Undermine

In moments of boredom while scoffing biscuits in the staff room, I occasionally flick through the TES. In my entire time at the school I’ve never seen anyone else even open it, but the letters page is often a festival of laughably poor reasoning that rarely ceases to entertain.

On page 4 of last Friday’s edition is this chart:

This chart is a steaming pile of male bovine excrement.

Upon turning the page my eye was immediately drawn to it, and it seemed incredible even at first glance. Within seconds I had spotted that the y-axis starts not at 0, but at about 3,750, conveniently omitting nearly 3/4 of the scale in order to outrageously exaggerate the difference between the two plotted figures. Instead of showing that the first figure is 28% higher than the second, it appears as if it is more than 300% higher. Let’s have a look at the same data with a more honest axis, shall we?

Not quite so extreme, is it? I frankly have no idea whether the argument presented in the article is valid, because I stopped reading the moment I saw how offensively misleading the illustration was. It undermines the credibility of the entire article, and also demonstrates utterly irresponsible editing; no-one with half a brain could look at this and not realise how deliberately deceptive this is to the reader’s subconscious.

I know that writers themselves usually do not pick their illustrations (or even headlines in many cases), so the author, Kerra Maddern, is probably off the hook. However, to whoever on the TES staff was responsible for this atrocity, I have only this to say: you are a disgrace to your publication. Further, to the editor, Gerard Kelly: sort your act out. This kind of misleading idiocy may be a tabloid staple, but you should know better.

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About The Angry Technician

The Angry Technician is an experienced IT professional in the UK education sector. Normally found in various states of annoyance on his blog. All views are those of his imaginary pet dog, Howard.

11 responses to “Undermine”

  1. Andy says :

    Unbelievable, literally. There should ideally be a letter going in to this publication complaining about this pathetic misleading graph. It’s obviously intentional.

    • AngryTechnician says :

      Somehow I suspect letters critiquing their journalistic methods go straight in the round file – especially when they clearly intended to mislead, and didn’t just do so by accident. Newspapers are full of junk like this, but outside of small local newspapers you only ever really see retractions under threat (or as the result) of legal action.

  2. korifugi says :

    Not long ago I was advising someone that to explain something to a teacher (or management) that you’d need a chart – preferably with colours but this just takes the biscuit!

    If they are swayed by this then maybe its time for me to create the chart labelled ‘Me’ and ‘Awesome’ to get a payrise.

    • TheCrust says :

      I recall a headteacher doing something very similar with a graph showing the exam results of two other local schools compared to his own.

      The staff took it in the spirit in which it was intended – as a good natured and humourous boost to their egos, needed after a particularly hard year – and I don’t think for a moment any one of them believed they were top of the league table like the picture implied.

      P.S. Where’s the chart that explains why I need to authorise the holiday you were moaning about yesterday…? ;-)

  3. Claudio says :

    Well seen!
    I guess future releases of this paper will stay unopened in your staff’s room… as you were obviously the only one to “occasionally flick through”. :-)
    Why not cancel this nonsense and add the saved money to your IT budget? Probably worth a new keyboard a year ;-)

  4. Giles says :

    “In its purest form, a newspaper consists of a collection of facts which, in controlled circumstances, can actively improve knowledge. Unfortunately, facts are expensive, so to save costs and drive up sales, unscrupulous dealers often “cut” the basic contents with cheaper material, such as wild opinion, bulls***, empty hysteria, reheated press releases, advertorial padding and photographs of Lady Gaga with her bum hanging out.”

  5. Gerard Kelly says :

    Dear AngryTechnician

    Re: graph on page 4 of last week’s TES. You’re right, we were wrong. The staff member responsible is contemplating a change of career and their children are in the care of social services. We won’t portray statistics in this misleading way in future.

    Gerard Kelly

    Editor TES

    • AngryTechnician says :

      Dear Mr Kelly,

      Thank you for your aptly hyperbolic reply. I’m always surprised when targets of my ire actually locate my obscure rants, but I am glad the issue has been noticed. It did honestly surprise me when I saw it, as I do hold the TES in higher regard than the sort of tabloid publications that employ such tricks as a matter of course.

      Best regards,
      AngryTechnician

      A note on the provenance of the above comment: one can rarely be sure if a new commenter is actually who they claim to be, but the same response was published on the TES forums by one of their staff.