In “Time Magazine and the Impending Twin-pocalypse,” Deek takes apart one of the most amazingly bad Time articles in the history of crap, “The Problem With America’s Twin Epidemic,” by Sarah Elizabeth Richards.
While reading Deek’s sweet, sweet smackdown, my chart-dar went off, for she presented a perfect example of the quintessential bad chart, followed by a chart that shows the data more accurately. What is interesting is that the bad chart she created was her illustration of the biased and incomplete data in the article rather than a chart from the article itself. To make her point, the Time author, Richards, cited only data from particular years to claim that the twin rate has doubled. Deek created this chart based on Richards’s selective use of data.
Deek then created a chart using all the data for the time period through 2012, the most recently available data from the CDC, showing that the rate is not so steep and is starting to plateau.
Now, whether an increase or decrease is bad or good is another issue that Deek addresses better than I ever could. I’m not going to argue that an infestation of twins won’t bring on the apocalypse, or that you shouldn’t live in terror upon seeing any increase at all. I think we all know from documented sitcom history that an epidemic of twins would result in much duplicitous place switching, especially with the known tendency of a twin to make dates with two different people in the same night. Even non-identical twins have an 83% increased likelihood of being vampires, although vampire nurses are of course more likely to be identical.
But whether or not you are or should be building your twin-proof bunker is beside the point here. If you believe you can survive a pack of twins in the wild, then I wish you the best of luck, my friend.
The point here is that a bad chart not only illustrates how a visual representation can be powerfully convincing of something we already believe to be true but that it can also be used to illustrate the ways in which data are misused in writing, sometimes in ways that aren’t as obvious until you see them in contrasting visual form.
For example, it may or may not terrify you to hear that you are 100 PERCENT likely to DIE after being bitten by a twin, whether fraternal or identical.
You may start thinking you should offer your hand for a twin to sniff before you even think about touching it. (Contrary to urban legend, offering a stick of Doublemint gum will not appease them or keep their mouth busy but will in fact be likely to enrage them.)
But what if we present that startling FACT alongside another?
I think my point is clear. Reach out to a twin today. Even if it bites you, you’re still going to die anyway.