Dataviz whiz Alberto Cairo had an interesting blog post over the weekend critiquing the new wave of data journalism sites as insufficiently rigorous:
Perhaps I was exaggerating, but I’m seeing too much shoddy stuff in websites like Vox.com and FiveThirtyEight. They do publish interesting stories, but a very visible portion of their output is dubious.
I’m not just talking about the foolish comparisons of health care prices. That’s old news. It’s also the speculations about kidnappings in Nigeria (at least they corrected this one properly; good for them.) Or making long-term linear predictions while forgetting about xkcd (see the cartoon below) and black swans.
I should also mention this piece on helmets and bikes, an example of Gladwellism gone crazy: “Hey, here’s a counterintuitive idea, and here you have a handful of papers and small datasets — you don’t mind if they aren’t that significant, if they say the opposite to what I claim, if I jump to conclusions, or if one of the studies has a sample size of one, do you?”. See more (and more) details about this case, which is an absolute shame.
Data journalism, at least in some of the stories and blog posts that these organizations are publishing, has become “datum journalism,” a term that I’ve stolen from Census Reporter’s Ryan Pitts. It’s a pity.
Alberto also links to this related Storify, featuring C.W. Anderson, Greg Linch, Scott Klein, Emily Bell, Tim Carmody, Alex Howard, Jacob Harris, and a bunch of other smart people you might want to follow on Twitter.