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« MAPKIA! Episode #73 Results: Stunning lack of any meaningful relationship between vaccine- and GM-food-risk perceptions earns @Mw record-breaking 5th straight MAPKIA! title! | Main | Weekend update: In quest of 3d graphic for risk perception distributions »

Build it & they will model ... the CCP data playground concept

@thompn4 at site of Fukushima nuclear disaster, calming public fears by drinking a refreshing glass of "cooling" water from one of the melted down nuclear reactor coresAfter a productive holiday weekend, I've whittled my "to be done ... IMMEDIATELY" list down to 4.3x10^6 items.

One of them (it's smack in the middle of the list) is to construct a "CCP data playground."

The idea would be to have a section of the site where people could ready access to CCP data files & share their own analyses of them.

I've had this notion in mind for a while but one of things that increased my motivation to actually get it done was the cool stuff that @thompn4 (aka "Nicholas Thompson"; aka "Nucky Thompson"; "aka "Nicky Scarface"; aka "'Let 'em eat yellowcake' Nicky" etc.) has been doing with graphics that try to squeeze three dimensions of individual difference -- either political outlooks vs. risk perception vs. science comprehension; or risk perception 1 vs. risk perception 2 vs. science comprehension -- into one figure.

I typically just rely on two figures to do this-- one (usually a scatterplot) that relates risk perceptions to political outlooks  & another that relates risk perception to science comprehension separately for subjects to the "right" and "left" of the mean on a political outlook scale:

 @thompn4 said: why not one figure w/ 3 dimensions?

That inspired me to produce this universally panned prototype of a 3d-scatter plot:

So I supplied @thompn4 with the data & he went to work producing various amazing things, some of which were featured in the last post. 

Since then he has come up with some more cool graphics:

This one effectively maps mean perceived level of risk across the two dimensional space created by political outlooks and science comprehension.  It's a 2d graph, obviously, but conveys the third dimension, very vividly, by color coding the risk perceptions, and in a very intuitive way (from blue for "low/none" to "red" for "high").

It's pretty mesmerizing!

But does it convey information in an accessible and accurate way?

I think it comes pretty close.  My main objection to it is that by saturating the entire surface of the 2-dimensional plane, the graphic creates the impression that one can draw inferences with equal confidence across the entire space.

In fact, science comprehension is normally distributed, and political outlooks, while not perfectly normal, are definitely not uniformly distributed across the right left spectrum.  As a result, the corners--and certain other patches-- are thinly populated with actual observations.  One could easily be lulled into drawing inferences from noise in places where the graph's colors reflect the responses of only a handful of respondents.

To illustrate this, I constructed scatterplot equivalents of these two  @thompn4  graphics.  Here's the one for nuclear:

Actually, I'm not sure why @thompn4's lower right corner is so darkly blue, or the coordinates at/around -1.0, -2.0 are so red.  But I am sure that the eye-grabbing feature of those parts of his figure will understandably provoke reflection on the part of viewers about what's going on that could "explain" those regions.  The answer has to be "nothing": the number of observations there -- basically people who are either extreme right & moderate left but utterly devoid of science comprehension-- are too few in number  to draw any reliable inferences.

Here's global warming:

I don't see as much "risk" (as it were) of mistaken inferences here.  Plus I really do think the bipolar red & blue, which get more pronounced as one moves up the science literacy axis, is extremely effective in conveying that climate change risk perceptions are both polarized and that they become dramatically more so as individuals become more science comprehending.  (Kind of unfortunate that "red = high"/"blue = low" risk perception coding conflicts with the conventional "blue = Democrat" & "red = Republican" scheme; but the latter is lame-- we all know the Democrats are Reds!)

That's what the "2 graphic strategy" above shows, of course, but in 2 graphs; be great if this could be done with just one.

But I still think that it is essential for a graphic like this to convey the relative density of observations across the dimensions that are being compared.

The point of this exercise, in my view, is to see if there is a way to make it possible for a reflective, curious person to see meaningful contrasts of interest in the "raw data" (that is, in the actual observations, arrayed in relation to values of interest, as opposed to statistically derived summaries or estimates of the relationships in the data; those should be part of the analysis too, to discipline & refine inference, but being able to see the data should come first, so that consumers know that "findings" aren't being fabricated by statistical artifice!).

A picuture of the raw data would make the density of the observations at the coordinates of the 3 dimensions visible--and certainly has to avoid inviting foreseeable, mistaken inferences that neglect to take the non-uniform distribution of people across those dimensions into account.

I made a suggestion -- to try to substituting a "transparency" rendering of the scatter plot for the fully saturated rendering of the information in  @thompn4's... Maybe he or someone else will try this or some variant thereof. 

Loyal listener @NiV makes some suggestions, too, in the comment thread for the last post, and very generously supplies the R code he constructed, so that others can try their hand at refining it.


The bigger point-- or the one I started with at the beginning of this post -- is that this sort of interactive engagement with CCP data is really really cool & something that I'd love to try to make a regular part of this site.  

The ideas blog readers have about how to analyze and report CCP data benefit me, that's for sure. The risk perception vs. ideology color-coded scatterplot, which I use a lot & know people really find (validly) informative, is (I've aknoweldged, but not as often as I should!) derived from a suggestion that "loyal listner" @FrankL actually proposed, and if Nucky's 3d (or 3 differences in 2 dimensions) graphic generates something that I think is even better, for sure I'll want to make use of it.

I think a "data playground" feature -- one the whole point of which is to let users do what @thompn4 has been up to-- would predictably increase that benefit, both for me & for others who can learn something from the data that I & my collaborators have a hand in collecting.

So I'm moving the creation of this sort of feature for the site up 7,000 places on my "to do ... IMMEDIATELY" list!  Be sure to keep tuning in everyday so you don't miss the exciting news when the "playground" goes "on line" (of course it will be nuclear powered, in honor of  @thompn4!). 


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Reader Comments (4)

I think I actually do know why that corner of the nuclear plot is so dark blue, there is no data there, so its just plotting 0. I'll try to find a workaround for it.

May 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Thompson

I actually find the 2D plot much much easier to intuitively understand and interpret. I could just look at the graphs and understand what I was looking at. Unless you think there's a strong interactions between two dimensions in explaining the third, I would avoid plotting 3 dimensions.

In particular here, I do not see a lot of variation coming from scientific literacy. Looking at the "heat maps", you can see that colours are pretty stable vertically (even more so among conservatives), mostly shifting horizontally. So it's just sort of overcomplicating the message for not much extra "explanatory power", if you will.

May 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPB


You wouldn't want to throw away the inforamtion that shows that science comprehension magnifies polarization (except when it doesn't), would you?

That's an important phenomenon -- somethign helps to evaluate explanations for conflicts over science & something that needs to be part of responsive measures.

If 2D obscures that, that's not good.

May 26, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

I think that it might be worth checking out some of the competing "data playgrounds" in town. I'm fascinated by the following article this morning: "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food".

"Ordinary consumers are paid to spend hours sitting in rooms where they touch, feel, sip, smell, swirl and taste whatever product is in question. Their opinions are dumped into a computer, and the data are sifted and sorted through a statistical method called conjoint analysis, which determines what features will be most attractive to consumers."

For food this has significant results in which public desires for change (becoming healthier) can be subverted by their desire for something quick and yummy. But not too yummy or actually they might get satisfied and stop eating. This decline in eating is obviously unprofitable, and so must be discouraged from a Big Food perspective.

Enter the lower salt lower fat potato chip. Maybe make it "gluten free". Keep people habituated. Start young.

But every once in a while something healthy sneaks through. The article mentions Finland and their reduction in salt consumption which is claimed to have happened because of better regulation and food labeling. I looked for backup for this (without traveling to Finland) and came up with this: and this: I am delighted by this data analysis because it is exactly the approach I'd use anyway. Thus I believe it warrants the construction of numerous data playgrounds for intense investigation.

But then there are baby carrots. Baby carrots actually have significant impact in pulling the American Public out of potato chip snacking denial. It takes something that they were doing anyway and transmutes it into better behavior. On the surface of things, carrot marketing would have seemed to have very little to do with potato chips. But couch potatoes did not have to make huge changes to grab a carrot instead. Of course there may be pushback from the potato side. An appeal to tribal loyalties for example. What real couch potato would be caught with carrot in hand?

High tech companies are always looking over their shoulders for some disruptive technology that might arise seemingly out of the blue and overtake them. If the company is young and nimble it will want to position its disruptive technology to succeed. If it is older and well established, it may attempt to prevent that from happening. Or buy it out and keep it under control. Or evolve with the times.

I think that construction and use of a data playground needs to keep this in mind. It is too easy to just swing back and forth.

Where are the baby carrots of enticement towards changing attitudes and actions regarding climate change???

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

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