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 16, 2009
the economist magazine always has very nice charts to illustrate their points
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 16, 2009
Can we PLEASE add a penalty clause? For every graph that uses 'data' that is unreliable, the producer of said graph shall be subject to a public flogging. Falsifying data with the intent to deceive should bear the penalty of opposites--whatever you intended to gain by falsifying the data, the opposite would be imposed. If you hoped to gain influence, your would never be allowed to speak or otherwise express yourself again. If you hoped to gain riches, then all of your assets would go to charity. I spent half the presidential election furious because candidates would mis-state the FACTS, be called on it by reputable sources like www.factcheck.org and CONTINUE to use the bad info. ARGHHHH! And, apparently, we were all okay with that!

PLEASE add a penalty clause!!! Is beheading too extreme???
Jun 16, 2009
Years ago I taught an introductory economics class, (I used Samuelson's textbook, which had a reputation as a killer ). I remember telling my students "graphs are your friends". When they had trouble with a concept I would provide a graph to better demonstrate that concept. I would like to believe that I actually convinced a few people that "graphs were their friends".
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 16, 2009
Charts and the Internet are both input driven. Why not have a site that allows people to select their own data streams - from sources of their choice, and then generate their own charts? They could publish them for comment and user review/rating.

Technically, it would be easy to do. Researchers/data generators typically want to get their information into public hands - and user ratings would (hopefully) help suppress the stupid sources and elevate the credible (shaky premise, I know - but it COULD happen...).

Charts.com anyone?
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 16, 2009
Charts can be as misleading as words. Say you want to show a line trending up, but in the last year the trend was down. If you leave the last year off the chart, the chart is misleading. Lawyers do this all the time in litigation. The percentage of something is not always congruent with the number of something. I'm sure there are easy examples, I can't think of any right now.

You'd have to have a truth squad, otherwise your dashboard of charts will be just as misleading as the folks doing the blah blah blah all day long.
Jun 16, 2009
A chart would have great for the swine flu scare. To show swine flu deaths compared to deaths due to "regular" flu. (36,000 per year in the US). Instead, we got photos of workers spraying down the outside walls of a school with disinfectant.
Jun 16, 2009
You like the pictures because humans are really visually based. Pictures and graphs are understood differently than text/words. And if you'd like a slightly twisted view of the world via graphs try: http://graphjam.com/
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