Too Much Horsing Around

Last week the Philadelphia Inquirer published an investigation of the staggering number of horse deaths in Pennsylvania’s race track facilities. I found the article fascinating, but admittedly at a point or two a wee bit squeamish when the author described how horses essentially die. Then about halfway through the article I ran into the first of two graphics looking at the data.

Seeing red…

The first is pretty simple, a timeline of deaths over the course of one year, 2019. Overall it works, you can clearly see clusters of racing deaths, but that those clusters spread across the year. When I sat with the graphic for a moment, however, a few things began to stick out at me. The first was a distracting vibration in the background. Not the alternating beige and blue of the months, but if you look closely you’ll see tightly spaced lines within the colour fields: presumably the days of the month for aligning the deaths.

On a large enough graphic it makes all the sense to tick off sub-monthly increments, but in this space I would have probably opted to show only the months. Maybe weeks could have worked, as that approach may have reinforced the statistic about a horse dying every six days on average.

The second point is the black stroke or outline of each dot. Here the designer faces a challenging constraint. Essentially, the smaller the dot (or the symbol) the brighter the colour. In a rich, blood red colour you have a dark heavier colour. Compare that to say a stop sign that is bright red. It has a lighter feel. The blood red colour, in a given space, has let’s say an amount of black ink or pixels—I’m simplifying here—mixed in with the red. But in a large area, there’s enough red ink or pixels to still be clearly blood red. The stop sign red has no other colours but red. And in large areas, it can be an eye-stabbing amount of red—precisely why it’s likely so useful for, you know, stop signs.

But at the small scale of these very small dots, you still proportionally have the same amount of red and black ink, but with fewer and fewer amounts, the eye can begin to experience difficulty in truly reading the colour for what it is. For example, in an area of say 49 pixels (7×7), while the ratio of red to black may be consistent, you still only have a total of 49 pixels with which to convey “red” to the reader. Consequently, in smaller spaces, you may find that designers sometimes opt for brighter colours, a la stop sign red, than they would in larger fields of colour.

Here we have a nice use of brighter red, green, and yellow. (I will quickly add that the choice of red and green can be problematic for colour blindness, but I don’t want to revisit that here.) But to provide better separation between those small, circle sized fields of colour a border probably helps. A thin black line, or stroke, makes sense. But the black is darker than the colours themselves, thus it can draw more attention than the colour fill. And that begins to happen here. I wonder if a thin white stroke may have been less distracting and placed more emphasis on the fill colours.

As I said, overall a really nice if not sobering graphic in an important but disturbing article. I think a few small tweaks could really bring the graphic over the finish line. Pun fully intended. Sorry, not sorry.

Credit for the pieces goes to John Duchneskie.

500,000 Deaths

The United States surpassed 500,000 deaths from Covid-19. On Sunday, in advance of that sobering statistic, the New York Times published a front-page graphic that dominated the layout.

Sunday front page for the New York Times

Usually a front-page graphic will make use of the four-colour process and present richly coloured graphics. This, however, starkly lays out the timeline of deaths in the United States in black and white.

Meaningful graphics do not need to reinvent the wheel. This takes each life lost as a black dot and then, starting at the top in February, plots each day.

Detail of the graphic

The colour here serves as the annotation. The red circle drawing attention to the first reported death. And down the side the tick marks for days. Red lines indicate 50,000 death increments. The labels tell the story, we’ve needed fewer and fewer days to reach each subsequent 50,000 milestone.

As the first wave intensifies in March and April, the space fills with black dots. But as we enter summer and deaths fell, the space lightens. Late autumn and winter bring more death and you can see clearly towards the bottom of the chart, as we approach today, the graphic is nearly solid black.

If we want to look towards a hopeful point in the content, we can see first that it took 17 days then 15 to reach 400,00 deaths and 450,000 deaths, respectively. But it took 19 days to reach 500,000. As a nation we appear to finally be on the downward slope of this wave.

Returning to the piece, it’s a gut punch of simplicity in design.

Credit for the piece goes to Lazaro Gambio, Lauren Leatherby, Bill Marsh, and Andrew Sondern.

Armistice Day

Yesterday was Armistice Day, a bank holiday hence the lack of posting. So I spent a few hours yesterday looking at my ancestors to see who participated in World War I. It turned out that on my paternal side, my one great-grandfather was too old and the other was both the right age and signed up for the draft, but was not selected.

And so the only two that served were my maternal great-grandfathers. One served a few months in the naval reserve towards the end of the war. My other great-grandfather served for a year, a good chunk of it in France. This I largely knew from my great aunt, who had told us stories about how he had told her about blowing up bridges they had just built to prevent Germans from capturing them. And then how after the war he served as military police, arresting drunk American soldiers in France. But I had never realised some of the documents I had collected told more of the skeletal structure like units and ranks. Consequently, I decided to make this graphic.

All the timelines
All the timelines

Credit for the piece goes to me.

Westerns

Next week I am heading west. And by west I mean Austin, Texas. I mean you could argue that Austin is more south than west, but if you throw a “×” in there you get South × Southwest. Anyway, the allure of the western remains strong and that reminded me of an old xkcd piece reflecting on the relative length of the western period vs. the “west” in American culture.

Still not a fan of either…
Still not a fan of either…

It’s kind of like how M*A*S*H lasted far longer than the actual Korean War.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

From Frying Pan to the Fires of a War Zone

Moving away from climate change now, we turn to the lovely land of Afghanistan. While the Trump administration continues to negotiate with the Taliban in hopes of ending the war, the war continues to go worse for Afghanistan, its government, and its allies, including the United States.

It is true that US and NATO ally deaths are down since the withdraw of combat troops in 2014. But, violence and sheer deaths are significantly up. And as this article from the Economist points out, the deaths in Afghanistan are now worse than they are in Syria.

The beginning of the article uses a timeline to chart the history of Afghan conflicts as well as the GDP and number of deaths. And it is a fascinating chart in its own right. But I wanted to share this, a small multiples featuring graphic looking at the geographic spread of deaths throughout the country.

Getting hotter (because red obviously means heat)
Getting hotter (because red obviously means heat)

It does a nice job by chunking Afghanistan into discrete areas shaped as hexagons and bins deaths into those areas. All the while, the shape remains roughly that of Afghanistan with the Hindu Kush mountain range in particular overlaid. (Though, I am not sure why it is made darker in the 2003–04 map.)

To highlight particular cities or areas, hexagons are outlined to draw attention to the population centres of interest. But overall, the rise in violence and deaths is clear and unmistakable. And it has spread from what was once pockets in the south to the whole of the country that isn’t mountains or deserts.

Tamerlane would be proud.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

Hotter Muggier Faster

Last week we looked at a few posts that showed the future impact of climate change at both a global and US-level scale. In the midst of last week and those articles, the Washington Post looked backwards at the past century or so to identify how quickly the US has changed. Spoiler: some places are already significantly warmer than they have been. Spoiler two: the Northeast is one such place.

The piece is a larger and more narrative article using examples and anecdotes to make its point. But it does contain several key graphics. The first is a big map that shows how temperature has changed since 1895.

The Southeast is an anomaly, but its warming has accelerated since the 1960s
The Southeast is an anomaly, but its warming has accelerated since the 1960s

The map does what it has to and is nothing particularly fancy or groundbreaking—see what I did there?—in design. But it is clear and communicates effectively the dramatic shifts in particular regions.

The more interesting part, along with what we looked at last week, is the ability to choose a particular county and see how it has trended since 1895 and compare that to the baseline, US-level average. Naturally, some counties have been warming faster, others slower. Philadelphia County, the entirety of the city, has warmed more than the US average, but thankfully less than the Northeast average as the article points out.

This ain't so good
This ain’t so good

But, not to leave out Chicago as I did last week, Cook County, Illinois is right on line with the US average.

Nor is this, but it's average
Nor is this, but it’s average

But the big cities on the West Coast look very unattractive.

Tinseltown is out of the question
Tinseltown is out of the question

The interactive piece does a nice job clearly focusing the user’s attention on the long run average through the coloured lines instead of focusing attention on the yearly deviations, which can vary significantly from year to year.

And for those Americans who are not familiar with Celsius, one degree Celsius equals approximately 1.8º Fahrenheit.

Overall this is a solid piece that continues to show just what future generations are going to have to fix.

Credit for the piece goes to Steven Mufson, Chris Mooney, Juliet Eilperin, John Muyskens, and Salwan Georges.

It’s like M*A*S*H That Way

Happy Friday, all. Welcome to the end of the week. Today is just a little post from xkcd looking at the time span of the Wild West compared to the genre of the Wild West. The genre has lasted longer than the historical era. Kind of like how the television show M*A*S*H lasted far longer than the actual Korean War in which it was set.

Manifest destiny?
Manifest destiny?

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Abortion by State

In case you did not hear, earlier this week Alabama banned all abortions. And for once, we do not have to add the usual caveat of “except in cases of rape or incest”. In Alabama, even in cases of rape and incest, women will not have the option of having an abortion.

And in Georgia, legislators are debating a bill that will not only strictly limit women’s rights to have an abortion, but will leave them, among other things, liable for criminal charges for travelling out of state to have an abortion.

Consequently, the New York Times created a piece that explores the different abortion bans on a state-by-state basis. It includes several nice graphics including what we increasingly at work called a box map. The map sits above the article and introduces the subject direct from the header that seven states have introduced significant legislation this year. The map highlights those seven states.

We've been calling these box maps. It's growing on me.
We’ve been calling these box maps. It’s growing on me.

The gem, however, is a timeline of sorts that shows when states ban abortion based on how long since a woman’s last period.

There are some crazy shifts leftward in this graphic…
There are some crazy shifts leftward in this graphic…

It does a nice job of segmenting the number of weeks into not trimesters and highlighting the first, which traditionally had been the lower limit for conservative states. It also uses a nice yellow overlay to indicate the traditional limits determined by the Roe v. Wade decision. I may have introduced a nice thin rule to even further segment the first trimester into the first six week period.

We also have a nice calendar-like small multiple series showing states that have introduced but not passed, passed but vetoed, passed, and pending legislation with the intention of completely banning abortion and also completely banning it after six weeks.

Far too many boxes on the right…
Far too many boxes on the right…

This does a nice job of using the coloured boxes to show the states have passed legislation. However, the grey coloured boxes seem a bit disingenuous in that they still represent a topically significant number: states that have introduced legislation. It almost seems as if the grey should be all 50 states, like in the box map, and that these states should be in some different colour. Because the eight or 15 in the 2019 column are a small percentage of all 50 states, but they could—and likely will—have an oversized impact on women’s rights in the year to come.

That said, it is a solid graphic overall. And taken together the piece overall does a nice job of showing just how restrictive these new pieces of legislation truly are. And how geographically limited in scope they are. Notably, some states people might not associate with seemingly draconian laws are found in surprising places: Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland, and New York. But that last point would be best illustrated by another box map.

Credit for the piece goes to K.K. Rebecca Lai.

The Rise of White Nationalist Terrorism

Whilst I was on holiday, a terrorist killed nearly fifty people in Christchurch, New Zealand. Except this time, he was a white man and the victims were all Muslims. Admittedly, I really did not read much about it until I returned to the States, but it clearly is not a thing I was expecting out of New Zealand. But the Economist looked at the question of whether this shooting is more of another in a pattern or a one-off.

Too many dots for my comfort…
Too many dots for my comfort…

The graphic does a fairly good job of showing the increasing frequency of right-wing/white nationalist terror attacks. From a design standpoint, the nice touch is the use of transparency to show overlapping events. For example, the concentric circles for Utoya and Oslo show the two Anders Breivik attacks in Norway.

You could arguably say the treatment begins to fail, however, in the US/Canada timeline. Here, regrettably, there are often too many attacks in too close proximity that the dots are too overlaid. Here I wonder if some other method of stacking or offsetting the incidents could work.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist data team.

Trump Keeps Attacking the Special Counsel

Yesterday the New York Times published a fascinating piece looking at the data on how often President Trump has gone after the Special Counsel’s investigation. (Spoiler: over 1100 times.) It makes use of a number of curvy line charts showing the peaks of mentions of topics and people, e.g. Jeff Sessions. But my favourite element was this timeline.

All the dots. So many dots.
All the dots. So many dots.

It’s nothing crazy or fancy, but simple small multiples of a calendar format. The date and the month are not particular important, but rather the frequency of the appearances of the red dots. And often they appear, especially last summer.

Credit for the piece goes to Larry Buchanan and Karen Yourish.