President Obama, I Fixed Your Graph For You
June 24, 2009
I’ve been pretty quiet recently because 1) I’m on vacation and 2) I’m trying to wrap my head around the health care issue before I talk about it at length.
But today I saw something on healthreform.gov that bothered me:
Here’s the thing, Mr. President. There is such a thing as visual lying. That is when you show a graph and you show the numbers but the two things are not in any way related to one another.
That is the problem here. If someone looks at this graph, they see that the sky is falling because the bars have increased so dramatically. On the left, your team has represented a 30% increase with a graphic that shows a 966% increase. On the right, your team has represented a 63% increase with a graphic that shows a 308% increase.
And are the two sets bars related in any way? You might think so, given that they show up next to each other and are supposed to measure the same thing. But from a data perspective, they are not even remotely close to being right.
It is possible to use graphs and numbers in such a way that is honest. That’s an important part of transparency. So, I fixed your graph for you.
UPDATE: In the comments section, James quickly identified the problem… the graph starts the y-axis at 1000 instead of 0. I double checked and it looks like he is spot on. Thanks!
With that in mind, the graph is more of a rookie mistake than a conscious attempt to deceive. I’ve edited my post to reflect that (I left my original comments in so everyone can see what a smart-ass I tend to be).