I was looking for information on how much energy my different appliances use, on average, and came across a great bar graph. Unfortunately I can't find it again. It showed a huge bar for heating that was about as large as all the other appliances put together. Obviously the graph was for a typical home where you have serious winters. I already knew that heating and cooling were the major culprits in energy use, but seeing it on the graph gave it context and perspective that I will always remember.

The other night on Bill Maher's show he held up a pie chart showing the percentage of U.S. corporations now controlled by the government. It was a tiny slice, more of a line than a wedge. Bill's point is that we're not on the verge of becoming socialists. That was an interesting graphic and very powerful for his argument.

I'd love to see a newspaper or web site that is nothing but graphs putting the issues of the day in context. For ever major issue, there's generally one chart that captures the essence of the argument. I think charts would help put everyone on the same page whereas the continuous blah, blah, blah of talking heads makes you want to take sides.

Charts get a bad name. Everyone made fun of Ross Perot for whipping out charts to make his points, but that had more to do with Ross Perot than the charts. And people like to mock USA Today for their funny little graphs that oversimplify relatively unimportant topics. But I think there is room for serious charts on the important topics. And those charts should be republished often, even if they don't often change, so we don't lose sight of the context for daily events.

One of the most basic rules of management is that you need data on how you're doing now, and where you're heading. Everyone needs to be on the same page and trying to create the same change. What if the collective energy use for your block, or you small town, was on a chart comparing you to the energy use of the blocks or towns around you? I think it would automatically make you feel competitive about reducing your waste. It's human nature. Charts change behavior.

I'd like to see a "dashboard" display for how the entire country is doing. It would be one page with the graphs showing elements of our economy, crime rates, health coverage, energy use, SAT scores, and anything else we deemed important. I think it would help to get everyone on the same page.

Obviously there is a risk of oversimplification, so every chart needs to be backed up with text and with other charts that add more context. And in the market for news you would have plenty of room for competing charts that shine a different light on topics.
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Jun 21, 2009
You may also enjoy http://www.chartoftheday.com/ Mostly financial, but it is important.
Jun 18, 2009
I would like to see a chart that shows the amount of US corporation owned by the US government by year, as a histogram. It's not the number that matters, it's the trend or "change." Ohh was that what Obama was talking about?

The amount of corporations that Obama would either "regulate" (force) out of profitability or try to completely replace with his government programs is another graph entirely.
Jun 17, 2009
I have been trying like hell to make Wolfram|Alpha give me some good statistics on home appliance energy consumption, but I have yet to make it give me an kind of useful results whatsoever.

I guess google-fu doesn't translate in to Wolfram-fu. Anyone else want to give it a shot? www.wolframalpha.com
Jun 17, 2009
Speaking of Bill Maher's show, when are you going to be a guest? I think you would be great in the panel discussion forum that is set up on a weekly basis, plus Mr Maher and yourself share opinions on several topics.
Jun 17, 2009
yes, please.
Jun 17, 2009
The Bill Maher chart was based on dollars, not number of companies. There are, of course many different ways to measure the assets of companies and determine how much is owned by the government, but I think that the amount of government corporate ownership compared to all of the coprorate assets in the whole US economy would be very small no matter how you measured it. This is especially true when you consider that we (as "owners" of the government) will probably end up owning nothing.

What would be more interesting might be to see the amount owned by our own government versus the amount owned by foreign governments (maybe not outright, but by virtue of government ownership of corporations in their own country).

Jun 17, 2009
If you like graphs you should read Jessica Hagys funny little simplifications of all things human on www.thisisindexed.com - they're great:)

Jun 17, 2009
My job is # analysis. Those #s can often be hard to see their significance - until you put them on a graph. I love graphs. I wonder though if graphs are more compelling to men than women since men are more visual. Like maps and written directions. Most women i know want just the written directions. Men however, like to have to visual of the map.
Jun 17, 2009
Remember this strip about dashboards...
Jun 17, 2009
As Benjamin Disraeli said "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
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Jun 17, 2009
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 17, 2009
This Bill Maher chart - was it simply the percentage of companies controlled by the government, or was it weighted somehow. If so, how? By turnover? By stock market value? By number of employees? Each would give a very different result. If a GM counts as one, and the mom-and-pop owned general store also counts one, that's a pretty misleading pie chart. GM should count the same as maybe 10,000 small businesses, (unless you count by stock market value, in which case it's probably worth less than one local carpet warehouse).

There is also a worrying trend for making pie charts look prettier by tipping them over so they look "3D", but this puts a misleading emphasis on items towards the bottom of the pie - see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8014539.stm (second article half-way down the page).

But, if we can trust our news providers to be
a) impartial
b) responsible
c) thorough in compiling the numbers
then I wholeheartedly support this idea!!!

Most of the time, I believe the BBC and The Times (the UK newspaper, not the NY Times which I'm not really familiar with) meet these criteria. Which US news sources would you trust?
Jun 17, 2009
Scott, I agree completely, and there is a great web site which is FULL of graphs on main social/economic indicators about different countries, with the ability to compare countries and create animations of bubble graphs to spot trends... just check it out:


Jun 16, 2009
A pie showing the number of US corporations controlled by the government is misleading

A pie showing the percentage of revenues by US corporations controlled by the government would provide an accurate picture
Jun 16, 2009
I like the chart idea.

On a side note, it'd be nice if they would put any and all figures in context when quoted in the news.

It's usually along the lines of "x people came down with disease y last year." Is that normal? High? Low? Out of how many people in the state/country/world that are even susceptible to it?

I mean if two people die in an accident out of two possible people, that is horrible. If two people die in an accident involving, say, a thousand people on a Tokyo bullet train, it's obviously bad but nowhere near as bad in the overall context.

Since the talking heads obviously don't fathom numbers, they spew them out without any context and we're supposed to be impressed that they can read them I guess.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 16, 2009
Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is interesting, but what they hide is everything.
Jun 16, 2009
if you jump to "GDP and child death" section by hovering your mouse just above the playback indicator, thats the section showing off the gapminder graphing tech
Jun 16, 2009
For the kind of meaningful charts you are talking about, with data about Africa in this example, check out this short video
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Jun 16, 2009
Google Perot Charts - he put together a website doing (I think) what you are looking for! Ironic, huh?! The first time I was on his website, I was on there for a long time. Very interesting and made me re-evaluate some of my own established notions.
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Jun 16, 2009
Unfortunately, there are apparently a small but significant number of people who can't read graphs. I don't know if their brains just don't work that way, or what. It kind of boggles my mind. My boss is one of them, and it drives me up the frickin' wall that I can't show him a graph.
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