Category Archives: Truly unfortunate representations of data

TURD pizza

A Truly Unfortunate Representation of Data accompanied a recent article on British pizza toppings.


So much bad data representation wrapped into a single image. Make sure to read the fine print!

A quick Fox TURD for you

A Truly Unfortunate Representation of Data (T.U.R.D.) from Fox News.

Posted without comment.


Thanks to David Radcliffe for passing it along on Twitter.

TURD: When am I going to use this?

With thanks to Dan Meyer for finding this particular Truly Unfortunate Representation of Data [TURD]:

It is becoming clear that online colleges are major sources of TURDs.

A few of the TURD-lectable features in this one:

  • I can make neither head nor tail of the horizontal location of each bar. If it’s supposed to be according to the x-axis label, then why do we ALSO have the little bar-codey bars within? The legend says those count the number of concepts per subject.
  • What’s up with the little black triangles?
  • I get that vertical location of the bar tells me about salary. Does vertical width of bar mean something? (E.g. compare veterinarians to firefighters.)
  • Do agricultural workers really use that much more math than automotive mechanics? Seems dubious

One last point (and it was Dan’s original point in posting it in the first place): Garbage in/garbage out in terms of information and purpose. You could fix the critiques above and the graphic still stinks; was any student ever convinced to keep on keepin’ on in math class by the poster version of this?

TURD: Common Core states

Here’s a map of the United States. It comes from the Common Core State Standards website.

It’s a fine map. Nice fall colors. Beautiful gradients.

But dig the key. The yellow states? CCSS have been adopted there. The orange states? Not yet adopted.

Not yet?

Nice spin. But not all that honest, really.

TURD: This is a strange one

This Truly Unfortunate Representation of Data (TURD) is so wrong in so, so many ways. Perhaps the least of these is the mathematics.

If the large figure represents 300,000 and the small one represents 827, then (by area), the large should be about 19 times the height of the small. I added the bars to the right to demonstrate that kneeling, the large is more than 21 times the height of the small. But she’s on her knees, so must be much taller in actuality.

And if it’s by height, the large figure should be 300 times as tall.

And this objection on quantitative grounds ignores the salacious poses and stiletto heels.

So, so wrong.

It’s actually a really interesting piece of journalism, pushing back on claims that would be easy to mindlessly accept. I applaud that. But the graphic has got to go.

Source: City Pages/Village Voice (graphic only in print version).

TURD: Common Core graphic

I can’t quite decide whether this is a Truly Unfortunate Representation of Data. Help me out here.

The following is from an Educational Researcher article on the alignment between the math and English/language arts standards of various states and those of the Common Core State Standards (about which, more here).

The graphic (and several others like it) comes with the following disclaimer:

When reading these graphs, the representation of content emphasis is accurate at each column- by-row intersection, but the smoothing between rows and between columns is not meaningful because the data are nominal. (p. 107)

What this means is this, Because the data is categorical, we could really have put them in any order we like. As a consequence, any patterns (any patterns!) we see within each graph are simply artifacts of the order we chose. This smacks of TURD to me. But I stand ready to be convinced. Any takers?


Porter, A., McMaken, J., Hwang, J. & Yang, R. (2011). Common Core standards: The new U.S. intended curriculum. Educational researcher, 40, 103—116.

Critical thinking 101

So here’s an interesting data representation. The New York Times invites readers to place a point on the graph below indicating their own emotional response to the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden (on the x-axis; right is positive, left is negative) and their feeling about the significance of the event (on the y-axis, up is more significant, down is less). In addition to plotting a point, readers are invited to leave a comment.

As you move your cursor around the graph, the comment associated with each point appears.

The critical thinking task is to predict the comments associated with the extremes-what did someone say who put his/her point in the upper right? What about the upper left? Each of the other corners? The origin? What about the people whose points are at the ends of each axis?

Caution! The task is harder than it seems.

And after you’ve messed around a bit, consider the profound difference between this rich and intriguing data representation and one I posted recently.