• Unintentional Venn diagram suggests opposite meaning

    August 19, 2014  |  Mistaken Data

    Unintentional Venn Diagram

    Most people probably wouldn't think much about this poster that shows the values of Thomson Reuters. But when you think of the graphic as a Venn diagram, it's hard to see much else.

  • Geography.

    August 8, 2014  |  Mistaken Data


    By way of David Kennerr, something in this CNN frame seems off.

  • Newborn false positives

    May 15, 2014  |  Mistaken Data

    Shutterfly sent promotional emails that congratulate new parents and encourage them to send thank you cards. The problem: a lot of people on that list weren't new parents.

    Several tipsters forwarded us the email that Shutterfly sent out in the wee small hours of this morning. One characterized the email as "data science gone wrong." Another says that she had actually been pregnant and would have been due this month, but miscarried six months ago. Is it possible that Shutterfly analyzed her search data and just happened to conclude, based on that, that she would be welcoming a child around this time? Or is it, as she hoped via email, "just a horrible coincidence?"

    Only Shutterfly knows what actually happened (They insist it was a random mistake.), but it sounds like a naive use of data somewhere in the pipeline. Maybe someone remembered the Target story, got excited, and forgot about the repercussions of false positives. Or, maybe someone made an incorrect assumption about data points with certain purchases and didn't test thoroughly enough.

    In any case, this slide suddenly takes on new meaning.

  • Fox News bar chart gets it wrong

    April 4, 2014  |  Mistaken Data

    Fox News bar chart

    Because Fox News. See also this, this, and this. [Thanks, Meron]

  • This pie chart is amazing.

    March 1, 2013  |  Mistaken Data

    Best part of Super Bowl

    From the Winnipeg Sun. Something isn't right here. [via]

  • Incredibly divided nation in a map

    November 9, 2012  |  Mistaken Data

    Divided nation

    I knew things were bad, but I didn't know they were this bad. Obama has his work cut out for him. [Thanks, @adamsinger]

  • Fox News continues charting excellence

    August 6, 2012  |  Mistaken Data

    Bush cuts

    Fox News tried to show the change in the top tax rate if the Bush tax cuts expire, so they showed the rate now and what'd it be in 2013. Wow, it'll be around five times higher. Wait. No.

    The value axis starts at 34 percent instead of zero, which you don't do with bar charts, because length is the visual cue. That is to say, when you look at this chart, you compare how high each bar is. Fox News might as well have started the vertical axis at 34.9 percent. That would've been more dramatic.

    Here's what the bar chart is supposed to look like:

    With a difference of 4.6 percentage points, the change doesn't look so crazy.

    [via Effective Graphs]

  • Mitt Romney pseudo-venn diagram, used incorrectly

    July 8, 2012  |  Mistaken Data

    Promise gap venn diagram

    The Mitt Romney campaign put this venn diagram up a few days ago, aiming to show the "promise gap." On the left is an Obama promise, and on the right is the result. In the middle, the combination of the promise and the result, is the gap. Wait, that's not right.

  • Why are so many men pregnant?

    May 17, 2012  |  Mistaken Data  |  Kim Rees

    Garbage in, garbage out the old adage goes. Nigel Hawkes, Director of Straight Statistics, describes a sort of statistical whistleblowing letter to the British Medical Journal.

    A team from Imperial College found that in 2009-10, nearly 20,000 adults were coded as having attended paediatric outpatient services, and 3,000 patients under 19 were apparently treated in geriatric clinics. Even more striking, between 15,000 and 20,000 men have been admitted to obstetric wards each year since 2003, and almost 10,000 to gynaecology wards.

    It's hard to put your faith in analysis, visualization, policy, and anything else that comes out of data with reports like these. With human error being a known issue, we have to find better ways of inputting and double-checking data. Unfortunate mistakes at the outset only lead to bigger problems down the line.

  • New iPad battery size is huge

    March 16, 2012  |  Mistaken Data

    ipad expanded battery

    From Gizmodo, this shows battery size in the new iPad versus that of the iPad 2. The battery in the former is 70 percent bigger than that of the latter. Something's not right here.

    [Thanks, David]

  • Fox News still makes awesome charts

    December 12, 2011  |  Mistaken Data

    unemployment chart by fox news

    Charts and graphs are great, because they can let you see a pattern that you might not see in a spreadsheet, but they only work when you use the actual data. Fox News isn't doing themselves any favors by putting up this chart. It shows the recently announced drop in unemployment rate to 8.6 percent as a non-change.
    Continue Reading

  • Open thread: Can you spot the wrongness in this tax graph?

    May 17, 2011  |  Mistaken Data

    middle class taxes

    The argument behind this graph in The Wall Street Journal is that the middle class has most of the money and ties into a larger argument about who should be taxed what. There is after all a spike in the middle. Is that really the case though? Sound off in the comments.

    (Cheat sheet: Jonathan Chait explains what's going on and Kevin Drum improves the graph to show more truth, although his graph can be improved, too. Grab the data here [Excel spreadsheet] from the IRS, and give it a go.)

    [Wall Street Journal via @joandimicco]

  • Open thread: Charts during the State of the Union address

    January 26, 2011  |  Discussion, Mistaken Data

    Bubble chart during SOTU

    President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address yesterday, and this year it was "enhanced" by charts and graphs. Basically, as Obama spoke, graphics that you could equate to Powerpoint slides showed up on the side. What'd you think of the enhancement? Did it add or detract from the message? Were the graphics used honestly and effectively?

    One thing's for sure: there's something wrong with that bubble chart. Uh oh.
    Continue Reading

  • Right versus wrong bubble size

    December 17, 2010  |  Mistaken Data

    Subsidize This from Good Magazine

    I was going to post this graphic from Good when it came out, but decided not to. I made the same mistake when I first started out. It was another case of wrongly sized bubbles. But they fixed the problem, so now we can see what a big difference it makes. Continue Reading

  • Harvard scientist found guilty of misconduct

    August 22, 2010  |  Mistaken Data

    Shady research from Harvard scientist Marc Hauser is confirmed:

    On Friday, Michael D. Smith, dean of the Harvard faculty of arts and sciences, issued a letter to the faculty confirming the inquiry and saying the eight instances of scientific misconduct involved problems of “data acquisition, data analysis, data retention, and the reporting of research methodologies and results.” No further details were given.

    This is why we don't just accept any old data and why we care about the methodology behind the numbers. Stuff like this always reminds me of an exam question that asked us to investigate the data from an article in a prominent scientific journal. The analysis was all wrong.

    Sometimes data is wrong out of ignorance. Other times it's wrong because people make stuff up. I can understand the former, but why you would ever do the latter is beyond me.


    Update: More details on what happened from research assistants' point of view on the Chronicle. [thx, Winawer]

  • Wait. Something isn’t right here…

    May 14, 2010  |  Mistaken Data

    All the same

    No clue where this is from, but something seems sort of off, no? I guess we should take the title literally. By the numbers... only.

    I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt though, and assume this was just an honest mistake. Here's my guess about what happened. A deadline was coming up quick, and a graphics editor put this together to get a feel for what the final design would look like. He then saved it as a different file, and then went to work. Except when it came time to send the file to the printers, the editor sent the wrong file. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often.

    [via @EagerEyes]

  • Fox News Makes the Best Pie Chart. Ever.

    November 26, 2009  |  Mistaken Data, Ugly Charts

    Fox News pie chart

    What? I don't see anything wrong with it.
    Continue Reading

  • What’s Wrong With this Graphic on the Future of Information?

    June 1, 2009  |  Discussion, Mistaken Data

    Market flow

    This graphic on the history and future of information has been making the rounds. Several people sent it to me a while back, but it didn't seem quite right, so I didn't post it; however, this post from PZ Meyers compelled me to take another look. Meyers says:

    Some days, I think other people must be aliens. Or I must be. For instance, there's a lot of noise right now about this article analyzing the future of information and media that, if you read the comments, you will discover that people are praising to an astonishing degree. I looked at it and saw this graph [above graphic]. And my bullshit detector went insane. It's supposed to be saying something about where people are and will be getting their information, but there's no information about where this information came from, and it's meaningless!

    Yikes. Take out the boxing gloves. Looks like we've got another clash between the technical and the design-ish and mainstream crowds. The comments from both sides are also pretty interesting with one group saying how visually appealing and informative the graphic is with the other group criticizing the graphic for failing in every way.

    Good or Bad?

    Clearly the graphic is not based on any real data or metric. It goes off history and probably a lot of Wikipedia entries, and then shapes and sizes go off feeling. So as an analytical graph, it doesn't work. But what about as an opinion in graph form? Does it work then? What do you think? Is this graphic a crime against all that is good in visualization or does it work for what it was trying to do?

    [Thanks, Patrick]

  • What’s Wrong With this Financial Bubble Chart?

    February 26, 2009  |  Mistaken Data

    Average US Consumer Spending Bubble Infographic

    If there's anything good that has come out of America's financial crisis, it's the interesting and high-quality infographics. This isn't one of them. Below is an ill-conceived bubble chart from BillShrink that "shows" average U.S. consumer spending. Notice anything wrong with it?

    Bar versus bubble debate aside, there is a ton of room for improvement as well as huge need for some fact-checking and common sense. For a blog on a site for personal finance, the graphic is, well, not something to be proud of. FlowingData readers know that I like to stay away from heavy-handed critique on what works and what doesn't (I leave that to you guys), but this BillShrink graphic is just so clearly confusing that it's worth pointing out what doesn't work so we can learn from others' mistakes. Can you find the flaws?

    [Thanks, Jess]

  • Fail: Area Circles on Wall Street

    February 16, 2009  |  Mistaken Data

    I know next to nothing about the economy, stocks, and investments, but I do know a little bit about charts and graphs. The above area circles were prepared by someone at JP Morgan. I don't know, you might have heard of 'em. The circles are based on data from Bloomberg and meant to show the change in market value from 2007 to 2009. The problem here is that the creator sized circles by diameter instead of area, so the difference looks ginormous. I mean, the value change is significant but not that big.
    Continue Reading

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