Flawed pie chart with too many categories, unhelpful colors

AllMusic had a recent poll asking readers about their favorite Beatles album. Interesting topic but the pie chart used to display the results didn’t work out so well:



Two main complaints:

1. There are a lot of categories to represent here:14 different albums. While it is relatively easy to see some of the larger categories, it gets more difficult to judge the proportions of the smaller categories.

2. There are some categories clearly bigger than others but the color scene seems to have little to do with the actual album title. The palette runs from black to light gray but it does not appear to be in any order. For example, they might have used the same palette but light gray would have been Please Please Me while the darkest color could have been Past Masters. As it currently stands, the reader has to pick out the category and then try to figure out where it is in the key.

Given this comes from an app intended to help create infographics, this one isn’t so great as it suffers from two issues – lots of categories and a limited color design – that I often warn my statistics students about when using pie charts.

Global wealth: $3,650 of wealth puts you in the top half of the world

A new report on global wealth from Credit Suisse has some interesting statistics:

• If you have $3,650, including the value of your home, you’re among the wealthiest half of people in the world. (This is net wealth – so, once debts have been subtracted.) The other half own less than 1pc of global wealth, while 77pc of adults – that’s 3.3bn people – have less than $10,000.

• The top 10pc of people – membership requirement is $77,000 – hold 87pc of the world’s wealth.

• You need $798,000 to make it into the top percentile of the world’s wealthiest. This select group accounts for almost half – 48.2pc – of global assets.

In other words: (1) it doesn’t take much to break into the top half of the world and (2) those at the top of the distribution control significant portions of the world’s wealth.

Looking at Black America as a separate country

A long infographic looks at how a country solely comprised of Black Americans would compare to other nations. Here is a brief summary:

In the infographics below, two pictures emerge. The first is of a strong nation with considerable manpower and purchasing power. The second is of a troubled, fragile state suffering from socioeconomic disparities and structural subjugation in ways that degrade life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (on some measures, black America resembles countries like Brazil, China, and Russia—emerging powers that are struggling with stark economic inequality). Essentially, what we’re witnessing is a nation that is comparable in certain ways to a regional power existing in the state of Disparistan (or, perhaps, Despairistan). This is more than an inconvenient truth; it fundamentally undermines the United States’ greatest contribution to humanity: the American idea.

Intriguing thought experiment. It would then be interesting to do this for each major racial/ethnic group in the United States to see the clear differences.

Ongoing political debates about sociology in Canada’s House of Commons

A collection of sayings from a recent debate in Canada’s House of Commons on the country’s involvement in fighting ISIS includes some thoughts on sociology:

Sociology, bad: “We must remind ourselves that the root cause of terrorism is the terrorist himself. He, and he alone, has chosen his path,” said Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre.

Sociology, good: “I am saying to the prime minister that it is time for him to consider sociology, social sciences and political sciences, indeed all our world knowledge, both in Canada and elsewhere in the West, and think about effective ways of intervening so that we never have to go through this experience again…,” said NDP MP Denis Blanchette.

On the first quote: individuals do indeed make choices, both good and bad. Yet, to completely pin a decision on a person without any recognition of the broader social forces around them is odd. Think of the typical admonition from parents to their kids to watch out who they hang out with because they don’t want their kids to get in with a bad crowd. People are affected by those around them, even as the vast majority of people around the world in tough situations don’t choose terrorism or crime.

On the second quote: this refers back to comments from Stephen Harper who has suggested several times that sociology provides excuses for criminal and terrorist behavior. Again, explaining why things happen doesn’t necessarily mean saying that people don’t have any agency and that they shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions.

National Association of Realtors wants an exemption for drones

The National Association of Realtors is asking the FAA to allow the use of drones for selling real estate:

The trade group last month asked the Federal Aviation Administration for a regulatory exemption to the agency’s rule on the use of unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes, saying the go-ahead would be a “game changer for the real estate industry” and a “creative and dynamic way” to present a property…

By the end of November, the FAA is expected to propose rules for the commercial use of drones that weigh less than 55 pounds.

For the real estate industry, an exemption could lead to widespread use of drones to market homes, the surrounding neighborhood and even the walk to school or drive to the closest grocery store…

“It’s great to offer an aerial view of a piece of property,” Rodriquez said. “Where it can really be used is on the home inspection side of things, inspecting roofs, before you send a live human up there. Do I think it’s going to be a game changer in the real estate industry? Possibly, but it all depends on how it’s marketed.”…

“For normal properties, normally sized properties, they are absolutely not necessary,” said Mario Greco, a real estate agent at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices KoenigRubloff Realty Group. “It’s hard enough to take a good picture of a condo, or a kitchen, with a professional camera.

This has some interesting potential, particularly with larger properties and places with backyards that are not easily seen from street views. It is often difficult to judge a backyard with typical photos. Still, the drone photos could hide certain features, like what you see from the back patio or deck, depending on the angle.

Yet, what would stop these drones from getting shots from other properties or photographing other things while in the air? I don’t want a whole mass of regulation for this but it is hard to limit drones once they are in the air.

2014 Democrats echo 2012 Republicans in arguing political polls are skewed

Apparently, this is a strategy common to both political parties: when the poll numbers aren’t in your favor on the national stage, argue that the numbers are flawed.

The [Democratic] party is stoking skepticism in the final stretch of the midterm campaign, providing a mirror image of conservative complaints in 2012 about “skewed” polls in the presidential race between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.

Democrats who do not want their party faithful to lose hope — particularly in a midterm election that will be largely decided on voter turnout — are taking aim at the pollsters, arguing that they are underestimating the party’s chances in November.

At the center of the storm, just as he was in 2012, is Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com…

This year, Democrats have been upset with Silver’s predictions that Republicans are likely to retake the Senate. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) mocked Silver at a fundraising luncheon in Seattle that was also addressed by Vice President Biden, according to a White House pool report on Thursday.

“Pollsters and polling have sort of elbowed their way to the table in terms of coverage,” Berkovitz said. “Pollsters have become high profile: They are showing up on cable TV all the time.”

This phenomenon, in turn, has led to greatly increased media coverage of the differences between polling analyses. In recent days, a public spat played out between Silver and the Princeton Election Consortium’s Sam Wang, which in turn elicited headlines such as The Daily Beast’s “Why is Nate Silver so afraid of Sam Wang?”

There are lots of good questions to ask about political polls, including looking at their sampling, the questions they ask, and how they make their projections. Yet, that doesn’t automatically mean that everything has been manipulated to lead to a certain outcome.

One way around this? Try to aggregate among various polls and projections. RealClearPolitics has a variety of polls in many races for the 2014 elections. Aggregation also helps get around the issue of celebrity where people like Nate Silver build careers on being right – until they are wrong.

At the most basic level, the argument about flawed polls is probably about turning out the base to vote. If some people won’t vote because they think their vote won’t overturn the majority, then you have to find ways to convince them that their vote still matters.

Best American cities for getting to jobs by mass transit

A new report looks at which American cities and regions offer access to more jobs through public transportation:

The report, by Andrew Owen and David Levinson, defines accessibility as “the ease of reaching valued destinations,” in this case jobs. Simply put, it’s an examination of how easy it is for people to get to work.

Each metro region is ranked by how long it takes people to get to work: Jobs that can be reached within 10 minutes are worth more than those accessible with 20 minutes, and so on, up to 60 minutes. Data for job locations is drawn from the Census Bureau, and the time it takes to get there is measured using “detailed pedestrian networks” and full transit schedules for weekdays between 7 and 9 am.

The method accounts for things like how long it takes to walk from a transit stop to a destination and transfer times from one bus or subway line to another. Importantly, it also factors in service frequency and includes the time people spend waiting for a bus or train to arrive…

The authors offer two approaches for improving accessibility. The first is obvious: Offer more and better service that reaches more people. But where jobs and homes are located matters, too. Atlanta has a heavy rail system comparable to those in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, but because its job centers aren’t as concentrated, that service is less useful, and accessibility suffers. Cities can respond with land-use policies and zoning codes that encourage density around existing transit networks. The height limit on buildings in Washington, D.C., for example, triggers sprawl (away from transit). Oregon’s urban growth boundary laws restrict how much land can be developed, which encourages density. If cities follow the latter example, “encouraging both residents and employers to locate in parts of the city already served by transit,” they can improve accessibility and limit the burden each new residents puts on the transit system.

Given their density, the first two regions in the rankings are not a surprise: New York City and San Francisco. After that, you get a variety of more sprawling cities and regions.

Chicago comes in at number five. Here is the map of the Chicago with redder areas having more jobs accessible by mass transit within 30 minutes.

As the caption notes, the map suggests “Job accessibility in Chicago closely follows the network of the metro region’s rail system.” My interpretation: the rail system built largely on railroad lines from the mid-1800s continues to influence Chicago development and job patterns. Still, most jobs for suburbanites in the Chicago region are not accessible by mass transit, even if you expand the time to 90 minutes.

Ending a long-term relationship can lead to downward mobility in housing

The end of a long-term relationship can negative influence one’s housing options:

Many (though declining numbers of) marriages end in separation today. Besides the emotional turmoil that the marital separation causes, this event has profound effects on the chances to remain in homeownership for both ex-partners. Generally, at least one, if not both partners, will leave the previously shared dwelling. As separation often involves a loss of financial resources, people may have a hard time re-entering homeownership. After falling out of love and separating, a fall down the housing ladder may follow, as we show in a study recently published in European Sociological Review.

How drastic this fall will be depends very much on the housing market environment (see Figures 1 and 2). In the past in Britain, easy access to housing finance and high supply facilitated (re-)entry into homeownership for ex-partners even under house price inflation in the 1990s and early 2000s. In tight housing markets ex-partners will face more difficulties, and once access to mortgages becomes restricted, as happened in Britain after the recent crash in the housing market, problems may arise. So in the past British ex-partners could return to homeownership at some point in their lives because access to mortgages was easy – and they needed to return because alternatives in the private and social rental sector were and are unattractive. This may no longer work in future. Ex-partners may increasingly face similar problems that new market entrants currently encounter, for which the term generation rent has already been coined.

To better understand what may happen to British ex-partners, we can consider the example of Germany. The German housing market is in many ways different from the British, not the least because private rental accommodation is an attractive alternative to homeownership. Access to mortgages is also more restricted than in Britain, even after the recent tightening of regulations in Britain. High down payments are the rule in Germany. In this market environment, homeownership is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many, while a considerable share of people will never enter homeownership. After separation, very few Germans will be able to return to homeownership (see Figure 2). Ex-partners will be less likely to be in homeownership through their lives post-separation. This scenario may foreshadow the British situation in the near future.

Being excluded from homeownership in the German context is not as consequential as it may turn out to be in Britain, however. First, more Germans will accept to rent after separation compared to the British, because attractive, and most of all, secure accommodation is available for – internationally seen – reasonable costs. Second, the German public pension system is relatively generous for those who continuously worked throughout their lives. To build up private wealth as a cushion for old age is not as necessary as in Britain. In Britain, where individuals are expected to privately invest in financial products and property to build an individual safety net – an idea called asset-based welfare – people that experience a separation may lose this safety net. This may result in stark disparities between the separated and those remaining married in old life.

Many (though declining numbers of) marriages end in separation today. Besides the emotional turmoil that the marital separation causes, this event has profound effects on the chances to remain in homeownership for both ex-partners. Generally, at least one, if not both partners, will leave the previously shared dwelling. As separation often involves a loss of financial resources, people may have a hard time re-entering homeownership. After falling out of love and separating, a fall down the housing ladder may follow, as we show in a study recently published in European Sociological Review. – See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2014/10/home-ownership-marriage-separation/#sthash.bcXULRwJ.dpuf
Many (though declining numbers of) marriages end in separation today. Besides the emotional turmoil that the marital separation causes, this event has profound effects on the chances to remain in homeownership for both ex-partners. Generally, at least one, if not both partners, will leave the previously shared dwelling. As separation often involves a loss of financial resources, people may have a hard time re-entering homeownership. After falling out of love and separating, a fall down the housing ladder may follow, as we show in a study recently published in European Sociological Review. – See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2014/10/home-ownership-marriage-separation/#sthash.bcXULRwJ.dpuf

The authors conclude that changes in family structures over the past few decades mean that housing policy primarily built around families and stable relationships just won’t work. In other words, we need more housing options for smaller, changing families and people who live alone.

I wonder if the same findings would hold in the United States. Perhaps it might be particularly problematic in higher-priced markets where buying homes and renting can be difficult even for stable, middle-class families.

“Ugliest new build McMansion ever”?

Take a look at this McMansion in Vienna, Virginia:

A quick analysis of the home based on the four traits of McMansions:

1. Absolute size. This home seems to have at least 3,000 square feet.

2. Relative size. Quite a difference between this home and the mid-20th century ranch home next door. It is hard to know for sure from the picture but this new home could be a teardown.

3. Poor architectural design and quality. The home has some interesting proportions, ranging from the relatively bland sided area above the front doorway to the popping-out balconies at each corner of the front. It is bulging in all the wrong places. (I would be interested to know whether these two second-story corners mean that these are separate suites, each with their own balcony.)

4. Tied to other social issues like consumption and sprawl. The suburban aspect is clearly implied by this picture, particularly with the looming water tower in the background. (The water tower is reminiscent of this famous photo from Plano, Texas.) Compared to the home next door, this new McMansion does look excessive. Sadly, the same angle that helps invite comparison to the home next door and the water tower also blocks our view of the likely large garage in the back.

Is this the worst designed McMansion ever? There are a good number of contenders for this crown. Just look at these 10 McMansions from New Jersey

The New York Times has compared many places to Brooklyn

The New York Times has been fond of comparing Brooklyn to all sorts of places including Oakland, Beijing, New Orleans, The Hudson Valley, and Everywhere. What might be the effect of doing this?

Beyond beards and Girls (or why NYT trend pieces are problematic), I always wonder how the residents these cities feel about being deemed a Brooklyn-like place. I also wonder what it’s going to do to their property prices.

There are two reasons: First, studies show that a prestigious sounding name adds value to a neighborhood. For example, researchers found that buyers were willing to pay a 4.2 percent premium for the term “country.” The Brooklyn dream branding has become a certain kind of prestige to young professionals looking for housing. They loosely know what real estate being “Brooklyn” means: cool neighbors, artisanal food shops, Zagat-rated restaurants and bars. It’s the stylish land of Blue Bottle coffee and No.6 clogs. The sell is: It has places you want to be and people you want to be around.

This narrative is problematic because it is unfairly discounting vast parts of the borough that’s not being gentrified in this specific way, which is why so many Brooklynites hate Brooklyn trend pieces. But it’s also just another way of saying it has a specific set of amenities that are appealing to a certain group—Brooklyn has become a euphemism for a kind of urbanism that millennials like.

Interesting that both reasons above deal with the hip, cool side of Brooklyn that appeals to young people. They imply that Brooklyn has become a trendy brand, even if many of its residents don’t see these benefits. Being a trendy brand also likely means that the frequent comparisons will stop at some point as Brooklyn (1) becomes less cool and (2) other neighborhoods, perhaps in New York City and perhaps elsewhere, become the places to be.

At the same time, I wonder why the Times has to make such comparisons at all. Is it because it helps their readers understand unfamiliar and foreign places? Or is it because New Yorkers think they have the best places (New York exceptionalism) so they impose their vision on other contexts?