Information presentation

Not one of my strengths but I like this graphic on the beeb – do you?

That Iraq war looks expensive – good job it is (was?) thoroughly, fairly and honestly justified hey? ;-) (beeb again)





8 Responses to “Information presentation”

  1. Bob Phillips Says:

    I think you are just trying to wind me up, and get me off abolut the Iraq war, but in my new aura of calmness I will desist. Intersting numbers though, Russian bribes, amount to convert us all to solar power, OPE climate change fund, Saver the Amazon, Gifts to Doctors.

    But that superbly illustrates the strengths and the weaknesses to me. The strengths are obvious, you see the grossly obscene spend on the Iraq War and even WalMart revenues very clearly. But you have to look hard to see the amount required to Save the Amazon and Gifts to Doctors (ignoring the accuracy of the data, as I have no idea, as that is not my point). And therin lies the problem, it is clear to me how visualisatoions have been used and how they will be used even more as they grwo in popularity – they will mask the important information, or the not so oibvious information, subjugated to flashy graphics – presentation over content.

    Visuals are great, no argument here, but they have to be in context, and it has to be understood that they are only the door to those who need to underrstand that data and the underlying causes.

  2. Bob Phillips Says:

    To continue my previous response, I am now wondering what that graphic is trying to say.

    If it is just trying to show the scale of the cost of the Iraq War I wonder what is the relevance of the WalMart numbers, the Tobacco settlement numbers and so on. I would think it is far better to put some numbers that are familiar to UK people, such as the NHS budget, the education budget, or even the UK GDP, to enable the scale to be judged. Items like Bill Gates’ value, Google, Erectile Dysfunction etc. are interesting and amusing, but do they add to the graphic? Which reinforces my earlier point that graphics are so often badly used.

  3. Harlan Grove Says:

    Perhaps all UK numbers would be dwarfed by the cost of the Iraq war. Besides, comparing Iraq war cost, most of which is in US$, to UK government agency budgets in UK£ would require currency conversion, and that begs the question conversion rate as of what point in time.

    Begs the question whether the average Briton would find comparisons to US businesses rather than continental European ones more useful as bases for comparison. Would any of the rest of you have a good handle on the scale of, say, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy?

  4. Bob Phillips Says:


    On the point of conversion, I doubt that is relevant as the idea as I would understand it is to show the scale of things, so 100% accuracy in the graphic is not necessary (IMO). I don’t think a comparison to any business is useful, because this is really a graphic about what governments are doing (if the Iraq war is the main point). Indeed, dwarfing all other numbers may be the single idea that the graphic is (should be) conveying.

    I would have thought that a graphic that showed the total cost of the Iraq war (was it 3,000Bn?), the UK cost (is it about £9bn so far?) , the NHS cost (£90Bn per annum?), education cost (£80Bn per annum), and you immediately see that the Iraq war, whilst a ridiculous waste of money, is comparatively small beer (assuming my numbers are correct or even close). Even CAP with a budget of 54bn Euros for 2008 isn’t in the same league.

    Doesn’t all of that reinforce my point though that graphics have to be carefully thought about, they need some context, and should not just be a lazy substitute for detailed explanation?

  5. Mike Staunton Says:

    for me, the key distinction that is missing is between one-off costs (say the war) against annual costs – and likewise between Walmart revenues and profits – the visual display might seem clear but it’s still open to bias in the alternatives chosen to be displayed

  6. Bob Phillips Says:

    I meant the cost of the Iraq war to Britain of course, not the overall cost.

  7. Simon Says:

    I think the thing I like most about it is the novelty. seeing certain numbers (or areas I guess) together for the first time is an eye opener.

    I would like to see more, perhaps uk/europe based ones. I could of course get off my lardy arse and do my own I guess.

    I don’t think it has a single main message, I think its more of look at all these numbers and how they compare. And fitting them in a grid rather than a bar chart or a pie, or a list of numbers holds my attention for much longer.

    Although looking again I think there maybe some misleading distortions – look at Bill G v gifts to docs 46 v 21 – the 46 does not look over twice as big to me, and gift cards 29 is smaller than doc gifts too, save the amazon 21 is also bigger than gift cards 29. hmm.

  8. Tips For Excel Says:

    I’m fond of the tree map charts. I know they aren’t perfect and suffer from the same flaws as pie charts, but sometimes dashboards need a little variety – even at the expense of best practice.

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