Reuters' Cool Upside-Down Chart Makes 'Stand Your Ground' Look Awesome


Now here's an impressive-looking chart from Reuters that was all over the Twitterverse this weekend. Quick -- after Florida adopted "Stand Your Ground" in 2005, did gun deaths increase or decrease? Well of course they decreased, says your brain, which learned to read charts in elementary school -- look at that awesome downward slope in the numbers, because a line on a chart going down always indicates a decrease in something, which is why a slope like that in a New Yorker cartoon about Wall Street would be followed by a banker jumping out a window. And then of course you look at what the chart "actually" says, and notice that "zero" is at the top of the chart, and you realize gun deaths increased sharply -- but by now the cartoon banker has gone splat (we can always get more off a desert island cartoon).

The artist has said that she was inspired by this chart showing the number of Iraq War deaths, which uses bar graph lines to give the impression of blood dripping down the page. Of course, when you use a line graph instead of a bar graph, it doesn't look like blood, it looks like a torn window shade (from getting shot!) or something. The Iraq chart works, the Florida chart pretty much sucks, because getting cute with the conventions of charts gave a totally wrong impression of the trend she was trying to illustrate.

Happily, there have been plenty of folks on the web who were willing to Fix That For Ya, like this example from Business Insider:

This version not only clearly shows the number of gun deaths skyrocketing after "Stand Your Ground" was enacted, it also makes it much clearer that deaths were declining from the early to late 1990s, which didn't particularly stand out in the first version either.

And don't even get us started on the terrible labeling -- is this a chart of all deaths caused by shootings, or of homicides (which would exclude suicides and some accidents), or is it a chart of murder convictions, which is a really different thing? It matters a lot, since "Stand Your Ground" defenses would convert a lot of the third group into merely the second -- see also George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn.

The good news is that a chart that's this completely screwy makes news, and maybe even makes some people less likely to be fooled by bad charts (a blogger can always hope). The rotten news is that plenty of charts lie more subtly, and deliberately, than this one, which ended up terrible not out of an intent to deceive, but to be pretty, if we take Christine Chan's word for it, which, actually we don't, because Christine Chan says things like this:


Nope, nyet, nein, INCORRECT. It is not a "personal preference." Besides, as C.J. Cregg knows, there are some things you just don't put upside down in a visual representation, because you'll freak people out:

[Pacific Standard / Visualizing Data / Business Insider]

Follow Doktor Zoom on Twitter. He is also amused by what happens when you put the Americas on their side. Quack!

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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Video screenshot, CBS 4 Miami

The mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, are still killing people. Two survivors of Parkland killed themselves in the past week, and this morning, the body of the father of one of the Sandy Hook children was found in Newtown. And something like 35,800 guns will be sold today, if 2019 stats are comparable to 2018 sales figures. But cheer up -- without Barack Obama scaring everyone with his promise to take all the guns, that's down 16 percent from the highest gun sales in history in 2016. Then again, despite the lower gun sales, there were nearly 40,000 deaths caused with firearms in 2018. It was the third record year in a row. We're Number One.

The news has been just horrifying. On March 17, Sydney Aiello, 19, who'd been on campus at Stoneman Douglas the day of the 2018 massacre, killed herself. She'd been a close friend of one of the girls who died in the shooting, and had been diagnosed with PTSD, according to her mother. She had started college but found it hard to just to sit in classrooms because of her fears that a gunman might burst in. Then, this weekend, another Stoneman Douglas student, a male sophomore, as yet unidentified, killed himself -- like Ms. Aiello, with a gun.

Today, police in Newtown found the body of Jeremy Richman, a neuropharmacologist and the father of Avielle Richman, who was only 6 years old when she was one of the 20 children and six adults murdered at Sandy Hook in 2012. Richman and his wife, Jennifer Hensel, had founded a nonprofit to research the neurological problems that might lead to violent behavior. The foundation had an office in the complex where Richman's body was found. The couple were also among the Sandy Hook parents suing Alex Jones for spreading the false conspiracy theory that the Sandy Hook massacre was faked as part of a plot to take all the precious guns away.

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