annual hot dog contest. Here are some other binge-eating contests and records

Are We Alone in the Universe?

Three public figures weigh in

Girls Can Tackle Football, Too

Let girls in the end zone to ensure equality

Is World Peace Possible?

Three public figures weigh in

What’s the Most Effective Workout?

All exercise is good for you. Use this chart to decide which type is best for your fitness needs

Debating the Confederate Flag

Sorrow, symbols and the meaning of a battle flag once the war is past

What Could America’s $18 Trillion Debt Buy?

A lot. All together, these blocks of expenses are just about equal to $18.2 trillion

Harper Lee’s Second Success

Her new novel, out July 14, is already a hit

What’s the World’s Deadliest Creature?

Sorry Sharks, mosquitoes have you beat. Here are totals ranked by number of human deaths per year

How Does Art Work?

Three public figures weigh In

The Most Exceptional Optimist: the Dalai Lama

The international icon of peace emerged from the humblest of origins

Why Don’t We Have a Cure for the Common Cold?

Even though the common cold is the primary reason American adults miss work and kids miss school, there’s still no cure. Here’s why

Who Is Exceptional?

Who Should Be on the $10 Bill?

Verbatim

III. Questions We Should Be Asking

GOP Candidates Woo Latinos

The 2016 contenders take a ‘Sí se puede’ approach

James Salter
Novelist

Questions We Didn’t Know We Had

Milestones

Brian Williams’ Demotion Sends a Mixed Message

He’s not credible enough to anchor one NBC network, but he’s fine for another?

What Are My Health Risk Factors?

Most people live past age 65, at which point the top cause of death is heart disease, followed by cancer, according to a tally of all 2.6 million deaths in the U.S. in 2013

Why Did ‘Frenemy’ Stick?

Academics are unraveling the mystery behind the success–and failure–of blended words

Pot Has Become Easier to Study

Not a moment too soon

Energy Drinks Have Doctors Worried

But business is booming

Where Are the Single Ladies?

And the fellas? They’re mostly in city centers across the country–with some notable exceptions. Here’s a closer look

What You Said About …

What Should Hollywood Remake Next?

The average remake comes out 26 years after the original. These 10 Movies are ripe for remaking, but are they a good bet?

The Most Exceptional Musician: Midori Goto

She has sold out music halls since the age of 11. Now 43, she is focused on music education and philanthropy

The Most Exceptional Athlete: Serena Williams

Williams, 33, has trained since the age of 3 and is the no. 1 women’s tennis player in the world

How to Make Binge Watching Better for You

Hulu just added all nine seasons of Seinfeld, meaning its fans will likely be spending a lot of time sitting (and eating) in front of a TV or computer screen–which, for obvious health reasons, is less than ideal.

Jordan Spieth, the U.S. Open

What Makes a Song The Song of the Summer?

There’s no easy formula, but commercial success, viral potential and a long lead time help make memorable hits for the hotter months

When Parents Publicly Shame Their Kids

A strange new sensation has hit the Internet

What Ever Happened to Spring?

It’s getting shorter in some areas and longer in others. Here’s where Spring has been hit hardest

Questions We Didn’t Know Had Answers

India’s Publicist in Chief

Meet the New Lab-Made Foods

Get ready for pink pineapples

Three New Books Tackle American Presidents

The forces that drove three historic men

Besieged 
By ISIS

Syrian government troops hold out against the militant group in the city of Deir ez-Zor

What Defines Us

The ways that we learn, heal and even worship are evolving

How to Do Well When You Do Good

Two new books tackle altruism

TIME The Answers Issue

This Is the Safest Place to Sit on a Plane

Where you should sit next time you get onboard

Statistics show that the middle seats in the rear of an aircraft historically have the highest survival rates.

This is based on a study of aircraft accidents in the last 35 years. TIME went through the Federal Aviation Administration’s CSRTG Aircraft Accident Database looking for accidents with both fatalities and survivors. We found 17 with seating charts that could be analyzed. The oldest accident that fit our criteria was in 1985; the most recent was in 2000.

The analysis found that the seats in the back third of the aircraft had a 32% fatality rate, compared with 39% in the middle third and 38% in the front third.

Looking at row position, we found that the middle seats in the rear of the aircraft had the best outcomes (28% fatality rate). The worst-faring seats were on the aisle in the middle third of the cabin (44% fatality rate).

After a crash, survivors who are near an exit are more likely to get out alive, according to a study published in 2008 from the University of Greenwich which looked at emergency exit usage after an accident.

Of course, the chances of dying in an aircraft accident have less to do with where you sit and more to do with the circumstances surrounding the crash. If the tail of the aircraft takes the brunt of the impact, the middle or front passengers may fare better than those in the rear. We found that survival was random in several accidents — those who perished were scattered irregularly between survivors. It’s for this reason that the FAA and other airline safety experts say there is no safest seat on the plane.

But one thing is certain: Flying is very safe, and it’s only gotten safer in recent decades. This is especially true compared with other means of transportation. The lifetime odds of perishing in a car are 1 in 112. As a pedestrian, the odds are 1 in 700 and on a motorbike, they’re 1 in 900. But on a plane? The odds of dying drop to just 1 in 8,000.

This article was originally published in the July 13 issue of TIME.

TIME

The Old Answer to Humanity’s Newest Problem: Data

Inside TIME’s Answers issue

William playfair was born in 1759, the restless fourth son of a Scottish minister. As a young man he worked as personal assistant to the celebrated engineer James Watt–for whom the unit of power is named–then went on to pursue numerous professions, with widely varying degrees of success, among them draftsmanship, accounting, engineering, economics, silversmithing, land speculation, journalism and extortion. He died in poverty.

But along the way, and without much fanfare, he more or less single-handedly founded the field of statistical graphics by inventing the bar chart, line graph and pie chart. In 1786 Playfair published a book titled The Commercial and Political Atlas: Representing, by Means of Stained Copper-Plate Charts, the Progress of the Commerce, Revenues, Expenditure and Debts of England During the Whole of the Eighteenth Century. It leads off with a graph of England’s imports and exports, over time, in millions of pounds, which would not look wildly out of place in the pages of this magazine. Playfair was, in his own words, “the first who applied the principles of geometry to matters of Finance.”

He was born too soon: if he were alive now, Playfair would probably be living high on the hog as chief data officer at a hot Silicon Valley startup. He was among the first to react to an invisible but seismic shift in the world around us, a silent tipping over, from a state of information scarcity to one of information surplus. When humans first evolved, food was scarce; now we’re suffering from an epidemic of obesity. In much the same way, we’ve gone from a world where information was hard to find to one where it’s everywhere, in staggering quantities. Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, once estimated that every two days humanity creates a quantity of data equivalent to the entire amount created from the dawn of time up until 2003. And he said that five years ago. Cognitively, we’re not evolved to handle this.

Estimating the total size of humanity’s data hoard, on which we luxuriate like the dragon Smaug on his gold, is a popular hobby among technologists. The exact numbers vary, but what they have in common is that they’re numbingly large. Just think about your smartphone: it’s a communications device, yes, but it’s also a tool for transmuting the world around you into data. You see something, you take a photo or video of it, then you upload it into the cloud, and it lives there forever as bits and bytes. Every day humanity tweets 500 million times, shares 70 million photos on Instagram and watches 4 billion videos on Facebook. For every minute that passes, we upload 300 hours of new content to YouTube.

And it’s not just people. There’s a relatively new phenomenon at work known as the Internet of Things, meaning the global network of objects–cars, Coke machines, glasses, pacemakers–outfitted with sensors and transmitters that communicate with the cloud and one another. These objects leave trails in the digital world the same way people do. A 2014 study by the market-research firm IDC estimated that the world of digital data would grow by a factor of 10 from 2013 to 2020, to 44 trillion gigabytes, or 44 zettabytes. At which point our stock of numerical prefixes will have to expand too.

We’re rich in data–but the returns are diminishing rapidly, because after a certain point the more information you have, the harder it becomes to extract meaning from it. Ironically, an excess of information resists analysis and comprehension in much the same way a lack of it does. As a result, the more that new technology floods our world with complex information, the more we end up calling on a much older field of human endeavor, one that has always been devoted to making complexity comprehensible and extracting meaning from chaos, namely, art. Particularly the visual arts.

As Playfair discovered, past a certain threshold the best way to extract meaning from data is to make it visible. Consider all the photos on Instagram. Last year CUNY professor Lev Manovich conducted a visual analysis of 120,000 of them drawn from five cities: New York, São Paulo, Berlin, Bangkok and Moscow. He and his team culled all the selfies from the group, then estimated the age and gender of the person in each selfie. Then they ran facial-analysis algorithms on the images and performed statistical analysis on all those data and plotted them on a collection of interactive graphs at selfiecity.net.

The result: those meaningless data now mean something. You can browse by city, gender, mood, head tilt, glasses or no glasses, eyes open or shut. You can ask questions: Who takes more selfies, men or women? (Women.) Where do people smile the most? (Bangkok.) Where are older people taking selfies? (New York.) And so on.

If you think of data visualization as the flood wall that stands between us and the vast ocean of information, the pressure behind that wall is always rising as more and more data accumulate, and as it rises it changes the way visualizations look and act in ways not even Playfair anticipated. Visualizations are evolving from the analysis and representation of static data sets to ever changing images of data that arrive constantly, in real time. At the website Bostonography you can look down from a godlike height and see a map showing the locations of all of Boston’s buses, color-coded according to their current speed. Crimemapping.com shows the locations of crimes as they’re reported, in real time, represented by different jolly icons depending on the nature of the crime. At fbomb.co you can watch a real-time global map of where, when and how people are saying “f-ck” on Twitter. It’s surprisingly relaxing.

For a beautiful, gratuitous demonstration of the sheer richness of the data that now lie under every rock, look up a visualization called NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life. A hacker named Chris Whong took 50 GB of New York City taxi data–obtained under the Freedom of Information Law from the taxi and limousine commission–and used it to map the movements and earnings of random taxis on a single day in 2013. Choose one: you can watch it in speeded-up time (or in real time, if you have that much of it) as it threads its way through Manhattan streets, leaving a cobalt blue line behind it like a benevolent, hardworking Pac-Man.

They’re not all as frivolous as that. One project launched on April 30 on Kickstarter will pull campaign-finance data from OpenSecrets and automatically graph it multiple ways to show simply and clearly which politicians are getting what money and from whom. It’s the necessary next step beyond transparency: not just releasing information but releasing the meaning of that information. One of the most striking and radical experiments in data graphics this year, by a documentarian and data expert named Neil Halloran, is called simply “The Fallen of World War II.” It uses charts and graphs to tell a story: it takes us through the war and the Holocaust using almost exclusively abstract visualizations that represent the many millions of deaths they caused.

There’s a moment about six minutes in when the camera pans dramatically up a towering bar that represents Russian military deaths, 8.7 million of them. At first its height appears grotesquely improbable. Then, as the camera pans back, it slowly, inexorably takes its place in the grim landscape of the vast tragedy. The medium’s dispassionate feel, dry to the touch, somehow makes the losses more stark.

In the pages that follow, you’ll see this same magic trick repeated over and over again: abstract data, inert in themselves, are turned into art, and in that form they make us feel things and tell us things: Where’s the safest place to sit on an airplane? Why did frenemy become a word? Are you hurting the planet? We live in a moment when humanity is being exposed to quantities of data that Playfair would have found incomprehensible. We find them incomprehensible too, and they’re in danger of making our own world incomprehensible to us. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Information doesn’t just want to be free. It wants to be visible too.

Graphics by Priyanka Aribindi, Emily Barone, Sarah Begley, Tessa Berenson, Eliza Berman, Kelly Conniff, Daniel D’Addario, Eliana Dockterman, Allison Duda, Nolan Feeney, Carrie Gee, Martin Gee, Claire Howorth, Dave Johnson, Heather Jones, Chelsea Kardokus, Jacob Koffler, Jack Linshi, Giri Nathan, Mandy Oaklander, Siobhan O’Connor, Katy Osborn, Maya Rhodan, Lily Rothman, Alexandra Sifferlin, Katy Steinmetz, Marie Tobias, Lon Tweeten, Matt Vella, Bryan Walsh, Chris Wilson and Justin Worland


This appears in the July 06, 2015 issue of TIME.
TIME The Answers Issue

In The Latest Issue

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The Answers Issue
For the rest of the Answers Issue, visit time.com/answers.

The Second Age of Reason
Information overload will improve our lives

The Real Ice Bucket Challenge
What’s harder than dumping freezing water on your head? Repeating this kind of success

Detroit: America’s Emerging Market
How the city can teach us to reinvest the rest of the U.S. economy

A Battle of Two Veterans
In an edgy political year, a former Marine tests a longtime Democratic pol for a seat near Boston

Obama Goes to War (With Congress)
The President began bombing ISIS on his own, but only Congress can start a war

Scotland’s Disunited Kingdom
Voters face a referendum on independence from Britain

Apps Charging for Free Services Get Savvy—and Sleazy
Booking a reservation or finding a parking spot just got a whole lot easier and more expensive

Ferguson’s Next Chapter
Can a town turn a tragic moment into a lasting movement?

Tablets for Tots
Meet the uber-tablet made specially for kids and families

Stand Up for Your Health
All-day sitting hurts the body. Here’s a novel way to undo the damage

Patton Oswalt: Why I Quit Twitter—And Will Again
Maybe the next fashionable rebellion is to become “unlinked”—only reachable face-to-face

Wall Street Goes Green
Why is solar booming? Finance

Banker Who Predicted 2008 Meltdown Is Worried Again
Raghuram Rajan is seeing troubling sings

Spinning Classes: Coming Soon to a Living Room Near You
How Peloton makes it easy—and fun—to cycle at home

Jessica Chastain’s Triple Play
One of the year’s buzzier films is being released in three different versions

In Transparent, a Breasted Development
Jeffrey Tambor explores a radical new phase of life— and the series itself breaks away from TV tradition

XKCD: When Physics Is Funny
The man behind the web’s smartest comics takes his science project where it’s never been before: paper

The Kids are Alright in This Is Our Youth
Michael Cera isn’t the only stage rookie in the new Broadway play

Henri Matisse Cuts Loose
In old age, French master made some of his most vibrant work, the cut-paper collages coming to Manhattan

Maroon 5 Falls Off the Bandwagon
The group hasn’t been a rock outfit for many years—and that’s just fine with Adam Levine

Life Lessons From One of the World’s Oldest Men
Charlie White, who died at 109, was able to separate the things he could control from the things that he could not

Quake Alert
In California, a brief heads-up

Milestones

Richard Attenborough
Actor and director

Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol
American Ebola patients

All’s Fair in Love and …

World

Briefing

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