Stop, Look, Look closer

graphs confusion

It is easy for readers to accurately interpret graphs, despite the prevalent manipulations.

Graphs, graphs, everywhere…

There was a time when only scientists, engineers, doctors, and economists used graphs. Not any more. Anywhere you look these days, you have graphs staring at you. Newspaper, Television, Magazines, Websites, and Social Media.

This is great for readers, as they can comprehend the information in an easy and memorable manner. But, this also means that all readers must develop ‘graph interpretation skills’.  You may argue that this should be the responsibility of the people creating the graphs. It is. Yet, there are instances of authors misleading their readers with graphs. Intentional or otherwise. You, as a reader, must educate yourself to protect your interests in these situations.

A cautionary tale

Let us walk through an example of how misleading graphs can cloud your opinions and decisions. Assume that a company called MagicHealth approaches you for investing in their company. The company is  launching services for patients with chronic diseases in Canada. Your decision depends on the estimate of number of patients who would buy the services of MagicHealth.

Let us now walk through a series of graphs presented to you by three analysts. The over-enthusiastic newbie, the over-smart manipulator, and the truth-seeker. All are presenting the same data to you. Observe your thoughts and conclusions as you walk through these examples.

These examples are created using data from Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System.

The fancy graph

Our over-enthusiastic newbie discovered the fancy graphing capabilities of Excel. He applied it to the data and produced the graph below.

The Fancy Graph
Figure 1: This ‘fancy” graph intends to impress visually and creates an overly positive view about the potential. It shows more than 14 million people suffer from chronic diseases, the trend is increasing rapidly, and there was a sharp rise in 2007.

Take a look at the graph above and think if you agree with the following conclusions:

  1. There is a rapid rise in chronic diseases over the last 15 years
  2. More than 14 million people suffer from chronic diseases
  3. There was a sharp rise in 2007

Chances are you agree with all three conclusions. They are all incorrect. So, what went wrong? Here’s the explanations:

  1. There seems to be a rapid rise as new data was added in 2007 for two diseases – Gout and Osteoarthritis
  2. Stacking the diseases seems to show that more than 14 million people suffer from chronic diseases. This is not accurate as the same person may have more than one disease
  3. The rise in 2007 is only due to the addition of two diseases

That was about accuracy. How about interpretability? Now try to answer these questions:

  1. Which diseases are the most prevalent?
  2. Which diseases are on the rise?
  3. How many people reported mental illness in 2015? Heart Failure?

These may be the questions on you mind but it is difficult to answer them from the graph. So, the graph is not only inaccurate but also does not answer your questions.

The manipulated graph

It’s time to introduce you to the over-smart manipulator. His aim is to prove to you how lucrative the business is. I am sure the graph below will convince you.

Figure 2: The Manipulated Graph
Figure 2: This ‘manipulated’ graph exaggerates the business potential. It shows that all the diseases have high prevalence between 8 and 10 million, which is increasing during the last 15 years.

Looking at the graph, you probably concluded the following, all of which are again incorrect:

  1. All the diseases have high prevalence
  2. The prevalence is between 8 million and 10 million
  3. The trend is increasing across the years

The reality is very different as you can see in the third and final graph. So, what had the analyst done here? He has used one of the oldest tricks in manipulation – changed the scale of the axis. The y-axis is charted in logarithmic scale. This means that the distance between 0 and 1 is the same as between 1 and 10. He has also hidden the numbers on the y-axis to camouflage this. See the image below with all the numbers on the y-axis.

Figure 2a: The Manipulated Graph
Figure 2a: The trick used in the ‘manipulated’ graph is revealed in this graph as we see the complete y-axis with the labels. It is in the logarithmic scale, which compresses the difference between small and large values.

The truth seeker’s graph

Finally, let us look at the graph that aims to tell the truth. See if you get different answers to the previous questions. Also, check if all the questions from the first chart are answered:

  1. Which diseases are the most prevalent?
  2. Which diseases are on the rise?
  3. How many people reported mental illness in 2015? Heart Failure?
The Truth Seeker's graph
Figure 3: A truthful representation of the data shows the business potential. It differentiates between diseases based on prevalence and gives a sense of the growth rates too.

I am sure you can get answers to all your questions based on this graph. In addition, you can make the following additional conclusions about the top three diseases:

  1. Mental illness is most prevalent and increased from 4.63 million 5.43 million
  2. Osteoarthritis was tracked from 2007 and is on the rise. It is now the second most prevalent disease at 3.81 million
  3. Mood and Anxiety is the third most prevalent disease and has marginally increased from 3.43 million to 3.61 million

Curious to find out more?

I hope this post aroused your interest in finding more about graph manipulations. You can find out more at the following resources:

Ready to interpret

As you experienced in this post, it is prudent not to jump to interpretations and conclusions too soon. Take your time – Stop, Look, Look closer, and finally draw your conclusions. It will help you guard against misleading graphs – intentional or otherwise.

Data Source:


Stress induced diseases – the source as per Yoga

Yoga Therapy – Understanding the source of stress induced disease

I am overwhelmed with the response to my earlier post on Yoga Therapy. Numerous people have contacted me after reading the post and some have either joined the Therapy sessions already or have planned it for a later date. I now want to get into some details of how this therapy works. I will start with understanding the sources of disease in this post and then follow it up with how Yoga Therapy addresses the psychosomatic (stress related) diseases. I will then get into details of how this therapy works for some of the ailments where I have good understanding.

Please do read the earlier post (Yoga Therapy: The key to maximum wellness) before reading this post to get the context. Continue reading “Stress induced diseases – the source as per Yoga”

[Repost] Introducing MOLT


Introducing MOLT –  a Leadership Development Initiative for Senior Managers. Rooted in the principles of “Natural Learning” and powered by the perfect medium – Theatre, we believe MOLT will revolutionise Leadership Development.

In today’s corporate environment, a leader is expected to play many roles – boss, peer, subordinate, expert, advisor, friend, among others. The most important ability for leaders to deliver on all these roles is flexibility. Flexibility requires one to break the existing patterns of behaviour. We call it the ability to MOLT. Continue reading “[Repost] Introducing MOLT”

[Repost] Revisiting Leadership

What is Leadership? It is important that we dwell into this enquiry before we can apply Theatre based techniques to Leadership Development. I must confess that I am just a student of Leadership and it is a fairly complex subject, in my opinion. So, I will rely on the experts.
Warren Bennis is widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of Leadership Studies. In his famous book “On Leadership”, he wrote

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.

Continue reading “[Repost] Revisiting Leadership”

[Repost] The perfect “Natural Learning” medium


The hunt is now on for the perfect medium to design and conduct “Natural Learning” programs. Transformational training programs that do not suffer from the “Monday Syndrome”. Programs where the focus is on individuals identifying their personal barriers and going beyond them to elevate their performance in the organisation, across all the roles they are expected to perform. In short, the perfect medium to translate the roles expected from leaders in organisations into reality. Continue reading “[Repost] The perfect “Natural Learning” medium”

[Repost] Designing the “Natural Learning” Program


I have shared that “Natural Learning” can be an interesting approach to designing learning programs which overcome the “Monday Syndrome”. Today, we will explore how we can design Natural Learning programs. In subsequent posts, we will look at possible media for these programs and finally reveal an offering that promises to fulfil the lucrative promise of Natural Learning. Yes, there is a pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow. Continue reading “[Repost] Designing the “Natural Learning” Program”

[Repost] Natural Learning – a new approach


I shared the new challenge organisations are facing to accelerate growth, followed by the Monday Syndrome related to behavioural training, and finally the flaws with the current approach used for such training. Now, let us look at a fresh approach to learning. An approach that is very simple, very intuitive, almost hiding in plain sight. It was a revelation for me when I saw it for the first time. Continue reading “[Repost] Natural Learning – a new approach”

[Repost] The Missing Piece of the Puzzle


I have shared my experience in the earlier posts about the “Monday Syndrome”, especially for Behavioural Training Programs. The syndrome refers to the limited impact that these programs have on the participants. However, behavioural programs are critical for organisations and especially for ones that are going through change. So, let us now look at what is missing in these programs that limits the impact.

Let us begin by looking at the process of training design and development. Training was originally used to teach new skills – starting with rearing cattle and cultivating land, graduating to using machines since the industrial revolutions, and finally to mastering the digital world, amongst numerous other areas. The approach is similar – observe or research how to be effective at doing a particular job (create knowledge), create a mechanism to transfer this knowledge to another individual (develop technique), and finally train the concerned people (training).

There is an assumption in this approach – every individual will be able to develop the desired skills by following the techniques. It is also very logical. If I exactly tell someone how to drive a nail in the wall using a hammer, there is no way someone will not learn it. The only variable can be the time it takes one to master the skill. This works perfectly for the skill development programs.

This approach is extended and applied to behavioural training. However, there is a not so obvious omission. When it comes to skills, people are at different levels of the skill and hence take different time to reach the same level of mastery. When it comes to behaviours, people are in different “worlds”. Haven’t you experienced someone dealing with an interpersonal issue at work with an ease that totally stumped you? You had never even imagined the perspective demonstrated by the other person. You were operating from another world altogether.

What’s missing in my opinion is a learning approach which is tailored to altering behaviours. An approach which naturally alters the behaviour of people without assessing their current state or training them about something. An approach by which the behaviour alters without the knowledge of the person.

We will explore such an approach tomorrow.