« Complex is not random | Main | Losing count of Doomsday »



However, junkchart hides some data for points that are not so interesting for the creator. But reader might be interested in those points as well. Cluttering the plot with all labels is not an option. So, this plot really is subjective ;)


Of course it's not possible to make "objective" charts, any more than its possible to write "objective" news stories.
In all communications, we make choices about what to put in, what to leave out, how to arrange items, etc., all of which have an impact on the resulting message. Even if it were possible to craft an objective message, the choice of subject matter brings us right back to subjectivity. To paraphrase O.B. Hardison, all maps are lies, what we need are maps that tell us the lies we need to know.


Gregor: that was the point. My plot draws attention to the data I found to be most interesting. Presumably, other people may be interested in the unstressed data.

SilentD: agree that true objectivity is a mirage. In this post, I want to bring up the question of whether we should make our charts "as objective as possible". In creating my version of the chart, I knowingly applied my subjective interpretation of the data. If objectivity was a worthwhile goal, a different chart would have been preferred!


What is worse to me is that they do not talk about the survey methodology. These look like stated importance, but it would be a whole lot more valuable to look at derived importance. After about 8 items in the list, my eyes just glaze over.

Karl K

Kaiser, of course we should try to make all of our charts, tables, memos, expository writings, ideas, and concepts as "objective" as possible -- or rather, as "truthful" as possible...while at the same time recognizing that we are not perfect, and perfect objectivity is beyond us.

No, what we want in our analysis of information is the exercise, to the best of our ability, of sound rational thinking to get us as close to the truth as we can. Make your ideas transparent, and then let the chips fall where they may as others review them and analyze them in turn.

Sort of what you do on this blog, eh?

Georgia Sam

Your critique of the table is spot-on, as usual. Regarding subjectivity vs. objectivity more generally, of course it is impossible to make a chart or anything else completely objective. On the other hand, it's invalid to argue that since total objectivity is impossible, all attempts to convey accurate, unbiased information might as well be abandoned. It is perfectly possible for a person to produce text or a picture that is far less biased than he or she is. Moreover, the impossibility of ever completely achieving a goal does not mean it isn't worth striving toward. The question is, which direction are we going: toward the goal or away from it?


The troubling thought is that if we live in the zone between absolute objectivity and absolute subjectivity, then any chart is open to criticism of bias because what I find informative or interesting is not likely to be the same as you, especially when faced with large data sets.

Karl K

Kaiser, I bet you only find it troubling because you used "bias" as a pejorative. I'll admit to a bias right now...a bias for the truth.

Heck, you know this better than anybody: good charts should be designed to illuminate information, and convey important, significant insights about information and data. They should aid in understanding, and then, in rational decison-making.

When you create a chart, you are sometimes creating an argument about the data. As such, charts are subject to the same basic rules of logic, and are prey to the classic logical fallacies if you're not careful. And some arguments are really really good (though not necessarily perfect). And some arguments are really really bad.

Charts, though, are often one step removed from an argument. You may have a sound argument, but really piss poor data presentation (think of Tufte's Challenger discussion). And the converse may be true -- you may have great charts, but lousy thinking.

Bottom line, I don't think the issue of subjectivity/objectivity is that big of a deal. Tell me and show me what you think; I'll do the same. Let's hammer it out. If we're both smart, and both after the truth, we're gonna be lots better off, even if we aren't totally objective.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Kaiser Fung. Business analytics and data visualization expert. Author and Speaker.
Visit my website. Follow my Twitter. See my articles at Daily Beast, 538, HBR.

See my Youtube and Flickr.

Book Blog

Link to junkcharts

Graphics design by Amanda Lee

The Read

Keep in Touch

follow me on Twitter