Some time ago, I posted an image on Twitter that went viral. It was a wordcloud of names—a ‘namecould’. This is the tweet:
Two factors contributed to its popularity: the content and the visualization. The content ‘stated’ the obvious: there is a prevalence of male authors in economics* academia. The visual emphasized this in a simple and effective manner.
Many noted this was one of the better uses of a wordcloud. How so? First, it did what a wordcloud should do: show the prevalence of some things relative to others. Second, it used two dimensions—size and color—to illustrate one message. That helped drive home a point.
From the design standpoint, the choice of a two-color scheme also contributed to the success of the wordcloud. It was not overcrowded. This is akin to highlighting the text. Typically, we use one highlighter, and we highlight the smaller part of the text.
Here I replicate** the namecould for authors published in top-5 economics journals*** between 2011-2020. These data were collected as part of an ongoing project with my colleague, Kadir Atalay, and our Honours student, Aiden Cheney. This is the namecloud:
Several people suggested that part of the story could be the prevalence of male names due to their relatively low variation. Fair enough. I collected data on the U.S. social security card applications between 1966-1975 (implied assumption: the average age of the authors is 45). This is the namecloud:
While it is true that male names ‘dominate’ the visual, we see quite a few female names on this wordcloud. The difference between the two nameclouds is, indeed, striking.
* The post didn’t mention ‘economics’ in it, which was my oversight. This was partly because I didn’t envisage it to go viral--my target audience was a handful of economists. So, it said ‘top-5’ and meant the elite five journals known to every academic economist. This oversight, inadvertently, turned out to be the feature of the visual — it resonated with many across different fields.
** It is impossible, as far as I know, to exactly replicate the same wordcloud, as position and angle change after each run. The key message, of course, remains unchanged.
*** American Economic Review, Econometrica, Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Review of Economic Studies
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