Today’s But if Not comes from an interesting David Henderson blog post yesterday over at Econlog, When Numeracy Misleads
Numeracy is one of the things I find lacking in people who fall for a lot of politicians’ nonsense and reporters’ nonsense and so I try to combat it
Amen brother David. Combat on!
Similarly, Megan McArdle blogs this morning on the common practice of changing the y-Axis to manipulate the way a graph looks and is therefore interpretted by the reader.
things can look very different depending on where you start the Y axis. And in my experience, as advocacy groups launch into their end-of-year fundraising season, Y axes seem to creep closer and closer to the bottom value in the series.
She includes two graphs to make the point. Notice how the first one amplifies the differences between bars and the second, of the exact same figures, seems to show little difference.
When idealism collides with advocacy, or worse, one’s paycheck, the story is the victim. But wasn’t this also true of the accountants putting together the financial statements for Enron?
The sooner we accept that this weakness to blur clarity in the cause of advocacy or profit-making applies to all people, including the selfless, impartial, “just-trying-to-help” government workers, the sooner we will pick back up our end of the rope and serve as the skeptical check that is a necessary prerequisite to a democracy.