## Why do people persist in using terrible statistical graphics?

Some of you will remember that a few months ago this blog mentioned Errol Morris’s New York Times article about two famous old photographs, both of which show the same stretch of road on the Crimean peninsula. One photograph shows the road covered with cannonballs, with additional cannonballs strewn around the ground on both sides of the road; the other shows the road clear of cannonballs. As Morris discusses, it has long been assumed that the photo with the clear road — the “off the road” picture — was taken first, and that the photographer and his crew then moved a bunch of cannonballs onto the road to take the “on” picture. In his article, Morris questioned whether this ordering was in fact correct.

As Morris discusses in another article, the traditional wisdom was in fact correct: “Off” came first. This can be determined pretty conclusively by looking at the cannonballs that are lying around on the ground: many of them have shifted position slightly, and in every case they are slightly farther downhill in the On photo than in the Off photo. The only story that makes sense is that the Off photo was taken, and then these cannonballs were disturbed (presumably by the photographer and his team

Before the answer was known for sure, Morris asked his readers to send in their opinions and reasons. In a new article, Morris summarizes the reasons, using some of the worst statistical graphics I have seen in 2007 (it’s worth taking a look). And he likes them (the graphics, I mean)!

If anyone would like to make a better display, here are Morris’ data. (Sorry, he doesn’t really discuss what the reasons mean, so you’ll just have to work with what’s here). The first line is a header line; subsequent lines give the reason, the number of people who cited this reason in describing why they think “On” came first, and the number who cited this reason in describing why “Off” came first. (“Off” is the right answer).

Reason,On,Off
Gravity,3,5
# and Position,155,75
Camera/Exposure,20,10
Topography/Climate,33,17
Character/Artistic,20,37
Ball Properties,17,8
Practical Concerns,60,25
Shelling,10,30
Rocks,13,19
Physics,2,2

1. nathan says:

somehow, i have a feeling those didn't come out of the graphics department.

2. Andrew says:

Errol Morris is my hero, but . . . sheesh!

3. Anonymous says:

Errol was a hero to most…

Seriously, though, Errol is the best, but colorful pie charts?

4. derek says:

Whenever I am faced with data in pairs, male/female, yes/no, on/off, I immediately think tornado graph :-)

5. Maarten says:

Nice, I actually like the spineplot for this.