## This map steals story-telling from the designer

##### May 28, 2018

Stolen drugs is a problem at federal VA hospitals according to the following map.

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Let's evaluate this map from a Trifecta Checkup perspective.

VISUAL - Pass by a whisker. The chosen visual form of a map is standard for geographic data although the map snatches story-telling from our claws, just as people steal drugs from hospitals. Looking at the map, it's not clear what the message is. Is there one?

The 50 states plus DC are placed into five groups based on the reported number of incidents of theft. From the headline, it appears that the journalist conducted a Top 2 Box analysis, defining "significant" losses of drugs as 300 incidents or more. The visual design ignores this definition of "significance."

DATA - Fail. The map tells us where the VA hospitals are located. It doesn't tell us which states are most egregious in drug theft. To learn that, we need to compute a rate, based on the number of hospitals or patients or the amount of spending on drugs.

Looking more carefully, it's not clear they used a Top 2 Box analysis either. I counted seven states with the highest level of theft, followed by another seven states with the second highest level of theft. So the cutoff of twelve states awkwardly lands in between the two levels.

QUESTION - Fail. Drug theft from hospitals is an interesting topic but the graphic does not provide a good answer to the question.

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Even if we don't have data to compute a rate, the chart is a bit better if proportions are emphasized, rather than counts.

The proportions are most easily understood from the base of four quarters making the whole. The first group is just over a quarter; the second group is exactly a quarter. The third group plus the first group roughly make up a half. The fourth and fifth groups together almost fills out a quarter.

In the original map, we are told about at least 400 incidents of theft in Texas but given no context to interpret this statistic. What proportion of the total thefts occur in Texas?

## Light entertainment: I am a pen and I object

##### May 21, 2018

You've got to look out for conflicts on your dataviz!

Example from Explosm courtesy of reader Chris P.

Color says one thing. Face says something else. Words agree with Color. Pen objects.

## Common charting issues related to connecting lines, labels, sequencing

##### May 10, 2018

The following chart about "ranges and trends for digital marketing salaries" has some problems that appear in a great number of charts.

The order of the job titles is baffling. It's neither alphabetical nor by salary.

The visual form suggests that we could see trends in salaries reading left-right, but the only information about trends is the year on year salary change, printed on top of the chart.

Some readers will violently object to the connecting lines between job titles, which are discrete categories. In this case, I also agree. I am a fan of so-called profile charts in which we do connect discrete categories with connecting lines - but those charts work because we are comparing the "profiles" of one group versus another group. Here, there is only one group.

The N=3,567 is weird. It doesn't say anything about the reliability of the estimate for say Chief Marketing Officer.

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A dot plot can be used for this dataset. Like this:

The range of salaries is not a great metric as the endpoints could be outliers.

Also, the variability of salaries is affected by two factors: the variability between companies, and sampling variability (which depends on the sample size for each job title). A wide range here could mean that different companies pay different salaries for the same job title, or that very few survey responders held that job title.

## Fantastic visual, but the Google data need some pre-processing

##### May 01, 2018

Another entry in the Google Newslab data visualization project that caught my eye is the "How to Fix It" project, illustrating search queries across the world that asks "how." The project web page is here.

The centerpiece of the project is an interactive graphic showing queries related to how to fix home appliances. Here is what it looks like in France (It's always instructive to think about how they would count "France" queries. Is it queries from google.fr? queries written in French? queries from an IP address in France? A combination of the above?)

I particularly appreciate the lack of labels. When we see the pictures, we don't need to be told this is a window and that is a door. The search data concern the relative sizes of the appliances. The red dotted lines show the relative popularity of searches for the respective appliances in aggregate.

By comparison, the Russian picture looks very different:

Are the Russians more sensible? Their searches are far and away about the washing machine, which is the most complicated piece of equipment on the graphic.

At the bottom of the page, the project looks at other queries, such as those related to cooking. I find it fascinating to learn what people need help making:

I have to confess that I searched for "how to make soft boiled eggs". That led me to a lot of different webpages, mostly created for people who search for how to make a soft boiled egg. All of them contain lots of advertising, and the answer boils down to cook it for 6 minutes.

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The Russia versus France comparison brings out a perplexing problem with the "Data" in this visualization. For competitive reasons, Google does not provide data on search volume. The so-called Search Index is what is being depicted. The Search Index uses the top-ranked item as the reference point (100). In the Russian diagram, the washing machine has Search Index of 100 and everything else pales in comparison.

In the France example, the window is the search item with the greatest number of searches, so it has Search Index of 100; the door has Index 96, which means it has 96% of the search volume of the window; the washing machine with Index 49 has about half the searches of the window.

The numbers cannot be interpreted as proportions. The Index of 49 does not mean that washing machines account for 49% of all France queries about fixing home appliances. That is really the meaning of popularity we want to have but we don't have. We can obtain true popularity measures by "normalizing" the Search Index: just sum up the Index Values of all the appliances and divide the Search Index by the sum of the Indices. After normalizing, the numbers can be interpreted as proportions and they add up to 100% for each country. When not normalized, the indices do not add to 100%.

Take the case in which we have five appliances, and let's say all five appliances are equally popular, comprising 20% of searches each. The five Search Indices will all be 100 because the top-ranked item is given the value of 100. Those indices add to 500!

By contrast, in the case of Russia (or a more extreme case), the top-ranked query is almost 100% of all the searches, so the sum of the indices will be only slightly larger than 100.

If you realize this, then you'd understand that it is risky to compare Search Indices across countries. The interpretation is clouded by how much of the total queries accounted for by the top query.

In our Trifecta Checkup, this is a chart that does well in the Question and Visual corners, but there is a problem with the Data.