Last Wednesday, I tweeted about a bad graphic published by El País (Spain). I said it was an example of bad visual metaphors and demeaning of data. Well… it actually does more than that. It lies.
I will not comment on the visual metaphor itself — or the issues I have with the interaction design. It’s Spain! We’ve all done silly graphics at some point, right? Errrr… not quite like that. The problem I have with the graphic has to do with the analysis of the data.
The graphic implies that these countries will exit the crisis whenever they reach 100 in the index, which means their GDP will return to the levels of 2008, the year prior to the crisis.
The chart below shows exactly same data without the distracting metaphor — I know, I promised not to comment. I even respected their index — I don’t show China because it isn’t in a recession after all.
Among other sources, the International Monetary Fund — the one they apparently use — predicted that we would exit the economic crisis in early 2010. But the graphic shows that the U.S. will have to wait until 2011 to exit the crisis, same as France, and that Italy and Spain will do it by 2014.
Their math isn’t completely wrong (I checked it: elpais.tsv). It seems they calculated correctly that made up index, using this data from the IMF. But they made the assumption that the end of the recession would come when real GDP goes back to the levels of 2008, which is untrue.
I blame it on the use of the more vague term “crisis”. Recession is perhaps a more technical term — that all readers at some level understand anyway — for which Real GDP growth is one of its main metrics.
In simplest terms, a sustained drop in Real GDP equals recession. Once it starts growing again we’re out of the recession. Crisis, on the other hand, seems to be whatever you want it to be. Or maybe, I’m just trying to justify the unjustifiable.
This chart compares El País’s analysis with everyone else’s. Again, I left China out because it isn’t in a recession.
Luckily for us, Dominique Strauss-Kahn might be more accurate than El País: “We expect to get out of the crisis early in 2010, especially if a clean-up of certain segments of the financial system is carried out,” the IMF Managing Director said in May 2009.
If they had kept the sentence in the lead “When would we recover what we lost?” in that finish line, I wouldn’t be writing this. It’s the fact that they say “Exit the crisis” to refer to that what throws me off.
But also, I don’t fully understand why didn’t they stick to the little charts that appear when you roll over all the pretty the little horses. They may not be perfectly designed, but they convey the right information.