Un-Junking your Charts

Junk Charts is a blog by Kaiser Fung, who describes himself as “the Web’s first data visualization critic.” People have been criticizing and prescribing solutions for misleading data visualization for a long time. (How to Lie With Statistics was first published in 1954, when a gallon of gas was 22 cents, a movie ticket was 70 cents, and the average new house was $10,250.00.) I don’t know whether Fung was literally the first to do it on the Web, but his blog has been around for over a decade and has an extensive archive of interesting posts for your perusal.

A found graph displays the density of cats in the vicinity of each part of the park bench. Credit: Evelyn Lamb

When I first saw the title Junk Charts, I assumed it would be a blog that pointed out and made fun of bizarre and misleading graphs and charts. That’s all good fun, but this blog generally takes a less adversarial approach. Fung often examines data visualizations that are pretty good and shows how he would make them even more effective. For example, a recent post shows his suggested tweaks for a Washington Post graphic about voter polarization. The original graphic isn’t ugly or misleading, but the new one makes certain statistics jump out more readily.

Kaiser Fung’s redesigned display of information about how the two parties have diverged in the past few decades. Credit: Kaiser Fung. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Some posts start with less successful original material, such as this post discussing a flawed chart about politician approval ratings. On Pi Day 2014, Fung started the #onelesspie initiative to replace pie charts with better charts. (Except when they are self-descriptive, pie charts are mostly bad. Embrace non-pies!) The #onelesspie posts in later years have been entertaining.

The only good pie chart is a self-descriptive one. Credit: Randall Munroe, xkcd. CC BY-NC 2.5.

I don’t have much experience creating data visualizations or working with statistics, so I’ve enjoyed the perspective Fung brings in Junk Charts. Synergistically, while I was writing this post, the Information Is Beautiful website unveiled their Information is Beautiful Awards longlist for this year, which has lots and lots of interesting and visually arresting data displays. I can use my gradually developing chart sense when public voting opens later this month.

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