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Samizdata quote of the day

“Power corrupts. Powerpoint corrupts absolutely.”

Edward R. Tufte, professor emeritus of political science, computer science and statistics, and graphic design at Yale

22 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • permanent expat

    Is he implying that a picture is NOT worth a thousand words?

  • permanent expat

    ……………..or rather that everyone would be better off getting a bullet?

  • Nick M

    A picture might be worth a thousand words, but a bullet-point is worth bugger all.

  • Nick M

    permanent expat, You got in before me. Samizdata is running slow tonight…

  • Freeman

    From this and the previous topic one might presume Tesco to believe that: “Firepower corrupts and absolute firepower corrupts absolutely.”

  • Mike Lorrey

    Having been the victim of many a powerpoint presentation, IMHO, the platitude only applies to those who create PPPs as some form of high-tech 3″x5″ speech notes. The audience is incapable of being reminded by a bullet list of a speech they’ve never written. I have, however, seen some PPPs which were both fact dense and highly communicative, so I’d have to conclude that PowerPoint is an application that makes its user neither less mediocre, more intelligent, nor more eloquent. You get out of it what you put into it.

  • Julian Taylor

    There are 2 very good alternatives though, OpenOffice’s Impress and Macromedia Flash 8, which even gives you the opportunity to render the presentation as a Flash movie and is a lot easier to use than Powerpoint.

  • Stevely

    It’s not Powerpoint per se, but presentation software itself that is the culprit. It’s just that PP is by far the most widely used these days, so it gets the mention… where I work the plague began with Harvard Graphics in the early 90s, which was eventually replaced with PP once MS got into the act.

    By the way expat, Tufte would be the last to say categorically that a picture is not worth a thousand words. One of my colleagues has a graphic hanging on his wall produced by a staff officer of Napoleon that shows the casualties incurred during Napoleon’s march to Moscow by the French army, displayed as a function of time, location and temperature. It’s really brilliant. The picture includes a comment by Prof. Tufte praising it as the best statistical graphic ever drawn.

    Link here at Tufte’s own site –

  • veryretired

    There is an enormous traveling circus of consultants and trainers who circle the country like Ringling Bros. doing presentations, seminars, and sensitivity encounters.

    Almost everything they do seems to revolve around endless powerpoint sessions, relentlessly leading captive audiences to a pre-determined conclusions, thus accomplishing their lofty objectives, which mostly appear to be to look good enough to collect their check and move on to the next group of victims.

    Having been required over the years to attend any number of these boring dance marathons, my fondist wish is to one day have a chance to insert one of these charletans’ laptops into their appropriate back passage.

  • rosignol

    Having been required over the years to attend any number of these boring dance marathons, my fondist wish is to one day have a chance to insert one of these charletans’ laptops into their appropriate back passage.


    At (job)-2 we referred to those meetings as “Death by PowerPoint”.

    Being in the IT dep’t meant I had company-issued pager and was required to respond when it went off…. which occasionally happened during those meetings.

  • I have experienced many a death – they do not change the presenter, it only makes them more so.

    So many corporate types think that strutting their stuff with a PPT is actual ‘work’ and all the rest of the effort (by others) is merely routine tieing up of the loose ends. New Labour is a typical example of the PPT mentality – present a new initiative, strutt in the limelight and then it will somehow happen.

  • Chris Harper

    It all started with Dan Bricklins Demo. There is your culprit, all else is derivative.

  • mike

    Nick M: permanent expat may have got in before you, but your comment was far funnier following his second than it would have been had it followed his first…

    “…everyone would be better off getting a bullet?”

    “A picture might be worth a thousand words, but a bullet-point is worth bugger all.”

    How I larfed!!!

  • hm

    IIRC Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute coined this (or a very similar) term.

  • “…we referred to those meetings as ‘Death by PowerPoint’.”

    “MEETINGS — None Of Us Is As Dumb As All Of Us

    (Despair, Inc.)

  • dearieme

    Powerpoint is pretty good for movies. Otherwise, as someone – perhaps Tufte – said, it raises the floor but lowers the ceiling.

  • Julian Taylor

    Powerpoint is pretty good for movies.

    Err. no it’s not. In fact its is quite without remit as being the very worse possible application you might want to use for movie playback.

  • My rule for PowerPoint:
    *Only have the major points and picutres up there.
    *Print off a copy of the slides with your notes

  • dunderheid

    I read a very interesting article a while ago basically blaming Powerpoint for the mess the Americans got into Iraq after the war. In essence it said generals given a brief to plan for an outcome used powerpoint to present that plan and lost their ability to think creatively beyond this presentation because PP had so led them by the nose to where they wanted to go.

  • Nick M

    For the want of a bullet-point the slide was lost.
    For the want of a slide the presentation was lost.
    For the want of a presentation the plan was lost.
    For the want of a plan the battle was lost.
    For the want of a battle Iraq was lost.
    And all for the want of a bullet-point.

    dunderheid – could you cite a URL?

  • llamas

    As engineering designers/developers, we avoid Powerpoint & similar like the plague, for the exact reasons noted – it has a strong tendency to pre-judge outcomes, stifles choice and creative thinking and is often a tool used (knowingly or otherwise) by its creators to impose their particular preferences.

    I won’t have it in any design/development setting. Whiteboards and electronic free-form sketch/modelling tools only. Powerpoint and similar are extraordinarily bad at laying out choices and trade-off decisions. They are very good, however, for reporting past activities.



  • veryretired

    I was at a “white guilt” seminar many years ago when “sensitivity training” was just getting started.

    The presenter was leading us through the steps toward the desired conclusion with the use of an overhead projector until he got to the point where we were supposed to express our reactions, i.e., acknowledge our remorse and guilt if we were hetero white males or jump in with a personal story of victimization if one were a none of the above.

    When it was my turn, I simply said I didn’t agree with the premise of the exercise that racial or gender guilt could be inherited like Original Sin, which I also never agreed with, and so I had nothing to say about the rest of it.

    The presenter was a bit non-plussed, but accepted that I didn’t want a big argument, so he moved on.

    Later, during a break, he approached me and said he was grateful that I hadn’t wanted to argue, since it happened often, was mostly unproductive, and messed up the timetable.

    My response was that it was inappropriate to deal with fundamental questions in a seminar setting, I knew how much the others would resent anything that wasted time and delayed our being done with the whole exercise, and, finally, what difference would it make?

    This has nothing to do with powerpoint, except that, if that seminar were given today, and some variation of it is probably being endured somewhere even as I write this, it would be done with powerpoint.

    No clearer proof of the evils of that format need be given. Anything that facilitates the wasting of so much time by so many people for such nefarious purposes is the spawn of satan, indeed, is probably foretold in Revelations or Nostrodamus or something.

    And if powerpoint and re-education seminars are not predicted as signs of the end of days or by cryptic quatrains, what good are these latter anyway?

    Hitler and the Anti-Christ, indeed. They’re nothing compared to a seminar moderator and or an encounter group trainer. Now, that’s evil incarnate!