Why accuracy in graphs is paramount

Last night, the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, Reno student senate passed a bill that would about double their yearly pay, much to the chagrin of commenters on the Nevada Sagebrush website and Facebook page. ASUN officials have defended the bill as a necessary way to decrease senate inactivity and apathy, with students countering with failures to stop tuition hikes and other senate failures isn’t a reason to give themselves a raise.

I’ll leave my personal opinion out of this for the time being, because there’s another issue that I want to address with the Sagebrush’s coverage of the event. In last Tuesday’s issue, a graph appeared along with a story on the proposed hike, which I’ve posted below:

There’s one rather large issue with this graph: it doesn’t equally increment the scale on the left, which leads the proposed increase to look smaller than it actually is. After a comment deriding the poor judgment was made by cartoonist and illustrator Paul Horn, the Sagebrush changed the graph to be more accurate, which was put together by Horn:

It’s immediately obvious how much of a change that this pay increase makes when presented this way. Professional designer Charles Apple goes over this problem of misrepresenting information in graphs within his own blog on a seemingly weekly basis, and it is definitely a problem. Journalists have a responsibility to accurately present information not only in stories, but also in a visual manner. There was no reason for the other graph’s y-axis to be structured in the way that is was, as it cuts out about a $1000 worth of graph points; nearly the exact change proposed by the Senate. In the future, I’d like to see the Sagebrush put more of an emphasis on making sure that their graphs and information are accurate, rather than stories about erectile dysfunction or a Humans vs. Zombies game.

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9 thoughts on “Why accuracy in graphs is paramount

  1. I love this fucking blog. You’re like that person who quit the office, everyone hates, and has a personal grudge against the Sagebrush. So, you post backlash and corrections to each story that is written. It’s fucking awesome.

    I’m not being sarcastic.

  2. Well done, that’s an excellent catch. I often have to rebuild graphs from city governments and other journalists. I will very often receive graphs that have the gap icon squiggle in them that causes inaccurate information. I once received a graph that incremented like this: 100, 200, 300, 400, 600, 800, 1000.

    • Oh wow, that’s ridiculous. I’m sure you’ve seen the Fox News graphics that Charles Apple has posted and critiqued which break nearly all laws regarding mathematics and graphing. To use a cliche, “Statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics”

  3. Excellent catch. I noticed this, but I figured I already wasted my criticism on their poor reporting of facts that I handed to them on a silver platter. What’s been happening to the Sagebrush lately is sad, really, what with their seemingly inability to accurately report readily verifiable facts, even more egregiously so when your source provides you the documents.

  4. Why is there no mention of how much it could have increased if we followed the referendum passed by the students in ’08?

  5. Pingback: Senator’s comments reveal widely-held (and false) view on Sagebrush funding « Life of Riley

  6. Pingback: Future of College Media: Are college publications learning vehicles or actual businesses? « Life of Riley

  7. Pingback: How the Sagebrush graphic of the ASUN budget ended up more confusing than the actual budget « Life of Riley

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