Although I’m at work, I figured I could do a really quick post about this to reinforce the point I am about to make: Data visualisation is awesome!
My friend Frank sent me a link to the Public Data Explorer at Google Labs, saying he figured I’d like it as an economist. He was right! I watched the bubble graph visualisation embedded in the front page about three times…. the first time just because I was curious, the second time because the first time was over so quickly and random things had caught my eye, and the third pausing and retracing to check who those little outliers bouncing off to the sides and back again were about.
Try it! You can pause at any point and hovering over each bubble will tell you which country the bubble represents.
So in the space of about 5 minutes I had been able to pick out the devastating effect on average life expectancy that the civil wars in the 70s in Cambodia and Timor-Leste had, and the insane genocide in Rwanda in the late 80s/early 90s. You can also see the South African countries moving out to the left in the late 90s – average age expectancy falling undoubtedly by the spread of AIDS (although the drastic fall in Zimbabwe’s life expectancy may be a bit more than that!). In recent years however you can see that some of them are coming back up. Is this due to better medicine to treat AIDS or a fall in victims? We don’t know, but the data can tell us where to look.
In a nutshell, data visualisation is great for quickly picking out anomalies in data and telling us where to dig deeper.
Now please excuse me as I should get back to work as well as satisfy my curiosity by looking up why the fertility rate in Guinea-Bissau plummeted in the 60s!