Sunday, March 27, 2016

Fixing the New York Times' stupid chart

For quite some time the New York Times has been a fan of a specific visualization that it hopes explain the threat Islamists pose to Americans.

The visual:



The big absurdity in this is that the assumption is that Americans don't exist outside the bounds of the United States. In reality, Americans register about 30 million overseas trips a year. That's about the entire state of Texas deciding to hop on a plane and leave the continent, every single year.

So what happens when one starts counting American citizens killed abroad by jihadists?

A short crappy analysis of recent attacks globally (fixed to NYTimes' timescale) and excluding Iraq and Afghanistan, yields the following table of fatalities which is definitely an underestimate:

2002 Bali Bombings (7)
2002 Daniel Pearl (1)
2002 Zamboanga City bombings (1)
2003 Riyadh car bombings (9)
2004 Riyadh compound bombings (9)
2004 Shooting in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia (2)
2005 Bali bombings  (6)
2006 Karachi car bombing (David Foy) (1)
2008 Mumbai attacks (David Headley charged with killing 6) (6)
2012 Yemen shooting of English teacher (1)
2012 Benghazi (4)
2015 Bombing in Garoowe, Somalia (1)
2015 November Paris attacks (1)
2016 Brussels attacks (2)
2016 Tel Aviv knife attack (1)

Adding this to the NYTimes data, we get the following yearly running total counts:

2002 : 2 domestic + 9 overseas = 11
2003: 2 domestic + 18 overseas = 20
2004: 2 domestic + 27 overseas = 29
2005: 2 domestic + 33 overseas = 35
2006: 3 domestic + 34 overseas = 37
2007: 3 domestic + 34 overseas = 37
2008: 3 domestic + 40 overseas  = 43
2009: 17 domestic + 40 overseas = 57
2010: 17 domestic + 40 overseas = 57
2011: 17 domestic + 40 overseas = 57
2012: 17 domestic + 45 overseas = 62
2013: 21 domestic + 45 overseas  = 66
2014: 26 domestic + 45 overseas = 71
2015: 45 domestic + 48 overseas = 93
2016: 45 domestic + 51 overseas = 96

The actual graph then becomes something like: (Islamist attack fatalities in green)



The takeaway is that jihadis domestically killed as many as every other group of nutjobs combined, (racists, anti-abortionists, tax protesters...) and then managed at least double their casualty count in operations overseas. 

Hopefully one cannot be blamed for not having a New York Times graphics department to select the correct tone, hue and beautifully stitch the line together. Much more time was invested in actually compiling and thinking about the data, and even then the information is full of omissions - both accidental (the count of overseas deaths is actually closer to 87 when using Department of State data, eyeballing Wikipedia data is what resulted in a count of 51) and intentional.

An example of such intentional omission, in this chart and New York Times', is the deaths of Leila Mazloum, Leila Taleb, Hussein Mostapha. They were residents of Dearborn, Michigan that were killed in a bombing in Lebanon in 2015 -- however these deaths do not actually count. They do not count as the bombing did not happen in Michigan, and they do not count as none of them actually have citizenship. Therefore in the view of the New York Times, they are doubly not Americans.

An exercise for the reader (if not the New York Times graphics department) is to improve on this lazy correction and actually publish the experiences of Americans without the myopic, provincial view of what qualifies as the "real" "domestic" threat.

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