3 Ways Data Visualization Can Go (Horribly) Wrong

In the dataviz business, we tend to think that illustrations tell no lies. Here are 3 ways dataviz can go (oh so horribly) wrong:

1) The Steve Jobs Effect: Playing with Pies

Although he may be one of the greatest men in tech of our time, Steve sure knew how to play with numbers. His epic manipulation of the pie chart is definitely a dataviz misrepresentation.

Well, it didn’t go “horribly wrong”. The iPhone did okay…

We all can see “Other” is bigger than “Apple”, but it’s Steve and so we’ll let this one slide.

2) Fox News and the Bush Effect: Playing Politics

Flowing data wrote a wonderful article on a potential data boo-boo by Fox News.

The above picture was part of a Fox News broadcast in 2012 on what would happen if the Bush tax cuts expire. Now, the point is that the graph shown may not be fully representative of the state of US taxes after the tax cuts expire (in 2012 vs. 2013). This because (we all know that) 39.6% is not 5 times more than 35%.

The real difference is approximately a 5 percentage-point increase, which looks marginal when data is visualized with the full, standard axes. Now, that’s a data boo-boo.

3) The Battle of the Telcos: Maps and Misrepresentations

In this informative article by appleinsider, the truth behind those Verizon vs. AT&T ads (from 2009) are revealed.

So here’s the story: Verizon posted a series of ads saying Verizon has way more data coverage than AT&T.

Then, AT&T responded with multiple press releases trying to clear their name because although they didn’t roll out 3G in rural areas as was illustrated on the map, they had EDGE and 2.5G networks. (AT&T’s network worked at the low-end of Verizon’s EVDO data speed in all those areas too.)

More, Verizon only had 3G and not much of 2.5G at the time while AT&T did.

So, although the maps were technically accurate at the time because AT&T hadn’t rolled out 3G in areas with low population density they had fast data connections almost everywhere, but just not data connections designated as ‘3G’. (2009 was a LONG time ago. Go figure.)

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