About That HC Spending & Outcomes Chart

01/04/2010 05:03 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Since I posted the National Geographic chart on global health spending and outcomes and included a link to commentary by Andrew Gelman that I characterized as "approving" of the chart, it's only fair to give equal space to an improved version that Gelman posted and explained late last week.

Here is the original version from National Geographic:


Here is Gelman's scatterplot:


And here is is explanation of why he considers the first one "somewhat misleading" (as noted this morning on FiveThirtyEight):

What the scatterplot really made me realize was the arbitrariness of the scaling of the parallel coordinate plot. In particular, the posted [National Geographic] graph gives a sense of convergence, that spending is all over the map but all countries have pretty much the same life expectancy--look at the way the lines converge to a narrow zone as you follow the lines from the left to the right of the plot.

Actually, though, once you remove the U.S., there's a strong correlation between spending and life expectancy, and this is super-clear from the scatterplot.

Of course, the key words above are "once you remove the U.S."  The point of the original graphic, as explained by the NGM blog, is that the exceptionally high per-person health care spending is not translating into greater life expectancy as compared to "most other developed nations and many developing ones."