Category Archives: Truly unfortunate representations of data

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.

The opposite of TURD (Truly Unfortunate Representations of Data)

The New York Times, for at least the last 10 years, has been doing amazing graphic design work for data representation. The Walker Art Center here in the Twin Cities recently hosted a talk by Kevin Quealy of the graphics department at the Times. I was unable to attend, but it’s online.

I am dying for the end of the semester and having time to watch it.

Truly Unfortunate Representations of Data: Campus violence

What, exactly, does the graphic contribute here? How is it more informative than a well-displayed table of data would be? Is there anything here besides shock value?

Very bad, though flashy, graphic representing numbers of violent crimes of various kinds on college campuses in the US.

Really? Is the bloody chain saw necessary? Click the image to see the full original-this is the tip of the iceberg.

Note, too, the complete lack of context. “University Crime Statistics Visualized”. Are these for a university? US universities? Are we counting 4-year colleges, too? What about 2-year colleges? So these are for 2008…how do they compare to previous numbers? Is this good news or bad news?

I subscribed to Minnesota Public Radio‘s On Campus blog this week. Is this the level of discourse I am to expect?