Alberto Cairo is on a mission to improve how journalists use charts. “Visualizations, charts can be incredibly powerful at exploring data,” he told me recently. They can also be powerful as tools for communicating information to news readers. “If you know how to use them well,” Cairo added. To his endless frustration, too many reporters do not.
In his new book, How Charts Lie: Getting Smarter about Visual Information, Cairo, who is the Knight Chair in visual journalism at the University of Miami, aims to dispel the myth of objectivity, and the air of truthfulness, that has been undeservedly awarded to numbers. A chart, he said, is a “visual argument” that is only as strong as the data on which it’s based. To tell a reliable story with a chart requires an understanding of its data—what it consists of, how it was gathered, who it might leave out. “We journalists are mediators,” Cairo explained. “Mediators between science and complexity, and the general public.”
Throughout the book, Cairo breaks down common mistakes journalists make. First up: assuming that correlation indicates causation. To demonstrate why that’s wrong, Cairo produces a chart, using data from the World Health Organization and the United Nations, showing that cigarette consumption by country is positively correlated with life expectancy. “I have seen graphics like that described by journalists––including myself because most of these things are mistakes that I have made myself––describing this kind of chart as ‘the more we smoke, the longer we live,’” he told me.
Read more here: https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/alberto-cairo-infographics.php