Archive for category Graphics

Jittery gauges making people crazy on election night

Early last Tuesday evening I went to the New York Times elections website to check on the Presidential race.  It had Clinton favored, but not by much—just a bit over 50% at the time, with the needle wavering alarmingly (by my reckoning) towards the side of Trump.  A few hours later I was shocked to see it at a plus 70% for Trump.  By the time I retired for the night the Times had him at near 100%, which, of course turned out to be the case, to my surprise and many others, even President Elect Trump himself, I suspect.

Being a chemical engineer, I like the jittery gauge display—it actually is less unsettling for me than a needle that is fixed (which usually happened only when a measuring instrument failed).  Even more important, from my perspective as an aficionado of statistics, is the way this dynamic graphic expressed uncertainty—becoming less jittery as the night went on and returns came in.  However, the fluctuating probabilities freaked out a lot of viewers, leading to this explanation by NYT as to Why we used jittery gauges.

For an unbiased, mainly positive, review of this controversial graphical approach by the Times to report election results see this Visualizing Data blog.

“Negativity expressed towards the jitter was a visceral reaction to the anguish caused by the increasing uncertainty of the outcome, heightened by the shocking twist in events during the night, [but] I found it an utterly compelling visual aid.”

— Andy Kirk, author of Visualizing Data

P.S. Here’s a new word that I picked up while researching this blog: “skeuomorphism”, meaning the designing of graphics to resemble real world counterparts, for example, Apple Watch’s clock-like interface.  Evidently battles have been raging for years in the tech world over using this approach versus flat, minimalist, designs.  I had no idea!

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Choropleth maps—say what?

The mating of maps with statistics goes back to this 1826 graphic by mathematician Charles Dupin that illustrated the extent of illiteracy in France via regional shadings.  Later these thematic plots came to be known as a “choropleth”—from the Greek for region (choro) and multitude (pleth).  I only heard of this term this week, thanks to a Flowing Data blog by Nathan Yau with a tip on how to produce choropleth maps online.

Another variation on thematic maps is the “cartogram”—for example this one published yesterday by the Wall Street Journal that illustrates American unemployment.  A cartogram shifts shapes so their areas correlate to some measure, in this case the relative density and number of workers.  I am pleased to see on the last of the three figures that my home state of Minnesota fared well with its recovery from the Great Recession.  However, I don’t like seeing our outline distorted so.  The Dakotas and neighboring states really got squeezed.  Perhaps we get some oil out of it to make our economy even better. ; )

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It’s the letter of the law: Stand down with Calibri

Twenty years ago or so I cajoled the advertising rep from R&D Magazine into lending me a binder filled with several inches of ‘white papers’ of the publisher’s research on readership.  Their data came primarily from A/B (split) testing—not very sophisticated but effective for simple comparisons.  One question I resolved was whether to use serif or sans serif font.  The research showed significant advantages to headlines being san serif, such as Arial font, and text in serif—for example, Times New Roman.  I’ve stuck with that ever since,* except for the fonts themselves changing over to Calibri and Cambria—the defaults in current versions of Microsoft Office software.

However, now I am set back by this news from Wall Street Journal that Calibri comes up short—30 percent to be precise—versus Arial and other common fonts, at least so far as the State of Michigan is concerned.  The inventor of Calibri, Lucas de Groot, justifies his type being smaller because of its high readability per square inch.  Although this seems plausible to me, I would like to see the research supporting this assertion.

For an interesting detailing of fonts—serif versus san serif and neo-grotesque versus humanist—see this blog by Laurie Israel Think.

*For writings that will likely be read in printed form, that is.  Having seen research like this recent study from the JOURNAL OF COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY, I believe that words written in a sans serif font provide a significant advantage for messages read on computer screens, such as blogs and email.  Thus for these purposes I prefer using Calibri exclusively—ditto for presentations projected on screen, for example—using Powerpoint.

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Bubbly graphs make statistics delightful

Check out this link* to an interview by Fareed Zakaria of “gap minder” Hans Rosling.  This Swedish statistician, with a focus on global health, uses dynamic bubble graphs to dramatize world developments that are closing the gap to USA’s lead in well-being.

It really is mesmerizing to see Rosling dramatize statistics via his moving graphs.  See his recent hour-long BBC special “The Joy of Stats” at this GapMinder website. You will find it very entertaining and enlightening, I am sure.

“I kid you not – statistics is now the sexiest subject around.”

–          Hans Rosling

Fortunately for all of us, Google bought the technology for these motion charts to make them widely available.  For example, fiddle with the graph correlating life expectancy and fertility at this Google Labs’ Public Data Explorer posting.

Who would have ever thought that statistics could be so much fun!

*Thanks to Paul Sheldon, an independent consultant specializing in quality and productivity tools,  who provided me the heads-up.


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