In the midst of the most complex economic analyses using the most sophisticated statistical and quantitative tools, my doctoral dissertation advisor would often recommend a technique that he called, “Look At Your Data”.
And you know what? He was right.
The human brain is programmed to detect visual patterns. With all that computers can do better than us, they have yet to surpass humans in this one, vital skill. Our eyes and minds do this so well and so reflexively that we can’t even stop them. Who can look at a full moon and not see a face?
Over and over I’ve found that the right kind of simple graph can tell you more than the most complex and complicated quantitative analyses. You don’t need the fanciest, most advanced graphics technology. Often that just detracts from the basic points. And you don’t need elaborate “Infographics”, though those can be fun and useful at times, too. All you really need is a graph.
This is why I’ve created Econographics. To provide people with unbiased, objective graphs of economic data, so that they can see and evaluate what’s going on themselves.
It’s very hard to lie with a simple, straightforward graph. Sure – there’s still the selection of data, the axes, the measures used, the timeframes. Hourly wages or annual? Economic growth since 1998 or since 2008? These sorts of things can make a big difference in the story that the graph tells.
But if you’re honestly choosing the best and clearest measures, from reliable sources, and presenting them as objectively as possible, people can use their own eyes and brains to determine the truth. It will still be their own personal truth, based on their own personal perspectives and biases. But at least it will be a truth unbiased at the start.
I always list my sources. This allows you to check my graphs, consider the source, and follow up with them for more information. I try to be perfect, but being human, that’s not possible. I count on readers to keep me honest.
So here’s Econographics – Exploring Data Visually. Enjoy.