Germany

Last week Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, visited President Trump in Washington. This post comes from the Economist and, while not specifically about that trip, describes Germany in a few different metrics. Back in the day it would be what I called a country-specific datagraphic. That is, it shows metrics not necessarily connected to each other, but all centred around a country. In theory, the framework can then be used to examine a number of different countries.

The thin red line…
The thin red line…

That sort of works here, except the choropleth is for the Alternative for Germany political party. That only real works as a metric in, you know, Germany.

Overall, I like the piece. The layout works well, but Germany is fortunate in that the geographic shape works here. Try it with Russia and good luck.

First let us dispense with the easy criticism: do we need the box map in the lower right corner to show where in the world Germany is? For Americans, almost certainly yes. But even if you cannot identify where Germany is, I am not certain its location in Europe is terribly important for the data being presented.

But the pie charts. I really wish they had not done that. Despite my well-known hatred of pie charts, they do work in a very few and specific instances. If you want to show a reader 1/4 of something, i.e. a simple fraction, a pie chart works. You could stretch and argue that is the case here: what is the migrant percentage in Bavaria? But the problem is that by having a pie party and throwing pie charts all over the map, the reader will want to compare Bavaria to the Rhineland-Palatinate.

Just try that.

Mentally you have to take out the little red slice from Bavaria and then transpose it to Rhineland-Palatinate. So which slice is larger? Good luck.

Instead, I would have left that little fact out as a separate chart. Basically you need space for 16 lines, presumably ranked, maybe coloured by their location in former East or West Germany, and then set in the graphic. Nudge Germany to the left, and eat up the same portion of Bavaria the box map, cover the Czech Republic, and you can probably fit it.

Or you could place both metrics on a scatter plot and see if there is any correlation. (To the designers’ credit, perhaps they did and found there is none. Although that in and of itself could be a story to tell.)

The point is that I still hate pie charts.

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

Natural Decrease

The New York Times has posted a nice piece with an animated graphic. No, not that piece, I’ll probably cover that next week. This one looks at demographic changes in the United States, specifically in the population change at county levels. A number you arrive at by subtracting deaths from births and excluding migration.

That is a lot of red, especially in the Northeast and Midwest…
That is a lot of red, especially in the Northeast and Midwest…

Basically what we are seeing is a whole lot of red outside the major cities, i.e. the outer suburbs. The article does a nice job of explaining the factors going into the declines and is well worth its quick read.

Credit for the piece goes to Robert Gebeloff.

Russia Tomorrow

In news that surprises absolutely nobody, Russia “re-elected” Vladimir Putin as president for another six-year term. The Economist recently looked at what they termed the Puteens, a generation of Russians born starting in 1999 who have no memory of a Russia pre-Vladimir Putin.

This piece features a set of interactive dot plots that capture survey results on a number of topics that are segmented by age. It attempts to capture the perspective of Puteens on a range of issues from their media diet to foreign policy outlook to civil rights.

The ideas of youth…
The ideas of youth…

The design is largely effective. The Puteen generation sticks out clearly as the bright red to the cool greys. And more importantly, when the dots would overlap they move vertically away from the line so users can clearly see all the dots. And on hover, all the dots of the same age cohort’s interest are highlighted. I think one area of improvement would have been to apply that same logic to the legend to allow the user to scroll through the whole dataset without always having to interact with the chart. But that is a minor bit on an otherwise really nice piece.

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

Gerrymandering Pennsylvania

Here in Pennsylvania this week, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments on the legality of congressional districts drawn by Republicans in 2010. The state is rather evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, e.g. Donald Trump won by less than one percentage point or less than 45,000 votes. But 13 of its 18 congressional districts are represented by Republicans, roughly 72%.

This graphic is from the New York Times Upshot and it opens a piece that explores gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. The graphic presents the map today as well as a nonpartisan map and an “extreme” gerrymander. The thing most noticeable to me was that even with the nonpartisan geography, the Democrats are still below what they might expect for a near 50-50 split. Why? One need only look at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh where, using the Times’ language, the Democrats “waste” votes with enormous margins, leaving the suburban and rural parts of the state open for Republican gains.

Three different ways of drawing Pennsylvania's congressional districts
Three different ways of drawing Pennsylvania’s congressional districts

Credit for the piece goes to Quoctrung Bui and Nate Cohn.

The Middle Income Trap?

Last week I covered a lot of Red Sox data. And your feedback has been fantastic. I think you can look forward to more visualisation of sportsball data. But since this is not a sports blog, let us dive back into some other topics. Like today’s piece on economic growth.

It comes from the Economist and explores the development history of national economies relative to that of the United States. The point of the chart was to illustrate what the researchers determined was the middle income trap, a space in which countries develop and become semi-rich, but then can never quite escape.

It's a trap! (Unless it isn't.)
It’s a trap! (Unless it isn’t.)

The Economist makes the point that the definition of middle income matters. The range is enormous and one statistic says that it could take 48 years to graduate at a healthy rate of economic growth. I wonder is this bit, however, could also have been charted. The show don’t tell mantra works well here for setting up the problem, but a chart or two showing that exact range could have supplemented the text and perhaps made it more digestible.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

How Bad is the Rohingya Crisis?

Pretty bad.

Less than a week after posting about the satellite views showing entire villages razed to the ground, we have a piece from the Economist looking at refugee outflows. And they are worse than the outflow of refugees during the Rwandan genocide back in 1994.

To be clear, they are not saying that nearly a million people have been killed—though there is quite a bit of evidence to say the Burmese security forces are cleansing the state of Rakhine of one of its primary ethnic groups.

That is a lot of people fleeing Burma
That is a lot of people fleeing Burma

But when it comes to the chart, I am not quite sure what I feel about it. It uses both the x and y axis to show the impact of the refugee outflow. But the problem is that we are generally rubbish at comparing areas. Compounding that, we have the total number of refugees represented by circles, another notorious way of displaying areas. (Often people will confuse the circle’s area with its radius or diameter and get the scale wrong.)

I wonder, would a more straight forward display that broke the dataset into two charts would be clearer? What if the designers had kept the Marimekko-like outflow display, but represented each crisis and its total outflow as a straight bar chart to the right of the timeline? (I do think the timeline is particularly good context, especially since it highlights the earlier persecution of the Rohingya.)

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist’s Data Team.

Philly Falls from Fifth

Well it finally happened. While the Great Recession spared Philadelphia for several years, Phoenix has finally moved up into the rank of fifth-largest city in the United States.

There are some notable differences that this graphic captures. The big one is that Philly is relatively small at 135 square miles. Phoenix is half the size of Rhode Island. What the graphic does not capture, however, is that Philly is still growing, albeit more slowly than southern and western cities. Because also in the news is the fact that Chicago has shrunk and lost people. Personally I count as a -1 for Chicago and a +1 for Philly.

Comparing size and population
Comparing size and population

Credit for the piece goes to the Philly.com graphics department.

Life Expectancy in the US and All Its States

Happy Monday, all.

If this week’s news cycle cooperates, I am going to try and catch up on some things I have seen over the last several weeks that got bumped because of, well, Trump usually. Today we start with a piece on life expectancy from FiveThirtyEight.

The piece begins with a standard choropleth to identify, at county levels, pockets of higher mortality. But what I really like is this small multiples map of the United States. It shows the changes in life expectancy for all 50 states. And the use of colour quickly shows, for those states drastically different than the national average, are they above or below said average.

Look at all the little boxes
Look at all the little boxes

Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.

The Disappearing Urban Middle Class

Today we look at income in American cities and in particular the middle class disappearance. The Guardian published the graphics, but they originate with Metrocosm, LTDB at Brown, and IPUMS National Historical Geographic Information System. So what are we looking at? Well, the big one is a set of small multiples of cities and their income breakdowns as percentages of city census tracts. This screenshot is static, but the original is an animated .gif.

The flattening of the curve
The flattening of the curve

I have a few issues with the design of the graphic, the most important of which is the colour palette. If the goal is to focus on the decline of the middle class—and I admit that may be the point of the Guardian’s authors and not the original authors—why are the most visually striking colours at the top of the income distribution. Instead, you would want to draw attention to the middle of each chart, not the right. And if the idea was that the darker colours represent the higher income groups, well the positioning of each bar on the chart and the axis labelling does that already. After all, if anything, the story is that in a number of cities the middle class has shrunk while the lower income groups have grown. And you can barely see that with the lower income groups coloured yellow.

My other issues are more minor design things such as the city labelling. I kept reading the label as being below the bars, not above as it actually is.

And then I wonder if a different chart form would be more effective at showing the decline in the middle class. Perhaps a line chart plotting the beginning and end points for each cohort?

Then the piece gets into some three-dimensional maps that you can spin and rotate.

Just stop
Just stop

Yeah. Shall I count the ways? A more conventional choropleth would have served the purpose far more effectively. The dimensionality hides lower income tracts behind higher ones. The solution? Allow the user to rotate and spin the map? No, get rid of the dimensionality. It offers little to the understanding of the underlying data. Not to mention, are the areas of shadows shadows? Or are they another bin or cohort of income?

And then you have to read the piece to get a fuller understanding of my criticism.

But don’t worry, I can quote it.

Chicago was largely successful transitioning away from manufacturing to a service-based economy. This shift is evident in the bifurcated pattern present in 2015 – a heavy concentration of wealth in the business/financial district and marked decline in the surrounding area.

Those of you who read this blog from Chicago or who have lived in Chicago will pick up on it. The rest of you not so much. The concentration of wealth is not located in the business/financial district. Those dark red skyscrapers are not actual skyscrapers, they are census tracts located not in the financial district, but the areas of River North, Old Town, Gold Coast, &c. Thinking of the issue more logically, yes incomes are up in cities that are doing well. But how many of those very wealthy live on the same block as their office? Not many. Your higher income is going to be concentrated in residential or mixed-residential neighbourhoods near, but not in the business/financial district.

The data behind this work fascinates me. I just wish the final graphics had been designed with a bit more consideration for the data and the stories therein. And a little bit of proper understanding of the cities and their geography would help the text.

Credit for the piece goes to Metrocosm, LTDB at Brown University, and IPUMS National Historical Geographic Information System.

Metropolises of Murder

Quite a few things to look at this week. But I want to start with something that caught my attention last Friday. The Economist produced this graphic about the top-50 cities by the always pleasant metric of homicide. I bring it up because of the oft mentioned capital of carnage here in America: Chicago. (To which I’m briefly returning late this week.)

The capitals of crime, the metropolises of murder
The capitals of crime, the metropolises of murder

Note which city is not on that list: Chicago.

Some countries, sadly El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico, are among those expected on that list. But the United States is the only rich, industrialised nation present. Unfortunately this is not a list on which we should aspire to be.

The graphic itself does a few nice things. In particular, I like the inclusion of the small multiple national rate to the left of the cities. Because, obviously, high murder rates are not great in El Salvador, but on the plus side, they are down of late. And the same small multiples do go a long way to show that, in general, despite what the administration says, homicide rates in the United States are quite low by these standards.

My quibble with the graphic? Breaking out cities by country. Yeah, it does make a lot of sense. But look at that country listed two spots below the United States: Puerto Rico. I am not here going to get into the whole Puerto Rican statehood vs. sovereignty argument, but suffice it to say that it is a part of the United States.

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