"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How to tell different stories with the same numbers

Here is a figure from Reuters about US employment numbers. The worst is over, huh?

Here is a figure from the New York Times showing essentially the same data. Hmmm. Notice how the longer time scale, and the expression of the total rather than the month-over-month change, changes the picture substantially and gives a much clearer picture of what is going on.

One of Edward Tufte's main points is that the way you display data affects the lesson people take from the data; that aligning the facts with human psychology such that people extract the real picture is a deep skill. 

Of course, in the case of our friends who are arguing that global warming has stopped, you could equally argue that deliberately misaligning the facts with human psychology is also a deep skill.

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