Behold the Power of Data Visualization

The story goes* that in the mid-1800's in London there was an outbreak of cholera.  Doctors were faced with an epidemic as people were dying off in droves.  They needed to get to the bottom of things, and fast.

( * I've told this story so many times that I in no way guarantee that the story is anywhere near close the actual original story that I heard years ago!)

First, they used what we'll call the "fundamental" approach.

They examined the victims and diagnosed all the symptoms.  While this helped them recognize the symptoms in future patients, they weren't any closer to finding the cause of the disease.

Next, they tried what we'll consider the "quantitative" approach. 

They gathered data from all of the victims and tried to piece together commonalities in their situations.  They were thus able to categorize all the symptoms and were much better organized, however, they were no closer to discovering why all of these people were getting sick.

Finally, they tried what we shall term the "technical" approach.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When they looked at a map of where all the cholera victims lived, they very quickly noticed the water pump that was right in the center of the affected area.  They stopped using that specific pump, and the outbreak was contained.

The folks at Visual Capitalist recently published a much more visually appealing (and most likely more factually accurate) account of Dr. John Snow's discovery using the famous cholera map.

It's fascinating to note how often we use geospatial data now, for everything from differentiating the unique regional cultures in the United States to recognizing the largest company in each state.  But in the 1800's, the analytical process of using a map to better understand the data was truly revolutionary.

Back to the cholera story... since the "technical" solution of using a map worked so well, do we even need the "fundamental" and "quantitative" processes? 

Of course.

Even after this epidemic, we still needed doctors to learn about the body and develop ways to fight disease.  We also needed quantitative processes to organize information and prepare us for drawing more holistic conclusions.

Which S&P sector is leading the market in recent weeks?  Seems pretty clear. 

The power of data visualization is in bringing clarity to the data, helping us to answer questions more quickly, more efficiently, and more effectively.

While an investor could potentially do well without using proper visualizations, a well-informed investor knows the value in giving oneself the best opportunities to outperform.


Disclaimer: This blog is for educational purposes only, and should not be construed as financial advice.  Please see the Disclaimer page for full details.