is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
In his New York Times column today, Paul Krugman published a damning, evidentiary indictment of the Bush administration’s wantonly optimistic — and highly inaccurate — jobs forecasting. It’s wonderfully concise, to the point, and heavily reliant on a powerful graphic that charts predictions that the White House has made for “nonfarm payroll employment” in 2002, 2003 and 2004 against the actual data provided in a joint report from the Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
On closer inspection though, I was disappointed to find that the chart is actually somewhat misleading. The y-axis, which charts nonpayroll employment in millions — with a tick mark every five million — begins at 125 million. The Bush administration’s estimates are overzealous by as much as 6.9% (though, to be fair, this year’s figure is off by a more reasonable 1.9%).
Even two to seven percent is still a pretty drastic miscalculation, but the way the chart is drawn, the error looks more on the order of a forty percent miscalculation. In order to modify this chart to be somewhat more accurate, one would need to add fourteen more tick marks along the y-axis.
Truncating data in this way, especially to save column inches, is a common practice, but in this case it feels as if Krugman pulled his punches a little bit. His point is a good one, but it unfortunately falls prey to the economics of page layout and forces a distortion that could be easily misinterpreted. I’ve always felt that the best ammunition against Republican obfuscation is a clear, objective reading of the facts, and this is almost, but not quite, such a reading. I’ve also long felt that a case can be made against the Bush administration using the tools of information design — a clear-cut presentation of the data that shows the fallacies in their logic. Again, close but not quite there.+