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Florence Nightingale: The Passionate Statistician...

May 07, 2011
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Florence Nightingale: The Passionate Statistician - Science News

Who knew Florence Nightingale was a big infographics nerd? And speaking of our love of circles:

As impressive as her statistics were, Nightingale worried that Queen Victoria’s eyes would glaze over as she scanned the tables. So Nightingale devised clever ways of presenting the information in charts…

Nightingale’s best-known graphic has come to be known as a “coxcomb.” It is a variation on the familiar modern pie graph, showing the number of deaths each month and their causes.

Each month is represented as a twelfth of a circle. Months with more deaths are shown with longer wedges, so that the area of each wedge represents the number of deaths in that month from wounds, disease or other causes. For months during the first part of the war, the blue wedges, representing disease, are far larger than either the red ones (for wounds) or the black ones (for other causes). For months after March 1855, when the Sanitary Commission arrived, the blue wedges start becoming dramatically smaller.

The conventional way of presenting this information would have been a bar graph, which William Playfair had created a few decades earlier. Nightingale may have preferred the coxcomb graphic to the bar graph because it places the same month in different years in the same position on the circle, allowing for easy comparison across seasons. It also makes for an arresting image. She said her coxcomb graph was designed “to affect thro’ the Eyes what we fail to convey to the public through their word-proof ears.”

Florence Nightingale: The Passionate Statistician - Science News

Who knew Florence Nightingale was a big infographics nerd? And speaking of our love of circles:

As impressive as her statistics were, Nightingale worried that Queen Victoria’s eyes would glaze over as she scanned the tables. So Nightingale devised clever ways of presenting the information in charts…

Nightingale’s best-known graphic has come to be known as a “coxcomb.” It is a variation on the familiar modern pie graph, showing the number of deaths each month and their causes.

Each month is represented as a twelfth of a circle. Months with more deaths are shown with longer wedges, so that the area of each wedge represents the number of deaths in that month from wounds, disease or other causes. For months during the first part of the war, the blue wedges, representing disease, are far larger than either the red ones (for wounds) or the black ones (for other causes). For months after March 1855, when the Sanitary Commission arrived, the blue wedges start becoming dramatically smaller.

The conventional way of presenting this information would have been a bar graph, which William Playfair had created a few decades earlier. Nightingale may have preferred the coxcomb graphic to the bar graph because it places the same month in different years in the same position on the circle, allowing for easy comparison across seasons. It also makes for an arresting image. She said her coxcomb graph was designed “to affect thro’ the Eyes what we fail to convey to the public through their word-proof ears.”

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