The Governor’s Office of Economic Development offers another example of how to cheat on the y-axis of a bar chart to exaggerate the size of an increase.
Notice that the above chart of South Dakota GDP starts its count at $32.5 billion in 2006. By leaving out two thirds of the scale of measurement, GOED makes the 200–2016 increase in GDP look monumental. A properly scaled bar chart would represent those years’ GDP like so:
The funny thing is that GOED didn’t have to rig the graph to make its point. The ten-year GDP growth of 49% is still remarkably good, especially considering that the national growth rate over that decade was only 34%, due in part to to the housing bubble-pop and Recession hitting the rest of the U.S. harder than it hit us. The only reasons to truncate the y-axis are (1) graphic design (easily overcome by properly extending the bars the length of the page, showing the full and growing massiveness of the South Dakota economy, and laying the text over the long empty parts of the bars in a just-translucent-enough box) and (2) visual fibbery.
In other confusing statistical imagery, GOED divides a head into what looks like a pie chart but is just an array of performance metrics of wildly differing scales:
GOED’s online metrics are interesting, but for perspective, let’s compare their online visibility to that of a lesser website… say, an extreme left-wing political blog operating out of a house in Aberdeen that should get little interest in GOED’s red state:
|visits to website||64,861||842,723|
Now I know that GOED, which in FY 2017 spent $24.6 million, directs its budget toward much more than Web presence. But so do I, and I tell you that my household budget in 2017 was less than 1% of $24.6 million. And for my money, I got six times as many Twitter impressions, ten times as many Facebook reactions, and thirteen times as many website visits.
So more people appear to be interested in reading a liberal perspective on South Dakota politics than they are in hearing our state government’s economic development sales pitch. Hmm… Commissioner Stern, maybe you guys should consider buying a blog ad. For the right price, I’ll even throw in a bar chart.