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The New York Times examined global ship traffic density as Houthi rebel attacks in the Red Sea disrupt shipping routes. Image: Screenshot, The New York Times, based on World Bank data.



Global Trade and the Suez Canal Problem, Trump’s Busy Calendar, and Europe’s Veer to the Right

Drone and missile attacks by the Yemeni Houthi militia are having a huge impact on trade traveling through the Suez Canal. Last year, more than 400 ships passed through the canal in the first two weeks of January. This year, the number dropped to around 150 ships for the same period, as militia attacks in the Red Sea led companies to divert their vessels. It is a deviation that could be costly to consumers, according to a report by The New York Times featured in our column this week. Elsewhere, our curated list of the most interesting data journalism between January 15 to 28 highlights stories about the impact on global tourism as the Chinese travel less, the use of AI to understand animals, and an analysis of the rise of right-wing politicians in Europe.

Houthi Attacks and the Suez Canal 

Image: Screenshot, The New York Times

Hundreds of ships are sailing an extra 4,000 miles and adding 10 travel days or more to their routes just to avoid the Red Sea, which has become more dangerous as a result of drone and missile attacks by the Yemeni Houthi militia. Attacks on trade vessels in recent months have had a huge impact on traffic through the Suez Canal, which sits at the northwestern tip of the Red Sea, and is one of the most important trade corridors in the world. In this piece by The New York Times, the team used data from Marine Traffic, a maritime data platform, to show route changes; data from United States Central Command, to draw up a timeline of recent attacks; and other information to explore how the situation could worsen global inflation and cause an increase in commodity prices. Also of interest, The Wall Street Journal’s guide to conflicts across the Middle East, in six maps.

Taiwan and the ‘New Space Race’

Visualizing the number of satellites in orbit owned by OneWeb (left) — a joint venture between the UK and India’s Buddy Group — and Starlink, which are operated by SpaceX. Image: Screenshot, CommonWealth

The launch of a Chinese satellite over Taiwan just days before an important presidential election caused an uproar on the small autonomous island. China has long claimed Taiwan as part of its territory, meaning tensions between the two are always high, but this time panic set in when the Taiwanese government sent a security alert to cell phones erroneously describing the satellite as a “missile” in the English text. (Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense apologized that same day.) With this event as a starting point, CommonWealth Magazine, a Taiwanese media outlet, decided to dig into the “new space race.” Reporters used data from CelesTrak, an open global satellite data platform, to visualize more than 9,000 active satellites currently in orbit and to analyze where Taiwan ranks in the global satellite race. The interactive piece presented detailed 3D models of the Earth and satellites, explained what low-orbit satellites are, and explored the military interest in them.

Global Tourism, Without China’s Big Spenders?

Image: Screenshot, Bloomberg

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Chinese travelers were the world’s biggest spenders on overseas trips, and were a familiar sight in tourist hot spots across Europe and the United States. But since Beijing reopened the borders, Chinese travelers have been staying closer to home. Bloomberg analyzed 18 million global flights between the fourth quarter of 2019 and 2023 to investigate the phenomenon. Among the findings, the recovery of the Chinese tourism sector is far behind that of countries such as the US or the United Kingdom. There has also been an increase in domestic flights, and a large reduction in the number of international destinations: 45 foreign destinations are no longer served by direct flights departing from China.

Could AI Help Us Talk to Animals?

Image: Screenshot, Financial Times

Generative artificial intelligence was one of the most talked about topics of 2023. Now, researchers hope that the same technology that powers ChatGPT will allow us to understand what the billions of animals with whom we share this planet are saying and, even, potentially, to talk to them. Scientists who believe that animals are capable of complex communication, often through low- or ultra-high frequency sounds that are outside the threshold that humans are capable of hearing, think AI could be the answer. This visual (and sound) story from the Financial Times explained how AI is being used to translate the sounds of animals like bats, whales, and elephants, and dug into the ethical implications for how this information could be used.

The Fading Dream Of Owning Your Own Home in Brazil

Image: Screenshot, piauí

The number of Brazilians who live in rented housing has been growing year after year. Using data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), piauí magazine created a series of illustrative graphs to show how the dream of owning a home is slowly slipping out of reach for millions of people in the country. While in 2016, 17% of the population lived in rented property, today the figure is 20%. The journalists delved into the reasons behind the increase, revealed the regions where property ownership is the highest and the lowest, and explored how a large number of low income owner-occupiers live in precarious areas and, in many cases, do not have documentation proving ownership of their property.

Trump’s Busy Calendar

Image: Screenshot, The Wall Street Journal

In the US, the Republican Party’s presidential primary season has begun. With former President Donald Trump emerging victorious in the two contests that have already taken place, in Iowa and New Hampshire, it sets up the likelihood that, for the first time in history, a candidate will be running for US president while facing criminal charges. (Trump currently faces 91 criminal charges across four separate state and federal indictments.) In this piece, The Wall Street Journal showed how the ex-president’s courtroom calendar compares and “collides” with his campaign calendar. On his judicial calendar, several court cases stem from Trump’s actions after losing the 2020 election, but his hoped-for route to the White House could also be interspersed with civil lawsuits related to harassment allegations and court proceedings related to confidential documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago residence.

Europe’s Shift to the Right

Image: Screenshot, Zeit Online

Across the Atlantic, elections for the European Parliament will take place in all 27 EU member states in June. In this piece, Zeit Online analyzed how right-wing and far-right populists are gaining in popularity and power. In six of the 27 EU countries, the report stated, the right is already influential in domestic politics: in Italy and Hungary, where the heads of government are on the right of the political spectrum, and in Cyprus and Slovakia, where they are coalition partners. To assess parties and politicians, the German daily used classification data from PopulList, an international team of political scientists that has analyzed parties in Europe for more than 30 years, and information from the Europe Elects platform database.

Welcome to ‘Iceburgh’

The Washington Post examined how a city unprepared for freezing temperatures would survive a breakdown in infrastructure or services during cold-weather events. Image: Screenshot, The Washington Post

Climate change is not only making the world hotter, but also leading to more extreme weather events. While it might be easy to imagine how floods and landslides could impact a city, what about extreme cold? To show how the phenomenon could destroy cities that are not prepared for freezing temperatures and snow, The Washington Post built a fake city and evaluated how it would survive a breakdown in infrastructure or services related to a cold-weather event. For so-called Iceburgh, the newspaper’s team illustrated how climate change can impact the infrastructure of a place with a typically warm climate that suddenly finds itself gripped by a crippling cold that can wreak havoc on everything from hospitals and the power grid to transport.

Hungry Appliances

Image: Screenshot, Le Monde

With the price of electricity in France increasing, Le Monde created a visualization of which household items use the most energy and ways to reduce consumption, looking at central heating, refrigeration appliances, and audiovisual equipment. The team analyzed what leeway the population has in their homes to limit consumption and bills, whether the “simple gestures” encouraged by French President Emmanuel Macron have a real impact, and whether it makes any difference to have high-performance items. They used data from a study carried out by the French Environment and Energy Management Agency and RTE, the operator of the electricity transmission network, along with information from the Odyssée database, which tracks energy consumption item by item at a European level.

Dopamine Addiction: The Data 

A graph based on the 2022 smartphone dependence survey broken down by age cohorts, published by South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT and the Korean National Information Society Agency (NIA). The figures show the estimated risk of smartphone overdependence, which hit roughly 40% for teenagers (second column), a new high. Image: Screenshot, SBS

Why do we spend so much time on social media? According to this article by Mabu News newsletter from SBS, a major South Korean broadcaster, it’s because they provide our brains with pleasures and rewards whenever we use them. One of the biggest risk factors for addiction, says the report, is ease of access to the object of your addiction. The spread of the internet and smartphones has facilitated ready access to platforms that spur the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter produced in our brain that causes sensations of pleasure and satisfaction. The newsletter visualized data from the 2022 smartphone overdependence survey — published by the Korean Ministry of Science and Information and Communication Technology and the Korea Intelligence and Information Society Agency (NIA) — and data on social network usage around the world, among many other sources, to draw out some interesting conclusions about smartphone use — and where dopamine fits in to our relationship with them.

Ana Beatriz Assam is GIJN’s Portuguese editor and a Brazilian journalist. She has worked as a freelance reporter for the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo, mainly covering stories featuring data journalism. She also works for the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) as an assistant coordinator of journalism courses.

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