The Rent Is Too Bloody High

This is a graphic from the Guardian that sort of mystified me at first. The article it supports details how the rising rents across England are hurting the rural youth so much so they elect to stay in their small towns instead of moving to the big city.

But all those segments?
But all those segments?

The first thing I noticed is that there really is no description of the data. We have a chart looking at something from 1997 and comparing it to 2018. The title is more of a sentence describing the first pair of bars. And from that title we can infer that these bars are income changes for the specified move, e.g. Sunderland to York, for the specified year. But a casual reader might not pick up on that casual description.

Then we have the issue of the bars themselves. What sort of range are we looking at? What is the min? The max? That too is implied by the data presented in the bars. Well, technically not the bars, but in the numbers at the end of each bar. I will spare you the usual rant about numbers in graphics defeating the purpose of graphics and organisation vs. visual relationship. Instead, the numbers here are essential because we can use them to suss out the scale of the grey bars. After looking at a few bars, we can tell that the white lines separating the grey boxes are most likely 10% increments. And from that we can gather the minimum is about -40% and the maximum 100%. But instead of making the reader work to figure this out, would not some min/max labels at the bottom of the chart be far clearer?

And then there is the issue of the grey boxes/bars themselves. Why are they there in the first place? If the dataset were more about an unmet value, say reservoirs in towns were only at x% of capacity, the grey bars could relate the overall capacity and the coloured bars the actual values. But here, income is not a capacity or similar type of value. It could expand well beyond the 100% or decline beyond the -40%. These bars imply the values are trapped within these ranges. I would instead drop the grey bars entirely and let the coloured bars exist on their own.

Overall this is a confusing graphic for a fascinating article. I wish the graphic had been a little bit clearer.

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian’s graphics department.

Regional Power Plays

One of the things we missed covering last week whilst I was on holiday? The dust up in the Gulf of Oman, located near the Strait of Hormuz, where two foreign ships were attacked by mines or other explosive devices. The United States blames Iran and, of course, Iran denies it. The thing is, an inordinate amount of oil flows through the Strait, connecting the petroleum-driven economies of the West to the instability in the Middle East. Thankfully we have a graphic from the Guardian to explain just what is going on there.

Not shown: the US, the EU, China, and Russia
Not shown: the US, the EU, China, and Russia

The above is a screenshot from the article, one of several graphics. There is a stacked bar chart showing the total volume of oil in transit, and the Strait’s share of it. Spoiler: it’s significant. We all know how I feel about stacked bars: not the biggest fan.

There are, of course, locator maps showing the locations of the attacked ships. We also have some photographs showing the damage inflicted upon the tankers, as well as some evidence of what the US claims is Iranian activities. (Side note: isn’t it great that when the US really wants the world to trust its intelligence agencies the White House has been doing nothing but trashing said intelligence agencies?)

The above, however, is a simple map showing the political fault line in the Middle East. It gets to the heart of the potential conflict here being not a US vs. Iran war, but a Saudi Arabia vs. Iran war. After all, relations between the Saudis and the Trumps have warmed significantly since the Obama administration. And not shown in the map is the role of Israel, which, again has seen a significant warming in relations between Trump and Netanyahu, and which has also been quietly supporting Saudi Arabia in its undeclared war against Iran, to date fought only with proxies, most notably in Yemen.

In other words, the Middle East is a complicated and complex tinder box, built next to a few nuclear reactors, all of which just happen to sit atop vast reserves of oil and natural gas. So the best thing to do? Clearly start exploding things.

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Bar Chart Bombshells

Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, the New York Times broke the story that they had some of President Trump’s tax return information. For decades now, US presidents and candidates for that office have released their tax returns for the public to inspect. Trump has refused, often claiming that they are under audit from the IRS and then adding, and falsely claiming, they cannot be released whilst under audit. Consequently, when the Times publishes an article at the secret world of Trump’s finances, it’s a big news thing.

Unfortunately, the Times only had access to what are essentially summary transcripts of the returns. And only for a period in the mid-1980s through mid-1990s. So we cannot get the granular data and make deeper insights. But what we did get was turned into this bold graphic in the middle of the article.

That's a whole lotta red. And not the good kind for a Republican.
That’s a whole lotta red. And not the good kind for a Republican.

Conceptually, there is not much to say. The bar charts are a solid choice to represent this kind of data. Red makes sense given the connotation of “being in the red”. And the annotations providing quotes from Trump about his finances for the years highlighted provide excellent context.

What the screenshot does not truly capture, however, is the massiveness of the chart in the context of the rest of the article. It’s big, bold, and red. That design choice instead of, say, making it a smaller sidebar-like graphic, goes a long way in hitting home the sheer magnitude of these business losses.

Sometimes it’s not always fancy and shiny charts that garner the most attention. Sometimes an old staple can do wonders.

Credit for the piece goes to Rich Harris and Andrew Rossback.

Angela from Jamestown

Today we move from royalty to slavery. Earlier this week the Washington Post published an article about an African woman (girl?) named Angela. She was forcibly removed from West Africa to Luanda in present-day Angola. From there she was crammed into a slave ship and sent towards Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. Before she arrived, however, her ship was intercepted by English pirates that took her and several others as their spoils to sell to English colonists.

The article is a fascinating read and for our purposes it makes use of two graphics. The one is a bar chart plotting the Atlantic slave trade. It makes use of annotations to provide a rich context for the peaks and valleys—importantly it includes not just the British colonies, but Spanish and Portuguese as well.

My favourite, however, is the Sankey diagram that shows the trade in 1619 specifically, i.e. the year Angela was transported across the Atlantic.

Too many people took similar routes to the New World.
Too many people took similar routes to the New World.

It takes the total number of people leaving Luanda and then breaks those flows into different paths based on their geographic destinations. The width of those lines or flows represents the volume, in this case people being sold into slavery. That Angela made it to Jamestown is surprising. After all, most of her peers were being sent to Vera Cruz.

But the year 1619 is important. Because 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the first slaves being brought into Jamestown and the Virginia colony. The Pilgrims that found Plymouth Bay Colony will not land on Cape Cod until 1620, a year later. The enslavement of people like Angela was built into the foundation of the American colonies.

The article points out how work is being done to try and find Angela’s remains. If that happens, researchers can learn much more about her. And that leads one researcher to make this powerful statement.

We will know more about this person, and we can reclaim her humanity.

For the record, I don’t necessarily love the textured background in the graphics. But I understand the aesthetic direction the designers chose and it does make sense. I do like, however, how they do not overly distract from the underlying data and the narrative they present.

Credit for the piece goes to Lauren Tierney and Armand Emamdjomeh.

Redaction Action

Last week, the Department of Justice released the Mueller Report. It was—and still is—sort of a big deal. But this week I want to take a look at a few different approaches to covering the report in the media. We will start with a piece from Vox on the redactions in the report. After all, we only know what we know. And we know there is about 7% of the report we do not know. And we do not know what we do not know.

7% is still a fair amount of black when it's concentrated in one section.
7% is still a fair amount of black when it’s concentrated in one section.

The above graphic looks at overall redactions as images of each page show how much was withheld from the public. Then we have a small donut chart to show that 7.25% was redacted. Did it need to be a donut? No. A simple factette could have worked in its place. It could be worse, though, it could be a similarly sized pie chart.

The rest of the article moves on to a more detailed analysis of the redactions, by section, type, &c. And this screenshot is one of the more interesting ones.

Different coloured sharpies
Different coloured sharpies

Fundamentally we have stacked bars here, with each section’s redactions per page broken down by type. And that is, on the one hand, useful. Of course, I would love to see this data separated out. That is, show me just “investigative technique” and filter out the rest. Imagine if instead of this one chart we had four slightly smaller ones limited to each type of redaction. Or, if we kept this big one and made four smaller ones showing the redaction types.

Overall the article does a really nice job of showing us just what we don’t know. Unfortunately, we ultimately just don’t know what we don’t know.

Credit for the piece goes to Alvin Chang and Javier Zarracina.

The US Flies Alone

On Sunday, a Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft crashed shortly after taking off from the airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This was the second crash in less than a year, since the another 737 Max 8 crashed into the sea shortly after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia. And in the intervening months, there have been numerous reports to American regulators from pilots of problems with aircraft in flight. Unsurprisingly, international regulators have begun to take steps to protect their skies and their passengers from what might be an unsafe aircraft. American regulators, the Federal Aviation Administration, remains unconvinced.

Consequently, the New York Times put together a graphics-driven article that details just how extensive the global grounding of 737 Max 8 aircraft has been in the last 24 hours.

There's a lot more orange than blue.
There’s a lot more orange than blue.

It’s a route map to headline the article. And it shows that almost all aircraft on 737 Max 8 routes, except for those in Canada and the United States, have been grounded.

The rest of the article makes use of more maps highlighting the countries who civil aviation authorities have grounded flights and popular routes. It also includes a bar chart showing how many 737 Max 8 aircraft are in use with each airline and how many of those airlines have had their fleets grounded.

Overall, it’s a strong article that makes great use of graphics to illustrate its point about the magnitude of the grounding and the isolation of the United States and Canada.

Credit for the piece goes to Denise Lu, Allison McCann, Jin Wu, and K.K. Rebecca Lai.

The Stunted Growth of North Korea

This piece from the BBC is a few years old, but it provides some interesting nuggets about North Korea. Unsurprisingly it appeared on my radar because of the coverage of the Trump–Kim summit in Vietnam. The article says it is nine charts that tell you all you need to know about North Korea. Now, I do not think that is quite true, but it does contain the following graphic—I hesitate to call it a chart—that illustrates one of my favourite details.

It's just a matter of inches
It’s just a matter of inches

The two figures illustrate the average height of a person from North Korea and then South Korea. What do you see? That the North Korean is shorter. This is despite the fact that the populations were the same just a few decades ago. The impact of years of malnutrition, undernourishment, and general lack of well-being have manifested themselves in the physical reduction of size of human beings compared to their nearly identical population to the south.

Thankfully the rest of the piece contains data on things like GDP, birth rates, and life expectancy. So there are some things in there that one should know about North Korea. As much as I find the story of height interesting, I struggle to think it is one of the nine things you should really know about the state.

Credit for the piece goes to Mark Bryson, Gerry Fletcher, and Prina Shah.

Where’s All the Oil Going?

Hint: not China.

Today’s piece is a nice little graphic from the Economist about the oil and natural gas industry in the United States. We have a bar chart that does a great job showing just how precipitous the decline in Chinese purchases of oil and liquid natural gas has been. Why the drop off? That would be the trade war.

Will they take it? For all the tea in China?
Will they take it? For all the tea in China?

The second graphic, on the right, is far more interesting. The data comes from BP, so the proverbial grain of salt, but it compares expected GDP and demand for energy by source from a baseline model of pre-Trumpian trade war policies to a future of “less globalisation”. Shockingly (sarcasm), the world is worse off when global trade is hindered.

You all know where I stand on stacked bar charts. They are better than pie charts, but still not my favourite. If I really want to dig in and look at the change to, say, coal demand, I cannot. I have to mentally remove that yellow-y bit from the bottom of the bar and reposition to the 0 baseline. Or, I could simply have coal as a separate bar next to the other energy sources.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Individualistic Immigrants

As many of you know, genealogy and family history is a topic that interests me greatly. This past weekend I spent quite a bit of time trying to sort through a puzzle—though I am not yet finished. It centred on identifying the correct lineages of a family living in a remote part of western Pennsylvania. The problem is the surname was prevalent if not common—something to be expected if just one family unit has 13 kids—and that the first names given to the children were often the same across family units. Combine that with some less than extensive records, at least those available online, and you are left with a mess. The biggest hiccup was the commonality of the names, however. It’s easier to track a Quinton Smith than a John Smith.

Taking a break from that for a bit yesterday, I was reminded of this piece from the Economist about two weeks ago. It looked at the individualism of the United States and how that might track with names. The article is a fascinating read on how the commonness or lack thereof for Danish names can be used as a proxy to measure the individualism of migrants to the United States in the 19th century. It then compares that to those who remained behind and the commonness of their names.

But where are the Brendans?
But where are the Brendans?

The scatter plot above is what the piece uses to introduce the reader to the narrative. And it is what it is, a solid scatter plot with a line of best fit for a select group of rich countries. But further on in the piece, the designers opted for some interesting dot plots and bar charts to showcase the dataset.

Now I do have some issues with the methodology. Would this hold up for Irish, English, German, or Italian immigrants in the 19th century? What about non-European immigrants? Nonetheless it is a fascinating idea.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Be Like Mike?

Back in 2012 the New York Times ran what is a classic data visualisation piece on Mariano Rivera. It tracked the number of saves the legendary Yankees closer had over his career and showed just how ridiculous that number was—and how quickly he had attained it. Last week, the Washington Post ran a piece that did something very similar about LeBron James, a future basketball legend, and Michael Jordan, definitely a basketball legend.

They might have game.
They might have game.

The key part of the piece is the line chart tracking points scored, screenshot above. It takes the same approach as the Rivera piece, but instead tracks scored points. Unlike the Rivera piece, which was more “dashboard” like in its appearance and function, allowing users to explore a dataset, this is more narratively constructed. The user scrolls through and reads the story the authors want you to read. Thankfully, for those who might be more interested in exploring the dataset, the interactivity remains intact as the user scrolls down the article.

While the main thrust of the piece is the line chart, it does offer a few other bar and line charts to put James’ career into perspective relative to the changing nature of NBA games. The line chart breaking down the composition of James’ scoring on a yearly basis is particularly fascinating.

But, don’t ask me about how he fits into the history of basketball or how he truly compares to Michael Jordan. Basketball isn’t my sport. But this is a great piece overall.

Credit for the piece goes to Armand Emamdjomeh and Ben Golliver.