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Chart Crime

This post recognizes an idea that I've been incubating for a while, which is a critique of all the terrible, awful, misleading charts and graphs that do the rounds every day. With all the misinformation being spread about the Coronavirus I've got a rich bounty of awful data visualizations to choose from at this point. Shit charts can be very dangerous, as anyone who has taken even a cursory view of Fox "News" over the years can attest to. Confusing at best, misleading at worst, chart manipulation should be outlawed. With that, here's a few I've seen over just the last few days.


Credit goes to @statsbylopez for bringing these abominations to my attention.



We're starting off slow here, this isn't the worst, which should give you an indication of what's to come. Whoever put this together is clearly trying to push the narrative that America is closer to Italy than China, but they've needed to manipulate the y-axis to do it. The numbers are essentially the same, within +/- about 2% of each other. The chart implies visually that the US number is 67% or 2/3 of the China number. Illustrated below is this chart with corrected and uniform y-axis. Misleading AF. Do better CNN.


Next up we have the bane of dataviz experts everywhere, the pie chart.


What in holy fuck is actually going on here? So much wrong I don't even know where to start. At least it's not in 3D I guess?! Clearly someone took some poll results, where respondents could select multiple "worries" about the virus, computed the percentage of people who selected each option, sorted them highest to lowest and selected the top 3. Then they thought "how can we express these numbers in the most meaningless possible way?" and came up with this shit. For starters, logically, the numbers should add up to 100%, but because the poll they drew from was clearly multiple selection, they don't. The percentage labels are misleading because 48% isn't really 48% of the whole, it's more like 25% based on the visual. Basically nothing here makes sense. If you think a pie chart is the correct option to display this data, punch yourself in the face and reconsider your life choices. Then use a table and move on.


Finally we have the chart crime holy grail thanks to conservative troll and noted awful human Ann Coulter.


She's trying here to make the point that seasonal flu is less dangerous than COVID-19 for those under 60. The source acknowledgement tells you everything you need to know - each chart is from a different source. Underlying populations are different which makes comparisons meaningless - as a start! The bins are different, again making comparison impossible. But despite all this, even a cursory glance at the chart will tell you the opposite of her assertion. Literally all the numbers for COVID-19 cases in folks under 60 are larger than those for seasonal flu. Math baby. The stupid is staggering.


Might update this post with new cases as I see fit. Stay tuned.



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