Choropleths…Again

Admittedly, I was trying to find a data set for a piece, but couldn’t find one. So instead for today’s post I’ll turn to something that’s been sitting in my bookmarks for a little while now. It’s a choropleth map from the US Census Bureau looking at population change between the censuses.

Unequal growth

The reason I have it bookmarked is for the apportionment map, but I will save apportionment for another post because, well, it’s complicated. But map colours are a thing we’ve been discussing of late and we can extend that conversation here.

What I find interesting about this map is how they used a very dark blue-grey colour for their positive growth and an orange that is a fair bit brighter for negative growth, or population loss. And because of that difference in brightness, the orange really jumps out at you.

To be fair, that’s ideal if you’re trying to talk about where state populations are shrinking, because it focuses attention on declines. But, if you’re trying to present a more neutral position, like this seems to be, that colour choice might not be ideal.

Another issue is that if you look at the legend it simply says loss for that orange. But, look above and you’ll see four bins clearly delimited by ranges of percents for the positive growth. If we are trying to present a more neutral story, the use of the orange places it visually somewhere near the top of that blue-grey spectrum.

If you look at the percentages, however, Michigan’s population decline was 0.6% and Puerto Rico’s 2.2%. If this map used a legend that treated positive and negative growth equally, you would place that one state and one should-be state in a presumably light orange. The scale of their negative growth is equal to something like Ohio, which is in the lightest blue-grey available.

Consequently, this map is a little bit misleading when it comes to negative growth.

Credit for the piece goes to the Census Bureau graphics team.

But What About New Zealand?

It’s time for another Friday just for fun posting. I once worked with a guy who could draw a map of the United States or the world on a whiteboard incredibly accurately. He then left it in the break room for the office to try and label correctly.

This is kind of that, but in reverse, from xkcd. Good luck.

Which states are missing?

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Americans Can’t Kick the Auto Habit

After looking this week at the growth of the physical size of cities due to improvements in transport technologies, the increasing density of cities, and then the contribution of automobile (especially personal cars) to carbon dioxide emissions, today we look at a piece from the Transport Politic comparing US and French mass transit ridership to see whether the recent decline in US ridership is inevitable or a choice made by consumers and policymakers. Spoiler: it’s not inevitable.

The article makes use of a few graphics and an interactive component. The lead-in graphic is a nice line chart that runs with the spaghetti nature of the graphic: lots of line but only two are really highlighted.

The French are definitely better than the US here.
The French are definitely better than the US here.

Light grey lines and light blue lines encode the US and French cities under study. But only the lines representing the averages of both the US and France are darkly coloured and in a thicker stroke to stand out from the rest. Normally I would not prefer the minimum of the y-axis being 50%, but here the baseline is actually 100% so the chart really works well. And interestingly it shows that prior to the Great Recession, the United States was doing better than France in adoption of mass transit, relative to 2010 numbers.

But then when you directly compare 2010 to 2018 for various US and French cities, you get an even better chart. Also you see that French cities reclaim the lead in transit growth.

A lot of declines on this side of the pond.
A lot of declines on this side of the pond.

These two static graphics, which can each be clicked to view larger, do a really great job of cutting through what some might call noise of the intervening years. I do like, much like yesterday’s post, the comparison of total or aggregate ridership to per capita numbers. It shows how even though New York’s total ridership has increased, the population has increased faster than the ridership numbers and so per capita ridership has declined. And of course as yesterday’s post examined, in the States the key to fighting climate change is reducing the number of people driving.

What I cannot quite figure out from the graphic is what the colouration of the lines mean. I thought that perhaps the black vs. grey lines meant the largest cities, but then LA would be black. Maybe for the steepest declines, but no, because both LA and Boston are grey. I also thought the grey lines might be used when black lines overlap to aid clarity, but then why is Boston in grey? Regardless, I like the choice of the overall form.

But where things go really downhill are the interactive charts.

Just what?
Just what?

Talk about unintelligible spaghetti charts. So the good. The designer kept the baseline at 100% and set the min and max around that. After that it’s a mess. Even if the colours all default to the rainbow, the ability to select and isolate a particular city would be incredibly valuable to the user. Unfortunately selecting a city does no such thing. All the other cities remain coloured, and sometimes layered atop the selected city.

I would have thrown the unselected cities into the greyscale and let the selected city rise to the top layer and remain in its colour. Let it be the focus of the user’s attention.

Or the designer could have kept to the idea in the first graphic and coloured American cities grey and French cities light blue and then let the user select one from among the set and compare that to the overall greyed/blued masses and the US and French averages.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad piece. But that final interactive bit was questionable. Unfortunately the piece started strong and ended weak, when the reverse would have been preferable.

Credit for the piece goes to Yonah Freemark.

Where the Vaping Illness Is Spreading

Yesterday President Trump announced that the FDA is seeking to implement a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes. Ostensibly this is to combat teen uptake on the habit, but it comes at the same time as an outbreak of respiratory illnesses seemingly linked to vaping. Though, it should be pointed out that preliminary data points to a link to cannabis-infused vaping liquids, not necessarily cigarettes.

Regardless, the day before yesterday, I want to the CDC website to get the data on the outbreak to see if there was a geographic pattern to the outbreak. And, no, not really.

No real clear pattern here
No real clear pattern here

The closest thing that I could argue is the Eastern Seaboard south of New England. But then the deaths are all from the Midwest and westward. So no, in this graphic, there really is no story. I guess you could also say it’s more widespread than not?

Credit for this piece goes to me.

United in Gun Control

Today’s piece is nothing more than a line chart. But in the aftermath of this past weekend’s gun violence—and the inability of this country to enact gun control legislation to try and reduce instances like them—the Economist published a piece looking at public polling on gun control legislation. Perhaps surprisingly, the data shows people are broadly in favour of more restrictive gun laws, including the outlawing of military-style, semi-automatic weapons.

These trendlines are heading in the right direction
These trendlines are heading in the right direction

In this graphic, we have a line chart. However the import parts to note are the dots, which is when the survey was conducted. The lines, in this sense, can be seen as a bit misleading. For example, consider that from late 2013 through late 2015 the AP–NORC Centre conducted no surveys. It is entirely possible that support for stricter laws fell, or spiked, but then fell back to the near 60% register it held in 2015.

On the other hand, given the gaps in the dataset, lines would be useful to guide the reader across the graphic. So I can see the need for some visual aid.

Regardless, support for stricter gun laws is higher than your author believed it to be.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

The Entire United States Pt 2

Yesterday I wrote about the failure in a Politico piece to include Alaska and Hawaii in a graphic depicting the “entire” United States. After I had posted it, I recalled an article I read in the Guardian that looked at the shape of the United States, using the term “logo map”. It compared what many would consider the logo map to the actual map of the United States.

Still no New Zealand…
Still no New Zealand…

I warn you, it is a long read. But it was worth it to try and reframe the idea of what does the United States look like?

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Where’s All the Oil Going?

Hint: not China.

Today’s piece is a nice little graphic from the Economist about the oil and natural gas industry in the United States. We have a bar chart that does a great job showing just how precipitous the decline in Chinese purchases of oil and liquid natural gas has been. Why the drop off? That would be the trade war.

Will they take it? For all the tea in China?
Will they take it? For all the tea in China?

The second graphic, on the right, is far more interesting. The data comes from BP, so the proverbial grain of salt, but it compares expected GDP and demand for energy by source from a baseline model of pre-Trumpian trade war policies to a future of “less globalisation”. Shockingly (sarcasm), the world is worse off when global trade is hindered.

You all know where I stand on stacked bar charts. They are better than pie charts, but still not my favourite. If I really want to dig in and look at the change to, say, coal demand, I cannot. I have to mentally remove that yellow-y bit from the bottom of the bar and reposition to the 0 baseline. Or, I could simply have coal as a separate bar next to the other energy sources.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Tariffs and Trade with China

Following up on yesterday’s post about the facts on tariffs, today we look at an article from Politico that polled voters on their feelings about trade and trade policy. Now the poll dates from the beginning of June and unfortunately a lot of things have changed since then. But, the data overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that voters, at that time at least, do not support placing tariffs on goods coming into the US.

Let’s take a look at another component of the article, however, a chart exploring the infamous trade deficit. First of all, trade deficits do not work like how the president says they do—but we will come back to that in another post. In short, trade deficits are neither good nor bad. They are just one way of describing one facet of a trade relationship between two countries.

This piece looks at the trade balance between the United States and China.

We will get into why this isn't all bad in another post
We will get into why this isn’t all bad in another post

Now, from the topical standpoint, it does a really nice job of showcasing how our imports have surged above our experts. From a topical standpoint, however, we do not know if this is a total trade deficit or just in goods, like the president prefers to talk about, or in goods and services, the latter of which accounts for way more than half of the US economy.

From a design perspective, I have a few thoughts and the first is labelling. The chart does label the endpoints of the data set, 1985 and 2017. But aside from a grey bar representing the Financial Crisis, there are few other markers to indicate the year. In smaller charts, I often do this myself, because space. But here there is enough space for at least a few intervening years to be labelled.

Secondly, the white outline of the red line. I have talked before of a trend to showcase a line over other lines with that thin stroke. But this is the first time I can recall the effect being used over an area filled with colour. Is it necessary? Because the area is light and the line dark and bright, probably not.

Then the outline appears on the text in the graphic, in particular the labels of imports, exports, and the trade deficit label. The labels for the imports and exports likely are necessary because of that light grey used for the text. But, as with the line for the trade deficit, its label likely provides sufficient contrast the thin white outline isn’t necessary.

Credit for the piece goes to Jeremy C.F. Lin.

The Wall Today

This past Sunday I had a nice treat in the New York Times. They printed a piece looking at the state of the US-Mexican border wall as it is today. And not only was it an article, but it was a full-page article.

The Wall today
The Wall today

There isn’t a lot to say about it in particular. But what I really did like was the decision by the designer to tilt the map at an angle. Normally we would see a straight east-to-west, right-to-left map, but here the axis is more southeast-to-northwest, right-to-left map. And that creates a nice space for text in the lower left area, which the designer here did in fact use for the main block of text.

Credit for the piece goes to Sarah Almukhtar.