statistics and applied probability

national university of singapore

Bad graphs

Tsung Fei requests a critique of graphs.  He points out this list of the top ten bad graphs of all time.  This has beauties such as

(Wittke-Thompson JK, Pluzhnikov A, Cox NJ (2005) Rational inferences about departures from Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. Am J Human Genetics 76:967–86).  You have to look hard, but there are data in panel D.

Anyway, although these are bad, I don’t think they really count as a “top ten”.  If you want to see worse, check out Kaiser Fung’s blog Junk Charts.  Or, just go along to the Annals of Statistics, one of the top stats journals, and read a couple of paper.  Pretty soon you’ll find some terrible examples of graphs (or tables with 500+ numbers, all recorded to 4 significant figures, as David N once told me, the more figures in a table you have, the more serious the research).  Here’s an example, from I think the 5th paper I looked at to prove this point:


It’s taken from Wong and Ma, Ann Stat 38:1433–59, an interesting paper, but what a terrible graph!  I reckon at most 20% of the figure is made up of, well, figures, and the rest white space between panels and lots and lots of labels.

Anyway, Kaiser Fung has much more to say on this than me (for now anyway), so take a look at his blog!

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the nice lead on Kaiser Fung’s blog.

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