Everybody loves infographics. Facts (and assertions) just spring to life when you make them into cool pictures. But this powerful tool is all too often misused. Here are 11 infographics that are either completely misleading or totally useless.
Artwork by Jim Cooke.
It's easy to create a chart that presents wrong data, cherry-picks correct data, or just compares apples to oranges. For a collection of hilarious charts that contain false correlations (the number of people who drown in swimming pools has a surprising correlation with the number of Nic Cage movies per year), check out Tyler Vigen's Spurious Correlations (via FastCo Design). But not all terrible charts are created that way on purpose. See for yourself...
1) Gun deaths turn everything upside down
This Reuters chart about the number of Florida gun deaths since the Stand Your Ground law passed ends up implying the opposite of what the data shows. Because it is upside down. The X axis starts at 0 and then goes down to 800, which makes it look like the gun deaths were less than zero.
2) Cost Vs. Benefit of a College Education
This chart from a Business Insider article about the diminishing returns of a college education leaves out a very key fact: that the prospects of non-college graduates are even worse than those of graduates. It omits the US Dept of Education numbers on the fact that non-college-graduates can expect a significantly smaller amount of lifetime earnings than graduates.
3) Rape vs. Rapists
This one is really unfortunate — the Enliven Project created this infographic, which went viral immediately. It aims to show the relatively small number of false rape accusations. But as Slate's Amanda Marcotte explains, the chart damages its own cause, by assuming "one rape per rapist" and representing each rape as a single "man" symbol — when in fact, "your average rapist stacks up six victims." And the chart also probably overestimates the number of unreported rapes.
4) Prison vs. Princeton
This super-viral chart was everywhere a few years ago, including Upworthy and the Atlantic. But as the Atlantic later pointed out, it's factually incorrect — in fact, the numbers for "prison" and "Princeton" are reversed, and Ivy League tuition hasn't been that low in a long, long time.
5) Nurses Rocketing up
As Masters of Media points out, four stick people stand in for 43,000 nurses — but then 28 stick people stand in for an additional 3,000 nurses. This makes a 7 percent increase look like a 7000 percent increase.
6) Hospital Infections
This shocking chart made the rounds of all the policy-wonk blogs back in 2011. It purports to show that one out of seven hospital-aquired infections leads to death in the United States, versus one out of 122 in Europe. The only problem, as Kevin Drum explains:
I checked the references at the bottom of the MBCC chart, and none of them seemed to back up their numbers. What's more, a few years ago the CDC estimated 99,000 deaths per year out of 1.7 million HAIs, a mortality rate of 5.8%. For the EU, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control estimates146,000 deaths per year out of 4.5 million HAIs (see p. 27), a mortality rate of 3.3%.
That's a modest difference, and it gets even more modest when you read more about these estimates, which are very, very rough and depend strongly on exactly how you count infections and how you attribute deaths.
7) Climate Change Bill is Scary
This chart from John Boehner purports to show how Nancy Pelosi's climate change legislation would actually work, with a ton of scary boxes stacked on top of each other. See also Boehner's intentionally confusing blob of acronyms in his health care reform chart.
8) The Eurozone Solar System Of Inflation
Inflation is the sun. Germany is a planet. Zimbabwe is either a sunspot or the crew from Sunshine. [via Forbes]
9) "Global Cooling"
This chart purports to show that global warming has stopped, by using cherrypicked data from 2007 to 2011 — leaving out the colder 2006. As Peter Gleick points out, it relies on the fact that climate fluctuates from year to year, instead of focusing on the broader trend of the past several decades.
10) Where We Donate vs. Diseases That Kill Us
This is like one of those word matching tests from elementary school where you had to draw lines from a word in one column to a word in another.
Edited to add: Among other problems with this chart, the amount of money raised on the left is not the total amount raised for each disease, but merely the amount raised in one specific program, such as "Jump Rope For Heart" — thus making the chart not merely confusing, but misleading.
11) Changing Face of America
This infographic about race and ethnicity in the United States from 1960 to 2060 is transformed, through bizarre visualization, into a map of the United States in which California, living in 1960, is entirely White, and New York, over in 2060, is entirely Hispanic. See also the most prescribed psychatric drugs over on Good.