full transcript

From the Ted Talk by Lea Gaslowitz: How to spot a misleading graph

Unscramble the Blue Letters

A toothpaste brand claims their product will destroy more plaque than any product ever made. A politician tells you their plan will create the most jobs. We're so used to hearing these kndis of eeraogxnagits in advertising and politics that we might not even bat an eye. But what about when the claim is accompanied by a graph? Afterall, a graph isn't an oopinin. It represents cold, hard numbers, and who can aruge with those? Yet, as it turns out, there are plenty of ways graphs can mislead and otruight manipulate. Here are some things to look out for. In this 1992 ad, Chevy claimed to make the most reliable trukcs in aicrema using this graph. Not only does it show that 98% of all Chevy trucks sold in the last ten years are still on the road, but it looks like they're twice as dependable as toytoa trucks. That is, until you take a closer look at the numbers on the left and see that the figure for Toyota is about 96.5%. The scale only goes between 95 and 100%. If it went from 0 to 100, it would look like this. This is one of the most common ways graphs misrepresent data, by distorting the salce. zoinmog in on a small portion of the y-axis exaggerates a barely detectable difference between the things being cmaepord. And it's especially misleading with bar graphs since we assume the difference in the size of the bars is proportional to the values. But the scale can also be distorted along the x-axis, usually in line graphs showing something changing over time. This chart showing the rise in amreican unemployment from 2008 to 2010 mtleiaupans the x-axis in two ways. First of all, the scale is inconsistent, compressing the 15-month span after March 2009 to look sortehr than the preceding six months. Using more consistent data points gives a different picture with job losses tapering off by the end of 2009. And if you wonder why they were innrciaseg in the first place, the timeline starts imtdmeeilay after the U.S.'s biggest fnanciail cllaopse since the gaert Depression. These techniques are known as cherry picking. A time range can be carefully cehson to exclude the impact of a major event right outside it. And picking specific data points can hide important changes in between. Even when there's nothing wrong with the graph itself, leaving out relevant data can give a misleading impression. This chart of how many pelope watch the seupr Bowl each year makes it look like the event's popularity is exinpdolg. But it's not accounting for population growth. The ratings have actually held staedy because while the number of football fans has isecerand, their sahre of overall viewership has not. Finally, a graph can't tell you much if you don't know the full significance of what's being presented. Both of the following graphs use the same ocean temperature data from the National Centers for Environmental iooimrnaftn. So why do they seem to give opposite impressions? The first gparh plots the aavrgee annual ocean temperature from 1880 to 2016, making the change look insignificant. But in fact, a rise of even half a degree Celsius can cause massive ecological disruption. This is why the second graph, which show the average temperature variation each year, is far more significant. When they're used well, garhps can help us intuitively grasp complex data. But as visual software has enabled more usage of graphs throughout all media, it's also made them easier to use in a careless or dishonest way. So the next time you see a graph, don't be swayed by the lines and curves. Look at the llbeas, the numbers, the scale, and the cteonxt, and ask what sorty the picture is trying to tell.

Open Cloze

A toothpaste brand claims their product will destroy more plaque than any product ever made. A politician tells you their plan will create the most jobs. We're so used to hearing these _____ of _____________ in advertising and politics that we might not even bat an eye. But what about when the claim is accompanied by a graph? Afterall, a graph isn't an _______. It represents cold, hard numbers, and who can _____ with those? Yet, as it turns out, there are plenty of ways graphs can mislead and ________ manipulate. Here are some things to look out for. In this 1992 ad, Chevy claimed to make the most reliable ______ in _______ using this graph. Not only does it show that 98% of all Chevy trucks sold in the last ten years are still on the road, but it looks like they're twice as dependable as ______ trucks. That is, until you take a closer look at the numbers on the left and see that the figure for Toyota is about 96.5%. The scale only goes between 95 and 100%. If it went from 0 to 100, it would look like this. This is one of the most common ways graphs misrepresent data, by distorting the _____. _______ in on a small portion of the y-axis exaggerates a barely detectable difference between the things being ________. And it's especially misleading with bar graphs since we assume the difference in the size of the bars is proportional to the values. But the scale can also be distorted along the x-axis, usually in line graphs showing something changing over time. This chart showing the rise in ________ unemployment from 2008 to 2010 ___________ the x-axis in two ways. First of all, the scale is inconsistent, compressing the 15-month span after March 2009 to look _______ than the preceding six months. Using more consistent data points gives a different picture with job losses tapering off by the end of 2009. And if you wonder why they were __________ in the first place, the timeline starts ___________ after the U.S.'s biggest _________ ________ since the _____ Depression. These techniques are known as cherry picking. A time range can be carefully ______ to exclude the impact of a major event right outside it. And picking specific data points can hide important changes in between. Even when there's nothing wrong with the graph itself, leaving out relevant data can give a misleading impression. This chart of how many ______ watch the _____ Bowl each year makes it look like the event's popularity is _________. But it's not accounting for population growth. The ratings have actually held ______ because while the number of football fans has _________, their _____ of overall viewership has not. Finally, a graph can't tell you much if you don't know the full significance of what's being presented. Both of the following graphs use the same ocean temperature data from the National Centers for Environmental ___________. So why do they seem to give opposite impressions? The first _____ plots the _______ annual ocean temperature from 1880 to 2016, making the change look insignificant. But in fact, a rise of even half a degree Celsius can cause massive ecological disruption. This is why the second graph, which show the average temperature variation each year, is far more significant. When they're used well, ______ can help us intuitively grasp complex data. But as visual software has enabled more usage of graphs throughout all media, it's also made them easier to use in a careless or dishonest way. So the next time you see a graph, don't be swayed by the lines and curves. Look at the ______, the numbers, the scale, and the _______, and ask what _____ the picture is trying to tell.

Solution

  1. exaggerations
  2. immediately
  3. exploding
  4. manipulates
  5. story
  6. chosen
  7. argue
  8. increased
  9. opinion
  10. trucks
  11. context
  12. super
  13. kinds
  14. steady
  15. financial
  16. average
  17. zooming
  18. great
  19. collapse
  20. graphs
  21. scale
  22. information
  23. people
  24. graph
  25. shorter
  26. america
  27. labels
  28. toyota
  29. increasing
  30. outright
  31. american
  32. share
  33. compared

Original Text

A toothpaste brand claims their product will destroy more plaque than any product ever made. A politician tells you their plan will create the most jobs. We're so used to hearing these kinds of exaggerations in advertising and politics that we might not even bat an eye. But what about when the claim is accompanied by a graph? Afterall, a graph isn't an opinion. It represents cold, hard numbers, and who can argue with those? Yet, as it turns out, there are plenty of ways graphs can mislead and outright manipulate. Here are some things to look out for. In this 1992 ad, Chevy claimed to make the most reliable trucks in America using this graph. Not only does it show that 98% of all Chevy trucks sold in the last ten years are still on the road, but it looks like they're twice as dependable as Toyota trucks. That is, until you take a closer look at the numbers on the left and see that the figure for Toyota is about 96.5%. The scale only goes between 95 and 100%. If it went from 0 to 100, it would look like this. This is one of the most common ways graphs misrepresent data, by distorting the scale. Zooming in on a small portion of the y-axis exaggerates a barely detectable difference between the things being compared. And it's especially misleading with bar graphs since we assume the difference in the size of the bars is proportional to the values. But the scale can also be distorted along the x-axis, usually in line graphs showing something changing over time. This chart showing the rise in American unemployment from 2008 to 2010 manipulates the x-axis in two ways. First of all, the scale is inconsistent, compressing the 15-month span after March 2009 to look shorter than the preceding six months. Using more consistent data points gives a different picture with job losses tapering off by the end of 2009. And if you wonder why they were increasing in the first place, the timeline starts immediately after the U.S.'s biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression. These techniques are known as cherry picking. A time range can be carefully chosen to exclude the impact of a major event right outside it. And picking specific data points can hide important changes in between. Even when there's nothing wrong with the graph itself, leaving out relevant data can give a misleading impression. This chart of how many people watch the Super Bowl each year makes it look like the event's popularity is exploding. But it's not accounting for population growth. The ratings have actually held steady because while the number of football fans has increased, their share of overall viewership has not. Finally, a graph can't tell you much if you don't know the full significance of what's being presented. Both of the following graphs use the same ocean temperature data from the National Centers for Environmental Information. So why do they seem to give opposite impressions? The first graph plots the average annual ocean temperature from 1880 to 2016, making the change look insignificant. But in fact, a rise of even half a degree Celsius can cause massive ecological disruption. This is why the second graph, which show the average temperature variation each year, is far more significant. When they're used well, graphs can help us intuitively grasp complex data. But as visual software has enabled more usage of graphs throughout all media, it's also made them easier to use in a careless or dishonest way. So the next time you see a graph, don't be swayed by the lines and curves. Look at the labels, the numbers, the scale, and the context, and ask what story the picture is trying to tell.

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
ways graphs 2
data points 2
ocean temperature 2

Important Words

  1. accompanied
  2. accounting
  3. ad
  4. advertising
  5. afterall
  6. america
  7. american
  8. annual
  9. argue
  10. assume
  11. average
  12. bar
  13. barely
  14. bars
  15. bat
  16. biggest
  17. bowl
  18. brand
  19. carefully
  20. careless
  21. celsius
  22. centers
  23. change
  24. changing
  25. chart
  26. cherry
  27. chevy
  28. chosen
  29. claim
  30. claimed
  31. claims
  32. closer
  33. cold
  34. collapse
  35. common
  36. compared
  37. complex
  38. compressing
  39. consistent
  40. context
  41. create
  42. curves
  43. data
  44. degree
  45. dependable
  46. depression
  47. destroy
  48. detectable
  49. difference
  50. dishonest
  51. disruption
  52. distorted
  53. distorting
  54. easier
  55. ecological
  56. enabled
  57. environmental
  58. event
  59. exaggerates
  60. exaggerations
  61. exclude
  62. exploding
  63. eye
  64. fact
  65. fans
  66. figure
  67. finally
  68. financial
  69. football
  70. full
  71. give
  72. graph
  73. graphs
  74. grasp
  75. great
  76. growth
  77. hard
  78. hearing
  79. held
  80. hide
  81. immediately
  82. impact
  83. important
  84. impression
  85. impressions
  86. inconsistent
  87. increased
  88. increasing
  89. information
  90. insignificant
  91. intuitively
  92. job
  93. jobs
  94. kinds
  95. labels
  96. leaving
  97. left
  98. line
  99. lines
  100. losses
  101. major
  102. making
  103. manipulate
  104. manipulates
  105. march
  106. massive
  107. media
  108. mislead
  109. misleading
  110. misrepresent
  111. months
  112. national
  113. number
  114. numbers
  115. ocean
  116. opinion
  117. outright
  118. people
  119. picking
  120. picture
  121. place
  122. plan
  123. plaque
  124. plenty
  125. plots
  126. points
  127. politician
  128. politics
  129. popularity
  130. population
  131. portion
  132. preceding
  133. presented
  134. product
  135. proportional
  136. range
  137. ratings
  138. relevant
  139. reliable
  140. represents
  141. rise
  142. road
  143. scale
  144. share
  145. shorter
  146. show
  147. showing
  148. significance
  149. significant
  150. size
  151. small
  152. software
  153. sold
  154. span
  155. specific
  156. starts
  157. steady
  158. story
  159. super
  160. swayed
  161. tapering
  162. techniques
  163. tells
  164. temperature
  165. ten
  166. time
  167. timeline
  168. toothpaste
  169. toyota
  170. trucks
  171. turns
  172. unemployment
  173. usage
  174. values
  175. variation
  176. viewership
  177. visual
  178. watch
  179. ways
  180. wrong
  181. year
  182. years
  183. zooming