Telling a Story with Simple Graphics: Building a Case

I work in the world of healthcare as well as sustainability; the two areas share complexity and potential for arguments based on prior beliefs, arising from ideology and “the facts.”

Effective data displays are a vital first step to refining understanding of complex issues. In the spirit of Bayes Theorem, effective data displays can modify prior beliefs as well as lead to new questions.

Effective data displays tell a story and I look for good examples. This Tuesday’s New York Times has a particularly clear data summary that puts the U.S. population health in context of other countries and time, linked here. The premise of the display is to offer indicators of U.S. population health that could be tracked to help judge the impact of the Affordable Care Act.

In the first sequence of graphs in the article, you can see both absolute performance and change over 10 years. The sequence makes the case that the U.S. is slipping over time relative to other countries on a key population health measure, deaths from diseases that are treatable of preventable with health care.  The Times piece continues with text and additional graphics that are worth a few minutes study and reflection.  Go take a look!

Technical note:  The color scheme avoids green and red, which are difficult to distinguish for people with color blindness.  Up to 8% of males of Northern European ancestry have difficulty distinguishing red from green; here’s the citation.  Good graphic design avoids these colors.

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