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Chart Rage

April 4, 2011

I am a nerd, I have come to accept that as being the truth.

One thing I am particularly nerdy about is the correct usage of charts and graphs to depict information in a true and accurate fashion. This week’s Sunday Times had a graph that offended me in so many ways that I just had to write a blog post on how it could be improved. That is how nerdy I am 🙂

Here is the “graph” in question. I do understand that they are trying to take the light hearted approach by using the childrens hoop toy to show the information, and it might be funny if it wasn’t so damn inaccurate.

First thing is first, the rings don’t seem to rise proportionally to anything. 2 rings = 18% so therefore 3 rings should equal 27%, nope not in this case. Here the additional ring adds just 4% more. Ok, ok, so maybe they are working from a base point that isn’t zero,  but even if that is the case there is no consistency in how much the rings represent. Between various years a raise in a ring can mean a raise of either 4%, 2% or 1%.

Issue number 2 is to do with the dates used in the chart.

If you were to take a glance at the chart you would assume the change has been rather swift and has been going up in steady amounts over time. However the dates used are not at regular intervals  by any stretch of the imagination. The gaps in the figures are 9 years/16 years/4 years/6 years – I know these are probably the only years where data is available, but this huge inconsistency in data points spacing isn’t indicated in any way whatsoever in the chart.

Overall if you were to glance at this chart, as most people will, you will assume that the figure of lone-children has skyrocketed very quickly in recent times. From 4 to 6 rings in 6 years for gods sake!

In reality the situation is much less dramatic than that. I have come up with a far more informative and accurate way to lay out the chart which can be found below. It displays the REAL rise in the figures over a REAL timescale. And tells the story is a superior (but admittedly less cutesy) way.

And next up I have overlaid the proportionate changes in the Sunday times chart in blue columns using the same start point

Nerd out.

-PS, if you are feeling charitable yu might help me out with  a 10 question presentation survey I’m running– would love to see your answers! Thanks in advance!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 9, 2011 4:08 pm

    Good rant…! And fair comment too!

    I’m not *quite* sure what you mean by your comment “proportionate changes in the Sunday times chart” though. Changes in readership?


    • May 10, 2011 3:45 pm

      Hey well I meant that, starting from the same data point, if you overlay how each subsequent bar/stack raises proportional to the last one we can see that it is way overstated. Probably some sketchy English in that one…

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