Home
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.
 
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +22
  • Print
  • Share

Comments

Sort By:
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 16, 2009
How about flip charts? Those can provide some nice graphics... and what's more compelling than a pad of paper?
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 16, 2009
I was just at the animations section- I find it funny that someone as obviously athesit as you has a mormon faith and happyness add
 
 
Jun 16, 2009
The number of companies controlled doesn't indicate the extent of the control over the system. Some industries are just more significant than others. If aliens only controlled Barack Obama, Ben Bernanke and the 500 congressmen, then the number of people controlled would not be a good indicator of the amount of control the aliens hold over the system, either (I think the dolphins have already got to Joe Biden).

You have to admit that controlling the banks is a bit different than controlling the lawn-care or babysitting industry. I have every expectation that the government wants to divest itself of these problem companies asap, but Bill Maher's graph has little to do with the current "level of socialism", if there is such measure. For instance, there are only a few significant news outlets in the country, so what would be the right level of concern if they were nationalized?
 
 
Jun 16, 2009
Absolutely 100% agree. It never ceases to amaze me the giant articles that reporters will write about budgets, etc, and the disagreements politicians are having about them and then include not a single table, graph, etc to help you understand what the issue is.

That makes it impossible to figure out who is 'right' or what is really happening, which might be the reason they do it, now that I think about it.... sigh...
 
 
Jun 16, 2009
Is this the energy chart you were looking for?
http://trueenergysolutions.com/energybasics.html
 
 
Jun 16, 2009
You're not the only one who thinks that:

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/15/the-nations-co-government-needs-a-dashboard/
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 16, 2009
GraphJam rules! Check out this fave!

http://graphjam.com/2009/05/13/song-chart-memes-arnold-schwarzenegger/
 
 
Jun 16, 2009
Scott - good post and I agree that visualizations (charts, graphs, cartoons, etc) can be great to really highlight a point. I find it odd that a very visual guy like you has nothing but text in all of your blog posts (other than the rare comic strip to show a point). Maybe it takes an extra minute, but adding photos, or sharing some image from what you are looking at really helps break up TEXT. http://nohype.tumblr.com/post/95302396/color-and-sound
 
 
Jun 16, 2009
The idea is sound, but depending on the statistics that you base your graphs on, you can pretty much make the graph express whatever you want. Best class I ever took in University, Statistics. The Prof showed how to manipulate numbers based on the information given, and I have never looked at a chart or graph the same since.

That being said, I wouldn't mind a web site that showed all of the news in pictures and graphs, and then once you click on it, you get more information. Like if a graph showed crime was going down, you click on it and get the actual numbers for each year for each type of crime, click again and find out whether it is based on actual crimes committed or an experts guess on the number of crimes, eventually getting the whole story.
 
 
Jun 16, 2009
This isn't exactly what you're looking for, but it's a fun site that is built on a similar philosophy.

http://thisisindexed.com/
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 16, 2009
I like Harper's Index. It uses statistics instead of graphs, so you lose the visual, but it's a cool way of quantifying things at different times in recent history.

Click on a date and see what I mean:

http://www.harpers.org/subjects/HarpersIndex
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 16, 2009
One of my favorite charts ever is of Global Warming vs Number of Pirates. The conclusion being that we should dress like pirates to combat global warming.

It also hits on one of your other favorite topics, evolution/creationism.
Flying Spaghetti Monster
http://www.venganza.org/
 
 
Jun 16, 2009
Yeah, but then you get arguments about the selection criteria. For example, that government owned corporatation chart may be a thin slice, but then someone says "Oh, that only includes the corporations that received funds from the HR Bill XYZ. The true representation would include Grant ABC, HR Bill 123, and former Executive order 12415 and is closer to 45%."

Then some other dip says "no, it's actually more like 95% when you factor in corporate tax increases and blah blah blah", and then someone else says, "no actually, technically, it should be more like 0.0002% because the actual business definition of owned and the political definition of socialism are..." BLAH BLAH BLAH just noise.

And people will pick and choose which graphs fit most to their biases.
 
 
Jun 16, 2009
Some very awesome graphs that get way too little attention:
http://www.gapminder.org/
 
 
Jun 16, 2009
So Scott, why do you keep disrespecting financial advisors-- they love charts.
 
 
Jun 16, 2009
i like graphs
http://aquadump.googlepages.com/content_analysis_of_scott_adams_blog.jpg
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 16, 2009
Actually, the continuous blah, blah, blah of the talking heads makes me want to round them all up (left, right, and center), slather them with chicken fat, and drop them into an enclosure full of starving wolverines...
 
 
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 16, 2009
On my previous comment, the source for the second !$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 16, 2009
Bill Maher's presentation of that graph represents more commentary than actual useful facts. Consider the following pie charts, representing the opposite view.

U.S. Auto Industry Corporations:
66.7% Controlled by government
33.3% Independent

US GDP:
45% Government spending
55% Private
Source: http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/us_20th_century_chart.html

If national health care comes to pass:
US GDP:
62% Government spending
38% Private
Source: !$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$
 
 
Jun 16, 2009
Charts can be good reinforcers of text, even if they are not stand alone. For example, on Google Trends, you can get a chart for how much internet press a particular story has received on a timeline. This helps put the story in context and reinforces how important it is. Alone, the chart is relatively useless.
 
 
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog