Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Data visualization in the news: the bloody facts!

Once again my planned blogpost was pre-empted by the news this morning of a brutal incident outside of Pittsburgh and this time it wasn’t gun related it was a mass stabbing. Not something I was expecting to hear and it got me thinking about the seeming increase in these incidents of mass violence so being a data person I had to find some research.

The FBI defines a mass murder as involving 4 or more persons and as the latest tragedy unfolds in Pennslyvania over a year after Newtown we still don’t have any clear understanding of what is driving this rise in violent crime. Back in 2013 following the Newtown tragedy some news agencies were reporting that mass murders were on the rise since 2006, some linking it to the overall economic crisis and some to the widening income inequality gap.  

Well USA Today did a follow up piece digging further into the FBI data which turns out was slightly flawed by being underreported in some cases. It also turned out, not surprisingly, that certain stories got more attention and made it into the data while others did not. Local law enforcement agencies self-report the crime data to the FBI and in some cases don’t report it at all. This created a misperception that these crimes were on the rise when in reality they are pretty much the same just more sensationalized by national media. 

Looking at the graphic below you can see a fairly regular trend of mass murder (based on the FBI definition). 

As you can imagine the larger circles represent a higher volume of victims for that incident. In reviewing the data USA Today found that the majority of mass murder incidents were generally between family members and usually with a legally purchased handgun. Different groups will review this data differently but you have to admit the data visualization tells the story clearly and simply as any good data visualization should. To see the full USA Today piece and the interactive graphic visit here.  To help future victims you can donate blood or support the American Red Cross.   #StopTheViolence 

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