If you haven’t been paying any attention to news of the swine flu epidemic, these graphs by David McCandless will bring you up to speed. Using information reported by The Guardian, McCandless has found some notable trends–though it’s just as easy to misread them, as I’ll discuss below.
As you’d expect, the U.S. has among the highest confirmed incidence of swine flu–a combination of the fact that the outbreak has been widespread in the U.S., we have a relatively large population, and we’ve simply been diligent in testing for the flu strain.
But the U.S. falls off the chart, when you look at the top-six most infected nations as a portion of population size–it appears we’re doing a great job in containing the disease:
But here is where things get troubling. As McCandless points out, developing countries have seen dramatic rises in the deadliness of swine flu. The fatality rates are far higher elsewhere than they have been in the U.S. Does that indicate that developed nations are hoovering up stores of Tamiflu, one of two drugs effective in treating the disease?
That’s partly true, Tamiflu stockpiles are greater in the developed world. But the data itself hides a vast amount of noise: Death rates have two components, the number dead and the number of total cases. But total cases can vary widely–if people aren’t being tested, then the calculated death rates will be way off. That’s exactly what happened in the first stages of the epidemic.
Moral of the story: Always beware of raw data.