The perils of bubbles

Another day, and another tragic event. The events in Nice horrified us all. One excellent response is to reinforce that, should this turn out to be a terrorist attack, the individual does not represent all Muslims. The number of terrorist-minded Muslims is tiny. We can make that point using data.

This afternoon I saw the following chart tweeted by Ian Bremmer, which makes this point:

The point being made is great, but look at those circles: if you put that ISIS circle inside the Muslim circle, it’s kinda big. So I took the data from that chart, and redrew it in Tableau. Turns out, the circles were the wrong size. Here’s what the size really look like, if you draw the circles so that their AREA represents the value:

Muslim

 

Can you see the circles for Al Qaeda, ISIS, or the Taliban? They’re up there in the top right. Tiny, aren’t they?

The lesson here is that, if you’re going to use circles, size them according to the area. The people behind the original chart, MIIM Design, were trying to make a valid point, but the circle size misrepresented the sizes, which could cause confusion.

Note: I used the same numbers MIIM used in their chart, taking the upper estimate of each category. I have not done research to check the validity of these numbers. My goal is to make a point about circle sizes, not a political point about the size of different religious or terrorist groups.

Update: I replaced the original image with one with a new title. One commenter suggested, rightly, that I might have implied “Muslim” is a terrorist organisation. That absolutely was not my intention or my belief.

 

33 thoughts on “The perils of bubbles”

    1. Well that depends on how you define “terrorist” – if being Muslim is in your personal description of terrorist, then you’d be right about the percentage, but wrong about what a terrorist really is.

      In the US, the majority of mass shootings, which I’d say counts as terrorism, are committed by white men. If you look exclusively at the Middle East, the numbers will be inflated because of the demographics of the general population.

      http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/27/us/mass-shootings/

      1. Hi Kayle
        I edited my image in this post. The original image posted to Reddit could be interpreted to imply “Muslim” is a terrorist category. That was NOT my intention. If you check the chart now in the post, I’ve made it clear that Muslim is not terrorism.

  1. all that is telling me is that isis, al-quaeda, and the taliban have a huge pool of potential radicals to recruit from.

    1. It is. Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Bosnia, Jordan, Turkey and many others are all actively participating in military action against these groups. 9/10 of those fighting against IS are muslim, not other groups. Says it all really.

  2. How many non-ISIS/Al Qaeda/Taliban Muslims say they support those organization’s missions or actions? Is there decent polling on that? I expect that’d be a relevant piece of this info graphic.

  3. Good point, however now your photo is also misleading…
    The caption: “How big are terrorist organizations?”
    Categories listed include ISIS, Al Qaeda, Taliban, and Muslims
    “Muslims” are not a terrorist organization.

    1. CJ – you are ABSOLUTELY right. I realised that after I published it. I realise the chart could be read in such a way that I am implying “Muslim” is a terrorist organisation. That ABSOLUTELY wasn’t my intention.

  4. Yes, less than a couple hundred thousand muslims are implicated in terrorist organizations, but what you forget to specify is that out of the aprox. 1.6 billion muslims somewhere around 200-300 million actually hold radical beliefs, support the establishment of sharia law and think that terror attacks can be justified. As long as there will be muslims that are for the killing of homosexuals, sharia law, superiority of men over women and other radical values that don’t belong in the modern law there will be other muslims (not many, but enough to cause tragic events like Nice) who will take arms and fight for the establishment of these said values. The fact that around 200k of muslims are terrorist doesn’t mean that all of the remaining 1.6 billion are moderate muslims that condemn terrorism. If you want to inform people, present them with the entirety of the information.

  5. Of course the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists. However, the vast majority of terrorist attacks are perpetrated by Muslims.

  6. It’s a good point, of course the author is right. But another good point, just that little tiny ball is trying to destroy the big ball. It’s very unlikely, it’s unlikely you will ever be the victim of a terrorist…but damn, they have potential to destroy that entire ball and much more. I think that with that level of risk, and you want to be Muslim, that you should deal with
    Racial profiling for the safety of us all. I’m white and if you told me there are 80,000 to 100,000 white guys trying to destroy the world, I’d say go ahead and check me. Do whatever to save people’s lives and let my personal issues aside.

  7. where does that statistic come from? I’m just curious. 1.6 billion? That’s a lot of people across many nations… I just wonder how accurate it is.

    1. oh, pfft. my bad… MIIM.. seems like they may have just added up all the populations of the muslim states across the world or something. Can’t imagine a country with sharia law having an accurate census… okay, well… guess I’m done here.

    2. Good question. All I’ve done in this chart is take the data from the original chart. I’m not claiming it’s accurate; I’m just saying that if you’re going to draw circles, at least get the areas right!

  8. Something about that religion turns normal people into terrorists.

    Doesn’t matter how few of them turn into terrorists. It’s a problem.

  9. Didnt read anything I just land on this page randomly (from reddit) Just wanted to say that the other circles are WAY to small than they should I mean even if there are only 1 million of all the “terrorist” kind of muslims (which I believe they have to be a little more than that but lets just say they total to 1 million ) they should have a surface of 0.125 cm^2 (considering that the 1.6 billion circle has a surface of 201 cm^2)

  10. I believe this visualization, even if technically correct (and it’s a good thing that you corrected it), is flawed.

    1. You are comparing what are essentially military forces with an entire population. In *any* population, the military is a small fraction of the population. And when we talk about populations, we’re usually imagining nation states, which have a more obvious need for a military.

    2. The size of military, para-military or guerrilla forces is not very informative of their impact. I’m sure you can think of historical cases of small forces accomplishing big things. Armed men have a disproportionate influence in geopolitics. The large, peaceful population is largely irrelevant.

    3. This visualization falsely suggests a total separation between the population as a whole, and the military forces. It would reflect reality much more if circles of decreasing support were draw around the military forces.

    1. Hi Nomen, Thanks for your comments. I agree with them. The point I was trying to make was that the original chart showed the circles to the wrong scale. I agree that the dataset and comparison is risky for the reasons you identified.

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