Archive for December 23, 2009

“Cash for Clunkers” – Clunker by Country Vizualization

I’m currently working on a chapter for the upcoming O’Reilly book “Beautiful Visualization” (a new book in the “Beautiful” series) and one of the things that I do is walk readers step by step through gathering data and sifting through it in order to create a visualization from the Cash for Clunkers data.

As I was looking through the Cash for Clunkers data, I was fascinated by the extent to which it seemed that the clunkers being turned in were disproportionally from companies based in the US. So I dug into the data and found out that it didn’t just seem that way… 85% of the cars “clunked” came from US based manufacturers.

So I decided to create a visualization to identify which countries gained market share due to the Cash for Clunkers program. So… here it is. Click for a larger view. (caveats below).

You can access the raw data here.

Caveats:

  1. Yes, nearly all Toyota and Honda and Hyundai vehicles are built in the US. I used the “where is the parent company headquartered” as my way of determining country size. That made for a more compelling image.
  2. It makes a certain kind of sense that people would dump a lot of old US-made vehicles because US manufacturers were at the forefront of the SUV boom in the early-mid 2000′s (aughts? oughts? naughts? This next decade will be so much easier), so it seems to make sense that people who bought SUV’s would be most eligible for a Cash for Clunkers rebate. If you bought a fuel efficient Toyota Camry in 2002, you’re not going to be eligible to trade your vehicle in, so it seem unlikely that you would do so.

With all that being said, I think it’s obvious that US manufacturers have lost market share on these transactions. I’d need to do a shade more research, but my understanding is that Ford (which didn’t take any bailout cash) didn’t do too badly while Chrysler and GM saw a large number of their vehicles turned in and comparatively very little purchasing.

What does this mean for the future? I don’t know. This was more for fun and for my book chapter than for anything else. And if you want to learn how to do something like this, just buy “Beautiful Visualization” when it comes out.

Bad Visualizations – David McCandless Lets Politics Get In The Way

Well, this makes me sad.

David McCandless runs the fantastic information visualization blog Information is Beautiful. Nearly all of his work is fantastic information visualization (his piece on drug deaths in England is really cool.

He recently created a visual about troops and troop deaths in Afghanistan. One part of the visualization got picked up by Andrew Sullivan. It was a graph on troop levels in Afghanistan and who has contributed the most troops. Mr. McCandless accompanies the chart with the words “That’s a huge amount of hired guns.”

The problem is that McCandless doesn’t source that number. I said to myself “71,700 hired guns? That seems high.” It didn’t pass the smell test.

I looked into the number. Near as I can tell, its basically a huge mistake on McCandless’ part. He didn’t source where he got the “71,700 private security contractors” stat and he didn’t say anything when I tweeted to him to ask where he got it. And he didn’t respond in the comments section of his blog when I asked. So I had to go searching for it.

It looks like the number comes from this Washington Times piece which mentions that there are 71,700 contractors, not all of whom are private security contractors. And yet McCandless not only changes this important data point (HUGE no-no in my book), he goes on to push the point with his “hired guns” comment.

Why would he do such a thing? My guess is that he doesn’t like the war in Afghanistan, so that kind of makes it OK to push a “mercenaries” point of view by lumping all contractors into the “private security” category.

Are you teaching in Kabul? You’re a “hired gun”.

Building a bridge? You’re a “hired gun”.

Flying supplies in? “Hired gun.”

Maintaining a network for the government? “Hired gun.”

Working as a translator? “Hired gun.”

It’s basically a data labeling mistake made worse by an wildly inaccurate (and, frankly, quite stupid) comment.

The reason it’s taken me so long to get to this is because I didn’t want to say anything bad about Mr. McCandless without giving him a chance to explain. It’s obvious to me that he’s not going to. If he does, I’ll post his explanation at the top of this post. But it’s given me new insight into the old saw that a lie is half-way around the world before the truth can get its pants on. Being right and being generous to others is something that takes caution and time.

(By the way, I proceeded to contact Andrew Sullivan and tell him that I thought the information was bogus. He hasn’t responded, but I figure that’s because he’s completely consumed with other correspondence. I optimistically maintain he would correct his post if he had read my note.)