Has the New York Times lost the plot? This was the thought in my head when I saw this scary thing last Friday, right in the center of the front page of the New York edition:
This Halloween scare is supposed to tell us who the biggest political donors are, and to what party. Here is a close-up view:
I think the stacked squares, arranged in this particular way--staggered both horizontally and vertically--is supposed to represent something. I can't figure it out. Maybe a loudspeaker? An accordian?
The use of the unexplained red color for the Chamber of Commerce (the subject of the accompanying article) is also problematic. Based on the inset, it's pretty clear that the Chamber is "leaning Republican" so it should just be colored pink.
What is very hard to understand is why the amount of overlapping from one square to the next square is not the same.
We can visualize the problem as follows:
According to the data, the US Chamber of Commerce donated about the same amount as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ($21.1 v. $22). However, the visible areas on the chart are vastly different. There is a presumption that readers will look behind the squares to see the full square but that's pretty hard to do when they are stacked 15-deep!
What's the amount of distortion due to this design?
A lot. Much of this is due to the fact that the lowest ranked item plotted is an actual square which happens to have the largest unobstructed area.
Here's a dot plot that conveys the essential information with minimal fuss: