Too Much Art, Not Enough Science in Infographics

(by Kaiser Fung)

A reader from Twitter @meprieb suggested that I discuss a particular set of “infographics” on my Junk Charts blog, one of which is shown below:


This chart is unquestionable easy on the eyes, and engages our brain cells. The use of a real-world object to simulate a pie chart is cute and even ingenious. According to the description at PSFK, the data tell how “Danish people feel about publicly wearing religious symbols”.

The key to reading this chart is to read it as an illustration, an art piece. The fact that this is described as “infographics” reveals a wide divide between the artists and the scientists who work in visualizing data. 

This chart fails completely as data graphics. The size of the pie quadrants has no relationship with the data at all, and the four percentages on the chart add up to much more than 100%, and obviously not proportions. The same problem plagues every one of these charts in the set.

Further reading: Andrew Gelman has recently made comments about the
divide between the statistical graphics and infographics communities here

(Kaiser Fung is a statistician at XM Sirius Radio.)

Editor’s note: Kaiser is not saying that the image is bad, merely that it’s not “infographics” as we see it. I agree that it would be good to spread understanding of the distinction between (1) statistics-inspired art and (2) artistic statistical graphics. What distinguishes (2) is that it leads the reader into a deeper engagement with the data.

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