Up the Down Axis

May 2, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Kaiser Fung posted this graph on JunkCharts The question is: after Florida passed a Stand Your Ground Law in 2005, did gun deaths increase or decrease?

To get the right answer, you have to look closely and notice that the y-axis is upside-down. Zero is at the top, 800 at the bottom.

The Reuters designer who created the graph was not intending to deceive (she tweeted her rationale here), and maybe she wanted to show that more red blood was spilled. But, regardless of intent the inverted Y-axis requires extra effort on the part of the viewer, and even after we have figured out what’s going on and we know cognitively that gun deaths increase, that picture of the descending line may still have some effect. Our brains figure out one thing, but our eyes tell us the opposite. 

UPDATE, May 3:  The alleged Fox graph below was a hoax.  No doubt my own views of Fox news made me fall for it.  But having no archive of Fox broadcasts, I could not very well fact check it.  In addition, the graph was convincingly done; the hoaxter is identified by WaPo as master Twitter provocateur @darth.  More importantly, Fox's history of misleading graphs (as compiled here) made this one easy to believe.  The moral of the story is twofold: check your source; check the axis.

Here’s another example of the inverted y-axis. Given the source, Fox News, I would guess that the deception was more intentional.

If Fox viewers stopped to think about the content, they would know that the enrollment in Obamacare – 8 million people – exceeded CBO estimates. But bizarro world of Fox, where down is up and up is down, the visual message the chart is clear: Obamacare is headed south.

(HT: Laura Kramer)

UPDATE:  For a compendium of misleading Fox graphics go here.  Media Matters watches Fox so that you don't have to.  Then they extract the funny stuff, like these graphs.


brandsinger said...

Your funniest line yet:
"Given the source, Fox News, I would guess that the deception was more intentional." -- Geeeez. So much for social "science"!

Oh, and here's a number for you: 70,000 New York families were in the lottery for charter schools. 20,000 got lucky and get a chance to escape union-dominated schools and have a life. As for the rest, ah, what the heck. They'll probably only have Democrats to choose from at election time anyway.

Jay Livingston said...

Yep, you got the joke. Understatement can be humorous. (Is there a Greek word for this rhetorical device?) The pretended doubt ("I would guess") calls attention to how obviously accurate the statement is.

brandsinger said...

Ah sorry... a joke. But given the distortions of NBC (Travon tape editing), CBS (Dan Rather's fake Bush documents), The New Republic (infamous case of making things up), and the New York Times (which had to fire a lying reporter and also his editor), you can understand why I didn't get it.

Jay Livingston said...

As you note, the NYT fires reporters who are discovered making things up. The New Republic fired Glass, the New Yorker fired Lehrer. Does Fox fire anyone for creating these ludicrous graphs? (This is not the first.) Take a wild guess.