Olympic Recap/Retro

Every four years (or so) I have to confess that I think fondly back upon my former job, because I worked with a few wonderful colleagues of mine on some data about the Olympics. And the highlight was that we had a model to try and predict the number of medals won by the host country as we were curious about the idea of a host nation bump. In other words, do host countries witness an increase in their medal count relative to their performance in other Olympiads?

We concluded that host nations do see a slight bump in their total medal count and we then forecast that we expected Team GB (the team for Great Britain and Northern Ireland) to win a total of 65 medals. We reached 64 by the final day and it wasn’t until the women’s pentathlon when, in maybe the last event, Team GB won a silver medal bringing its total to 65, exactly in line with our forecast.

Probably the most Olympics I’ve ever watched.

Of course we also looked at the data for a number of other things, including if GDP per capita correlated to Olympic performance. We also looked at BMI and that did yield some interesting tidbits. But at the end of the day it was the medal forecast that thrilled me in the summer of 2012.

So yeah, today’s a shameless plug for some old work of mine. But I’m still proud of it two olympiads later.

If you’d like to see some of the pieces, I have them in my portfolio.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Boldly Going…

Those of my readers who know me well know that I’ve long been a fan of Star Trek. And so we’ve made it to the weekend. And over at Indexed earlier this month, well, we have a great science fiction comparison.

Here in the states we have a bank holiday Monday, so Star Trek is just a great way to start a holiday weekend.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.

Credit for the piece goes to Jessica Hagy.

I’ve Got the Subtlest of Blues

As I prepared to reconnect and rejoin the world, I spent most of the weekend prior to full vaccination cleaning and clearing out my flat of things from the past 14 months. One thing I meant to do more with was printed pieces I saw in the New York Times. Interesting pages, front pages in particular, have been piling up and before recycling them all, I took some photos of the backlog. I’ll try to publish more of them in the coming weeks and months.

You may recall this time last month I wrote about a piece from the New York Times that examined the politicisation of vaccinations. I meant to get around to the print version, but didn’t, so let’s do it now.

Now in print…

I noted last time the use of ellipses for the title and the lack of value scales on the x-axis. Those did not change from the online version. But look at the y-axis.

For the print piece I noted how the labels were placed inside the chart. I wondered at the time—but didn’t write about—how perhaps that could have been a technical limitation for the web. But here we can see the labels still inside. It was a deliberate design decision.

Keeping with the labelling, I also pointed out Wyoming being outside the plot and it is here too, but I finally noted the lack of a label for zero on the first chart. Here the zero does appear, as I would have placed it. That does make me wonder if the lack of zero online was a technical/development issue.

Finally, something very subtle. At first, I didn’t catch this and it wasn’t until I opened the image above in Photoshop. The web version I noted the use of tints, or lighter shades, for two different blues and two different reds. When I looked at the print, I saw only one red and one blue. But they were in fact different, and it wasn’t until I had zoomed in on the photo I took when I could see the difference.

I’ve got the blues…

The dots do have two different blues. But it’s very subtle. Same with the red.

So all in all the piece is very similar to what we looked at last month, but there were a few interesting differences. I wonder if the designers had an opportunity to test the blues/reds prior to printing. And I wonder if the zero label was an issue for developers.

Credit for the piece goes to Lauren Leatherby and Guilbert Gates.

Allergies in the Time of Covid

If all goes according to plan, I should be receiving my second dose of Pfizer later this afternoon. Then it’s two more weeks until I’m fully vaccinated and ready to rejoin the world. But what kind of world will be rejoining? The allergy plagued one looking at the calendar. And that’s why this post from Indexed by Jessica Hagy made me laugh.

All the sneezes and sniffles.

But it’s also true.

Credit for the piece goes to Jessica Hagy.

Politicising Vaccinations

Yesterday I wrote my usual weekly piece about the progress of the Covid-19 pandemic in the five states I cover. At the end I discussed the progress of vaccinations and how Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Illinois all sit around 25% fully vaccinated. Of course, I leave my write-up at that. But not everyone does.

This past weekend, the New York Times published an article looking at the correlation between Biden–Trump support and rates of vaccination. Perhaps I should not be surprised this kind of piece exists, let alone the premise.

From a design standpoint, the piece makes use of a number of different formats: bars, lines, choropleth maps, and scatter plots. I want to talk about the latter in this piece. The article begins with two side by side scatter plots, this being the first.

Hesitancy rates compared to the election results

The header ends in an ellipsis, but that makes sense because the next graphic, which I’ll get to shortly, continues the sentence. But let’s look at the rest of the plot.

Starting with the x-axis, we have a fairly simple plot here: votes for the candidates. But note that there is no scale. The header provides the necessary definition of being a share of the vote, but the lack of minimum and maximum makes an accurate assessment a bit tricky. We can’t even be certain that the scales are consistent. If you recall our choropleth maps from the other day, the scale of the orange was inconsistent with the scale of the blue-greys. Though, given this is produced by the Times, I would give them the benefit of the doubt.

Furthermore, we have five different colours. I presume that the darkest blues and reds represent the greatest share. But without a scale let alone a legend, it’s difficult to say for certain. The grey is presumably in the mixed/nearly even bin, again similar to what I described in the first post about choropleths from my recent string.

Finally, if we look at the y-axis, we see a few interesting decisions. The first? The placement of the axis labels. Typically we would see the labelling on the outside of the plot, but here, it’s all aligned on the inside of the plot. Intriguingly, the designers took care for the placement—or have their paragraph/character styles well set—as the text interrupts the axis and grid lines, i.e. the text does not interfere with the grey lines.

The second? Wyoming. I don’t always think that every single chart needs to have all the outliers within the bounds of the plot. I’ve definitely taken the same approach and so I won’t criticise it, but I wonder what the chart would have looked like if the maximum had been 35% and the grid lines were set at intervals of 5%. The tradeoff is likely increased difficulty in labelling the dots. And that too is a decision I’ve made.

Third, the lack of a zero. I feel fairly comfortable assuming the bottom of the y-axis is zero. But I would have gone ahead and labelled it all the same, especially because of how the minimum value for the axis is handled in the next graphic.

Speaking of, moving on to the second graphic we can see the ellipsis completes the sentence.

Vaccination rates compared to the election results

We otherwise run into similar issues. Again, there is a lack of labelling on the x-axis. This makes it difficult to assess whether we are looking at the same scale. I am fairly certain we are, because when I overlap the graphics I can see that the two extremes, Wyoming and Vermont, look to exist on the same places on the axis.

We also still see the same issues for the y-axis. This time the axis represents vaccination rates. I wish this graphic made a little clearer the distinction between partial and full vaccination rates. Partial is good, but full vaccination is what really matters. And while this chart shows Pennsylvania, for example, at over 40% vaccinated, that’s misleading. Full vaccination is 15 points lower, at about 25%. And that’s the number that needs to be up in the 75% range for herd immunity.

But back to the labelling, here the minimum value, 20%, is labelled. I can’t really understand the rationale for labelling the one chart but not the other. It’s clearly not a spacing issue.

I have some concerns about the numbers chosen for the minimum and maximum values of the y-axis. However, towards the middle of the article, this basic construct is used to build a small multiples matrix looking at all 50 states and their rates of vaccination. More on that in a moment.

My last point about this graphic is on the super picky side. Look at the letter g in “of residents given”. It gets clipped. You can still largely read it as a g, but I noticed it. Not sure why it’s happening, though.

So that small multiples graphic I mentioned, well, see below.

All 50 states compared

Note how these use an expanded version of the larger chart. The y-minimum appears to be 0%, but again, it would be very helpful if that were labelled.

Also for the x-axis in all the charts, I’m not sure every one needs the Biden–Trump label. After all, not every chart has the 0–60% range labelled, but the beginning of each row makes that clear.

In the super picky, I wish that final row were aligned with the four above it. I find it super distracting, but that’s probably just me.

Overall, this is a strong piece that makes good use of a number of the standard data visualisation forms. But I wish the graphics were a bit tighter to make the graphics just a little clearer.

Credit for the piece goes to Danielle Ivory, Lauren Leatherby and Robert Gebeloff.

The Mars Rovers

Perseverance landed on Mars on 18 February, almost a month ago. The video and photography the rover has already sent back has been stunning. We all know she is the most capable rover yet landed on the Red Planet, but what we all want to know is how cute is Perseverance compared to her predecessors?

Thankfully for that we have xkcd.

Still a big fan of Spirit and Opportunity. Designed to last 3 months, it trekked on for over 14 years.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

So Much To Do, So Little Help

This week I’m on deadline for the magazine I produce. Technically, the files go out Monday, but I spend Monday double/triple-checking things and assembling all the packages I need and so everything really needs to be done the day before, for this quarter, that’s today. Regardless, that means little sleep and craziness.

Over at Indexed, Jessica Hagy nailed how I feel this time every quarter with a simple scatter plot entitled “‘You Look Tired’.”

But I have an intern joining me for the summer, so huzzah for Q3.

Enjoy your weekends, I’ll enjoy the next one.

Credit for the piece goes to Jessica Hagy.

Biden Won the Burbs

The thing with election results is that we don’t have the final numbers for a little while after Election Day. And that’s normal.

There are a few things I want to look at in the coming weeks and months once my schedule eases up a bit. But for now, we can use this nice piece from the Philadelphia Inquirer to look at a story close to home: the vote in the Philadelphia suburbs.

It’s all happening in the yellow.

I’ve already looked at some analysis like this for Wisconsin and I shared it on my social. But there I looked at the easy, county-level results. What the Inquirer did above is break down the Pennsylvania collar counties of Philadelphia, i.e. the suburbs, into municipality level results. It then plotted them 2020 vs. 2016 and the results were—as you can guess since we know the result—Biden beat Trump.

What this chart does well is colours the municipalities that Biden flipped yellow. It’s a great choice from a colour standpoint. As the third of the primaries, with both blue and red well represented, it easily contrasts with the Biden- and Trump-won towns and cities of the region. The colour is a bit “darker” than a full-on, bright yellow, but that’s because the designers recognised it needs to stand out on a white field.

Let’s face it, yellow is a great colour to use, but it’s difficult because it’s so light and sometimes difficult to see. Add just the faintest bit of black to your mix, especially if you’re using paints, and voila, it works pretty well. So here the designer did a great job recognising that issue with using yellow. Though you can still see the challenge, because even though it is a bit darker, look at how easy it is to read the text in the blue and the red. Now compare that to the yellow. So if you’re going to use yellow, you want to be careful how and when you do.

The other design decision here comes down to what I call the explorative vs. the narrative. Now, I don’t think explorative is a word—and the red squiggle agrees—but it pairs nicely with narrative. And I’ve been talking about this a lot in my field the last several works, especially offline. (In the non-blog sense, because obviously all my work is done online these days. Oh, how I miss my old office.)

Explorative works present the user with a data set and then allow them to, in this case, mouse over or tap on dots and reveal additional layers of information, i.e. names and specific percentages. The idea is not to tell a specific story, but show an overall pattern. And if the piece is interactive, as this is, potentially allow the user to drill down and tease out their own stories.

Compare that to the narrative, my Wisconsin piece I referenced above is more in this category. Here the work takes you through a guided tour of the data. It labels specific data points, be them on trend or outliers and is sometimes more explicit in its analysis. These can also be interactive—though my static image is not—and allow users to drill down, and critically away, from the story to see dots of interest, for example.

This piece is more explorative. The scatter plot naturally divides the municipalities into those that voted for Biden, Trump, and then more or less than they voted for Trump in 2016. The labels here are actually redundant, but certainly helpful. I used the same approach in my Wisconsin graphic.

But in my Wisconsin graphic, I labelled specific counties of interest. If I had written an accompanying article, they would have been cited in the textual analysis so that the graphic and text complemented each other. But here in the Inquirer, it’s a bit of a missed opportunity in a sense.

The author mentions places like Upper Darby and Lower Merion and how they performed in 2020 vis-a-vis 2016. But it’s incumbent on the user to find those individual municipalities on the scatter plot. What if the designer had created a version where the towns of interest were labelled from the start? The narrative would have been buttressed by great visualisations that explicitly made the same point the author wrote about in the text. And that is a highly effective form of communication when you’re not just telling, but also showing your story or argument.

Overall it’s a great article with a lot to talk about. Because, spoiler, I’m going to be talking about it again tomorrow.

Credit for the piece goes to Jonathan Lai.

Trumpsylvania

After working pretty much non-stop all spring and summer, your humble author finally took a few days off and throw in a bank holiday and you are looking at a five-day weekend. But, because this is 2020 travelling was out of the question and so instead I hunkered down to finish writing/designing an article I have been working on for the last several weeks/few months.

The main write-up—it is a lengthy-ish read so you may want to brew a cup of tea—is over at my data projects site. This is the first project I have really written about for that since spring/summer 2016. Some of my longer-listening readers may recall that the penultimate piece there I wrote about Pennsyltucky was inspired by work I did here at Coffeespoons.

To an extent, so is this piece. I wrote about Trumpsylvania, the political realignment of the state of Pennsylvania. 2016 and the state’s vote for Donald Trump was less an aberration than many think. It was the near-end result of a decades-long transformation of the state’s political geography. And so I looked at the data underlying the shift and how and where it occurred.

And originally, I had a slightly different conclusion as to how this related to Pennsylvania in the upcoming 2020 election. But, the whole 2020 thing made me shift my thinking slightly. But you’ll have to read the whole thing to understand what I’m talking about. I will leave you with one of the graphics I made for the piece. It looks at who won each county in the state, but also whether or not the candidate was able to flip the county. In other words, was Clinton able to flip a Republican county? Was Trump able to flip a Democratic county?

Who won what? Who flipped what?

Let me know what you think.

And of course, many, many thanks to all the people who suffered my ideas, thoughts, and early drafts over the last several weeks. And even more thanks to those who edited it. Any and all mistakes or errors in the piece are all mine and not theirs.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Parties in Pennsylvania

This is from a social media post I made a few days ago, but think it may be of some relevance/interest to my Coffeespoons followers. I was curious to see at 30+ days from the general election, how has the landscape changed for the two parties since 2016?

Well, this project has driven me to a related, but slightly different project that has been consuming my non-work time. Hopefully I will have more on that in the coming days. Without further ado, the post:

Pennsylvania will likely be one of the more critical battleground swing states in this year’s election. In 2016, then candidate Trump won the state by less than one percentage point. But four years is a long time and I was curious to see how things have changed.

In the first chart on the right we see counties won by Trump and on the left, Clinton. The further from the centre, the greater the candidate’s margin of victory over the other. The top half plots registered Republicans’ margin over Democrats as a percentage of all registered voters in the county (including independents and third party) and the bottom half does the same for Democrats. Closer to the centre, the more competitive, further away, less so.

Trump’s key to victory was the white, working class voter clustered in the west and the northeast of the state–old mining and steel towns. There Democrats normally counted on organised labour support as registered Democrats. That all but collapsed in 2016. The bottom right shows a number of nominally Democratic counties Trump won, whereas Clinton only picked up one Republican county, Chester.

But what are PA’s battlegrounds?

In the second chart we ignore places like Philly and Fulton County and zoom in on more competitive counties within 20 point margins. Polls presently point to a Biden lead of about 5 points in PA. If every dot moved left by 5 points (it doesn’t really work like that), we only see Erie and Northampton with potential to flip.

But Trump’s realignment of politics is accelerating (more on this another day) a realignment of PA’s political geography.

In the fourth chart, neither Erie nor Northampton show any real movement via party registration back to Democrats. Erie may flip, but Northampton’s likely a stretch. Places like Cumberland and Lancaster counties are too solidly Republican to flip this year. Instead Trump is more likely to flip counties like Monroe and Lehigh red, even if he loses the state.

Because, not shown, the key to a Biden victory will be running up the margins in Philly & Pittsburgh, and to a lesser extent Philly’s four collar counties, including Chester, which appears to be rapidly shifting in Democrats’ favour.

Credit for the piece is mine.