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Data Visualization and Cholera: An Unexpected Connection

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Radial chart london cholera

Data Visualization and Cholera: An Unexpected Connection

Necessity is the mother of invention, and in the mid-1800s, understanding the spread of cholera was a matter of life and death.

Ruthless Efficiency

Cholera was a ruthlessly efficient killer, with both rapid onset and severe symptoms. By the time the disease made its way to London and New York in the early 1830s, hundreds of thousands of people had died across Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Not only our personal and national interests, […] it may be said without exaggeration, [that cholera] concerns the whole human race.

– Thomas Whiteside Hime

Needless to say, the human race was concerned. Thanks to high-speed printing press technology, daily newspaper circulations were rising dramatically, and this allowed journalists to experiment with new reporting techniques, including charting data.

cholera line chart

At the time, the chart above was such a novel approach that it required four paragraphs to explain how to read it. People of that era were simply not used to seeing data in a visual form. At a glance though, the chart is extremely effective at communicating a grim message: cholera had ravaged New York City over the summer of 1849.

Despite the concerted push to eradicate the disease, the medical community was still largely in the dark about how to prevent future outbreaks. Because doctors could treat numerous patients without falling ill, it was assumed that a miasmic environment (i.e. slums, densely-packed housing) was causing the spread.

Data Viz in the Time of Cholera

Today, we have tools that allow us to map just about anything, but in the mid-1800s, mapping data was still an innovative concept.

As early as the 1830s, geographers began using spatial analysis to study cholera epidemiology. The heat map below shows which sections of Paris were hardest hit by a recent outbreak of cholera.

1832 cholera map paris

In 1854, Dr. John Snow was convinced that cholera was spreading via tainted water and decided to display neighborhood mortality data directly on a map. This method clearly revealed a cluster of cases around a specific pump.

john snow cholera map
View the full version of the map here

The result is one of the most influential maps in modern history.

In addition to the real-world utility the map provided in helping physicians understand how cholera was spreading, it also exemplified a seismic shift in thinking that opened up new avenues for data to be analyzed and displayed.

Despite the tragic circumstances of the time period, we can be thankful that the urgency of the situation allowed the world’s pioneering researchers, journalists, and physicians to experiment with new data visualization techniques to better understand the world.

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Base Metals

All the World’s Metals and Minerals in One Visualization

This massive infographic reveals the dramatic scale of 2019 non-fuel mineral global production.

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All the World’s Metals and Minerals in One Visualization

We live in a material world, in that we rely on materials to make our lives better. Without even realizing it, humans consume enormous amounts of metals and minerals with every convenient food package, impressive building, and technological innovation.

Every year, the United States Geological Service (USGS) publishes commodity summaries outlining global mining statistics for over 90 individual minerals and materials. Today’s infographic visualizes the data to reveal the dramatic scale of 2019 non-fuel mineral production.

Read all the way to the bottom; the data will surprise you.

Non-Fuel Minerals: USGS Methodology

A wide variety of minerals can be classified as “non-fuel”, including precious metals, base metals, industrial minerals, and materials used for construction.

Non-fuel minerals are those not used for fuel, such as oil, natural gas and coal. Once non-fuel minerals are used up, there is no replacing them. However, many can be recycled continuously.

The USGS tracked both refinery and mine production of these various minerals. This means that some minerals are the essential ingredients for others on the list. For example, iron ore is critical for steel production, and bauxite ore gets refined into aluminum.

Top 10 Minerals and Metals by Production

Sand and gravel are at the top of the list of non-fuel mineral production.

As these materials are the basic components for the manufacturing of concrete, roads, and buildings, it’s not surprising they take the lead.

RankMetal/Mineral2019 Production (millions of metric tons)
#1Sand and Gravel50,000
#2Cement4,100
#3Iron and Steel3,200
#4Iron Ore2,500
#5Bauxite500
#6Lime430
#7Salt293
#8Phosphate Rock240
#9Nitrogen150
#10Gypsum140

These materials fertilize the food we eat, and they also form the structures we live in and the roads we drive on. They are the bones of the global economy.

Let’s dive into some more specific categories covered on the infographic.

Base Metals

While cement, sand, and gravel may be the bones of global infrastructure, base metals are its lifeblood. Their consumption is an important indicator of the overall health of an economy.

Base metals are non-ferrous, meaning they contain no iron. They are often more abundant in nature and sometimes easier to mine, so their prices are generally lower than precious metals.

RankBase Metal2019 Production (millions of metric tons)
#1Aluminum64.0
#2Copper20.0
#3Zinc13.0
#4Lead4.5
#5Nickel2.7
#6Tin0.3

Base metals are also the critical materials that will help to deliver a green and renewable future. The electrification of everything will require vast amounts of base metals to make everything from batteries to solar cells work.

Precious Metals

Gold and precious metals grab the headlines because of their rarity ⁠— and their production shows just how rare they are.

RankPrecious Metal2019 Production (metric tons)
#1Silver27,000
#2Gold3,300
#3Palladium210
#4Platinum180

While metals form the structure and veins of the global economy, ultimately it is humans and animals that make the flesh of the world, driving consumption patterns.

A Material World: A Perspective on Scale

The global economy’s appetite for materials has quadrupled since 1970, faster than the population, which only doubled. On average, each human uses more than 13 metric tons of materials per year.

In 2017, it’s estimated that humans consumed 100.6B metric tons of material in total. Half of the total comprises sand, clay, gravel, and cement used for building, along with the other minerals mined to produce fertilizer. Coal, oil, and gas make up 15% of the total, while metal makes up 10%. The final quarter are plants and trees used for food and fuel.

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Data Visualization

The Best and Worst Performing Sectors in 2019

The U.S. stock market had a banner year, but some sectors were notable outliers. Here are the ones that outperformed (and underperformed) in 2019.

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The Best and Worst Performing Sectors in 2019

If you think back almost 12 months, you’ll remember that the markets opened the year with extreme levels of volatility.

Stocks had just finished the worst year in a decade. Then in early January, Apple cut its earnings guidance after the company had already lost over $400 billion in market capitalization. The S&P 500 and DJIA seesawed, suggesting that the lengthy bull run could come to an end.

Yet, here we are a year later ⁠— we’re wrapping up the decade with a banner year for the S&P 500. As of the market close on December 30, 2019, stocks were up 28.5% to give the index what is expected to be its second-best performance since 1998.

Winners and Losers

Today’s infographic pulls data from Finviz.com. We’ve taken their great treemap visualization of U.S. markets and augmented it to show the sectors that beat the frothy market in 2019, as well as the ones that lagged behind.

Below, we’ll highlight instances where sectors stood out as having companies that, with few exceptions, saw ubiquitously positive or negative returns.

Top Performing Sectors

1. Semiconductors
Semiconductor stocks soared in 2019, despite sales expected to shrink 12% globally. Although this seems counterintuitive at first glance, the context helps here: in 2018, there was hefty correction in the market – and the future outlook for the industry has also been revised to be rosier.

2. Credit Services
In case you didn’t get the memo, the world is increasingly going cashless — and payments companies have been licking their lips. Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Capital One, and Discover were just some of the names that outperformed the S&P 500 in 2019.

3. Aerospace / Defense
The vast majority of companies in this market, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and United Technologies, all beat the market in 2019. One notable and obvious exception to this is Boeing, a company that saw its stock get hammered after the Boeing 737 Max model was grounded in the wake of several high-profile crashes.

4. Electronic Equipment
Apple shareholders had a bit of a wild ride in 2018. The company had risen in value to $1.1 trillion, but then it subsequently lost over $400 billion in market capitalization by the end of the year. Interestingly, in 2019, the stock had a strong bounce back year: the stock increased 84.8% in value, making it the best-performing FAANG stock by far.

5. Diversified Machinery
Manufacturers such as Honeywell, General Electric, Cummins, and Danaher saw solid double-digit gains in 2019, despite a slowing U.S. industrial sector. For GE in particular, this was a bit of a comeback year after its stock was decimated in 2018.

Honorable mentions:
Construction Materials, Medical Labs & Research, Gold, Medical Appliances, Insurance Brokers

Worst Performing Sectors

1. Oil
Big oil, independent oil, and many oil services companies all had a year to forget. While this is not unusual in a highly cyclical industry, what is strange is that this happened in a year where oil prices (WTI) increased 36% for the best year since 2016.

2. Wireless Communications
Growing anticipation around 5G was not enough to buoy wireless companies in 2019.

3. Foreign Banks
It’s a tough environment for European banks right now. Not only is it late in the cycle, but banks are trying to make money in an environment with negative rates and large amounts of Brexit uncertainty. The strong U.S. dollar doesn’t help much, either.

4. Apparel
The CEO of The Gap has described U.S. tariffs as “attacks on the American consumer”, providing just another nail in the coffin to the bottom line of the retail industry. Given these additional headwinds, it’s not surprising that companies like The Gap, American Eagle, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, and Abercrombie & Fitch all finished the year in the red.

5. Foreign Telecoms
Continued strength of the U.S. dollar weighed on foreign telecoms, which make the majority of their revenues in other currencies.

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