To err is — costly

Spreadsheet error led to Edinburgh hospital opening delayBBC News
An NHS Lothian-commissioned review found a “human error” in a 2012 spreadsheet with the specifications for air flow in critical care rooms. The mistake was missed in what auditors describe as a “collective failure”. It was only when the hospital had been handed over to NHS Lothian, and £1.4m monthly repayments had started, that independent checks found the critical care rooms were operating with the wrong air flow. Remedial work worth £16m has since been carried out and the new Sick Kids building started hosting outpatient appointments in July.

And off we go

The US Presidential election is just around the corner, and here, via FlowingData, are a couple of links to get us started.

FiveThirtyEight launches 2020 election forecastFlowingData
The election is coming. FiveThirtyEight just launched their forecast with a look at the numbers from several angles. Maps, histograms, beeswarms, and line charts, oh my.

Who can vote by mailFlowingData
There’s going to be a lot more voting by mail this year. The New York Times shows what each state is doing. It’s a cartogram. So it must be election season.

Where’s the harm?

Lots of talk about masks and where we should be wearing them. David McCandless and the Information is Beautiful team have updated their set of coronavirus infographics (previously) with this presentation of the risks involved with certain activities.

COVID-19 CoronaVirus infographic datapackInformation is Beautiful
Created by David McCandless, Omid Kashan, Fabio Bergamaschi, Dr Stephanie Starling, Univers Labs, Tom Evans.

It doesn’t quite line up with this infographic from the Texas Medical Association, but I’d say it’s close enough, you get the point.

How risky is visiting a museum? This graphic about COVID-19 transmission provides come answersHyperallergic
TexMed characterizes things like getting restaurant takeout, getting gas, and even playing tennis as low-risk activities (two on a scale of one to 10). Grocery shopping, going on a walk with others, visiting a library or museum, and playing golf all fall in the moderate-low range (three to four) — that last is of course great news for the president! Highest-risk activities (eight or more) include, unsurprisingly, sports stadium events and concerts, going to a movie theater, attending religious services with 500+ worshippers, and going to a bar — which was a major cause of outbreak in Michigan last week. Texans shouldn’t despair, though! Based on this graphic, it is still safe to shoot guns in the air (at least with respect to COVID-19 complications), do outdoor line dances in rigid six-feet distance grids, and ride the open range.

Here are some other ways of looking at.

COVID Risk Chartxkcd
First prize is a free ticket to the kissing booth.

Handy chartThe New Yorker Cartoons on Instagram
A cartoon by @rozchast.

Lots of reasons to wear a mask. But then again…

Why You Don’t Need A Mask – COVID-19
You don’t need a mask because…

GDPR is still a thing btw

Remember when GDPR was more popular than Beyoncé (kinda)? That might have been two years ago now, but the subject’s not gone away, however much some organisations might wish it to.

Ireland, Luxembourg need more muscle to police tech giants, EU report saysReuters
The report said that data protection agencies across the 27-country bloc had increased staff by 42% increase and budgets by 49% between 2016-2019, but the Irish and Luxembourg governments needed to do more.

“Given that the largest big tech multinationals are established in Ireland and Luxembourg, the data protection authorities of these countries act as lead authorities in many important cross-border cases and may need larger resources than their population would otherwise suggest,” the report said.

Commission pushes UK for ‘high degree of convergence’ in GDPR reviewEURACTIV.com
The European Commission will tomorrow (24 June) highlight the importance of the UK abiding by EU data protection rules as part of a future relationship between the two parties, in the first review of the landmark general data protection regulation, obtained by EURACTIV.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the UK would seek to diverge from EU data protection law following its withdrawal from the bloc. […]

More recently, European parliamentarians took a stand against the UK’s data regime, adopting a report that said the EU’s move to grant the UK access to the bloc’s fingerprint data for law enforcement purposes “would create serious risks for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals”.

In February Johnson said that as the UK nears the end of the post-Brexit transition period, it will “develop separate and independent policies” in a range of fields, including data protection, adding that the government would seek to maintain high standards.

Brexit’s still a thing too, in case you were wondering.

Brexit set to cost the UK more than £200 billion by the end of the yearThe London Economic
Bloomberg research shows that Brexit is set to have cost the UK more than £200 billion in lost economic growth by the end of this year. This is a figure that almost eclipses the total amount the UK has paid into the EU budget over the past 47 years (£215 billion) since joining in 1973.

Research by Bloomberg Economics estimates that the economic cost of Brexit has already hit £130 billion ($170 billion), with a further £70 billion set to be added by the end of this year. The British economy is now 3 per cent smaller than it could have been EU membership had been maintained.

Patient confidentiality? Don’t count on it

I think, whatever else is happening, there’s always one thing you can rely on to keep going. Data breaches.

Babylon Health data breach: GP app users able to see other people’s consultationsThe Guardian
Babylon allows its members to speak to a doctor, therapist or other health specialist through a video call on a smartphone. It has more than 2.3 million registered users in the UK.

Babylon user Rory Glover told the BBC when he logged onto the app there were about 50 videos in the consultation replays section of the app that did not belong to him. “You don’t expect to see something like that when you’re using a trusted application. It’s shocking to see such a monumental mistake made,” he said.

Glover said he would not use the Babylon app again. “It’s an issue of doctor-patient confidentiality,” he said. “You expect anything you say to be private, not for it to be shared with a stranger.”

Don’t worry, though. The government’s on it.

Matt Hancock clueless about confidentiality breach at his own GP surgeryThe Guardian
Speaking at the virtual CogX festival, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said he was unaware of the data breach, but that it did not affect his views on the value of private partnerships within the NHS. “What I care about is getting results,” Hancock said, “when companies will come and help in the middle of a pandemic. The honest truth is there is no way we would be able to deal with this without the support of the tech companies.”

After the panel had ended, the audio of Hancock’s conversation with his interviewer, the Telegraph’s Harry de Quetteville, continued to broadcast.

“[The] Babylon thing, I should have [known],” Hancock could be heard saying, “especially since they’re my GP.” After De Quetteville told him that the breach meant that someone may have been given access to his medical consultations, Hancock joked: “Honestly, they know more about my bunion than anybody.” The audio of the broadcast then cut off.

Flying high with stolen data

The last post I shared about data theft was back in October (that seems like years ago now), but the subject’s not gone away, of course.

EasyJet says hackers stole data of 9 million customers Bloomberg
Cyber-attacks against businesses and their employees have surged this year as hackers take advantage of the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. While the EasyJet breach was discovered in late January, predating the disease’s flare-up across Europe, the company is alerting those whose exposure was limited to email and travel details to guard against a rising number of so-called phishing attempts, a person familiar with the situation said.

It wasn’t just a few credit cards: Entire travel itineraries were stolen by hackers, Easyjet now tells victimsThe Register
It also warned victims to be on their guard against phishing attacks by miscreants using the stolen records, especially if any “unsolicited communications” arrived appearing to be from Easyjet or its package holidays arm.

You’d think the Information Commissioner’s Office would be busier than ever.

It looks like the UK’s data regulator has given up, blaming coronavirusWired UK
In April, the ICO said it would focus on the most serious cases during the pandemic and consider the impact of the wider situation on companies under investigation, but called for organisations to continue to report breaches as it was still operating. But in reality, observers claim, it has almost completely stopped operating.

But it’s worth noting that that article was subsequently updated to, in effect, completely contradict its own headline.

[F]ollowing the publication of this story, an ICO spokesperson said it “is not true” that the body has stopped work on complaints and investigations. “Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, we have only paused under ten per cent of cases and investigations,” the spokesperson said. “These are specific cases where progressing regulatory activity may not be possible or appropriate during a global public health emergency.” The spokesperson added that it continues to “look into” all complaints and data breach reports it receives. It is “focusing on the information rights issues that are likely to cause the most harm or distress to people and organisations”.

Don’t hit them when they’re down

I know that the coronavirus has dominated articles I’ve shared on this blog recently, but that’s pretty much all I can find to read. I’ve not posted anything about data protection in a while, so here’s something from the USA—albeit still about that virus. (via Boing Boing)

Small businesses seeking loans may have had personal data exposedCNBC
The SBA notified nearly 8,000 business owners of the potential inadvertent disclosure of information, which included names, Social Security numbers, tax identification numbers, addresses, dates of birth, email, phone numbers, marital and citizenship status, household size, income, disclosure inquiry and financial and insurance information, according to a letter sent to business owners, which CNBC obtained. […]

If the user attempted to hit the page back button, he or she may have seen information that belonged to another business owner, not their own. The official said that 4 million small business owners applied for $383 billion in aid via the EIDL program and emergency grants. The two programs are funded for just $17 billion.

The affected businesses have been offered identity theft protection services for a year.

Visualising change

Who knows how all this will end, it’s all guesswork. Will the final figures for the UK be between 7,000 and 20,000? Perhaps as high as 66,000? Depends on your model. Can we at least say for certain that this will end at some point? Are things already slowing down?

Three graphs that show a global slowdown in COVID-19 deathsThe Conversation
Other published graphs have shown the number of deaths reported each day for various countries. These are more useful, but the reader is still left trying to discern the extent to which the rise from one day to the next is larger or smaller. The graph below is different. It shows both the number of deaths each day and the rate of change in that number. Most importantly, it uses smoothed data – a moving average from the day before to the day after each date shown.

visualising-change

OK. I think I follow that.

Here’s something simpler that caught my eye, a way of looking at one of the (positive?) effects of this pandemic.

Traffic data shows how rush hour has all but disappeared in major cities in Britain (and ROW)Reddit
No more rush hour. Declining vehicle usage in cities across the world means journeys at rush hour are almost as quick as those in the middle of the night.

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No easy answers

How bad will this get? It’s a simple enough question…

Why it’s so freaking hard to make a good COVID-19 modelFiveThirtyEight
The number of people who will die is a function of how many people could become infected, how the virus spreads and how many people the virus is capable of killing.

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Straightforward enough, but the trouble begins when you try to fill in the numbers. Look at the factors and assumptions within just the fatality rate, for instance.

no-easy-answers-2

Think of it like making a pie. If you have a normal recipe, you can do it pretty easily and expect a predictable result that makes sense. But if the recipe contains instructions like “add three to 15 chopped apples, or steaks, or brussels sprouts, depending on what you have on hand” … well, that’s going to affect how tasty this pie is, isn’t it? You can make assumptions about the correct ingredients and their quantity. But those are assumptions — not absolute facts. And if you make too many assumptions in your pie-baking process, you might very well end up with something entirely different than what you were meant to be making. And you wouldn’t necessarily know you got it wrong.

There are so many factors as play here. This is the model they end up with. It’s one version, at least.

no-easy-answers-1

Over the next few months, you are going to see many different predictions about COVID-19 outcomes. They won’t all agree. But just because they’re based on assumptions doesn’t mean they’re worthless.

“All models are wrong, it’s striving to make them less wrong and useful in the moment,” Weir said.

See also.

Six unknown factors in coronavirus models and how they could affect predictionsThe Conversation
Since the global outbreak of COVID-19, researchers have scrambled to develop and share models which can predict how the virus will spread. This is inherently tricky, as we know so little about the disease, and a model is only ever as good as the information you put into it.

Rotary club

Remember that new/old rotary phone from a while back? Turns out it’s not the only one.

Rotary dial In today’s world: Artist imagines what if the rotary dial existed to this day?Design You Trust
According to Valerii, a CGI Artist and motion-designer: “What if the rotary dial existed to this day? I’ve thought about it, and I’ve created some visualizations of how it could be recently or today. All math would be terrible! Especially if you remove the number keys from the QWERTY layout.”

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Get your point across by flattening it

As an example of the power of effective data visualisation, it’s hard to beat. Here’s a little background on the diagram that’s all over the internet.

The story behind the coronavirus ‘flatten the curve’ chartFast Company
The first instance of Flatten the Curve can be found in a paper called Interim pre-pandemic planning guidance: community strategy for pandemic influenza mitigation in the United States: early, targeted, layered use of nonpharmaceutical interventions, and no, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Published in 2007 by the CDC, the paper was a preview to a pandemic like COVID-19, and it suggested simple interventions like social distancing and keeping kids home from school in order to slow the spread of a disease so that the healthcare system could keep up. […]

flatten-a-curve-1

Pearce breathed new life into the CDC graphic. Then Harris added an anchor, a single line, that articulated its significance. But it was Dr. Siouxsie Wiles who took the final step: She demonstrated the possibility that everyday people really could make a meaningful difference in slowing the spread of COVID-19. To do this, she transformed the graphic into two futures, each caused by a mentality: ignore it or take precautions. Wiles transformed the graphic into the perfect response to the polarized nature of COVID-19 across social media, in which people were either in full prep mode or far too skeptical that the pandemic was even real.

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It’s not the first of its kind, though.

This chart of the 1918 Spanish flu shows why social distancing worksQuartz
The extreme measures—now known as social distancing, which is being called for by global health agencies to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus—kept per capita flu-related deaths in St. Louis to less than half of those in Philadelphia, according to a 2007 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Putting Covid-19 into perspective

Here’s another way of visualising the numbers connected with the coronavirus.

Just how contagious is COVID-19? This chart puts it in perspectivePopular Science
One quantity scientists use to measure how a disease spreads through a population is the “basic reproduction number,” otherwise known as R0 (pronounced “R naught,” or, if you hate pirates, “arr not”). This number tells us how many people, on average, each infected person will in turn infect. While it doesn’t tell us how deadly an epidemic is, R0 is a measure of how infectious a new disease is, and helps guide epidemic control strategies implemented by governments and health organizations.

If R0 is less than 1, the disease will typically die out: Each infected person has a low chance of passing the infection along to even one additional individual. An R0 larger than 1 means each sick person infects at least one other person on average, who then could infect others, until the disease spreads through the population. For instance, a typical seasonal flu strain has an R0 of around 1.2, which means for every five infected people, the disease will spread to six new people on average, who pass it along to others.

perspective

Here’s more on that.

What is the coronavirus’s R0 and why does it matter?Life Hacker
R0 is one of the numbers epidemiologists use to describe how an infectious agent spreads through a population. But it’s important to remember that it’s simply a statistic that describes some of the numbers we see. It’s not a rating of how scary a virus is, nor does it dictate how deadly a disease is or how difficult it might be to contain. We need more information for that.

And another way of comparing such things, from 2014.

Visualised: how Ebola compares to other infectious diseasesThe Guardian
Every disease has a basic reproduction number but the numbers are scattered across the literature. We’ve web-crawled and gathered them all here in one graphic, plotting them against the average case fatality rate – the % of infectees who die. This hopefully gives us a data-centric way to understand the most infectious and deadly diseases and contextualise current events.

Time is money

Here’s a simple but effective way of getting across the differences in salaries and incomes from Neal Agarwal.

Printing money
Visualizing rates from minimum wage to the national deficit.

Another one of his constructions that caught my eye was Who Was Alive? Enter the year you’re interested in, and the page will list dozens of famous figures throughout history, with their ages and portraits. In 1944, for instance, Marilyn Monroe, Fidel Castro and Miles Davis all turned 18. Imagine that party.

Mapping the outbreak

Here’s a new tool, updated daily, to help us visualise the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

2019-nCoV-tracker
[H]eadlines can be hard to interpret. How fast is the virus spreading? Are efforts to control the disease working? How does the situation compare with previous epidemics? This site is updated daily based on the number of confirmed cases reported by the WHO. By looking beyond the daily headlines, we hope it is possible to get a deeper understanding of this unfolding epidemic.

mapping-the-outbreak

You can overlay the data from previous epidemics, too, as this summary from The Conversation explains.

Coronavirus outbreak: a new mapping tool that lets you scroll through timelineThe Conversation
Comparisons with other recent outbreaks are also revealing. At one end of the spectrum, the 2014 Ebola epidemic can be distinguished by its devastating virulence (killing nearly 40% of the 28,600 people infected) but narrow geographic range (the virus was largely confined to three countries in West Africa). On the other hand, the 2009 swine flu pandemic was far less virulent (with an estimated mortality rate of less than 0.1%), but reached every corner of the globe.

mapping-the-outbreak-2

A very useful resource. This is exactly the kind of context our news needs to be providing.

Cases Deaths Countries affected Case fatality rate
2003 SARS 8,096 774 26 9.56%
2009 H1N1 (swine flu) 60,800,000 18,499 214 0.1%
2014 Ebola 28,646 11,323 10 39.53%
2019 nCoV:
12 Feb
45,171 1,115 26 2.5%
2019 nCoV:
2 Mar
88,913 3,043 62 3.4%
2019 nCoV:
13 Mar
125,048 4,613 118 3.7%

Update 13/02/2020

Thanks to China’s fast response, are we about to turn the corner?

mapping-the-outbreak-3

A ray of hope in the coronavirus curveThe Economist
Trying to forecast the trajectory of a new virus is complex, with scant initial information about how infectious it is. Several scientists made valiant attempts based on early data from China. Some warned that it might not peak until May, but that was before China implemented strict containment measures. The more pessimistic ones now look too gloomy. Cheng-Chih Hsu, a chemist at National Taiwan University, plugged different scenarios into a simple model for estimating the spread of epidemics (the incidence of daily infections typically resemble bell curves, with slightly fatter tails as transmissions peter out). The tally of confirmed cases so far closely fits a seemingly optimistic forecast by Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese respiratory expert, who said on January 28th that transmissions would peak within two weeks.

The end can’t come soon enough.

The coronavirus is the first true social-media “infodemic”MIT Technology Review
On February 2, the World Health Organization dubbed the new coronavirus “a massive ‘infodemic,’” referring to “an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” It’s a distinction that sets the coronavirus apart from previous viral outbreaks. While SARS, MERS, and Zika all caused global panic, fears around the coronavirus have been especially amplified by social media. It has allowed disinformation to spread and flourish at unprecedented speeds, creating an environment of heightened uncertainty that has fueled anxiety and racism in person and online.

Update 02/03/2020

I’ve updated the figures in the table above, using data from the tracker. Whilst the numbers of new cases in China is slowing down, they’re increasing everywhere else. And so too is the fatality rate, worryingly.

Update 13/03/2020

And still climbing.

Visualising our plastic problem

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has difficulty visualising large numbers. It can make the significance of some news stories hard to grasp, especially environmental ones.

By comparing the number of plastic bottles sold around the world to such things as a rubbish truck, the Eiffel Tower, and even Manhattan, Reuters have published a very effective way of getting across ridiculous statistics like 54,900,000 bottles sold every hour, 1,300,000,000 sold every day, and 481,600,000,000 sold every year. (via Cool Infographics)

Drowning in plastic: Visualising the world’s addiction to plastic bottlesReuters
Around the world, almost 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute. As the environmental impact of that tide of plastic becomes a growing political issue, major packaged goods sellers and retailers are under pressure to cut the flow of the single-use bottles and containers that are clogging the world’s waterways.

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Leave us alone

Hot on the heels of Robot Day is Data Protection Day, initiated by the Council of Europe  in 2007.

Data Protection DayCouncil of Europe
The Council of Europe is celebrating this year the 14th edition of Data Protection Day. This initiative aims to raise the individuals awareness about good practices in this field, informing them about their rights and how to exercise them.

Joint statement by Vice-President Jourová and Commissioner Reynders ahead of Data Protection DayEuropean Commission
Data is becoming increasingly important for our economy and for our daily lives. With the roll-out of 5G and uptake of the Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things technologies, personal data will be in abundance and with potential uses we probably can’t imagine. While this offers amazing opportunities, some cases show that robust rules are needed to address clear risks for individuals and for our democracies. In Europe we know that strong data protection rules are not a luxury, but a necessity. […]

20 months after the entry into application of the landmark General Data Protection Regulation, we see that the GDPR has acted as a catalyst to put data protection at the centre of many of the on-going policy debates. It is a cornerstone of the European approach underpinning several political priorities of the new Commission promoting a human centric approach to Artificial Intelligence and other digital technologies. European Data Protection rules will therefore be a foundation and inspiration for the success of key initiatives in artificial intelligence, health or mobility to name just a few.

Part of me wants to find out how our leaving the EU on Friday will affect this, but a larger part of me is too fed up with the whole stupid act of national self-harm to bother.

Happy “Data Privacy Day” – Now read The New York Times privacy project about total surveillanceForbes
The shocking thing about the obvious and growing loss of privacy is how unconcerned everyone is. Technologists started “snooping” around servers, desktops and data bases years ago to understand the status of hardware and software and how they should be managed. Enterprise snooping is still a best practice. But snooping is now central to entire national and global business models, and has emerged with a scary name: surveillance capitalism. No one predicted how pervasive snooping would become. No one predicted just how much profit snooping would generate, and no one predicted how entire populations would essentially shrug their shoulders about how they’re stalked each and every day – to make someone else money!

I’ve shared a number of articles about surveillance before, including one from The New York Times Privacy Project mentioned above, but there are many more to worry over.

Surprisingly (not really), Google doesn’t seem to be celebrating the day with a Google Doodle, although there is a prompt to complete a privacy check-up.

privacy-day

I quite like Protect Internet health and privacy with Mozilla’s internet health initiative, on the other hand.

Data detox: Five ways to reset your relationship with your phoneThe Firefox Frontier
We use our phones for everything from hailing rides to ordering in, and even to track our literal steps. All that convenience at our fingertips comes at a cost: our personal data and our mental health. It’s hard to be present in the moment when push notifications and texts are enticing us to look down. Meanwhile, the amount of personal data we share, many times without even realizing, can be alarming.

But not all hope is lost! Here are five simple steps you can take to protect your data and sanity.

Stylish maps of bureaucracy

Finding where you fit in a large organisation isn’t easy sometimes. It can be difficult to see the whole picture. These very stylish organisation charts might be just the ticket.

Organograms | UK GovernmentPeter Cook
Organograms (also known as org charts) show the structure of organisations – in our case UK Government departments. The gallery presents an overview of a number of government departments (from May 2014). Click a department to explore it in more detail.

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I love the moiré effects when you zoom in on some of them. (via FlowingData)

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I couldn’t help but think of Sam Lowry’s labyrinthine struggles with Brazil’s Ministry of Information, when I saw these sprawling government department charts. So it was nice to read, this morning, about Jonathan Pryce’s Oscar nomination—best newcomer, indeed.

Say ‘I do’ with a spreadsheet? I’m glad I didn’t

I happily sit and play work with spreadsheets all day, but some people can take things too far.

Inside the hyper-organised world of wedding planning spreadsheets
I, too, initially scoffed at the wedding spreadsheets. It’s just a party! Why do people get so crazy about weddings?! I’m going to be a chill bride! But then I started to think about the venue. And the guest list. And the food. And the drink. And the music. And the transport. And the photographer… Of course, you can do away with as many of the details as you want (one spreadsheet I came across included tips on matching your tiara to your skin tone), but as much as you may wish to rail against the wedding-industrial complex, if you are getting married and want to do anything other than elope in secret, then mark my words, you will end up using a spreadsheet. …

As a result, while the spreadsheets can be generally helpful, they can also quickly spiral out of control, becoming a bullet-pointed reminder of all the social expectations heaped on people (and especially women) preparing for what they’re conditioned to believe must be a perfect event. Got a misalignment between guest numbers and venue capacity? You fail, back to square one! Didn’t factor in a hair and make-up practice session? What sort of bride are you? Forgot a flower buttonhole for the groomsmen? Game over, perfection not achieved! In one spreadsheet shared with me, you can almost hear the pleading of an embattled bride trying to keep a grip as she adds yet another entry: “Who will move presents and cards during cocktail hour, and to where?” Who will move the presents during cocktail hour? To where? Hang on a minute, I’m supposed to have a cocktail hour?

It was a while ago now, but in my case we didn’t so much want to get married, as be married — makes for a much simpler and calmer approach.

It’s not all bad news

I think I might not bother keeping up with current affairs for a while, it’s all too ridiculous. Basically, another prime minister, another deal, another vote.

How much of Johnson’s ‘great new deal’ is actually new?
As MPs prepare to vote on Boris Johnson’s EU withdrawal agreement, Guardian analysis shows that less than 5% of the original deal has been renegotiated, despite it being rejected by parliament three times.

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Another lost vote.

‘House of fools’: how the papers covered Johnson’s latest Brexit defeat
Newspapers cast prime minister as either a fighter or a loser, with plenty of anger directed at Parliament, too.

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This current prime minister seems as prime ministerial as that president is presidential, i.e. not much.

Boris Johnson’s three letters to Brussels: what do they mean for Brexit?
Rather than writing one letter to the European Union, Johnson has sent three – almost. The first is less of a letter: rather an unsigned photocopy of a portion of of the Benn Act. Rather than asking for an extension on behalf of Johnson, the text merely points out that the Benn Act requires the government to seek an extension. After this, it adds that “if the parties are able to ratify before this date, the government proposes that the period should be terminated early”. In what seems a fit of pique, and reinforcing his determination simultaneously to write and refuse to write to Brussels, the prime minister declined to actually sign the missive.

Remember all those flow charts trying to explain how we might leave, back in March and April? Back to the drawing board with all those.

Brexit: What happens now?
It’s not clear that the whole process will be completed by 31 October. The government will seek to pass a “programme motion” to limit the length of debates in the House of Commons. MPs could reject that, though, and the bill must also pass through the House of Lords.

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And it’s not just the British press that’s struggling with politics.

Why Australia’s media front pages were blacked out today
Australia’s major media organisations blacked out their newspaper front pages and websites on Monday in a coordinated push for legislative change to protect press freedom and force the government to increase transparency.

According to the organisations – which include SBS, the ABC, Nine, News Corp Australia and The Guardian – a slew of laws introduced over the past 20 years have hindered the media’s capacity to act as the fourth estate and hold the government and other powerful figures to account.

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But what we need to remember is, if we step back from all this, it’s not all bad news. We just need to look in the right places.

Beautiful News
A collection of good news, positive trends, uplifting statistics and facts — all beautifully visualized by Information is Beautiful.

We’ll be releasing a chart every day for a year to move our attention beyond dramatic news headlines to the slow developments and quiet trends that go unseen, uncelebrated.

Amazing things are happening in the world, thanks to human ingenuity, endeavour and collaboration.

It’s the new initiative from David McCandless and his Information is Beautiful team. Here’s an example.

Everyone, everywhere is living longer
One of the greatest achievements of humanity is the increase in life expectancy. In 1960, the average life span was 52.6 years. Today it’s an impressive 72 years. The reasons are simple: improvements in child survival, expanded access to healthcare (including widespread vaccination), and people being lifted out of extreme, grinding poverty.

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And another.

More Afghan girls are being educated
Educating girls is probably the single most impactful thing we can do to make the world a better place. Women who spend longer in school have fewer, healthier and better-fed children, are less likely to die in childbirth, contribute more towards a country’s economy, participate more in politics, and are less likely to marry young or against their will.

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Just two of dozens of uplifting stories. I know which news website I’d rather read.

Update 22/10/2019

I should, of course, have added some links to Hans Rosling’s work after that.

Bill Gates on Factfulness
Bill Gates recently read Hans Rosling’s new book “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.” In it, Hans offers a new framework for how to think about the world.

And here’s Hans in his own words about the need for fact-based optimism.

Good news at last: the world isn’t as horrific as you think
Things are bad, and it feels like they are getting worse, right? War, violence, natural disasters, corruption. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; and we will soon run out of resources unless something drastic is done. That’s the picture most people in the west see in the media and carry around in their heads.

I call it the overdramatic worldview. It’s stressful and misleading. In fact, the vast majority of the world’s population live somewhere in the middle of the income scale. Perhaps they are not what we think of as middle class, but they are not living in extreme poverty. Their girls go to school, their children get vaccinated. Perhaps not on every single measure, or every single year, but step by step, year by year, the world is improving. In the past two centuries, life expectancy has more than doubled. Although the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress.

It’s rarely black and white

Taking statistics out of context to push a particular agenda is nothing new. But it’s nice to see a pushback.

Fixing the ‘impeach this’ map with a transition to a cartogram
As discussed previously, the “impeach this” map has some issues. Mainly, it equates land area to votes, which makes for a lot of visual attention to counties that are big even though not many people live in them. So, Karim Douïeb used a clever transition to change the bivariate map to a cartogram. Now you can have a dual view.

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We just need more of this kind of thing over here. For instance:

Show this chart to anyone who says Brexit is the ‘will of the British people’
This chart is not an entirely convincing argument against Leave or Remain, but it does illustrate that ‘the 52 per cent’ and ‘the 48 per cent’ actually constitute much smaller proportions of the UK population than the figure might imply.

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