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How (Not) to Cheat with Data Visualizations | by Michal Szudejko | Apr, 2024

A guide that is a little bit different…

Manga style image showing people watching at multiple screens with data visualizations.
Source: image generated by the author in ChatGPT.

Not so long ago, I published a post on data visualization using KNIME. In the opening story, I used the example of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The movie shows, among others, how complicated data can be presented effectively using visualizations. The movie, concepts and data presented there raised a lot of controversy and dispute. So did that entry paragraph from my post.

The author removed the critical comments from my post (or at least I don’t see them anymore). However, these critiques inspired me to conduct a deeper exploration into a relatively uncharted territory: the dos and don’ts of creating deceitful data visualizations. This article aims to address precisely this topic, guiding readers through the nuances of integrity in data presentation.

In this post, I will introduce fourteen data manipulation tactics you must diligently avoid including in your presentation toolkit. Should you discover any of these tactics lurking within your work, you must eliminate them without delay. Furthermore, I will guide you through strategies for easily sidestepping or correcting visualizations that these manipulation tactics have compromised.

As for the “uncharted territory”…

The abundance of materials, including articles, posts, and books like Alberto Cairo’s “How Charts Lie,” underscores the prevalence of manipulative data visualizations. By introducing a “wrongdoer perspective,” I add my contribution and emphasize how easily data can be manipulated. This perspective isn’t about blame but raising awareness of the potential for accidental manipulation, stressing the need for accuracy and ethical integrity in our work. The goal is to underscore our visualizations’ significant impact on decision-making and opinions, advocating for vigilance in responsibly conveying information.

Examining the controversy

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