The recent post on the risks of smoking looked at Rifkin and Bouwer’s “Risk Characterization Theatre” (RCT), a graphical device for communicating risks. The graphic in that post, which compared mortality rates of smokers and non-smokers taken from the pioneering British doctors smoking study, highlighted both the strengths and weaknesses of RCTs.
The charts certainly illustrate the risks of smoking in a striking way and seem to elicit a far stronger reaction than drier statistical tables or charts. I also suspect that, for many people, the charts succeed in conveying the relative risks more effectively than more traditional approaches. On the other hand, there is no doubt that RCTs are extremely inefficient. The smoking graphic required an awful lot of ink to represent a mere eight data points.
In the comments on the original post, it was suggested that a colour-coding scheme could be used to combine the charts for the different age ranges, reducing the inefficiency while still preserving the immediacy of the theatre graphic. I took that as a challenge, and here is the result. Returning to the Rifkin and Bouwer theatre floor plan, rather than the more prosaic squares, I have coded deaths in different age ranges with shades of grey: the earlier the death, the darker the grey.
Mortality of doctors born between 1900 and 1930
The risks of smoking still come through clearly in this version of the chart, but the increased efficiency may come at the expense of a potential for confusion.
What do you think?