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Infographic Can Do A Great Misrepresenting Job

Infographics are a quick and easy way of conveying information. Sadly, however, they’re equally useful in simplifying data to the point of misrepresentation. From the text WSJ Guide this week, we know that choosing a y-axis scale that yield a flat line would misrepresent the trend, truncation/a bar chart does not begin at a zero baseline would obscure the discrete total value of each bar, etc.

These reminders are not merely useful to graphic designers beginners like us,  but can also provide revisions to some prestigious media organizations. I ran across a post showing how sometimes sophisticated journalists mislead their readers.

Cited from http://idsgn.org/posts/good-and-evil-of-infographics

“It is a Wall Street Journal chart which was (allegedly) skewed to mislead the viewer into thinking that the majority of wealth in the USA is concentrated in the middle class.

Actually, the wealth is concentrated more on the very wealthy, but the chart separated the wealthy into many columns to prove a point (that Obama was unnecessarily taxing the wealthy).

That’s a fairly common trick, it’s something we’ve had to deal with.”

Data are too often seen by the public as too complicated to understand. It’s a normal tendency for people to reach out for, and maintain, simpler notions that require less work.

As a reader, we need to have healthy skepticism to the medium, too. What you see is not always the whole story. Visualized or not, there is always another side to the information. As a journalist, we should be careful with the way of our storytelling. Doing it inaccurately may undermine our credibility!



4 thoughts on “Infographic Can Do A Great Misrepresenting Job

  1. These tax graphics are fascinating. The way they communicate totally opposite messages about Obama’s planned taxation is a slight-of-hand trick that makes me a little uncomfortable. I am surprised at how easily graphics can be used to deceive readers.

    Thank you Margaret for this informative post. I’ll remember it for awhile.

    p.s. This comment is related to the relating to Chapter 2 of the reading, which offers advice about how to create accurate charts.

    Posted by Matt_Schacht | September 17, 2012, 8:54 pm
  2. I like your idea of being skeptical. Especially when we are negotiating datas from the other organizations or government agencies, it is always good to double check ourselves or take a closer look at the data. It would really be bad if we misrepresent the data or the data is not accurate at all!

    Qing Tian

    Posted by qtp8c | September 19, 2012, 1:24 am
  3. The example is great. I would like readers to understand graphics fairly easily, but sometimes they will be confused with some charts or diagrams. Our job is to prevent that from happening. Simplifying data, just like simplifying the story, might be misleading, because we leave out the explanations and some conditions. We need to be very careful about that.

    Posted by maolingxiong | September 19, 2012, 3:23 am
  4. Agreed, this is a perfect example of how data can be so easily misconstrued through a graphic. This is reminiscent of the line graph examples in the WSJ Guide about biased comparisons (60-61). In this example, two graphs appear to have the same percentage increase because they were plotted on two non-comparable scaled. The reality is that one increased by 100 percent and one by 20 percent. These examples are reminders to all of us that we are responsible for telling our stories accurately and not the story we want to tell based on our own biases.

    Posted by myannamatopoeialife | September 19, 2012, 4:26 am

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