Monthly Archives: October 2014

GapMinder Data Analysis


In my HCI cognitive science class we’ve been studying visualization and how a given interface can enhance our mental processing power, bringing more of our wits to bear on a challenge. Here’s a look at comparing a few layers of data as reported by two very different nations.

Denmark vs. USA – Charitable giving related to income & life expectancy

I chose to compare the nations of Denmark and the United States, examining their respective records of charitable giving and comparing that to each nations’ income per person and their life expectancy. The data available ran from 1960 to 2008, and so it’s worth noting that the period studied spanned several wars with worldwide impact, numerous financial recessions and a gradual but accelerating trend of climate change.

The United States
The United States in 1960 was quite a charitable one, donating 0.54% of the gross national income (GNI) while only reporting $18,175 in income per person. We had a change of heart it would seem, as the % of GNI given to charity fell steadily for 37 years before finally ending at 0.18% of GNI in 2008.

During this period, while our incomes rose by $24k and our life expectancy by 8 years we gave 0.54% less to charities.

Denmark in 1960 was a hard place, donating only 0.09% of their GNI while reporting only $11,569 in income per person. They seem to have buckled down and gotten industrious, as the % of GNI given to charity rose for 21 years to 1.03%, with a high of 1.06% before finally ending at 0.82% of GNI in 2008.

During this period, their incomes rose by $20k and their life expectancy by 6 years. In the end Danes increased their charitable giving by a staggering 0.97% over the period.

An interesting measure to add to this comparison would be an index of reported happiness & contentment – does charity or income have a greater effect on happiness?

I would also have enjoyed seeing an overlay of world events across political, economic and climate scopes, relating those factors into the changes in life expectancy, income and charitable giving.

The animation was quite helpful, and illustrated the rate of change between compared parameters over the lengthy collection of data ranging over 48 years, clearly calling out the rapid rise of Denmark’s charity while the USA gave away less and less each year.

It’s purely correlative, but it appears that given the much larger percentage they gave to charity (from their noticeably lower income) the Danish were not overly burdened and lived to nearly the same age. Many factors could have been at play, but I’m given to lean towards the old adage that money CAN bring happiness as long as you spend it on others.

Using Vision To Think (a nod to Stuart Card)

In an HCI class I’m taking currently, we’re studying the cognitive science behind the long human history of visual-spatial displays. We’re talking caveman drawings up to the latest in Minority Report-style virtual interactive displays – fun stuff!!

Here’s an article to soak up if you’re interested in this kind of stuff: The Cognitive Science of Visual-Spatial Displays: Implications for Design

And here’s some thoughts of my own about that article:

More than anything else, this week’s reading of Mary Hegarty’s paper on the science of visual displays made me realize why it’s much easier for visually-minded folks like myself to understand something best when we’re able to interact with a subject on a visual level.

“Representations that are informationally equivalent (contain the same information) are not necessarily computationally equivalent”…
“task performance can be dramatically different with different visual displays of the same information”…

These are dead on. Whenever I’ve encountered a complex problem, whether facing it alone or in a small group (or mentorship, etc.) I often kick off the process or discussion with something along the lines of “Are there other ways I/we can look at the issue?” This is helpful in many cases because in representing the object or process with an iconic, relational or complex display allows us to augment our thinking, to enhance our understanding and to bring additional inferences or insights to bear.

Displays allow us to externalize both the storage and the organization of a massive amount of data, freeing up our fragile and limited minds to process that data in different ways. It also lets us explore the relationships between groupings of related elements, i.e. chunking – freeing us to a degree from the limitations of short term memory by compressing these complex associations or concepts into a fewer number comprehensible objects.

I understand the world through my visualizations of it, both in reality and in my internalized efforts to understand the world around me, so my favorite blurb by far was the author’s reference to Stuart Card’s sentiment “Using vision to think”.