In 2002 the first Hellfire missile was shot from a U.S.-operated Predator drone at suspected terrorists in Yemen. Since then an estimated 480 more unmanned airstrikes have been carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense. Thanks to Josh Begley’s labor of love and reports from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, we had the first comprehensive data set on every lethal U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. So now that we’ve got a mile-long spreadsheet, what do we do with it?
We’d been eyeing these beautiful “honeycomb” maps for awhile, and because the Bureau notes it’s often difficult to pinpoint the exact latitude and longitude of the strikes, we thought binning them into hexagons would be better way to visualize the data than a heat map or proportional circle map. Kevin Schaul’s lovely Binify made this much easier, but our first Python endeavor was still a bit of pain. No matter, try to remain calm: Businessweek is binning.
All three countries:
Once we’d decided on the right density of hexagons, we went to work on designing the map. There were LOTS of iterations with shapes, sizes and colors thanks to Lisa Rost, our intern extraordinaire, a.k.a The Teutonic Machine:
Hexagonal maps are tricky and work best when you have a bunch of data points spread over a large area. Our data, however, was pretty concentrated in one remote chunk of Pakistan. We maybe should’ve kept the empty hexagon bins in the final design so our data points didn’t just become floating polygons, but we still think this was a better option than giant blobs piled on top of each other. We’re pretty happy with the way things turned out both in print and in our interactive version.