I love me a good infographic. But today it seems like we’re awash with pretty looking infographics that lack statistical literacy and/or don’t attempt to convey statistical literacy. A recent blog post in Atlantic Monthly reminded me of this issue since infographics are now being used by internet marketers to gain links to their sites.
Infographics are great because visual perception is the fastest way for people to absorb information. Infographics allow people to absorb large amounts of quantitative data much faster than reading text or browsing through data tables.
But there’s a downside to this: most of the time conclusions from data aren’t black and white. Data interpretation is littered with caveats, estimates, and inbuilt assumptions. Some are significant, sometimes are less so. But to know which is which from an infographic you must either have domain knowledge of the topic, or trust that the infographic creator is statistically literate.
Graphics are Cool, but Don’t Forget the Data Data Data!
Google guru on search quality Matt Cutts complains about this effect particularly on the web, where an attractive infographic can quickly go viral or be used to create links (important for bumping up the search engine rankings of a website):
“In principle, there’s nothing wrong with the concept of an infographic. What concerns me is the types of things that people are doing with them. They get far off topic, or the fact checking is really poor. The infographic may be neat, but if the information it’s based on is simply wrong, then it’s misleading [Read more…]