Online tools for visualizing numbers and statistics

Many reporters use the football field as a visual metaphor for measurement as in “The plane was three football fields long.” But what if something isn’t nearly the size of a football field? It’s still important as journalists to translate statistics and mathematical figures in an easy to digest way. Most people won’t fully comprehend what 4,166 miles looks like, but they will more likely understand that something is the length of the Great Wall of China.

Luckily, Sensible Units is on hand to assist mathematically challenged journalists. Simply input a unit of measurement, small or large, and the site outputs a real life example of that the measurement looks like. For example 5,000 miles is equal to 18 Grand Canyons and 30,000 gallons is equal to 1.3 double-decker buses, according to the tool.

Reporters outside of the US using the metric system will appreciate knowing that 100 metres equals 31 male African elephants standing on top of one another or that 70 litres equals about 10 kettles.

Translating measurements can also be done visually as photographer/artist Chris Jordan has proved in his series Running the Numbers. Jordan takes hardcore statistics such as the 106,000 aluminum cans used in the US every 30 seconds or the 29,569 gun-related deaths in the US in 2004 and visualizes them using everyday objects.

For example, in the latter almost 30,000 handguns in one photograph represent the large number of gun-related deaths. The effect is sobering and thought-provoking and gives weight to statistics that might not be memorable otherwise.