# The worst graph in a decade?

The back page of IEEE Spectrum this month has, hands down, the worst graph I can remember ever. It takes information on media spending in different countries, and transforms it into a totally confusing picture.

• The horizontal axis should be country, while color should be different media. They have it exactly backwards. As it is now, the stacking renders comparisons impossible.
• What is the vertical axis? It can’t be absolute spending since China (at the top) is tiny. Per capita? In that case it makes no sense to add: \$500 in Norway + \$2 in China = nothing. In any case, why no scale??
• If countries were shown on the horizontal axis,  the height of each column would be that country’s total spending on all media combined. The relative expenditures on different media in one country would be shown by different colors in the column. (Now, you have to run your eye along one very jagged “row” of color, which does not allow accurate comparison.) Comparisons between countries would be much easier as well.
• The countries are in a bizarre sequence. Probably it’s based on per capita spending in all countries, but with this arrangement there’s no way to view the relative values of totals, except crudely by eyeballing the area devoted to each color.
• The number in the bottom middle, “US \$240,” is actually in the Norway section. After much staring, I think it is an attempt at a scale. They mean US\$240 i.e. 240 dollars in US currency, is what Norway spends on books. There are also some dashed horizontal lines on parts of the graph – but they are not labeled, and in any case they are almost  useless since adding countries makes zero sense.
• Connecting each column (making this what Excel calls a stacked line graph) is an example of pseudo-information.

Here’s a relevant paragraph from the article. But notice that the graph does not include Internet expenditures even though most of the paragraph is about it.

When it comes to traditional media—including newspapers, magazines, books, movies, television, video games, and CDs—the top 15 countries in per capita spending are all in North America and Western Europe; the leading non-Western country is Japan, in 16th place. Elsewhere, consumers may be turning more to the Internet for their entertainment. Japan ranks second in per capita spending on Internet access, South Korea fourth, and Singapore tenth; the average Czech spends more on Internet access \$141 than does the average American \$133.Sources: PricewaterhouseCoopers, “Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2009–2013”; U.S. Census International Data BaseClick on image for a larger view.

## 3 thoughts on “The worst graph in a decade?”

1. jb

Reading this on an iPod touch, I scrolled part of the way down, saw most of the graph, and thought: hmmm that’s not so weird, just a cartoon looking graph. Then I scrolled further and saw the horizontal axis and laughed out loud. It’s particularly brilliant that there is a continuum between newspapers and movies. Is that a linear or logarithmic scale? 🙂

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