Lying with Pretty Charts: It’s Still Lying
There are probably as many ways to lie as there are liars. One form of lying that particularly annoys WC is through deceptive charts. Blogger Hentry Blodgett at Business Insider has inadvertently provided a handy set of misleading charts that illustrate WC’s point.
We’ll start with one that is only a little deceptive: Unemployment rates:
The grey areas in the chart are official periods of recession. WC would describe this graph as only slightly deceptive because the “Y” axis – the vertical bit – goes to two, not zero. The compression of the unemployment rates only slightly exaggerates the appearance of the changes in the rate.
By contrast, this chart is a whopper of a lie:
If you examine the “Y” axis of this chart, it in fact ranges across just 11%, from 43% to 54%. No doubt it shows a serious decline in total wages divided by the total economy (however those may be measured), but if viewed on a 0% to 100% chart this would be a gently sloping line, not a graphic grand canyon.
Doubtlessly, the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank and Mr. Blodgett would argue that by compressing the vertical axis, they better illustrate the problem. WC’s problem is it makes the graph deceptive and misleading.
Don’t get WC wrong. The concentration of wealth, the decline in true earning power and the unemployment rates are all terrible problems. WC has written at length about the amazing power of the Neocon to make the chickens clap for Col. Sanders. But we shouldn’t make our points with deceptive graphics. It weakens our position.