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Sometimes you expose the holes

On Friday, I'm attending and speaking at the Leaders in Software and Art Conference, organized by Isabel Draves. LISA is an amazing gathering of artists interested in technology and software. For example, there is a panel on 3D printing and hardware hacking, and one on "creative coding, art and advertising". Check out videos from past years, and click here to register. My talk is at around 3:30 in a tightly packed day of activities.


Andrew Sullivan highlighted a chart showing the public attitude toward climate change globally:

Andrew summarized the above chart thus: "Sadly, America is home to far more climate skeptics than the global average."

This conclusion may be correct but the chart is less convincing than it appears.

Trifecta_checkupLet's pull out the Junk Charts Trifecta Checkup. Recall that there are three sides to the triangle. The question is well-posed, and the bar chart is an adequate choice for this data. We thank the designer for not printing the entire data set on the tight space, and to start the vertical axis at zero.

There are a few improvements one can still make to the bar chart. Start with turning it around so that the reader doesn't have to turn his/her head around. Also, extend the axis to 100% helps the interpretation a little bit.


If you have keen eyes, you notice that Greece showed up at the top of the revamped chart. The bar for Korea is also a tad too short in the original chart; it should be at 85%. 

To what extent is the set of countries "global"? Take a look:


It missed all of Scandanavia, most of Indochina, India, much of Africa, and all of Central America.

In the Trifecta checkup, we note that the data may not be complete for the posed question. Given this flaw, the map is perhaps a better choice to show us where the holes are.

There's nothing wrong with Eli Manning on this chart

The Giants QB Eli Manning is in the news for the wrong reason this season. His hometown paper, the New York Times, looked the other way, focusing on one metric that he still excels at, which is longevity. This is like the Cal Ripken of baseball. The graphic (link) though is fun to look at while managing to put Eli's streak in context. It is a great illustration of recognition of foreground/background issues. (I had to snip the bottom of the chart.)


After playing around with this graphic, please go read Kevin QuigleyQuealy's behind-the-scenes description of the various looks that were discarded (link). He showed 19 sketches of the data. Sketching cannot be stressed enough. If you don't have discarded sketches, you don't have a great chart.

Pay attention to tradeoffs that are being made along the way. For example, one of the sketches showed the proportion of possible games started:


I like this chart quite a bit. The final selection arranges the data by team rather than by player so necessarily, the information about proportion of possible games started fell by the wayside.

(Disclosure: I'm on Team Philip. Good to see that he is right there with Eli even on this metric.)



Deconstructing the map of beers

BBeermapusiness Insider links to this blog with a chart depicting the top beer brands by state.

I like the quilt-like appearance brought on by using the packaging of different brands. The nine glowing yellow islands sitting in the Atlantic Ocean I find annoying. This happens a lot because those New England states are smaller in area than most.

The design problem evaporates if you choose a small multiples approach. As shown below, there is the added benefit that the regional pattern of brand preference is clearly visible whereas in the original chart, it is rather hard to figure out.


I won't comment on the data source here. It's highly suspect.


Revisiting the Syria chart

New York/Tri-State residents: Meet me at NYU Bookstore tonight, 6-7:30 pm. (link)


When I wrote about the graphic showing the vote distribution around Syria in the Congress a few posts ago (link), readers offered opinions about what's a better graphic might look like. Having considered these submissions, I came up with a new visualization.


This graphic is one that facilitates an assessment of the prospect of the Syria resolution passing, given the known and leaning votes. It addresses various scenarios of how the undecided votes would break out. It also considers the extreme -- and unlikely -- case in which all leaning yes votes are sustained, all leaning no votes reverse, and all undecided vote yes. In that scenario, the President would have 131% of the votes needed for passing the resolution.

In this graphic, the real story of the data is revealed: based on the then known and leaning votes, the President would face certain defeat. Even if all the undecided broke in his favor, he would still only get to 86% of the votes needed to pass.

The top bar, showing composition, is a concession to those who wanted to understand how each party is voting under each scenario. It's a minor concern here.


Comparison to the original chart, reproduced below, is almost unfair. What is the prospect of the resolution passing? It's impossible to tell.



My graphic exposes less data, hides all No and Leaning No votes, displays no vote totals, and focuses on a computed metric, the proportional progress towards the 271 vote goal.


Mark your calendar

I'll be speaking at the NYU Bookstore on Oct 8 (next Tuesday), 6-7:30 pm. See here.

On Oct 9 (Wed), I'll be speaking at the Princeton Tech Meetup. The meeting starts at 7; my talk starts at 8. Details here.


Reader Andrew C. was unhappy about the following stacked bar chart, published by Teach for America, touting its diversity. (link)

The lightning symbol that splits apart the Caucasian bar is a harbinger of trouble. For the designer deployed seven different scales -- in a bar chart with seven bars. The following chart reveals this idiosyncracy. In each revised bar, the blue portion is made proportional to the length of the bar. The implied full length of the bottom bar literally ran off the page!


Even if we ignore the gray bits, the blue portions are still not proportional as the much-too-long 0.5% section shows.

It would appear that the key piece of information is buried in the subtitle and does not feature in the original chart. In the revised version, I highlighted the 38% people of color, and then showed how that proportion splits by race.