Data Journalism Critique: Wk 2

Whats your Economic Outlook?

At first glance, this is a nifty little visualization from The New York Times about how different groups of people feel about different economic outlooks. Its a fun graphic that gives a game like feel by having real motion and simulating movement of people across a mood spectrum.

It’s pretty easy to figure out some answers to personal questions here. The initial instinct is to first play around clicking on different values, immediately followed by plugging in your own stats (Male, Unemployed, In my 30’s) to see the migration of people.

The movement is elegant and entertaining, with the information pretty easy to see. As we change the demographics in the top drop down menus, the figures on the spectrum change accordingly.

The problems with this visualization occur when you dig a little deeper into their methodology. As it turns out, they’ve compiled the data according to comments they’ve received on their website so that is already a very small sample size. Furthermore, they’re quantifying “moods” which is always a slippery slope.  How do you quantify feelings described as “anxious” or “determined” as positive or negative? I suppose you could but who gets to decide what shade of the spectrum it falls under.

To their credit, the Times enables you to read the comment right under the mood description, so when you click on a figure who is labelled “anxious” it takes you directly to his comment so you can see his exact sentiments for yourself.

There also seems to be an arbitrary depiction of the various kinds of figures. Some are standing straight, others are slightly hunched, some have arms folded across their chest. There seems to be no obvious distinction between what each of these figures represent, so why have them different at all? At some points, if you look at men and women together, it gets hard to distinguish between the two sexes.

While its a great animation and it sort of gives us a picture of what people are feeling, there are a lot of limitations with the model. Having a larger sample size would have been better and also if people could quantify their feelings through a rating scale from say 1- 10, it would be easier for comparison and analysis purposes.


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