Bronshtein, an award-winning data journalist, thinks decentralized technologies may one day revolutionize everything from medical records to journalism.
Talia Bronshtein has always had an affinity for numbers. The economist-turned-journalist can remember competing in math competitions in her home country of Russia as a teenager. A first-place finish in the Regional Russian Olympiad of Kursk won her an exemption from university admission exams and paved her way to college. There, she channeled her passion for statistics and mathematical modeling toward economics. She later earned a PhD in economics, began teaching, and — at 28 years of age — became the youngest female university department chair in Central Russia.
Ten years ago, however, her career path took a turn. She came to the U.S. as a Fulbright Scholar and conducted postdoctoral research at the Brandeis International Business School. From there, she joined an international consulting company, researching emerging markets in former Soviet republics. Bronshtein excelled at analyzing and visualizing data for colleagues, students, and clients alike. Mining through hefty sets of data was not a chore but a thrill. “I found that there was so much data available — reliable data — compared to the former USSR countries, where it is either not available or cannot be trusted,” she says. “Here, I was blown away that I could get my hands on almost any dataset and dig into it without worrying about being prosecuted.”
Bronshtein embraced data journalism and ended up as an interactives editor at STAT, a Boston-based media company covering stories about health, medicine, and scientific discovery. She’s produced striking data visualizations, ranging from a team-by-team look at concussions in the NFL to an interactive map showing the global spread of Zika virus over time. She was featured in the anthology Best American Infographics 2016 for her visualization of 200 years of immigration to the U.S. And she contributed to an investigation into clinical trial reporting failures that was cited by Vice President Joe Biden.
Bronshtein’s visualizations give viewers a macroscopic look at trends that might otherwise remain hidden in databases of seemingly endless figures and numbers — and they provide enough quantitative detail to satiate the most curious of readers. She believes that data visualizations have the power to illuminate almost any subject and transcend cultural and language barriers to reach an international audience.
Now, as a Knight Science Journalism fellow at MIT, Bronshtein is studying the emerging yet underreported subject of decentralized technologies, which she thinks may one day revolutionize everything from medical records and financial systems to journalism. “I want to educate the general public about the mathematical and technical side of these innovations. It’s not just about Bitcoin or cryptocurrencies — I want to cut through the existing hype and focus on groundbreaking work that has the greatest potential to change society.”
This is the seventh in a series of profiles of the 2018-19 Knight Science Journalism fellows, written by students in MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing.