Misleading Graphs – a Critical Thinking Exercise

Introduction: One of the course objectives for MAT 110 is to develop the skills to “interpret tables, charts, and graphs and communicate results.” An important part of developing these skills is to recognize when a graph is misleading in some way. Some common types of misleading graphs include

Bar graphs whose vertical axis does not start at 0, thereby exaggerating or diminishing the differences between bar heights.

Line graphs where the scale of the x-axis is inconsistent and that changes the shape of the graph.

Line graphs where the scale of the y-axis is not proportionate to the data, making the change over time seem too small or too large.

Line graphs where the data has been “cherry picked” to omit certain key details.

To recognize a graph as misleading, one must often know something about the data being represented, such as the historical context of the data or the scientific significance of the data. One might also need to know other data points from the pool of data, especially if the data has been cherry picked. In other words, some research may be required before a decision can be made whether the graph is misleading or accurate.

To view some examples of misleading graphs, check out this video: How to spot a misleading graph, by Lea Gaslowitz (https://youtu.be/E91bGT9BjYk)

Instructions: Find a graph that you believe is misleading in the news, on a webpage, or in a book or magazine. If possible, include a picture or copy of the graph with this assignment. Note: the graph cannot be one that has been presented as an example of a misleading graph! Answer these questions about the graph:

Where did you find your graph? (State the source with as much detail as possible. If you found it on a website, include the URL or website address.)

What aspect(s) of the graph do you believe are misleading? Why?

What sources did you use to determine if your chosen graph accurately portrays the data? Cite your sources. If you know MLA or APA format, you may use one of these formats for your citation.

What should be done to fix the graph so that it is no longer misleading? Redraw the graph so that it accurately portrays the data. Include a picture or copy of your corrected graph.

To submit this assignment, please follow these directions:

You will submit this assignment via Blackboard.

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