Visual insights

In large amounts of data, information is hidden that can hardly be recognized with simple means. Special methods for data analysis are in demand and visualization techniques in particular help to overview the information gained and to pass it on in an understandable way.

Media have recognised the potential of statistical and other data years ago; this has led to what has been practised as data journalism in various large newspapers and also in newspaper co-operations.

The Datablog

A pioneer is The Guardian, whose datablog celebrated its 10th anniversary in March 2019:

Computer-assisted reporting

 But hardly anyone is ever the first. Especially when it comes to the visualization of data, there are examples that date back centuries.
But a new era has dawned with the use of computers in data analysis to generate interesting journalistic stories.
Of central importance here is the person of Philip Meyer, who began to use computer-assisted reporting as a journalist in the 1960s.

In his book Precision Journalism: A Reporter’s Introduction to Social Science Methods‘, published in his first edition in 1973, Meyer describes the demands on journalism that are still valid today and that are becoming data journalism.

‘There was a time when all you [as a journalist] needed was dedication to truth, plenty of energy, and some talent for writing. You still need those things, but they are no longer sufficient. The world has become so complicated, the growth of available information so explosive, that the journalist needs to be a filter, as well as a transmitter; an organizer and interpreter, as well as one who gath ers and delivers facts. In addition to knowing how to get information into print, online, or on the air, he or she also must know how to get it into the receiver’s head. In short, a journalist has to be a database manager, a data processor, and a data analyst. …..
In the information society, the needs are more complex. Read any of the popular journals of media criticism and you will find the same complaints about modern journalism. It misses important stories, is
too dependent on press releases, is easily manipulated by politicians and special interests, and does not communicate what it does know in an effective manner. All of these complaints are justified. Their Cause is not so much a lack of energy, talent, or dedication to truth, as the critics some times imply, but a simple lag in the application of information science—a body of knowledge—to the daunting problems of reporting the news in a time of information overload.
….
Today’s journalist must also be familiar with the growingjournalistic body of knowledge, which, therefore, must include these elements:
1 How to find information.
2 How to evaluate and analyze it
3 How to communicate it in a way that will pierce the babble of infor-
mation overload and reach the people who need and want it.
4 How to determine, and then obtain, the amount of precision needed
for a particular story. ‘

(Meyer, p. 1-2)


‘Data is not just about numbers’

Today’s data journalism is closely linked to the philosophy of open data. Data should be available in easily usable formats and be evaluable for everyone. But the claim of current data journalism – as represented by the Guardian authors – still follows the essential ideas of Philip Meyer.

‘We keep some of Meyer’s approach alive in how we do data journalism and we work alongside reporters to get the most out of the combination of data and specialist knowledge. Data is not just about numbers, and behind every row in a database there is a human story. They’re the stories we’re striving to tell. ‘ The Guardian Sat 23 Mar 2019

Examples

Since then, data-based journalism has set a trend. Many others publish data using graphics and are always looking for new ways to communicate the analysed data in an understandable way.
One of many examples is the New York Times, which celebrates Upshot’s 5th anniversary in 2019:

‘Five years ago today, The New York Times introduced The Upshot with the aim of examining politics, policy and everyday life in new ways. We wanted to experiment with formats, using whatever mix of text, data visualizations, images and interactive features seemed best for the subject at hand.


In the meantime there are networks that share their knowledge and offer help for data journalism or Data Driven Journalism DDJ. One of them (mostly in German) is datenjournalismus.net

Outstanding

Among the thousands of data-based stories and their visualizations there are highlights again and again. I don’t want to withhold my recent favourite. It is the analysis and visualization of the internal migration after the German reunification. Die Zeit presented this with a lot of effort and fascinating results in May 2019.

… and much more

Two Years Ago

He was a pioneer and a great inspiration for what public statistics always strives for: more visibility, more understanding and more resonance. Two years ago Hans Rosling (27 July 1948 – 7 February 2017) died too young.

Demanding and enriching was an encounter with Hans Rosling. His demand for public statistics was urgent and a prerequisite for his enlightening work: that statistical data should be open to all. Here he saw successes. It was and is enriching how he conveyed these data combined with a message. With innovative, precise, entertaining and always very personal presentations, he clarified what had happened and what developments could be desired. He was a realist regarding his effectiveness and yet always an optimist ….. better: a “possibilist”. What remains for me is how he taught to see with numbers – a constant challenge for public statistics.

“One little humble advice” he gave to his audience at the end of a presentation in 2013:

Full presentation here:  
DON'T PANIC — Hans Rosling showing the facts about population

It Goes On

Gapminder (“a fact tank, not a think tank”), with its innovative tools and commitment, continues to live with Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Ola Rosling.

And recently Factfulness, a book by the three (Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling) has been published with the subtitle “Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think”

“Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts. “


Heroes of Slovenia

My colleagues published the Slovene multi-player statistical quiz app on Tuesday 22nd. I love it!

We’ve all heard “statistics is boring”, but once you add lovely design, humorous content and a strategic game to it, it can be fun. In two days after the announcement there are more than 1200 players who already played abt. 24.000 games. And we know a lot more about Slovenia than we knew three days ago 😉

How the game works: First one selects his player name, then a favourite character (a hero from Slovenia), turns the wheel of fortune (automatic selection of the region one plays for) and then looks for an opponent (a region or a player). Each game has 7 questions, the last one always being a number range slider (statistical data). The one who wins gets some resources and so each region gradually evolves from the prehistory to the future. The competiton of the 12 regions lasts for 7 days, then the game resets to the starting point (keeping the overall score board of players).

In the current version we have about 2000 questions, 500 of these are statistical (others include interesting info about local peculiarities, history, literature, language, geography …).

At the moment there is the Slovene version only, but the App is ready to be translated or adjusted for another country (if adjusting you’d have to invest also into some graphic design adjustments). I sincerely hope we’d make an English version of the Slovene game someday, for our foreign visitors or fans of Slovenia 😉

Website announcement:  https://lnkd.in/gg3byB9

Game website: http://junaki-slovenije.si/

FB page: https://www.facebook.com/JunakiSlovenije

Developer: http://proxima.si/sl/project/junaki-slovenije

 

 

Statistical Self-Defense

No day without numbers in (social) media, in everyday life. And they not only want to inform us, they also want to orient us in one direction or the other.

And every day are among them deliberately or unintentionally false or misleading numbers.

Therefore, statistics must arm themselves against incorrect use of data and repeatedly teach the correct handling of statistical data.

There have long been numerous works on this subject. Here is another quite basic presentation by the Dutch journalist Sanne Blauw.

She picks out five statistical sins.

The fact that such presentations often use numbers themselves, which would also have to be viewed critically, does not diminish the value of her warnings.

What are they doing …. ?

… and how do statistical institutions present what they do?

In times of fake news and austerity measures, statistical offices are feeling more and more the urge to orientate the public about themselves and the usefulness and necessity of trustworthy statistics.

But how to proceed?

Public relations specialists know countless ways to get messages to the target groups. A traditional and usually quite boring way are annual reports. They’re usually just an obligatory thing and treated accordingly.

Annual reports as ambassadors for public statistics

Is this still a quite boring lecture under the changing circumstances mentioned above? Let’s look at a few examples.

 

#1 European Official Statistics

The European Statistical Governance Advisory Board publishes the report, which focuses on fake news and trust issues. It’s  mainly a control report with recommendations to be re-evaluated next year.

Not everyone’s reading but with some interesting facts about the European statistical infrastructure.

ESGAB-Titel-2017

‘ … this year’s Report focuses on the importance of good governance to maintain and increase trust in official statistics, ensuring appropriate access to administrative and privately-held data, and the practical challenges of coordinating NSSs.
Chapter 1 looks first at the challenge of maintaining and enhancing trust in official statistics when there is conflicting information provided by non-official sources or when statistical indicators fail to relate to citizens’ actual experiences. Access to administrative records and privately-held data is then examined, highlighting some of the difficulties encountered by NSIs and the need to ensure that the transposition of the new Regulation on General Data Protection into national law does not hinder access to data for statistical purposes. Finally, the challenge of coordination within NSSs is discussed, particularly in relation to ONAs.
Chapter 2 provides ESGAB’s overview of the implementation of the Code of Practice, ..
Chapter 3 reviews ESGAB’s activities over its first nine years, … ‘ (p.10)
ESGAB-Recommendations-2017
p.8

Glossary
European Statistics
Code of Practice (‘the Code’)
The European Statistics Code of Practice sets
the standards for developing, producing and
disseminating European statistics. It builds on
a common definition of quality in statistics used
in the European Statistical System, composed of
national statistical authorities and Eurostat. ….
European Statistical Governance
Advisory Board (ESGAB, ‘the Board’)
ESGAB provides an independent overview of
the implementation of the Code of Practice. It
seeks to enhance the professional independence,
integrity and accountability of the European
Statistical System, key elements of the Code,
and the quality of European statistics …..
European Statistical System (ESS)
The European Statistical System is a
partnership between the European Union’s
statistical authority, i.e. the Commission
(Eurostat), the National Statistical Institutes
(NSIs) and Other National Authorities (ONAs) ….

Some interesting facts given in this report:

gdp-EU

.

#2 UK

UK is of a similar type to the EU. Somewhat more systematic, with clear performance targets and evaluated indicators …. and tons of financial data.

‘This year has been a challenging one for those of us working in official statistics. Numbers were very much in the news in the run-up to the EU referendum and since. Examples of bad use of numbers and misrepresentation of statistics can cast a shadow over the validity and integrity of evidence. However, information that can be accepted and used with confidence is essential to good decision making by governments, businesses and individuals.’ …’ (John Pullinger,p.4)
‘The 2007 Act requires that the Authority produces a report annually to Parliament and the devolved legislatures on what it has done during the year, what it has found during the year and what it intends to do during the next financial year. This report fulfills that responsibility.’ (p.9)
‘STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES
To achieve its mission, over five years the Authority will focus on five perspectives:
a helpful, professional, innovative, efficient and capable statistical service will, we believe, serve the public good and help our nation make better decisions.’ (p.9)
.
‘KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS
The Authority’s Business Plan includes a number of Performance Metrics through which we monitor performance. Our performance against these indicators is summarised in the table below. It is important to note our targets are always used to stretch performance ..’ (p. 9)
And some interesting facts:

 

#3 Sweden

Sweden reports concisely on a few central goals and with the obligatory information on the organisation and infrastructure.

‘Statistics Sweden plays a key role in public infrastructure. Its task is to develop, produce and disseminate official and other government statistics. The Official Statistics Act sets out a number of criteria concerning statistical quality, in which statistical relevance is a top priority.’ (Joakim Stymne, p. 4)

‘Punctuality in publishing remained high and amounted to 99 percent. No corrections that were considered serious were made to the published statistics during the year, and there were fewer internal error reports than in 2016.’ (p. 7)


‘During 2017, Statistics Sweden has studied how its customers and users view the agency and its products in different ways.’ (p. 10)

#4 Switzerland

Switzerland differs from other reports in two ways:
– The report shows not only the activities of the Office, but also the state of the country according to various topics (the milestones of the multi-annual statistical programme, and at the same time a small Statistical Yearbook).
– And it is very personal, responsible persons behind the statistics become visible.

German and French only

‘Die erste Halbzeit der Legislatur ist um und damit auch die ersten zwei Jahre des statistischen Mehrjahresprogramms 2016–2019. Die darin festgelegten Ziele und Schwerpunkte bilden die Leitlinien für die Arbeit der Bundesstatistik. Die für das Jahr 2017 geplanten Meilensteine konnten erfolgreich umgesetzt werden. … … der Auftrag der Bundesstatistik wie folgt zusammengefasst: «Im Zentrum des Auftrags der Bundesstatistik stehen die Erstellung und die Vermittlung von nutzergerechten Informationen zu wichtigen Lebensbereichen unserer Gesellschaft. Diese Informationen dienen unter anderem der Planung und Steuerung zentraler Politikbereiche, deren Stand und Entwicklung mit Hilfe der statistischen Informationen beobachtet und beurteilt werden können.” (Georges-Simon Ulrich, p.5)

The state of statistics in the topic areas: e.g. Population

And the targets for the future: focal points and priority developments in the coming year:

Some interesting facts about structure and publishing

Staff

Publishing

.

# 5 Germany

Germany is taking a quite different approach: the annual report is more like a scientific magazine. With interviews and contributions to focal topics.

D-title

‘ People are being guided more by their emotions and less and less by facts – this is how we might sum up the post-truth debate which reached its hitherto climax last year, culminating in “postfaktisch” (post-factual, or post-truth) being chosen as the German Word of the Year 2016. …
I hope that all of the other topics dealt with in this report provide you with a good insight into all matters figure-related and that, in so doing, we can enhance your trust and confidence in official statistics.’ (Dieter Sarreither, p.3).
.
The table of contents shows how this report is designed as a magazine
.
Some interesting information about the office
.
This report also gives itself a personal touch and shows the responsible management personnel

.

# Conclusion

Annual reports are certainly not the most effective way of informing the public about the activities and importance of statistical institutions. They must be approached with other measures; they must be embedded in PR measures. Then they can – especially if they are well made – contribute a lot to understanding official statistics.

 

 

 

 

 

Synchronously Visualized

Once again:  the New York Times presents an innovative graphic, which you always want to watch again and again.

It’s this Downhill Race at the Olympics:

.

Start

Run

Finish

 

The link to the moving graphic is below this picture:

For Statistics?

It would be exciting to follow such visualizations, e. g. on changes in unemployment, GDP etc. of different countries from today-minus-x to today.