Where but when and why: deaths of journalism
Showing three dimensions using a ternary plot

How to print cash, graphically

Twitter user @glennrice called out a "journalist" for producing the following chart:


You can't say the Columbia Heartbeat site doesn't deserve a beating over this graph. I don't recognize the software but my guess is one of these business intelligence (BI) tools that produce canned reports with a button click.

Until I read the article, I kept thinking that there are several overlapping lines being plotted. But it's really a 3D plus color effect!

Wait there's more. This software treats years as categories rather than a continuous number. So it made equal-sized intervals of 2 years, 1 year, 2 years, and 8 years. I am still not sure how this happened because the data set given at the bottom of the article contains annual data.

The y-axis labels, the gridlines, the acronym in the chart title, the unnecessary invocation of start-at-zero, etc. almost make this feel like a parody.


Aside from visual design issues, I am not liking the analysis either. The claim is that taxes have been increasing every year in Columbia, Missouri, and that the additional revenue ended up sitting in banks as cash. 

We need to see a number of other data series in order to accept this conclusion. What was the growth in tax revenues relative to the increase in cash? What was the growth in population in Columbia during this period? Did the cash holding per capita increase or decrease? What were the changes in expenditure on schools, public works, etc.?

This is a Type DV chart. There is an interesting question being asked but the analysis must be sharpened and the graphing software must be upgraded asap.

PS. On second thought, I think the time axis might be deliberately distorted. Judging from the slope of the line, the cumulative increase in the last 8 years equals the increase in past two-year increments so if the proper scale is used, the line would flatten out significantly, demolishing the thesis of the article. Thus, it is a case of printing cash, graphically.




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Glenn Rice

Regarding your PS: I'm almost certain the time axis was distorted deliberately to omit years where there was a decrease in cash. If you plot out all the annual values, listed at the bottom of the article, it's clear that this chart only shows the local maxima, and only those that form a steadily rising line.

The author of this article (and publisher of the Heartbeat website) is a "citizen journalist" who frequently uses hyperbole and cherry-picked data to grind his axes. This is just one egregious example.

Keep up the good work!


Al;so the choice of starting in 2001 may be because these are low years rather than data availability. The cash holdings seem to reduce during periods of low economic activity, so were probably higher in the late nineties before the dot com crash.


What is the diagram software you used to create these diagrams? Is it creately ?


Sorry I don't understand what you mean by "the unnecessary invocation of start-at-zero"

I thought it was good that it started at 0, because then you easily see if a change in £ is a big change in %.

Amy S.

I read this publication and have a measure of context that is lacking here. Some of these critiques, too, don't make much sense.

While there is a well-supported -- and reported -- claim in the story that school district taxes have increased every year, there is NO "claim that the additional revenue ended up sitting in banks as cash."

Additional revenue from tax increases ends up in all kinds of places, not just on deposit. What the story seems to question, rather, is the need for another tax increase, given such a large (and rising over the years) amount of cash on deposit.

It's a question any voter would ask. I'm asking it. The Heart Beat has reported on this issue many times before.

Back to context. "What were the changes in expenditure on schools, public works, etc.?" In Columbia, the city handles public works, not the school district!

Finally, this exchange on the Heart Beat's Facebook page with "Glenn Rice" suggests personal animus may be partly motivating his grievance here. Man seems a bit obsessed.


Glenn Rice

Amy S.: My "personal animus" extends only to Mr. Martin's shoddy reporting and (in this case) deliberately misleading his readers with a poorly constructed chart, which leaves out data that doesn't support his argument.

Martin claims to be a journalist. If he really is, doesn't he owe his readers some semblance of the truth? Otherwise, this is really just an opinion piece, and no better than the egregious examples of chart manipulation found on (say) Fox News. It would have been no more difficult for Martin to create an accurate chart. He chose not to.

It's interesting that you consider me "obsessed" because I pointed out Martin's lie. So, you're fine with unethical journalism, but people who say "hey, wait a minute!" are obsessed? Uh, ok....

Amy S.

I'm sorry, but it's hard to take seriously someone who introduces himself on one of the most widely-used social media platforms this way:

"I never fucked Sarah Palin. She did not haul my ass down in 1987 or any other year."


Especially when that person is criticizing someone else for "shoddiness."


Amy S.: This is a blog about data visualization. Please stay on topic. I will moderate any further comments that include personal attacks.

Amy S.

With all due respect, this thread appears to be little more than a personal attack. Threatening me with censorship for attempting to call out this fact seems antithetical to this site's supposed "critical" intent.

What do these comments from "Glenn Rice" have to do with "data visualization"?

"The author of this article (and publisher of the Heartbeat website) is a 'citizen journalist' who FREQUENTLY USES HYPERBOLE and CHERRY-PICKED DATA to GRIND HIS AXES. This is just one EGREGIOUS example."

What do snarky references to past works that aren't even cited have to do with this graph?

And why all snarky references to "Mr. Martin"? That he's being "shoddy" and "deliberately misleading"?

That isn't personal?

If this forum is intended as some sort of journalistic critique of other journalism, did anyone here invite anyone at the "Columbia Heart Beat" to explain what they were doing?

It looks like they tried to explain to "Glenn Rice" on Facebook, but he got snarky with them and called the guy a liar!

Finally, take it from a math major -- you can criticize statistics and graphs for just about any reason (the expression "Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics" has its basis in this idea).

The credibility of anyone complaining about a statistic is therefore always at issue. It's happening right now, with various Presidential candidates complaining about polling data.

Glenn Rice

Step off, Amy S. I criticized Martin's misleading graph, not his character.

You seem to be the one getting personal here.

Glenn Rice

"did anyone here invite anyone at the "Columbia Heart Beat" to explain what they were doing?"

Good idea! Why don't you ask Mr. Martin to comment here?

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