Why Flawed Infographics Are Better Than Perfect Ones

Why Flawed Infographics Are Better Than Perfect Ones

This infographic from Floor Gem blasts the Transportation Security Administration's prodigious terribleness (prodigious in the sense that the TSA is a terribleness prodigy, on the level of Bobby Fischer and chess). There's nothing that inherently lends this data to the infographic form. It's flawed. There's nothing that its graphicality adds to its data, except that it's just so good-looking, its imperfections don't matter. It affects you. You remember it. And that's really what counts when it comes to communicating data.

I'd like you to read it all and then go to the bottom, where I've embedded the closing credits from the Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg movie The Other Guys. The clip is an epic animated visualization of who benefited in the two years after the '08 crisis. What's striking and common in these and other visualizations is that their almost-fatal flaw -- persuasion by cherry-picking information -- is so plain to see that it, ironically, leads viewers to think more critically about the data-selection process, a phenomenon as valuable as the data itself.

Example: at 1:45 in The Other Guys video, it tries to illustrate injustice by showing that Goldman Sachs' tax rate dropped from 34% to 1% after its bailout. You go through a great critical thinking process that's better than if the infographic were perfectly accurate:
  1. That's unjust!
  2. But it's a government bailout. Why would we tax our own money? This infographic is stupid.
  3. But not all Goldman's post-'08 taxable income was bailout money. Why was that allowed to be taxed at 1%?
  4. Ah-ha, a 1% tax rate is effectively a different kind of bail-out.
  5. So who the hell made that decision?

Except for the third step, everything is instantaneous logic. The infographic goes from factually misleading to leading you straight to the right question.

So put on your critical thinking hats and have a look at both infographics...


Image Source: FloorGem Baltimore