Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chart Fail

I was watching my late local news last night and saw a story about declining traffic ticketing here in Lansing, which of course got my attention.  It kicked off with a column chart showing the declining ticket numbers issued over four years.  Then I rubbed my eyes a little and wondered what in the world was going on with that chart.

"Take a look at the graph we have here..." the newscaster was heard to say.

How can 9,618 be about half of 40,108?  Half?  Just as I was getting my chart bearings they replaced it with some stock footage of cop cars.
I'd understand if it were just a generic background of the story's news-graphic indicating 'falling rates' or whatever, but they labeled it with values and referred to it as a "chart."
I also understand tight deadlines, but yowza.  And, really, if the punch of the story is how precipitously rates are falling, I'm pretty surprised they cobbled something together that suppresses the actual change rather than exaggerate it.  Otherwise I'd yell 'shennanigans' and this topic would be a whole lot more interesting.

Anyways, here's a quick Excel column chart showing heights that reflect the actual numbers.

Columns showing actual data height.

When I looked up the piece this morning to see if that chart was a spectacular as I remembered (because I am a nerd), I noticed that the X axis was just as crazy as the Y axis.  Is that first year 1987??  So the time intervals here go 10 years, 13 years, and one year?

Here it is with the actual time span of the data.  I wonder how hard it would have been to get the rest of the years' data?  Better yet, just use the most recent four years rather than reaching back arbitrarily (unless those numbers didn't fit the message of the story, in which case... shenanigans!).

The arbitrary time samples from the chart shown when they actually happened.

Oh, and 2011 ISN'T OVER YET!

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