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Poor op/ed data graphic in New York Times

Never Bitten, Twice Shy: The Real Dangers of Summer By David Ropeik & Nigel Holmes

-- Herb Burton (email)

Response to link to NY Times article

I redid it as a scatter plot (on a log-log scale) of no. of articles (y-axis) vs. number of deaths on the x-axis. It was better as far as I was concerned but my wife liked the original better. She felt it had impact without having to read it through.

Will Roger's famous comment that, "What we don't know won't hurt us, it's what we do know that ain't." applies here.

I think the real story is that there is no relation between fatality of threat and amount of media publicity. The Times version seemed to imply a negative relation.

-- Howard Wainer (email)

Response to link to NY Times article

I am the Graphics Director at The New York Times and therefore feel the need to clarify two things about the display in question:

1. The graphics department, which produces the maps, charts and diagrams for the rest of the paper, has precious little contact with the opinion pages, and we did not produce or edit this chart.

In fact, we don't know what the Op-Ed page is doing until it is published. For better or worse, this is consistent with the American newspaper concept of keeping the news operations and opinion pages totally separate.

2. Nigel Holmes does not work for The Times. He was undoubtedly commissioned to do the piece.

This is not offered as a defense of the display's veracity, or lack thereof, but rather as a clarification of its origins and authorship.

-- Charles M. Blow (email)

Response to link to NY Times article

For a good many years now, Charles Blow has run the superb news graphics department at the Times. Take a look at today's amazing graphics on the blackout August 16, 2003. It is much better to see the paper edition; hard to view the graphics on the computer screen. And this beautiful work was done under enormous time pressure as well. See particularly the sequential map of the blackout as it moved from Ohio and across the country in about 30 seconds. Also shown are 2 satellite photographs of night lights in the eastern US: one normal, and one on Friday night.

In contrast to the news pages, the op/ed page at the Times has had something of a streak of Duck Graphics; I recall at least 3 in the last few months. Even op/ed data graphics should meet standards of graphical excellence, just as the Times standards of typography, layout, and grammar are largely maintained on the op/ed page. Complaints about op/ed data graphics should be addressed to the editor of the op/ed page. It would be good practice for the op/ed editor to have Charles Blow take a quick look at proposed data graphics that are to appear as editorial graphics.

-- Edward Tufte

The blackout graphics are great. Just one quick point of detail:

In the 'Sequence of Power Loss' graphic, West Virginia morphs into Maryland after a few seconds of animation.

-- Dan Coyne (email)

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