December 21, 2015
Don’t Be A Slave To Nothing
I ran across a Vox piece which got my full attention thanks to a big dose of wonky coolness. I know, it’s not a funny cat video and there are no YouTube celebrities involved. Give me a minute to explain why it’s worth checking out.
The video is titled “Shut Up About the Y-Axis.” I hope that you at least vaguely remember the Y-Axis from middle school math class. The purpose of line charts is to illustrate important relationships between two (sometimes more) variables. Political campaigns are chock FULL of variables, and we often want to test their relationships with each other and then visualize the relationships.
When making your point about these kinds of relationships, including zero in your chart doesn’t automatically accomplish what you think it might. Sometimes it can hinder the storytelling. As the video explains, sometimes you need to narrow the chart to allow for a detailed view of the data. Starting at zero often flattens the data out so much your reader – the person you’re telling the data’s story to — can’t tell what’s going on.
The video uses some clever graphics and examples from real polls that are very easy to understand, even for the math-challenged. Over 150,000 people have watched it, which tells me it’s far more entertaining and informative than your typical stats lecture. Take a look.
Moral of the story? Don’t be a slave to zero.