Living in the Dark

Earlier this month the Economist published an article that looked at a different way of measuring the economic output of North Korea. The state is so secretive that the publicly available data we all rely on for almost every country is not available. Nor would we necessarily believe their figures. So we have to rely on other measures to estimate the North Korean economy.

The article is about how luminosity, i.e. the lights on seen from space at night, can be used as a proxy for economic activity in the reclusive state.

No lights to guide me home
No lights to guide me home

The article is a fascinating read and uses a scatter plot to show the correlation between luminosity and GDP per capita then how that translates to North Korea, comparing it to older models.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

Missing Planets

In science news, we turn to graphics about planets and things. Specifically we are talking about exoplanets, i.e. planets that exist outside our solar system. Keep in mind that we have only been able to detect exoplanets since the 1990s. Prior to then, how rare was our system with all our planets? It could have been very rare. Now we know, probably not so much.

But, in all of that discovery, we are missing entire types of planets. This article published by Forbes does a nice job explaining why. But one of the key types of planets that we have been unable to discover heretofore have been: intermediately distant, giant planets. Think the Jupiters and Saturns of our system. Prior to now we could detect massive Jupiter-like planets orbiting super near to their distant stars. Or, we could detect super massive planets orbiting very far away. The in-betweeners? Not so much.

There's still a pretty wide gap out there…
There’s still a pretty wide gap out there…

The above screenshot does a good job of showing where new detection methods have allowed scientists to begin to fill in the gaps. It shows how there is an enormous gap between what we have discovered and how they have been discovered. And the article does a nice job explaining how the science works in that only now with our longer periods of observation will help resolve certain issues.

From a design standpoint, this isn’t a super complicated graphic. It does rely upon a logarithmic scale, which isn’t common in non-scientific or academic papers. But this graphic comes from that environment, so it makes a lot of sense. The article is full of graphics from third-party sources, but I found this the most informative because of that very gap it highlights and how the new work (the stars) begin to fill it in.

Credit for the screenshotted piece goes to E. L. Rickman et al.

Trump-won Counties Are Winning

Yesterday we looked at how China and the European Union are planning their tariff/trade war retaliation to target Trump voters. Today let’s take a look at how those voters are doing as this article from Bloom does.

Lots of green, but some noticeably red counties in Florida.
Lots of green, but some noticeably red counties in Florida.

The article is not terribly complicated. We have four choropleth maps at the county level. Two of the maps isolate Trump-won counties and the other two are Clinton-won. For each candidate we have a GDP growth and an employment growth map.

In the Trump-won maps, the Clinton-won counties are white, and vice versa. Naturally, because the Democratic vote is greatest in the large cities, which, especially on the East Coast, are in tiny counties, you see a lot less colour in the Clinton maps.

Not a whole lot to see here…
Not a whole lot to see here…

Design wise, I should point out the obvious that green-to-red maps are not usually ideal. But the designers did a nice job of tweaking these specific colours so that when tested, these burnt oranges and green-blues do provide contrast.

Here they appear more of a yellow to grey
Here they appear more of a yellow to grey

But I am really curious to see this data plotted out in a scatter plot. Of course the big counties in the desert southwest are noticeable. But what about Philadelphia County? Cook County? Kings County? A scatter plot would make them equally tiny dots. Well, hopefully not tiny. But then when you compare GDP growth and employment growth and benchmark them against the US average, we might see some interesting patterns emerge that are otherwise masked behind the hugeness of western counties.

But lastly. And always. Where. Are .Alaska. And. Hawaii? (Of course the hugeness problem is of a different scale in Hawaii. Their county equivalents are larger than states combined.)

Credit for the piece goes to the Bloomberg graphics department.

Trade War Retaliation

About a week and a half ago the Economist published an article about the retaliatory actions of the European Union and China against the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration. Of course last week we had a theme of sorts with lineages and ancestry. So this week, back to the fun stuff.

What makes today’s piece particularly relevant is that over the weekend, Trump announced he might increase the tariffs proposed, but not yet implemented, upon Chinese goods. So some economists looked at the retaliatory tariffs proposed by the EU and China.

Ultimately Trump's tariffs are not paid by foreign governments, but by US citizens.
Ultimately Trump’s tariffs are not paid by foreign governments, but by US citizens.

Each targets Trump voters, albeit of different types. But China appears more willing to engage in a brutal fight. Its tariff proposal would not just harm Trump voters, but would also harm Chinese citizens. The EU’s plan appears tailored to maximise the pain on Trump voters, but minimise that felt by its own citizens.

A few minor points. I like how the designers chose to highlight high impact categories with colour. Lower impact shares are two shades of light grey. But after that, the scale changes. I wonder how the maps would compare if each had been set to the same scale. It looks doable as the bottom range of the maximum bin is 6% for the EU and 8% for China. (Their high limit is much higher at 22% compared to the EU’s 10%.)

That said, it does a good job of showing the different geographic footprints of the two retaliatory tariff packages. Tomorrow—barring breaking news—we will look at why that is important.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Why the Faces?

Stepping away from both the Brexit drama and the aircraft drama of the week, let’s look at US political drama. Specifically, the Democratic field and some of the early support for candidates and assumed-to-be candidates.

This piece comes from an article about the bases of various candidates. From a data visualisation perspective it uses a scatter plot to compare the net favourability of the candidate to the share of people who have an opinion about said candidate.

A veritable who's who of the Democratic field
A veritable who’s who of the Democratic field

But what if you don’t know who the candidate is? As in, you don’t know what they look like. Well, then it might be difficult to find Bernie or Elizabeth Warren. This kind of graphic relies on facial recognition. I’m not certain that’s the best, especially when one is talking about a field in which people may not know or have an opinion on the candidates in question.

Another drawback is that the sizes of the faces are large. And, especially in the lower left corner, this makes it easier to obscure candidates. Where exactly is Sherrod Brown? Between a unidentified face and that of Terry McAuliffe.

I think a more simplistic dot/circle approach would have worked far better in this instance.

Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.

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.

Are Baseball’s Big Contracts Worth It?

On Tuesday the San Diego Padres signed Manny Machado to a guaranteed contract worth $300 million over the next ten years—though he can opt out after five years. Machado was one of two big free agents on the market, the other being Bryce Harper. One question out there is whether or not these big contracts will be worth it for the signing teams. This piece yesterday from the New York Times tries to look at those contracts and how the players performed during them.

Oh, David Price…
Oh, David Price…

Like the piece we looked at Tuesday, this takes a narrative approach instead of a data exploratory approach—the screenshot above is halfway through the read. Unlike the Post piece, this one does not allow users to explore the data. Unlabelled dots do not reveal the player and there is no way to know who they are.

Overall it is a very strong piece that shows how large and long contracts are risky for baseball teams. The next big question is where, for how long, and how much will Bryce Harper sign?

Credit for the piece goes to Joe Ward and Jeremy Bowers.

More on California’s Dry Heat

Yesterday we looked at the wildfire conditions in California. Today, we look at the Economist’s take, which brings an additional focus on the devastation of the fires themselves. However, it adds a more global perspective and looks at the worldwide decline in forest fires and both where and why that is the case.

California isn't looking too…hot. Too soon?
California isn’t looking too…hot. Too soon?

The screenshot here focuses on California and combines the heat and precipitation we looked at yesterday into a fuel-aridity index. That index’s actual meaning is simplified in the chart annotations that indicate “warmer and drier years” further along the x-axis. The y-index, by comparison, is a simpler plot of the acres burned in fires.

This piece examines more closely that link between fires and environmental conditions. But the result is the same, a warming and drying climate leaves California more vulnerable to wildfires. However, the focus of the piece, as I noted above, is actually on the global decline of wildfires.

Only 2% of wildfires are actually in North America, the bulk occur in Africa. And the piece uses a nice map to show just where those fires occur. In parallel the text explains how changing economic conditions in those areas are lessening the risk of wildfire and so we are seeing a global decline—even with climate change.

Taken with yesterday’s piece with its hyper-California focus, this provides a more global context of the problem of wildfires. It’s a good one-two read.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Always Be Creating

I like to think that becoming a good designer requires lots of work. And that means different types of work. Work pushing you to learn new skills. So this graphic by Jessica Hagy over on Indexed makes perfect sense. How good you at something ties into how much you work at it.

Got to get through the x to get to the y
Got to get through the x to get to the y

I pair the concept with Glenngarry Glen Ross and Alec Baldwin’s “Always be closing” speech. For your Friday entertainment, this is my more favourite rendition of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_vSirIJEsY&t=7s 

Credit for the piece goes to Jessica Hagy.

The Semifinalists

Today is the semifinal match between England and Croatia. I could have posted this yesterday, but the US Supreme Court selection seemed more important. But today’s post is a simple scatter plot from FiveThirtyEight. It is part of a broader article comparing the four semifinalists of the World Cup. (Spoiler alert, France won its match.)

No drama today, please
No drama today, please

In terms of design, we can contrast this to yesterday’s dot plot about Kavanaugh. There the highlighted dot was orange with a black outline. Here, same deal. But yesterday, the other justices were shown with black dots and an empty dot for retiring Justice Kennedy. Here all the other countries in the World Cup are orange dots.

I wonder, given the orangeness of the other countries, maybe a solid black dot would have worked a little better for the four semifinalists. Or to keep the orange with black outline dots, maybe a lighter orange or grey dots for the other World Cup teams. (I think black would probably be too strong in this case.)

Overall, it shows that today’s match between England and Croatia will be tough. And should England advance, a match against France will be even tougher.

Credit for the piece goes to Bobby Gardiner.