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Problem banks, problem graphs

Another infographic.

You know, I don’t want to be too hard on the makers of infographics. I imagine they mean well. I also imagine that they intend their infographics as entertainment first and as information displays second. So, when I critique an infographic as information display, I’m not critiquing what the maker cares about, I’m sure. Regardless, the information display is what I care about.

Now, a question. What’s better (read “worse”) than a 3-d bar chart? Answer: A cross between a 3-d bar chart and pictogram, where in place of bars you have broken architectural columns. Good enough? No? Ok, make those columns transparent (or forget the make them opaque), and have those transparent columns cast shadows (amazing!).  Make the height of the shadow represent another set of data and make them green, to signal that they represent amounts of money.  Of course, the shadows need a wall on which to be cast, so add a wall and make the wall more complicated than it needs to be. Finally, add a few touches like a rotating dunce cap. Done! Magnificent!

You now have something like infographic below, which can be found here, and which is linked from this page.  A snip is shown below, including a good description of what exactly is being shown.

Obviously this is an infographic meant primarily for entertainment, and the user is meant to take away only one piece of information: the number of problem banks has risen dramatically since last year.  Unfortunately, this is not true, as we’ll see later.

I want to remake the graph, but first I need the data. All of the numbers are given on the infographic (a sign that the infographic doesn’t do a good job at visualizing the numbers), but rule #1 of remaking an infographic is to realize that the given numbers will often be wrong or incomplete. For instance, the graphic tells us the numbers are the first-quarter numbers for each year. Why use just the first-quarter numbers?

The infographic tells us the data comes from the FDIC, but not exactly from where, so I had to go searching for it. Along the way I found a pdf of FDIC graphs here with a similar bar graph, given below.

This bar graph has its own problems. It compares a value from March of this year to values from December for all other years. I won’t dwell on this though, as these are not the data I am looking for.

In order to get the data, I finally had to look through the FDIC’s quarterly reports (available here) and pick out the numbers I was looking for, one by one. The FDIC gives the number of banks (or “institutions”) that it deems problem banks each and every quarter, and the infographic says, it’s using only the first quarter numbers. This is better than the FDIC bar graph because it is at least comparing similar data, but it’s still throwing out three-fourths of the available information.

Here is my replacement for the infographic. I only went as far back as 2002, because, frankly, I was tired of collecting numbers. As you can see, the number of problem banks did not grow dramatically from 2009 to 2010. Rather, there was a pretty steady growth during 2008 and 2009. The change from fourth quarter 2009 to first quarter 2010 is less than the trend preceding it. You can see this from the rightmost line segment, which has a less-steep slope than to left of it. (Also, compare this segment to the segment connecting 2008 and 2009.)

This graph is incomplete, though, because I’d prefer it to include a description of the data. I’ll give a more-finalized version in a later post.

Categories: Graphics
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  1. June 17, 2010 at 10:27 pm
  2. June 22, 2010 at 8:07 pm

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