Simplicity

147 posts
Simple charts are the hardest to do right

The CDC website has a variety of data graphics about many topics, one of which is U.S. vaccinations. I was looking for information about Covid-19 data broken down by age groups, and that's when I landed on these charts (link). The left panel shows people with at least one dose, and the right panel shows those who are "fully vaccinated." This simple chart takes an unreasonable amount of time to...

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Did prices go up or down? Depends on how one looks at the data

The U.S. media have been flooded with reports of runaway inflation recently, and it's refreshing to see a nice article in the Wall Street Journal that takes a second look at the data. Because as my readers know, raw data can be incredibly deceptive. Inflation typically describes the change in price level relative to the prior year. The month-on-month change in price levels is a simple seasonal adjustment used to...

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Reading this chart won’t take as long as withdrawing troops from Afghanistan

Art sent me the following Economist chart, noting how hard it is to understand. I took a look, and agreed. It's an example of a visual representation that takes more time to comprehend than the underlying data. The chart presents responses to 3 questions on a survey. For each question, the choices are Approve, Disapprove, and "Neither" (just picking a word since I haven't seen the actual survey question). The...

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Dreamy Hawaii

I really enjoyed this visual story by ProPublica and Honolulu Star-Advertiser about the plight of beaches in Hawaii (link). The story begins with a beautiful invitation: This design reminds me of Vimeo's old home page. (It no longer looks like this today but this screenshot came from when I was the data guy there.) In both cases, the images are not static but moving. The tour de force of this...

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These are the top posts of 2020

It's always very interesting as a writer to look back at a year's of posts and find out which ones were most popular with my readers. Here are the top posts on Junk Charts from 2020: How to read this chart about coronavirus risk This post about a New York Times scatter plot dates from February, a time when many Americans were debating whether Covid-19 was just the flu. Proportions...

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Convincing charts showing containment measures work

The disorganized nature of U.S.'s response to the coronavirus pandemic has created a sort of natural experiment that allows data journalists to explore important scientific questions, such as the impact of containment measures on cases and hospitalizations. This New York Times article represents the best of such work. The key finding of the analysis is beautifully captured by this set of scatter plots: Each dot is a state. The cases...

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Bloomberg made me digest these graphics slowly

Ask the experts to name the success metric of good data visualization, and you will receive a dozen answers. The field doesn't have an all-encompassing metric. A useful reference is Andrew Gelman and Antony Urwin (2012) in which they discussed the tradeoff between beautiful and informative, which derives from the familiar tension between art and science. For a while now, I've been intrigued by metrics that measure "effort". Some years...

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When the pie chart is more complex than the data

The trading house, Charles Schwab, included the following graphic in a recent article: This graphic is more complicated than the story that it illustrates. The author describes a simple scenario in which an investor divides his investments into stocks, bonds and cash. After a stock crash, the value of the portfolio declines. The graphic is a 3-D pie chart, in which the data are encoded twice, first in the areas...

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Designs of two variables: map, dot plot, line chart, table

The New York Times found evidence that the richest segments of New Yorkers, presumably those with second or multiple homes, have exited the Big Apple during the early months of the pandemic. The article (link) is amply assisted by a variety of data graphics. The first few charts represent different attempts to express the headline message. Their appearance in the same article allows us to assess the relative merits of...

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Graph literacy, in a sense

Ben Jones tweeted out this chart, which has an unusual feature: What's unusual is that time runs in both directions. Usually, the rule is that time runs left to right (except, of course, in right-to-left cultures). Here, the purple area chart follows that convention while the yellow area chart inverts it. On the one hand, this is quite cute. Lines meeting in the middle. Converging. I get it. On the...

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