Monday, April 02, 2012

Meta-Infographic on Infographics

Snark-infused infographic hacked from original work by Zabisco.
I've generally found the Infographic deluge to be no more than a minor irritant in the panoply of indignities, insults to intelligence and affronts to common decency that are part and parcel of any casual excursion into the political blogosphere. In many ways, a political Infographic is not vastly different than a blog post. There is usually an agenda, cherry-picked factoids selected to support the agenda, and a sensationalist misleading headline intended to attract attention and links.

In an effective Infographic virtually every fact or statistic is distilled into a provocative headline presented in an eye-catching and easy to digest form. Little or no reading is necessary to arrive at the intended conclusion.  The connection to supporting documentation is generally relegated to unlinked microscopic fonts buried at the bottom of the graphic, severing any need to maintain any pretense that the headline statistic is representative of underlying unlinked and unreadable "source".

Occasionally, someone who actually understands how statistics are manipulated and misused will take the time and effort to do a proper fisking. Last December Megan McArdle took on the Sisyphyean task to end the "Infographic Plague
"'s time to get down to a war that really matters: the war on terrible, lying infographics, which have become endemic in the blogosphere, and constantly threaten to break out into epidemic or even pandemic status. The reservoir of this disease of erroneous infographics is internet marketers who don't care whether the information in their graphics is right ... just so long as you link it."
 Alas, despite Megan's efforts, infographics are still with us and Megan is currently on leave from here blogging responsibilities at The Atlantic. Coincidence?  I don't think so.

Infographic use is exploding because infographics work. They can be so seductively convincing that it is only when you step back and take look at the distilled message you realize the whole thing is a load of crap.

Greg Voakes has contributed a number of interesting and informative infographics at  Donklephant, where I also occasional blog. This post that got my attention.  Not only did it remind us that money is the root of all evil, but it convincingly documents the degree to which mere association with disposable income will corrupt your soul.

My only quibble is that it missed an important graphic and statistical data element. I'm envisioning a Joe Camel character with eyes bulging out of it's head and stuck squeezing through the eye of a needle. The headline number and text next to the image would read:
Better odds than a One Percenter going to heaven!"
The small print on the bottom of the infographic would of course reference Mark 10:25 as documentary proof of the headline statistic. Very convincing.  I don't know how the infographic designer missed it.

Learning from this example how effective the infographic can be at communicating an inane idea, I decided to learn more. What better way to learn, than an infographic about infographics? Sure enough, I found one on a marketing site, promoting it's use in advertising and commerce:
"It’s that old notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with a simple still image. Have you ever completed hours and hours of market research only to find that you now have a 20-page document that could put your client (even on 4 cups of coffee) to sleep? Next time, try out this highly popular design and marketing technique that recently caught my eye: The Infographic. It’s useful for presenting statistical information in a cool and enjoyable way."
Helpful, but that infographic is focused on the use of infographics in business to promote a product or service one might otherwise not know one needed or thought useful. What we really need is an infographic focused on the use of infographics in politics that promote an idea that would otherwise be considered laughable, nonsensical and unsupportable.  

Something like the infographic at the top of this post.I am providing this as a public service.  Megan McArdles assertion that these are used as nothing more than SEO  link bait to drive traffic has absolutely nothing to do with posting this infographic here.

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