April 15, 2011

To mislead or not to mislead, that is the question

Have you ever received a chart similar to this? I did and was flabbergasted.  What disturbed me most was that it was intentionally misleading.  The other people who saw the chart didn’t notice the major problem that the dual-axes are not synchronized (and a dual-axis chart is unnecessary in this case anyway).

Dual-Axis Bad

I quickly corrected the chart and shared how it should look.  They were stunned at the the different stories these charts tell at first glance.

Dual-Axis Bad to Good

Bottom line: be skeptical when someone sends you a chart and quickly correct the situation if needed.  Take Mar-11 as an example:

  1. In the first chart it looks like Group E is only 2% better than Group Y
  2. In the second chart you can clearly see the gap is much, much bigger

Now take a quick look at Dec-10 (don’t cheat and look at the data).  In the 1st chart you’d think Group Y is killing Group E, when in fact Group E is outperforming Group Y.

It’s a scary world out there when people try to intentionally mislead you in an effort to support their personal agenda.  A friend of mine likes to say “Facts are friendly”.  Presenting facts needs to be friendly as well.