Much data, zero info
Small and beautiful


Econ_muslimsReaders may have noticed that I'm not a fan of the graphics aesthetics of the Economist.  (I love their subtle sarcasm, a way of saying something without saying it.  For example, the title of this chart is "where they are".  They let us read any meaning into the word "they".  As for their charts, I have taken issue on several occasions.)

This particular example uses one of their standard formats, stacked bars with an extra data series tagged on the right, its boxed annotation calling attention to itself.  It's a case of too much apparatus for a simple task.

The chart's purpose is to show that the US and France have the largest Muslim populations by numbers while France is by far the top country by percentage.

Redo_muslimsOur junkart version is very much cleaner.  Line segments indicating the low, mid and high estimates replaced the stacked bars (which falsely imply significance in adding the low and high estimates).  As usual, the minimum of gridlines and axes is used.  Instead of jamming two ideas onto one chart, if percentages are more important, then a separate chart should be produced, now ordered by decreasing percentages (see below).

The most crucial improvement is the fine print.  Perhaps extending their subtle sarcasm too far, the chart maker omitted context for interpreting the data: namely, that the low-mid-high range represents estimates by up to 5 different sources, each using potentially different methodologies for estimation.  This partially explains the huge variance in estimates for the US (or does it?).

Redo2_muslimsAlso missing is a comment on why these particular 6 countries were selected.  It may give a misleading picture of "where they are" in the context of world population.

Reference: "Where They Are", Economist, June 2006.



John S.

This is not a criticism of your figure but of the data used by the Economist. It implies that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the number of Muslims in the U.S. I don't think that uncertainty really exists. A phone survey asking "What religion do you consider yourself to be" would have a small margin of error.

What we have here, I suspect, is an inflated estimate by an advocacy group, masquerading as data.

Ben S.

I don't know. Looking at the last chart, the uncertainty in the US doesn't look so large. Could it just seem inflated because the US has such a large population?


Ben, your point is well taken although John's point about biased estimation by advocacy groups is still worth considering.

If I had the raw data, I'd plot the 5-6 estimates as dots rather than just the min-mid-max. This way, we can judge if certain groups or types of groups consistently give over/under estimates.


Sorry, but your junkart is more than likely a junkchart... as I think it's lacking in many areas, including appeal, to say the least. The Economist chart is just appealing to the eye, and more likely to draw attention, and thus, be more likely to actually convey information. Whereas your bare-bones approach is distinctly "un-pretty" and less worthy of scrutiny in my judgement. Sorry, but you're way off here.


I for one find the Economist chart very ugly, in addition to being a poor data graphic.

Appeal is in the eye of the beholder.


John, I'm not so sure that is such a good idea. First of all you would need a proper definition of being a muslim, do you have to visit the mosque? Do you have to believe in Allah? Or is it enough to celebrate muslim holidays without actually practising the religion?

Much the same way as so called christians do with christmas and so on. I would certainly qualify as christian since I'm born in western country, celebrate (originally) christian holidays but never ever set my foot in a church.

The above is probably the main uncertainties behind the figures.

John S.

Well Mingus (ah um) I will have to disagree with you. People have made similar arguments in regards to race: there's no good definition; biologically, races don't exist anyway; etc. Yet despite all these complications, when the census taker comes around and asks, people know how to answer the question.


Kaiser's junkart version may be "unsexy", but there are all sorts of ways it could be sexed up and draw the casual reader's eye, if that's what you want, without turning it into the version the Economist chose. It's not an either-or choice.


John S.

Freaky exceptions like Michael Jackson aside, black people, for example, don't opt out of their race by not going to weekly meetings of the NAACP or to an AME church, while the same person may or may not be a "Christian" depending on church attendance or some other (in)action. Further, especially post 9/11, and given their relatively small numbers, Muslims in the US may especially be reluctant to self-identify in an anonymous survey (but much more likely to self-identify to a perceived fellow muslim. Finally, the US has the added factor of the "Nation of Islam" and other groups which perceive themselves as Muslim but may not be seen as such by other Muslimes (Sunni or Shiite).

The comments to this entry are closed.