It’s a scary fact of life these days that people take figures and numbers at face value, and consider them authoritative when it comes from the “source” or by the media, yet a lot of times they are taken out of context to serve a purpose like selling an idea or a service. Maybe it’s the way we’ve learned things in school, but when numbers and figures are put into charts and graphs it becomes more “scientific” or trustworthy. They are also easy ways to visualize information – this is misleading. I’m a big fan of data visualization and information design, and have made a living out of it. At the same time, I also understand their limitations and biases because of how numbers can be manipulated or emphasized to serve a purpose. Communication isn’t just about exposing numbers – it’s about being able to explain them in a meaningful way.
This below video from Veritasium which demystifies 13 misconceptions about global warming (i.e. climate change) is a great example of why charts and graphs don’t explain themselves. The presenter flashes lots of scientific graphs and charts that have also been used by climate-deniers to support their arguments. The key thing is that he supports the numbers with clear explanations backed by research rather than just focusing on the numbers or trends shown by the charts.