The past, present and future of data analysis

Some interesting reads, courtesy of The Economist’s data analysis newsletter, Off The Charts. Let’s start with this question — are glasses-wearers really less conscientiousness than those who wear a headscarf?

Objective or Biased: On the questionable use of Artificial Intelligence for job applicationsBR24
Software programs promise to identify the personality traits of job candidates based on short videos. With the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI) they are supposed to make the selection process of candidates more objective and faster. An exclusive data analysis shows that an AI scrutinized by BR (Bavarian Broadcasting) journalists can be swayed by appearances. This might perpetuate stereotypes while potentially costing candidates the job.

Here, Stephanie Evergreen makes a solid, essential case for broadening our view of data visualisation and its history. I’ve mentioned khipus here before, but not within this context.

Decolonizing Data VizEvergreen Data
When we talked about these khipu and other forms of indigenous data visualization in a recent panel (with January O’Connor (Tlingit, Kake, Alaska), Mark Parman (Cherokee), & Nicky Bowman (Lunaape/Mohican)), someone in the audience commented, “It made me reflect on traditional Hmong clothing and how my ancestors have embroidered certain motifs on traditional clothing to communicate one’s clanship, what dialect of Hmong one spoke, marital status, everyday life, etc.” And this is one reason why it is so critically important to decolonize data visualization. When white men decide what counts (and doesn’t count) in terms of data, and what counts (and doesn’t count) as data visualization, and what counts (and doesn’t count) as data visualization history, they are actively gaslighting Black and Brown people about their legacy as data visualizers. When we shine a light on indigenous data visualization, we are intentionally saying the circle is much much wider and, as Nicky Bowman said, “There’s room for everyone in the lodge.”

After reconciling the past, let’s look to the future.

Who will shape the future of data visualization? Today’s kids!Nightingale
Graphs are everywhere. So, with the proper instruction, I’d expect today’s kids to become adults that are more proficient at visualizing and interpreting data than today’s adults. Besides parents, teachers, or friends, news organizations also play a role in shaping today’s kids. As Jon pointed out, news organizations can do a great job explaining to us how to read more advanced graphs.

On the other hand, as Sharon and Michael mentioned, because graphs are everywhere, there’s a danger for kids to start thinking that graphs are objective. So it is important for adults to start teaching kids how to think critically, to not necessarily accept the graph and the data at face value. In other words, it’s essential for kids to develop a toolbox. This is good for them and good for democracy — eventually, today’s kids will become more informed citizens.

Something I’m sure Jonathan Schwabish would agree with.

Oops! I did it again

Whilst MI5 gets accused of unlawfully handling their data, the police just lose theirs.

Home Office urged to explain 150,000 arrest records wiped in tech blunderThe Times
Priti Patel has been urged to explain an “extraordinarily serious security breach” after The Times revealed a technology blunder wiped more than 150,000 fingerprint, DNA and arrest history records off police databases. The error may allow offenders to go free because biometric evidence left at crime scenes will not be flagged up on the Police National Computer (PNC).

Priti Patel under fire as 150,000 police records accidentally lostThe Guardian
The Home Office released a statement from the policing minister, Kit Malthouse, but the shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said this was not good enough and called on Patel to provide an urgent statement.

Don’t worry about it, though. They’ll have that deleted data back in no time.

Police scrambling to recover more than 150,000 records wiped from UK databaseThe Independent
The policing minister, Kit Malthouse, said Home Office and law enforcement officials were working “at pace to recover the data”. “While the loss relates to individuals who were arrested and then released with no further action, I have asked officials and the police to confirm their initial assessment that there is no threat to public safety,” he added. “A fast time review has identified the problem and corrected the process so it cannot happen again.”

Dratted ‘housekeeping’, eh? 150k+ records deleted off UK’s Police National Computer databaseThe Register
It is reported that Home Office staff are trying to get some of the deleted information back. This implies, strongly, that they cannot simply restore the deleted information from backup files.

Well, as has been pointed out on Twitter, accidents happen.

Britain destroyed records of colonial crimesThe Guardian
Review finds thousands of papers detailing shameful acts were culled, while others were kept secret illegally.

And happen.

114 child sex files linked to MPs have ‘vanished’Express
A total of 114 files linked to allegations of paedophile activity in Westminster may have been destroyed, MPs were told yesterday.

And happen.

Grenfell files ‘lost forever’ after laptop wiped, inquiry hearsITV News
Some emails, documents and design drawings relating to the Grenfell Tower refurbishment appear to have been lost forever after being wiped from a laptop, the inquiry into the fire has heard.

And happen.

Home Office destroyed Windrush landing cards, says ex-stafferThe Guardian
Evidence of UK arrivals discarded despite case worker protests, says former employee.

Update – 16/01/2021

A day later and that initial total is now seen as a little on the low side.

Starmer urges home secretary to ‘take responsibility’ as it emerges 400,000 police records deleted in ‘human error’Sky News
Home Secretary Priti Patel has come under fire since it was first reported by The Times that 150,000 records were lost, although it is now understood the figure is much higher. Some 213,000 offence records were wiped from the Police National Computer, along with 175,000 arrest records and 15,000 person records.

Police probes compromised after computer records deletedBBC News
[The letter from the National Police Chiefs’ Council] says that some of the records had been marked for indefinite retention following earlier convictions for serious offences. And it reveals that a “weeding system”, developed and deployed by a Home Office PNC team, started to delete records wrongly last November. The process was only brought to a halt at the start of this week. […]

It comes after about 40,000 alerts relating to European criminals were removed from the PNC following the UK’s post-Brexit security deal with the EU.

BA bargains

A year ago I shared an article about British Airways being fined a record £183,000,000 by the ICO for a data breach in 2018. Here’s an update to that story.

BA fined record £20m for customer data breachThe Guardian
The fine is the biggest ever issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), but a fraction of the £183m fine initially announced last year. This was reduced after investigators accepted BA’s representations about the circumstances of the attack; and was reduced further to take into account the dire financial position of BA since the onset of Covid-19.

They’re not having an easy time, to say the least. I wonder how successful this auction was for them.

Hit hard by travel disruptions, British Airways will sell a $1 million Bridget Riley painting and 16 other works at Sotheby’s this monthArtNet News
The painting, titled Cool Edge, carries no guarantee and is estimated to bring in between £800,000 and £1.2 million ($1 million to $1.5 million) at the July 28 “Rembrandt to Richter” evening sale. It was previously on view in a luxury lounge at Heathrow airport in London. […]

With the exception of Terry Frost’s 1997 painting Colour Down the Side 1968, which is expected to go for £20,000 to £30,000 ($25,000 to $37,000), each work in the online sale is estimated below £15,000 ($19,000).

Well, that Bridget Riley looks to have sold for £1,875,000. That would have helped towards that ICO fine…

You can count on them to help

Meet the Excel warriors saving the world from spreadsheet disasterWired UK
Research suggests more than 90 per cent of spreadsheets have errors, and half of spreadsheet models used in large businesses have “material defects”. Given some 750 million people use Excel globally, there are plenty of errors needing attention. One prominent researcher calls spreadsheets the dark matter of corporate IT. And that’s why people like Lyford-Smith have become defenders of the spreadsheet, mitigating the risks by fixing everyone else’s mistakes.

Everything, all at once #2

You could say that Matan Stauber’s final year project at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design took millions and millions of years to create.

Histography – Timeline of History
“Histography” is interactive timeline that spans across 14 billion years of history, from the Big Bang to 2015. The site draws historical events from Wikipedia and self-updates daily with new recorded events. The interface allows for users to view between decades to millions of years.

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.

visualising-change-2

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.

no-easy-answers

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.”

rotary-club-1

rotary-club-2

rotary-club-3

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.

flatten-a-curve-3

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.

flatten-a-curve-2

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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