At first, this looks like a decent chart despite the donut construct, which I cannot stand (but the Economist loves).
The accompanying text proclaimed: "Rock stars are famous for excess, and some pay the price". The rest of the paragraph points out drug- and alcohol-related deaths, plus deaths due to "unhealthy lifestyles", which apparently include cancer and cardiovascular disease.
There is a gaping hole between what's on the chart and what's in the text. They just talk past each other.
The chart invites us to compare the European experience to the American experience. Each donut presents the proportion of total deaths by causes of death. The top donut presents American rock-star deaths, the bottom European ones. But this comparison has zilch to do with
the key point, which is how rock stars are different from the rest of
us. The chart tells us nothing about the rest of us. The 20% death by
cancer would be entirely unremarkable if 20% of non-rock-star deaths
also were attributed to cancer!
We must also bear in mind that the base populations are
rock stars who died young. This is a very specific demographic
segment, and so the only valid point of reference are people who died
young. If we think along those lines, then among unmusical people, if
they died young, what might have been the causes of death? Drugs?
Alcohol? Accidents? Suicide? You bet. I am not sure who is the
authoritative source of such data but the CDC reported that among
Americans aged 15-34 who died, the leading causes were "unintentional
injury", suicides, homicides, cancer and heart disease. Not much different from the above list...
The deaths depicted in the two donuts totaled fewer than 100, and yet percentages are given to one decimal place. This creates a false sense of precision not justified by the sample size.
The deaths occurred over about 50 years. It is very likely that the causes of premature death have shifted during this time span, making an aggregate analysis questionable.
Charting is much more than just aesthetics. Some basic statistical common sense goes a long way. This was observed long ago by Huff.
This set of charts covered the back page of one of New York Times' sections this weekend.
Regular readers will share my enthusiasm for the top chart. It makes a clear, cogent case to support the article's thesis concerning the rise of bottled water. Various renditions of this type of chart have appeared here, for example.
Specifically, the smart use of color to cluster the line objects helps interpret the trends. Blue sets out the two primary interests. (It's a mystery to me why the gray lines were separated into darker and lighter hues.)
The twenty-year horizon used is another nice touch. I'd remove the gridlines although they aren't too distracting here.
Sadly, the second graphic does not meet the high standard of the first. The biggest problem concerns the red rectangle, purportedly showing how much of the bottled water was imported. The choice of differently-sized bottles as objects makes it impossible to gauge what proportion of the total was imported. If the rectangle was placed over 1-litre bottles instead, it would look smaller.
Frank W. sent in a timely reminder of the start-at-zero rule. This ad from Quaker Oats pitches the impossible: the smart consumer will never believe that cholesterol levels can be dropped just like that! According to Frank's measurement, the column heights plunged 77% from Week 1 to Week 4 in this chart.
In fact, if the vertical axis had started from 0, then the drop would more appropriately appear to be 5%. Now, even that would have been a miracle, in my opinion.
Thus, I would like to know what is a "point" of cholesterol, and what do they mean by "representative" drop. I suppose they are asking me to call that number.
My previous posts (with commentary from readers) about starting at zero can be found here and here.