Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Controversy Of Graphic Proportions

We use a lot of charts and graphs in our classes, to assess the changing world and to develop skills of visual analysis. Teaching children to decode, create, and apply data visualizations can foster some of the most valuable skills they will need for future use. Our middle-schoolers, for example, use census data to compare pre- and post-Civil War production in farming and manufacturing.

Source: ASIDE
In the past, they have also graphed exports of colonial raw materials and increases in 1800s industrial goods. The NCES Kids Zone and the U.S. Census for Kids both contain terrific resources for elementary and middle school students. On their websites, users can instantly generate graphs with colorful, interactive tools. One of our other favorite sources of facts and figures is the six-volume Almanac of American Life, which covers virtually every statistical topic of United States history.

Newspapers and magazine rely on graphs to depict current news stories, and political candidates often offer charts to buttress their positions. Republican hopeful Mitt Romney, for example, recently faced media scrutiny over a key graph in his jobs plan. Some commentators complained that the graph was intentionally misleading in assigning blame for the recent recession. A careful examination of the text within the image and within the supporting paragraphs, however, does accurately explain the representation, but an observer needs a honed critical lens to parse the graph properly.

Source: Romney for President
Another primary contender, Michele Bachmann, prominently used charts in a January televised speech rebutting the president's State of the Union address. She, too, received criticism over selective use of data, leading to a virtual graph war over which was the most truthful economic depiction.

The most renowned and effective political wielder of statistical charts, of course, was 1992 independent candidate Ross Perot. His intensive use of graphs during his paid television segments convincingly made the case for deficit reduction and spending changes. It was a far cry from the typical bluster and voice-overs of most campaign ads, and for 18.9% of voters, it was a welcome change.
Source: YouTube
Legendary NBC newsman Tim Russert also famously used simple whiteboard numbers to explain the complexity of the Electoral College during the 2000 presidential race. His straightforward eloquence and genuine decency made his one of the most respected voices in political punditry.

Check out our other posts about design and education in the 2012 election.

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