Analysis: How Fox News uses graphical techniques to skew data and statistics

by Colonel on November 27, 2012

“Truncating the y-axis

Copyright 2012 MediaMatters; Copyright 2012 Fox News Network LLC

Copyright 2012 Fox News Network LLC

” — Copyright 2012 Simply Statistics; Copyright 2012 Media Matters; Copyright 2012 Forbes.com LLC

While a standard y-axis (beginning at or closer to zero) is less clear and aesthetic, truncating (or beginning at a number above the minimum of the data range) allows Fox News to any marginal change in data appear as greater than it actually is.

“Numbers that don’t add up

I’m not sure whether this one is intentional or not, but it crops up in several places and I think is a unique approach to leading information, at least I couldn’t find a reference in the literature. Basically the idea is to produce percentages that don’t add to one, allowing multiple choices to have closer percentages than they probably should:

Copyright 2012 Fox News Network LLC

” – Copyright 2012 Simply Statistics; Copyright 2012 Bad Graphs

“Changing the units of comparison

When two things are likely to be very similar, one approach to leading information is to present variables in different units. Here is an example where total spending for 2010-2013 is compared to deficits in 2008. This can also be viewed as an example of not labeling the axes.

Copyright 2012 Fox News Network LLC

” – Copyright 2012 Simply Statistics; Copyright 2012 Media Matters

“Changing the magnitude of units at different x-values

Here is a plot where the changes in magnitude at high x-values are higher than changes in magnitude at lower x-values. Again, I think this is actually a novel graphical technique for leading readers in one direction.

Copyright 2012 Fox News Network LLC

To really see the difference, compare to the graph with common changes in magnitude at all x-values.

Copyright 2012 Simply Statistics

” – Copyright 2012 Simply Statistics; Copyright 2012 Lousy Canuck

“Changing trends by sub-sampling x values (also misleading chart titles)

Here is a graph that shows unemployment rates over time and the corresponding chart with the x-axis appropriately laid out.

Copyright 2012 Fox News Network LLC

Copyright 2012 Online Stat Book

Copyright 2012 Online Stat Book; Copyright 2012 Simply Statistics

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