April 15, 2015

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One in four girls worldwide marries before her 18th birthday. Child marriage violates basic human rights, and denies millions of girls worldwide the control over their health, education, and futures. One of the data-driven stories featured in No Ceilings, our latest project for the Clinton Foundation and the Gates Foundation, details the prevalence and negative impacts of underage marriage, along with the detrimental effects it can have for girls, their families, and their wider communities.

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India is home to more child brides than any other country.

Although laws often prohibit the practice, child marriage is still widespread in many developing nations. The legal minimum age of marriage in India is 18 years old, but 47% of girls—or an astounding 25.9 million—are married before their 18th birthday. That means roughly one in two women in India recited their nuptials before graduating from high school, and in too many cases, even before graduating elementary school.

Though legislation helps curtail the numbers, laws are often disregarded or ineffectual in eliminating the practice. Further, in some countries circumstances like parental consent, religious custom, or court approval allow girls to marry at a younger age than boys.

In cases of child marriage, young girls are typically taken from their families and married to older men. As a result they are often forced to stop their schooling and instead work for the family of their new spouse. Their education—as well as their childhood—is cut short.

As the prevalence of child marriage increases, so does the rate of teen pregnancies. School enrollment also tends to decline. In Niger more girls have given birth than enrolled in high school. Girls face more positive conditions in Jordan.

High rates of teenage pregnancy are also common in places where child marriage is prevalent. Girls must often bear children before they are physically, emotionally, or financially prepared to do so. In Niger, where there is no minimum legal age of marriage, one in five girls under 18 have given birth—which is higher than the percent of girls enrolled in secondary school (i.e. in a given year, more girls under 18 have given birth than enrolled in high school).

The visualization allows users to compare rates of child marriage, secondary school enrollment, and adolescent pregnancy across countries. For a more human account of the story, see the incredible video made by media partners, Scratch, about girls in India who are taking a stand against child marriage.

Visit the site to explore the pervasive impacts of child marriage around the world, and to watch the short video featuring women who are taking control of their own futures.

March 26, 2015

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Scaled in Miles was recently featured on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. The show’s producers had an interest in the role of album covers from the days of 12″ LP’s, and their counterparts in the digital age.

When I was a kid, I would often contemplate the twelve square inches of cover art (or more) while listening to my favorite albums. As I got older and my tastes shifted towards jazz, reading the liner notes provided helpful hooks for finding new artists, and described the historical context of what I was hearing. With digital streaming, you don’t get that large artifact to read, hold, and ponder. What can be done to rekindle that experience?

It was in that context that we were contacted by Bernard Achampong of the BBC to see if we might be interested in discussing Scaled in Miles on the radio. In his view, our piece is like a set of liner notes for an artist’s entire career, as it shows all his collaborations and how they link to key recordings. Since we were scheduled to be live on air for a morning segment, James and I gathered at my house at 4:00 in the morning for the interview. Alas, the spot was so quick that James’s dulcet voice did not have a chance to grace the British airwaves, though his moral support was invaluable.

Our segment was paired with artist Matthew Cooper, whose most recent project doubles down on the power of printed album sleeves. Using innovations in printing technology, each individual album cover features unique artwork. Having spent some time staring at Mr. Cooper’s work in the past, I was disappointed that we didn’t have time to talk with him on air.

You can check out the entire episode on BBC Radio 4’s podcast (we go on around the 02:23:20 mark), or listen to just our segment here.


March 20, 2015

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No Ceilings, our latest project for the Clinton Foundation and the Gates Foundation, features a myriad of data-driven stories on the global progress of women and girls over the last twenty years. Cutting across gains in health, education, economic participation, leadership, security, and communication, the stories reveal areas that have experienced the greatest improvements, as well as places where the gaps remain. In the vein of women’s leadership, No Ceilings features a dichotomous story on women’s political participation: while women often vote at comparable rates to men, they are often under-represented in positions of national government. suffrage-screencap4 To say that women gained the right to vote can mean two things: either a gain in gender equality or a gain in democracy for the overall country. But to see that women are underrepresented in positions of government makes an unequivocal statement on the status of gender equality (or lack thereof) in national and local politics. While women in most countries are voting at similar rates as men, they are less frequently sitting in positions of national government. The issue isn’t that women aren’t getting elected, but rather that they aren’t even making it to the ballots.

Women are still gaining the right to vote in 2015

The No Ceilings story regarding women’s suffrage contains a timeline of when women in each country gained the right to vote. It also compares the rate of voting between women and men, and shows the gender breakdown of representation in parliament. Rwanda, Andorra, and Cuba have the highest female representation in the lower chambers of national parliament. In contrast, the United States, with just 18% of national parliament seats held by women, is below the global average.

Histogram showing the regional breakdown of when women gained the right to vote over time
Histogram showing the regional breakdown of when women gained the right to vote over time

The histogram shows a regional breakdown of women’s suffrage over time. You can see geographic patterns emerge by clicking on each region, and seeing when its resident countries permitted universal women’s suffrage. Most countries in Europe and Central Asia, for instance, gave women the right to vote from 1918-1921. By contrast, countries in the Middle East and North Africa didn’t allow universal suffrage until post World War II (partly due to the fact that many countries in the region were established after 1945).

Regional view of the Middle East and North Africa
Regional view of Europe and Central Asia

In building this story, we were shocked to learn that countries like Switzerland gave women the right to vote as late as 1971, and in Saudi Arabia women only just gained the vote this year. Learn more about women’s political participation and many other topics by visiting the site.

March 09, 2015

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In conjunction with International Women’s Day and the upcoming session of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women, we’re thrilled about the launch of No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project. Despite gains over the last twenty years, we still haven’t reached gender equality worldwide. The gap in the share of women in the workforce versus the share of men has barely changed in two decades. To make matters more grim, the United States is one of nine countries worldwide that doesn’t provide for paid maternal leave.

No Ceilings, our latest site for the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, explores twenty years of data to demonstrate the gains and gaps facing women and girls worldwide. Between a series of interactive data visualizations, an exploratory map, videos, articles, and sharable peel-off factoids (we like to call them quotables though rumor has it former Secretary Clinton has been calling them snackables), the site features a breadth of timely information on gender equality across a range of themes.

Child marriage is a violation of human rights, and it denies girls control over their health, education, and futures. 1 in 4 girls worldwide was married before her 18th birthday.

The No Ceilings initiative is unique in that it is the first comprehensive view of data specifically on women and girls worldwide. After receiving an enormous spreadsheet, our team spent eight months analyzing the data, generating stories, designing, and developing the site and its visualizations with the Clinton and Gates Foundations.

We identified more than twenty data-driven narratives that could be explored or illustrated visually. While some stories contained ample information to work as full interactive pieces, other stories were better served as headlines with simpler graphics. In addition, users can see the entire data set mapped by country from 1995 to the present, across 850,000 data points.

Women are still gaining the right to vote. In Saudi Arabia, 2015 marks the first year that women can rock the vote.

The No Ceilings site gives newcomers an understanding of complex issues on gender equality and enables them to share their findings, while also offering more depth for policy-centric audiences. As we continue to update the site over the next several months with additional interactive stories, please explore, share, and stay tuned for more information at noceilings.org.

January 27, 2015

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One of the great things about working at an information design firm like Fathom is the opportunity to work with subject matter from all kinds of domains. In a single week, we’ve researched topics ranging from social issues that affect women’s equality, database management, and student debt. Recently we were even pulled into the vortex of an international cartographic mystery…

Zooming into a twenty-mile-wide array of circular roads, only to find... more circular roads?
Zooming into a twenty-mile-wide array of circular roads, only to find… more circular roads?

As our Twitter followers know, we’ve expanded the All Streets poster series to cover select countries around the world. The maps outline the geography of various states and countries by plotting only their streets. Of course the data is gathered and processed programmatically, but the maps still require human design attention after the numbers are crunched. To that end we give each poster a once-over for any odd patterns or marks that look like glitches rather than actual streets. It was this process that led us to the oddities in the southeastern tip of Alberta, Canada:

That's no moon...
That’s no moon…

A series of roads in nearly perfect concentric circles, over 20 miles in diameter at their widest, was sitting in the middle of rural Canada? We thought there must have been some kind of error. But when we double checked the source at OpenStreetMap, there it was: a label reading “CFB [Canadian Forces Base] Suffield,” enclosed within a foreboding red-striped area. A quick glance at Wikipedia told us that Suffield is “the largest Canadian Forces Base and the largest military training base in the Commonwealth.”

CFB Suffield, with its largest and outermost circular roads
CFB Suffield, with its largest and outermost circular roads

We switched to Google Maps to get a satellite view of the area, and quickly located the circles (although they didn’t appear in Google’s street maps). Looking a little closer, we noticed even more circles inside the original ones. How curious! But upon zooming in to get a better view, we were surprised to see even more circles! No less than nine in total. And at the center sat an oddly shaped formation or structure.

Zoomed all the way into the circles, a small structure/formation comes into view
Zoomed all the way into the circles, a small formation comes into view

We searched for more information about CFB Suffield, and found out it was established as a military base under the name Experimental Station Suffield during World War II for chemical warfare training. Currently it hosts a laboratory of Defense Research and Development Canada. We also discovered that we weren’t the only ones asking about the strange circles. Other mapping aficionados, local residents, and conspiracy theorists had noticed them too. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to uncover any definitive answers, although some of the speculation is intriguing.

From a forum discussion about the Suffield circles. Did we just get put on a list somewhere in Ottawa?
From a forum discussion about the Suffield circles. Did we just get put on a list somewhere in Ottawa?

So what’s the deal with the circles? Are they just roads after all? Divots from explosives testing? A giant particle accelerator? Or maybe the conspiracy theorists are right and it really is a landing pad for Canadian UFOs.

We're definitely on a list now
We’re definitely on a list now

Visit our print shop to get your own copy of the All Streets map for Canada, and use the code “ALIENS_AMONG_US” for a $15 discount!

Or check out maps of other countries and U.S. states.

January 06, 2015

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Since its initial launch in the spring of 2014, we’ve recently finished updates to the Poverty Tracker. The tool, built with Robin Hood, shows how the Official Poverty Measure (OPM) underestimates the number of New York City residents suffering from financial poverty, material hardship, and health challenges. The recently developed Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) gives a more accurate depiction of what it means to live in poverty by considering location, modern-day spending habits, and varying sources of income. The latest update incorporates new survey results from Columbia University and Robin Hood to show how poverty is related to health and neighborhood services.

The Poverty Tracker measures the distribution of the population that experiences various forms of poverty and hardship, yet it’s interesting to look further into the data to measure the likelihood of different experiences within each demographic.

The latest update delves into the relationship between poverty and health in New York City. While the proportion of residents at or below the poverty line experience chronic illnesses at a similar rate to the proportion living above the SPM line, those living below are more than twice as likely to be uninsured. To make matters worse, those below the SPM line are 20% more likely to be hospitalized.

While issues with health are tied more directly to poverty levels, problems with neighborhood services are cross-cutting. New Yorkers across income levels reported poor local services in health,  sanitation, transportation, crime, and recreation.

Check out the site to learn more about poverty in New York City, and see the latest updates.

December 12, 2014

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Last week, some of us here at Fathom had the privilege of attending the Massachusetts Conference for Women, where we saw Secretary Clinton and Lupita Nyong’o speak.

The Massachusetts Conference for Women is a yearly conference focused on bringing together the network of female community leaders, workers and entrepreneurs. The event is made up of resume building workshops, company booths, and keynote speaker presentations. This year, the keynote speakers included Lupita Nyong’o and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Lupita Nyong'o addresses 10,000+ women at the MA Conference for Women
Lupita Nyong’o addressing the 10,000+ women at the MA Conference for Women

Ms. Nyong’o spoke about her journey to becoming an actor. Her talk focused on the importance of acting on your aspirations, no matter how lofty, in order to move forward.

Secretary Clinton thanks Lupita Nyong'o for her inspirational speech.
Secretary Clinton thanks Lupita Nyong’o for her inspirational speech.

Secretary Clinton focused on Massachusetts as a place for progress and change, particularly for women. She brought up historical Massachusetts female pioneers such as Emily Dickinson and Abigail Adams, and praised Massachusetts for recently passing the law granting workers paid sick leave. She encouraged the women of Massachusetts to continue being engines of change and to “continue to crash through ceilings, and unlock the unlimited potential of every woman.”

Hillary Clinton addresses the audience at the MA Conference for Women
Hillary Clinton addresses the 10,000+ women at the MA Conference for Women

After the session, we had the pleasure of meeting Secretary Clinton and briefly discussing the data initiative we have been working on, which charts the global progress and setbacks of women and girls over the past twenty years. Stay tuned for more updates!

December 05, 2014

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We are very excited about the release of our latest poster, Scaled in Miles. Based on one of the greatest jazz musicians of the twentieth century, Scaled in Miles looks at Miles Davis’ career through a timeline of his recording sessions and the musicians who collaborated with him. Take a look, tell us what you think, and order your poster today.

After first building an interactive visualization that lets users explore and listen to Miles Davis’ many collaborations, we decided to design a printed poster to see how a single set of data can be designed and tailored to different mediums. In the print version, the data evolved into the shape of a record, with thin arcs marking the grooves, and the circular shape representing the timeline of Davis’ career.

Measuring 24” x 36”, this offset poster is printed on 80# French Construction Nightshift Blue with two impressions of metallic gold and light blue opaque inks printed on both sides of the paper.

Scaled in Miles, hot off the press at Signature Printing in East Providence, RI

The outermost ring shows the timeline of Miles’ sessions, from his first on April 24, 1945, to his last recording on August 25, 1991. Within the outermost ring, the 577 artists that collaborated with Miles are depicted by over 2,000 bars. Each bar represents a musician collaborating in a recording session over time.

Detailed view of Miles’ timeline on the outer most ring. Collaborating musicians are grouped by the instrument they played most, often and stack vertically towards the center of the poster.

Each bar corresponds with the dated sessions along the outermost timeline. Artists who played with Miles multiple times have their sessions connected with thin gold arcs. We called out a few albums that were particularly representative of the genres Miles played during his career. The recording sessions that contributed to one of the key albums is shown in blue instead of gold. We included names for the musicians who either contributed to one of those albums, or who played often with Miles (i.e. nine sessions or more).

Detailed view of two albums called out on the poster: Workin’ and Kind of Blue

The project might sound familiar. Back in April we released an interactive web app based on Miles’ forty-six years of recording, as documented by the Jazz Discography Project. The data encompasses the full personnel for 405 recording sessions, amounting to 577 musicians, and the albums released from those tracks.

to come
Scaled in Miles interactive visualization

One of the reasons we are excited about this poster is that it gives us a chance to demonstrate how the same dataset can take different forms depending on the medium. In the web app, details about the collaborators are revealed as you interact with them.


With this iteration, we were able to include the full timeline of each musician’s collaboration with Miles. On the back, we list each musician organized by the instrument they played most frequently, and chart the number of sessions they recorded on.

Detail of back side of poster listing every collaborating musicians name grouped by instrument and sorted by amount of sessions played with Miles.

If you (or anyone you know) dig Miles, jazz, beautifully printed posters, or shiny gold things, you can purchase the print here. In the meantime, stay cool my friends…

December 01, 2014

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We recently organized the Mirador Data Competition, where participants were invited to explore public datasets in health, sports, and global development using the Mirador tool, submit their findings, and have a chance to win prizes. With the assistance of experts in the areas covered by the competition, we chose three winning entries, and today we have the pleasure to announce them.

The winners of the Mirador Data Competition are:

We believe these three correlations were worth choosing because they give us a glimpse of complex socio-economic processes, and highlight the potential of tools such as Mirador for generating tentative new hypothesis, as well as pointing to their limitations and possible improvements.

Findings were submitted as eikosogram plots, a representation that Mirador uses to explore many variables at once. I’ve gone into more detail about eikosograms in an earlier post. In order to elaborate on the winning entries I created three custom interactive versions that can be explored below. I tried to re-interpret them with a visualization that is better suited for each particular dataset.

First prize: Maria Fernanda Gándara. Outliers in Research and Development Expenditure

Although it might be somewhat expected, the more resources a country invests in R&D, the more people become researchers. But this submission reveals complex patterns of R&D investment and “resulting” number of researchers that vary widely across time and between countries. The visualization below shows a plot of the ratio of number of researchers per GDP percentage invested in R&D next to the original scatter plot. Are some countries more effective at training researchers for a given percentage of GDP investment?

Interact with the charts below to explore this question.

This visualization includes all countries in the Europe, Central Asia, and North America regions, between 2000 and 2013. However, María Fernanda also considered the percentage of secondary female teachers as a covariate in her analysis. You can explore the effect of this variable by clicking the following links to update the plot above. Show countries where the percentage of female teachers is less than 50%, more than 50%, or without constraint. According to María Fernanda “I explored for possible covariates that could strengthen the relationships, and that is how I chose the additional covariate of percentage of female teachers in secondary education. Therefore, the constrain of “percentage of female secondary teachers > 50%” was statistically based (in an exploratory fashion). I do think it can be interpreted, though. Since researchers are typically men, the more women working in secondary education, the more men “available” to become researchers.”

Second prize: Yuliia Khodakivska. The Boys of Mid-Summer?

The second prize entry is a very interesting correlation pointing to the fact that player salaries in Baseball are influenced by many artificial effects, such as fixed pay scales and team caps. The data shows that players born in July have the highest median salaries in the league.

Somewhat related, an article from a few years ago shows that the month of birth for an American League player peaks on August, however this happens only for U.S. born players, non-U.S. players don’t seem to be born in August on significantly higher proportions.

In order to visualize all these patterns, I added the birth counts for U.S. and non-U.S. born players for each month of the year, alongside the median salary as a function of month of birth. All these numbers were derived from the 2013 release of the Lahman’s database.

Interact with the chart below to explore further.

Strangely enough, the peak in the median salary occurs in July, not August as one would expect following the argument in the article. Is this a real effect, or the result of a bug in the code or data? You can download our scripts to check for yourself. Our winner told us about her initial motivation to look at this correlation. Yuliia writes, “an article called How Common Is Your Birthday? (and data source) […] It contains infographics showing that July, August, and September seem to have more births, comparing to winter times.”

Third prize: Ching-Hsing Wang. Exercise and Health

A correlation between exercise and health could also be considered “expected”, as people who exercise regularly are probably in better health than those who do not (although the link to specific causal factors is less straightforward). The source is the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which is a phone-based health survey conducted every year to collect data on a variety of factors (demographics, alcohol consumption, employment, etc.)

Here, I thought it would be useful to take Ching-Hsing’s original submission and make it more general in this visualization, allowing readers to explore different association patterns. In order to control, at least to some extent, for confounding effects that might be influencing both general health and exercise, I restricted the visualization to respondents younger than 50 years who don’t report activity limitation due to health problems. It is interesting to see how the proportions of health levels change between males and females and across income groups.

Interact with the chart below and toggle between sex and income.

For instance, the proportion of exercising females who report excellent health is 4% higher than for exercising males in the top earning group. However, this difference reverts for lower income respondents: exercising males report higher excellent health than females. Are these patterns simply the result of random fluctuations in the sample data or due to real effects?

Representing correlations using eikosograms

In Mirador, correlations are primarily visualized with eikosograms. I’ve gone into more detail about them in an earlier post and online documentation. The figure below summarizes how to interpret an eikosogram plot:

The eikosogram on the left represents the correlation between two categorical variables. The height of the vertical columns indicates conditional probability. The eikosogram on the right depicts two numerical variables, in which case the vertical elements are boxplots for each bin in X
The eikosogram on the left represents the correlation between two categorical variables. The height of the vertical columns indicates conditional probability. The eikosogram on the right depicts two numerical variables, in which case the vertical elements are boxplots for each bin in X

The eikosogram is constructed differently depending on whether the Y variable is nominal or numerical. In the former case, the vertical columns represent the conditional probability of each value of the Y variable given the X category. In the former, a boxplot is constructed for each value of X, and the entire eikosogram is formed by all these boxplots placed next to each other. The dark blue box contains values one standard deviation around the mean, while the light blue extends up to two standard deviations.

Although the interpretation of the eikosogram is different depending on the variable type, in all cases it is easy to visually identify a correlation: unrelated variables have a flat eikosogram, because either the conditional probabilities or the boxplots are independent of X. It is also important to note that the scale of the X variable is not linear: the width of each X bin is proportional to the number of samples falling within that bin.

Users in Mirador can also define arbitrary data ranges in order to control by various covariates or to stratify the sample
into subpopulations of interest. Some of the submissions used covariates, while others were reported on the entire sample. The next gallery shows the three winning correlations as they were displayed in Mirador:

Some concluding thoughts

More rigorous analysis would need to be conducted in order to interpret these correlations, but the goal of exploratory tools such as Mirador is to reveal plausible patterns of association, and let users quickly visualize hypothesis based on their intuition and prior knowledge. Any correlation discovered with these tools should be regarded only as a suggestion for further analysis, which is also contingent on the context where one is carrying out the use of these tools: whether in education, research, or applied practice.

It could be argued that one can play with covariates in Mirador until finding a statistically significant association, but as contestant María Fernanda pointed out, this is valid practice in “data-driven” exploratory analysis: the interpretation stage comes later, at which point one can discard the correlation altogether, or conduct further analysis using more powerful tools or better datasets. The feedback received from users so far has been very positive, highlighting both Mirador’s advantages (free availability, ease of use, interactive correlation analysis) and the areas where it could be improved (inclusions of other datasets, better scatter plot functionality, more advanced statistical analysis).

Data and code availability

The code that generates the data files used in this blog post and the JavaScript visualizations is hosted on this repository. Follow the next links to download the individual data files for the first, second, and third entries.


We would like to recognize all the participants of the Mirador Data Competition for their submissions, and Gregory Piatetsky-Shapiro for helping us announce the competition. I would also like to thank the feedback from Tariq Khokhar on the World Bank submissions, Sean Lahman on the baseball correlations, and Pearly Dhingra for the insightful discussions about associations in health data and confounding effects. Finally, many thanks to Lauren McCarthy and the rest of the p5.js team. All the interactive visualizations were created with Processing and ported to p5js.

November 07, 2014

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Because of the immense popularity of All Streets, we expanded our product line, and created maps for individual states. To accommodate our new selection of products, Terrence worked feverishly to design the Fathom Print Shop. The site officially launched yesterday—just in time for the holiday season.

The posters are available in two sizes, 16×20 inches and 24×36 inches. You can purchase the poster with (or without) a frame, and also select from a choice of warm, light, or dark background colors.

Showing solely streets unveils some interesting characteristics about population settlement, topography, and waterways.

Eastern California’s national parks are visible and starkly contrasted from the bounty of roads to its west.
Our home state of Massachusetts has obvious correlations to population density due to the heavy lines around the Boston metro area.
North Dakota’s network of roads are reminiscent of Manhattan’s street grid.
The country’s largest and most populated city, New York, has the densest road coverage near the metropolitan center, leaving a tiny rectangular speck open for Central Park.
Alaska is the only exception to the collection of states we are offering. There are so few roads, they provide insufficient definition for the state. We didn’t originally include Alaska, but after Alaskans complained, we capitulated. Oddly enough, sales of the Alaskan map remain at zero.

For those interested in viewing All Streets for the U.S. territories, we added Puerto Rico and Guam into the mix.

Now that the Fathom Print Shop is live, we’re ready to take your orders!