Reihan Salam on how to persuade people:
If you want to change people’s minds, graphs and charts might be more effective than words alone. I sense that the word is out about this phenomenon, and that it is being used and abused. But that is another matter entirely.
I don’t know if Reihan is using “abused” in the sense of used too much, or in the sense of people lying with statistics. If it’s the latter, I can’t say that I’ve noticed charts being used any more deceptively than before. But if it’s the former, I’m sadly in agreement. I love presenting information in a graphical format, but this is now so omnipresent in the wonkosphere that even I tend to switch off when I see a headline that says something like “Everything you need to know about [xxx] in two charts.” Charts can illuminate, but they rarely explain everything, and posts with headlines like that seldom deliver the goods.
It’s possible, of course, that my real beef is with the headlines, not the charts. If the same post simply said something like “Drought now covering 23 states,” and there was a nice map showing which states were suffering from drought, I’d probably think nothing of it. The map is a good tool for making the information more easily accessible. Still, it doesn’t explain everything. In fact, it’s not even the reason for the post. It’s just a visual aid for something else. We should all remember that more often.