Before he reimagined our planet as a giant information-storage device for the August 2015 issue, César A. Hidalgo, associate professor at the M.I.T. Media Lab, wrote for Scientific American about big data—what it can do and why its critics are wrong. Last April, in an essay published in SA’s Forum, Hidalgo argued that “it has become fashionable to bad-mouth big data,” but that “most of the recent criticism…has been weak and misguided. Naysayers have been attacking straw men, focusing on worst practices, post hoc failures and secondary sources.” In doing so, these critics “ignore areas where big data has made substantial progress, such as data-rich Web sites, information visualization and machine learning.” Read his entire argument here.

A few weeks before that he demonstrated a new generation of tools for understanding big data in “The Data-Visualization Revolution.” “We would argue that our ability to understand and visualize large sets of data is entering a similar stage of evolution as 17th-century astronomy,” he wrote. “As Galileo did centuries ago, we now have primitive versions of tools that have the potential to become powerful ones. These tools allow us to explore the fluid landscape of bits, instead of the rigidity of atoms, giving rise to a new medium that is helping us comprehend the complex while simultaneously providing a new means of artistic expression.” For the rest of his essay—and interactive examples of big-data “telescopes”—see the entire post below.