Maps Are Not Silver Bullets

I make a lot of maps in my line of work. Often times, they are not particularly interesting. Mostly because they follow similar patterns to this. More stuff is bought and sold where there are more people. More stuff is bought and sold where more people have more money. Et cetera, et cetera.

Maps are not always helpful
Maps are not always helpful

Maps are sometimes very useful. But I have a saying when people ask for a map of some kind of data tied to geographies: Maps are not silver bullets. That is to say, just because you throw data about countries, states, or counties onto a map does not mean you are going to see anything worthwhile let alone new or unexpected.

Credit for the XKCD piece goes to Randall Munroe

Playing in the Swing States

The 2012 elections are now less than two weeks away and so let the sporting analogies begin. We’re in the home stretch now. Homeruns, field goals, and running out the clock. Et cetera et cetera ad nauseam.

But over at the New York Times we have an interactive piece that looks at what they call the state of play of the swing states in terms of the latest tracking polls at a state level along with campaign stops and commentary from the paper. It’s a concise way to look at those few states that will largely determine the outcome of the election.

Swing states
Swing states

The Red Sox Were Truly Awful in 2012

The Boston Red Sox hired John Farrell this weekend to be their manager just one season after hiring Bobby Valentine for the role. There is a lot to be said about just who is to blame about the Red Sox’ awful season. But it was pretty awful. How awful? The Boston Globe shows us in this interactive piece.

It’s a series of small multiples of line charts. However, one of the big problems with the infographic is that the labels are entirely absent. As best I can tell the line is the number of games over .500, i.e. an even split between wins and losses. But, it could be more clearly called out if not in the legend or on the axes than in the title.

But over all it does put this past season into a sober perspective.

How Bad is Bad? Awful, it Turns Out.
How Bad is Bad? Awful, it Turns Out.

Credit for the piece goes to Daigo Fujiwara.

Average Household Spending

This tree map from the Wall Street Journal looks at an interesting subject: average household spending. How much are we spending on housing, on food, on transportation, &c.?

Household spending
Household spending

But I’m not so sure that the main visualisation is necessary. I appreciate the big colour and splashiness, but the space use seems inefficient. Perhaps if the colours had been tied, as is commonly seen, to another variable, the tree map would be more useful. Imagine if the chart looked at the spending value and the average growth over the last ten years, with the year-by-year value still plotted below.

 

Economic Freedom

Canada, our neighbour to the north, is sometimes taken to task for being too socialist or too liberal with their healthcare system and regulatory oversight of industries, including finance. But what data increasingly shows us is that we cannot say their more socialist economy is weaker than ours. Rather in several metrics now, the Canadian economy is stronger than ours. The National Post looked at just that a little while back.

A Comparison
A Comparison

Credit for the piece goes to Jonathon Rivait.

Life Expectancy Decline for Under-educated Whites

The New York Times published a chart looking at the decline in life expectancy for under-educated whites, i.e. whites who have not finished high school. The life expectancies of blacks and Hispanics offer a stark contrast, for while starting at a lower base, their respective expectancies are increasing.

Decline
Decline

How Has the Democratic Party Changed

This past weekend the Washington Post published an infographic looking at how the Democratic Party has demographically changed over time and compared those changes to those in the Republican Party. The piece is large, but shows some interesting trends particularly with the racial diversification of the political parties—or lack thereof. It is an important trend when considering the white population is growing at much slower pace than minority groups.

Democratic Party trends
Democratic Party trends

Oil Imports

Oil, sweet oil. We Americans love the stuff. Like too much of anything, though, that can lead to some problems. This post isn’t about that. But rather it’s about a New York Times graphic on how even though we are learning to check our sweet tooth, we are importing more oil from the Middle East relative to other oil exporters, like Mexico.

Oil imports
Oil imports

Olympic Performance vs Economic Performance

The Olympics are now fully underway and we can begin to see some patterns about who is doing well and who is, well, not. This infographic has a lot more to say about who had been doing well up through 2008. That is important because that was the last year before the fiscal/financial crisis brought about the first global recession since World War II. Stay tuned for the post-Olympic piece where I look at medal performance in 2012 compared to GDP per capita. Some interesting stories appear to be happening.

One can clearly see that GDP per capita is (generally speaking) a good variable for estimating Olympic success. So the countries in this graphic are three major economic regions. The G7, BRIC, and the Future-7. The G7 are the world’s richest/most productive countries. BRIC are supposed to become the next G7. And the Future-7 is a Euromonitor International grouping that looks at a group of countries that are expected to become the next BRIC-like group of countries.

Economic Groups Compared
Economic Groups Compared

It is probably worth noting that despite this being an infographic for work, where I generally am not allowed to write analysis, the written analysis is mostly mine with some key ideas brought to my attention by co-workers.

Comparing Ad Spending in Three Key Election States

In this infographic about campaign ad spending in three battleground states, the New York Times shows that small multiples can work to create effective comparisons through an efficient use of space.

Campaign Ad Spend
Campaign Ad Spend