Data journalist Mona Chalabi reviews her 2018 in statistics


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“Illustrating data is hard,” says Mona Chalabi. Given that Mona is a data journalist who specialises in illustration, she’d know. Over the past few years, London-born, New York-based Mona has produced work for the likes of the International Organization for Migration, the Bank of England, and superstar statistician Nate Silver’s number-heavy editorial platform FiveThirtyEight.

Being both inquisitive sorts and fans of Mona’s work, we asked her to pick a trio of ideas or concepts that really stood out this year, the kind of big topics that she seems to be able to tackle with ease.

“When I thought about 2018, the word that came to mind was ‘apocalyptic’. It doesn’t really matter whether that word association is based on a feeling about the news or the facts of it,” Mona says. “I know that sounds antithetical to my work as a data journalist, but if most people agree that this feels like we’re approaching the last days of life as we know it, then that can change our behavior and have consequences in our public and private lives.”

She says she found herself thinking about the four horsemen of the apocalypse, before eventually refining the series into three illustrations which explore wealth inequality, climate change, and white fragility.

“The thing is,” she admits candidly, “I wanted to impress the editors, an instinct which is a recipe for disaster. The first drafts all featured random men on horses that were just plain confusing and weird.”

Happily all that has been resolved, and we’re delighted to present you with Mona Chalabi’s 2018 in statistics.

Climate change

I spotted this chart made by the Economist that showed how the number of climate disasters has risen over time and thought it was great, but it hadn’t been updated since 2015. The source for their numbers was Munich Re, but it turned out they’re an insurance company that charge (A LOT) for use of their data. So I did some extra sleuthing and ended up finding some slides made by Siemens that updated the numbers in July this year. Perfect! If you have the patience to click through to slide 17 of 181. This was an important topic, not just because it really is going to be the thing that causes the end of the world but because it’s also the only illustration where the data is truly global.

Source: Siemens, 2018

White fragility

After going down some very interesting rabbit holes on male fragility (like this study about the fragile male zygote), I decided to focus instead on white fragility as a way to understand the rise of the far right. Of course, white supremacy makes just as much sense as a narrative frame for understanding it but the idea of white people’s search for meaning in their race has been playing on my mind a lot this past year.

I found data on the rise of right wing parties from Quartz. Initially I wanted to show how much these parties were able to boost their vote share between 2009 and 2014 but the imagery became too complicated so I just settled for showing their (frighteningly large) vote share in the last European elections.

Source: European Parliament and National Sources, 2014

Wealth inequality

The idea for this one came up while I was looking at a chart that showed the gap between rich and poor in the United States becoming wider. The x-axis showed time but I imagined rotating it 90° anti-clockwise and cropping it to show the divergence since 1995. I realise this one is a bit complicated to get your head around but hopefully you still slow down to take it in.

Source: World Inequality Lab, 2018

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