The Corpus Callosum

From Media Matters:

i-fbf16c18d3c668330c27cd45e5f661ce-0628-fncjoblosschart-thumb-500x295-52117.jpg
It is difficult to understand how so many errors could be crammed into
one simple chart, merely by accident.  It is even harder to
understand how the artist could end up with a straight line, after
incorporating numerous errors, unless it was an done with the intention
of being misleading.

First, (problem #1) the Y-axis does not start at zero.  That is a
fairly
common error.  Sometimes it is done innocently, and a notice is
posted.  For example, “Y-axis does not start at zero, to better
show the change,” or something like that.  OK. That’s minor. 
The Fed does the same thing.

Notice, though, that the title says “Job loss by quarter.”  But
(#2) the X-axis does not show quarters.  The X-axis also is not
linear (#3).  December 2007 to September 2008 is 9 months (3
quarters), while March 2009 to June 2010 is 15 months (5
quarters). 

The biggest problem, though, (#4) is that the numbers on the line do
not indicate job losses per quarter, or per any
period-of-time. 


As Media Matters points out, we clearly did not
loose 15 million jobs in any one quarter.  Rather, those number
appear to represent the total number of unemployed persons in the USA
that are imputed from the BLS survey data.  These are total
numbers, not losses per quarter. 

This motivation for this whole thing is difficult to understand. 
Yes, the job
situation is dreadful.  Nobody needs to make stuff up, in order to
make that point.  The simple truth is sufficient. 

Yes, the rate of job loss has declined.  There may even be some
net job creation going on.  But even the most optimistic numbers
still show that job creation is lagging population growth.  We
know this.  We know it is really, really bad.  We do not need
deliberately misleading graphs to establish this. 

At first glance, it seems to be a simple case of incompetence.  If
so, then the number of unemployed should soon be 15 million plus one –
once the person who made the graph is fired.  But even an
incompetent person could have simply pulled href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?chart_type=line&s%5B1%5D%5Bid%5D=UNEMPLOY&s%5B1%5D%5Brange%5D=5yrs">the
chart from the Fed website.  Not only would it be easier, it
would be more accurate.

i-56ad1f7f1d14a4f45faa8c59d0d015cb-fredgraph-thumb-500x300-52122.png
But no.  The most likely explanation is that they wanted a simple,
visually punchy graph that would convey a message at a glance, and would
not invite closer inspection
.  The Fed graph is a bit more
complicated.  Someone might be tempted to inspect it and think
about it.  Maybe they would even go the the site mentioned at the
bottom, and start poking around, start thinking about how they would be
better off getting their news somewhere other than Fox.  After
all, the Fed graph shows that job losses stabilized shortly after we
got a new president.

Perhaps the intention is to somehow imply that the job situation has
worsened, and that the worsening could be addressed by electing
different politicians.  If so, it is an incredibly naive
suggestion. 

Comments

  1. #1 JohnV
    June 30, 2010

    “This motivation for this whole thing is difficult to understand. ”

    Not really, considering the audience they’re selling their message to. Note that this came from Fox news and that the president is, among other things, a member of the democratic party.

  2. #2 Dunc
    June 30, 2010

    I suspect the charts are produced entirely by the graphic design department, and that trivia such as axes, labels and numbers are added fairly late in the design process. it’s not actually a chart per se – it’s an “pseudoinfographic”, which, rather than being a graphical element intended to convey information, is a design element intended to give the impression that information is being conveyed.

    Have you ever seen The Day Today? They had loads of them, especially in the “Finance” snippet. My favourite was always the “International Finance Arse”…

  3. #3 BR
    June 30, 2010

    You quote: “After all, the Fed graph shows that job losses stabilized shortly after we got a new president.”

    That is a biased interpretation in itself. One could equally say that “the job losses have continued to rise under the new president and have now reached an all time high”

    Abuse of data goes both ways ;-)

    BR

  4. #4 Jeff Dworkin
    July 18, 2010

    You can wink all you like BR but it is your interpretation that is biased. The sloped of the graph over time has clearly changed and become less steep and that point of change is when the new administration came in. If you ignore what the graph represents and analyze the rate of change of the numbers over time (oh my actually use the statistics correctly!) Then the statement the rate of growth has stabilized at point x is completely true and without bias. You are looking at the words with politcal meaning instead of mathematical meaning.

  5. #5 Frank
    July 19, 2010

    Yes. Not really, considering the audience they’re selling their message to. Note that this came from Fox news and that the president is, among other things, a member of the democratic party.

  6. #6 stumpy
    August 17, 2010

    C’mon, man, blog something. I’m getting bored.

  7. #7 Foreign
    August 24, 2010

    Have you ever seen The Day Today? They had loads of them, especially in the “Finance” snippet.

  8. #8 film izle
    October 11, 2010

    I suspect the charts are produced entirely by the graphic design department, and that trivia such as axes, labels and numbers are added fairly late in the design process. it’s not actually a chart per se – it’s an “pseudoinfographic”, which, rather than being a graphical element intended to convey information, is a design element intended to give the impression that information is being conveyed.

    Have you ever seen The Day Today? They had loads of them, especially in the “Finance” snippet. My favourite was always the “International Finance Arse”…

  9. #9 Daniel G.
    October 25, 2010

    I believe that this mistake was done deliberately. The reason I think this is because Fox is a big company. Big enough for this mistake to go noticed by at least one person. They could hire me and I would do a much better job of graphing their data. But given that this was done deliberately, they wouldn’t want to hire me because I would depict the appropriate situation we are in. I think that the idea of them wanting to show that the unemployment has increased was their motive. This is because—the president being a democrat—you need to realize who Fox is “selling their message to” like Frank said. This is a very childish mistake if you ask me.

  10. #10 dmab
    November 10, 2010

    richarddawkins.net/discussions/543672-inhertitance-of-acquired-behaviour-adaptions-and-brain-gene-expression-in-chickens

    atheists, we’re gonna cut off your heads…

    THE HIGH PRICE OF REVOLUTION
    youtube.com/user/xviolatex?feature=mhum

  11. #11 Henri Joan Hartman
    January 14, 2011

    I believe it was Disraeli who said: “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

    The more things change, the more they are the same.

  12. #12 rlxon
    April 14, 2011

    Yes. Not really, considering the audience they’re selling their message to. Note that this came from Fox news and that the president is, among other things, a member of the democratic party

  13. #13 oldebabe
    April 24, 2011

    Every mention in the comments to this blog is of the `president’ being `a member of the democratic party’… I guess it refers to the current President of the U. S., not president of Fox News… What’s happening to capital letters to designate names, people, and places?
    I trust one can see the potential here as well for misunderstanding/misinformation, whether intentional or not.

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