« The case of the shrinking mall | Main | Reading comprehension »


Discuss Global Warming

Global warming is a tremendous hoax.


I've got to disagree with you on this one. This chart is aimed at the layperson, who probably (heh) doesn't have the intuitive grasp of probabilities that readers of this blog have. By making an analogy to a roulette wheel, a physical device that most people have at least a passing familiarity with, this chart conveys the fundamental message: "we don't know exactly what the temperature change will be, but which wheel would you rather spin?"

Furthermore, I believe this chart is often presented on posterboard with an actual, physical spinner on it, inviting the audience to actually interact with it to get a sense of the probabilities involved.

Pie charts are often misused, but this is one does the job well, in its intended context - educating the public.

Jon Peltier

Your histogram should go from small changes at the bottom to large changes at the top.

I blogged about this ugly visualization in Whatever, 25 May 2009. I didn't say much, just that they went way to far to try to support a weak metaphor.


i think the color works in the original and that makes it easier for me to understand than your histogram.

Orange and red = hotter with no policy

Blue and green = cooler with policy.


Tarek: I'd agree if this chart was interactive and allowed us to click and spin it. When it is frozen on the page, like a pie chart, the analogy to the roulette wheel is weakened.

Speaking of which, anyone knows of any experimental validation that such spinning wheels indeed generate the theoretical distributions? That, for example, the landing angle is independent of the starting angle?


I agree with Tarek on this one. There's a large segment of the population (*cough* lottery *cough) that have almost no comprehension of probability, and the wheel really helps. It would be nifty if it spun, but that's a much easier leap to make.

Regarding validation that wheels generate theoretical distributions, I suspect it's a lot like dice. In theory if you control absolutely every aspect of a dice throw it will be perfectly repeatable, but in practice minuscule changes are allowed to make huge differences in the outcome. I would hope some obsessive has compiled the histories for Wheel of Fortune over its decades long run.


One advantage of the pie charts you have lost is the ability to quickly read the median expected temperature change.

Another aspect worth noticing is the use of colour. Blue to red is an intuitive scale for warm/cold.

However should 1 or 2 degree warming be coloured a nice cool blue, which intuitively would represent cooling? Or a greeny yellow which would intuitively represent a mild and comfortable warming? Or a moderate orange representing a significant inconvenience?

And at the upper end various scientists have stated that a point ranging from 2 to 6 degrees is 'dangerous' which I think would best be represented by a strong red or browny burnt red.

It would all depend on what you believe about the impacts of climate change, and what message you were trying to convey.


And I'd also like to add that I'd seen this chart before and subconsciously interpreted the difference as being about double the warming for the no policy option. However your histogram shows that I have underestimated the difference and increased my perception of the difference.


The original chart and the histogram are both good-and both bad. As several people have pointed out, the spinner analogy is a wonderfully concrete way to convey probability distributions. But as others point out, the histogram is better for precise quantitative examination of the data.

To me, this is a good illustration of the fact that you can't judge a chart without knowing something about its intent and audience.

Fred Netamusky

I'm not sure that showing WAGs with high levels of precision is at all helpful. We probably need to be careful with data visualizations that we don't overemphasize the degree of certainty behind the probabilities -- or that we allow data labels like "policy" and "no policy" to be the only explanations of the information presented.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)


Link to Principal Analytics Prep

See our curriculum, instructors. Apply.
Marketing analytics and data visualization expert. Author and Speaker. Currently at Columbia. See my full bio.

Book Blog

Link to junkcharts

Graphics design by Amanda Lee

The Read

Good Books

Keep in Touch

follow me on Twitter