Chapter 6: Pretty Pictures

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Why do so many people like children's books? The photos! There are minimal words, but lots of pictures. We like pictures.

Pictures. They surround us every day. They are colorful, artistic, shiny, sparkly, reflective, informative, realistic, and deceptive...Deceptive? Yes, photos are capable of deceit. This deceit is usually seen in the format of a graph. Graphs and charts provide an easy way to display data. They allow people to glimpse at a picture--which can be easier to understand--instead of sifting through a monotonous paragraph. Yet, they also provide a way to skew the data. Take a look at how I can skew a GPA...

 

Let's say that I want to compare my GPA of 3.5 to my sister's GPA of 3.0. I could create a simple bar graph that accurately represents the data:

However, I really want to amaze my parents. By convincing them that my GPA is extremely high, I can persuade them to buy me a car! So, I create a picture graph for a more dramatic effect:

 

However, this graph gives you a false impression. By raising the head (length), I expanded the base (width). This width and height expansion also changes the area.

 

Area = Length X Width

 

 

The eye focuses on the area. Even though the difference between 3.0 and 3.5 is somewhat small, the change in area makes the difference seem even larger. Also, people may leave with the incorrect assumption that my head is bigger than my sister's.

I'm not the only person who distorts data. Check out these real life examples:

A decade of facts and figures

Trash, trash, trash

A wrong way and a right way

 

In the world of statistics, pictographs are diagrams that represent data through the use of pictures. Pictographs are able to create a visually stimulating display of the data.  These displays can help companies show their information in an aesthetically pleasing way; then, customers are more likely to purchase the product or service. Yet, these pictures, when used incorrectly, can skew data. When the eye focuses on picture comparisons, it naturally focuses on the area. This can result in an unrealistic view of the data. Anumber that is twice as big height-wise will appear four times as big area wise. It is important to keep this principle in mind while analyzing or creating a pictograph.