I encourage The Goshen News to make a New Year’s resolution to keep graphs and charts honest in 2013. The graph showing how a monthly mortgage payment will change depending on interest rates (page C4 of Sunday’s edition) may have accurate numbers, but the graphic presentation is a “Gee Whiz” graph, giving a distorted picture of how the numbers compare.
Is a payment of $522 really three times as much as a payment of $499? No, but The Goshen News made it look that way by starting the vertical axis at $490. Any graph where the vertical axis doesn’t start at zero is going to exaggerate the contrasts.
Darrel Huff called these “Gee Whiz” graphs in his excellent 1954 book, “How To Lie With Statistics.” Get a copy for the newsroom or check out the Wikipedia article on “misleading graphs,” and you’ll find your mistake halfway down the page, “truncated graphs.”
The article was good and the graph would work fine in an honest presentation. You’ll be doing your readers a service by avoiding these common misleading-graph mistakes.
— Rich H. Meyer