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A Graph Can Tell a Story—Sometimes It’s an Illusion

Mistakes, chicanery, and "chartjunk" can undermine the usefulness of graphs

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. A graph can be worth a thousand numbers. Graphs are, as Edward Tufte titled his wonderful book, the “visual display of quantitative information.” Graphs should assist our understanding of the data we are using. Graphs can help us identify tendencies, patterns, trends, and relationships. They should display data accurately and encourage viewers to think about the data rather than admire the artwork. Unfortunately, graphs are sometimes marred (intentionally or unintentionally) by a variety of misleading techniques or by what Tufte calls “chartjunk” that obscures rather than illuminates. I have described elsewhere many ways in which mistakes, chicanery, and chartjunk can undermine the usefulness of graphs. I recently saw a novel Read More ›